D23 "A discussion of films, papers and developers"
DAVID VOGT and I had an interesting discussion of darkroom materials and methods recently. It centers on films [Kodak TMY and Agfa APX 100] papers [Brilliant, Mitsubishi, and others] and the much loved Kodak developer D23.

David's initial letter is reproduced below, followed by my reply. After that I've included some reference materials - a quote from a Kodak data sheet, information on the prices of the chemicals involoved in the process, and some general words of wisdom on the subject by Canadian photographer Christophe Bonnière.

All that is followed by David's reply to my message, which included a handout he made up for photographers in his area, in an effort to spur sales of Agfapan 100. The handout is also reproduced before I finish things off by indulging in some closing remarks.

David's opening remarks

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1996 11:56:15 -0400
Reply-To: David_Vogt@owr.ehnr.state.nc.us
To: portrait@interlog.com
Subject: D23
X-URL: http://www.heylloyd.com/photos2/photos2.htm


Loved your portraits!!

I agree with your use of T-Max 400 - I think its gotten a bad rap, overall. I love it, but only after I changed developers. I used D-76 1:1 for several years and got o.k. results, but noticed a big improvement when I switched to D-23 1:1. This developer really mitigates the highlight problem with TMY. I have found that it also improves shadow detail. I usually develop 120 TMY @ 10 minutes in D-23 1:1 (despite what is in the literature, D-23 actually provides a slightly higher film speed than D-76 - when I used TMY with D76 1:1, I went with 11 minutes as you do).

Another great film I use a lot of is Agfapan APX 100 (processed in D-23 1:1 for 7 minutes). This film is incredibly smooth and sharp, with a much better tonality than T-Max 100 or Delta 100. It just doesn't get much press, although I read somewhere it was Brett Weston's favorite film.

I also use a cold head. Ditto Zone VI Brilliant paper. But I never really liked Neutol. I mix up the old GAF 130. TMY with a cold light head, Brilliant paper, and GAF developer is hard to beat.

Thanks for your Internet page. Again, it was great to see such good work!


Lloyd's reply

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1996 09:47:03 -0500
X-Sender: lloyd@psyche.the-wire.com (Unverified)
Reply-To: David_Vogt@owr.ehnr.state.nc.us
From: lloyd@the-wire.com (Lloyd Erlick)
Subject: D23 addition
X-UIDL: d2bce1f0ca2ca33f59d69284513f8814

Hello, David,

Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you like my work.

Your remarks on the darkroom side of things are very interesting.

I've thought about D23. I guess my struggle with TMY tired me out; once I found how to make it work with D76 I just settled down happy to use it. But you say a visible improvement is possible over D76, so that is hard to resist. I'll have to get into mixing my own.

As to Brilliant, I wonder if you know who the manufacturer is these days? The 'original' Brilliant was made by a French company for Zone VI, and they have since stopped. My last info on the subject is that Ilford make it for them now. So is Brilliant just a price-increased Gallerie?? I bought a box of grade two in 16x20 before they stopped selling the French stuff, and really liked it, even though the price was about double other materials. The details of the current Brilliant would be good to know, especially since Agfa has stopped making Brovira. [A friend of mine here in Toronto claims to have purchased the last box of Brovira in New York City, which he says means the whole world! He found a store there that denied having any but unearthed one last box when he wheedled them into taking a look in the store room instead of their computer!]

What EI do you rate TMY?? I find 200 is necessary. So when you use the Agfa 100 material, what speed do you assign? I work with daylight almost exclusively, and giving up another stop -- or more -- is pretty hard to swallow.

Thanks again for your comments. Stop by my site again. I try to put up new work weekly.


Quote from Kodak data sheets:


KODAK Developer D-23

This is a slow-working developer that will not produce high contrast even with extended developing times. Use it when a low density range is desired.

Water, about 50 C (125 F) 750 milliliters
KODAK ELON Developing Agent 7.5 grams
KODAK Sodium Sulfite (Anhydrous) 100.0 grams
Cold water to make 1.0 liter
Average development time is about 12 minutes in a tank or 10 minutes in a tray at 20 C (68 F).

The life of the developer can be extended by using KODAK Replenisher DK-25R. Add the replenisher at the rate of 23 milliliters per roll developed (3/4 fluid ounce per roll).

Discard the developer after about 26 rolls (13,420 square centimeters or 2,080 square inches) of film per 946 milliliters (1 quart).



As of October 25, 1996 for Kodak chemicals at Henry's in Toronto:

elon C$42 + 15% tax = 48 per pound or 454 grams
sulfite C$7.79 + 15% tax = 9 per pound or 454 grams

This means about 0.80 for elon and 2.00 for sulfite for one liter D23, which diluted 1:1 will dev 8 rolls of film.

In other words, D23 costs about 3 dollars per run of film.

D76 is about double, or slightly more, at $6 + 15%, or roughly 3.50 per run [D76 develops 16 rolls per gallon pack, which I dilute 1:1 and use for 8 rolls each run.]

NOTE: A cheaper source of sodium sulfite must be out there! The price for Kodak sulfite is ridiculous. [see Christophe's remarks, below.]

From the Canadian photographer Christophe Bonnière, on the subject of D23:

  • buy Kodak elon
  • do not buy Kodak sodium sulfite. Get it from Signal Chemicals, Toronto, price about $0.50 per pound in huge bags that have to be stored in sealed plastic pails to prevent the anhydrous material from drawing moisture from the air.
  • do not replenish. Use it one-shot. Consistency is too difficult with replenisher.
  • do not dilute. Do not use D23 at 1:1.
David's reply
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1996 15:35:06 -0400
From: David Vogt
Reply-To: David_Vogt@owr.ehnr.state.nc.us
To: Lloyd Erlick
Subject: Re: D23


I'm getting ready to leave for the day so I thought I'd give you a quick response. Everything applies to 120 roll film.

I rate TMY in D-23 1:1 @ EI 300. I've found that one of the things that D-23 does to improve TMY (as well as most other films), is better definition in both the highlights and the shadows. When I first considered using it, I took shots of a test subject (white frame house, medium grey shingled roof, and grove of trees in background) that provided a full range of tones and textures). I shot 2 rolls of TMY and developed one in D-76 1:1, the other in D-23 1:1, both for for 11 minutes (I've since cut back to 10 minutes for the D-23). I shot frames in the roll @ an EI of 400, but ran up and down the exposure range 2 stops, in 1/2 stop increments (to simulate higher and lower EIs). I found that underexposed TMY in anything was terrible (as you already know, since you expose TMY @ EI 200).

What I found was that D-23 gave me better definition at both ends, and somehow smoothed the tonal range. Also, D-23 provides less of a "veneer look" than D-76 and is hence a little more "crisper". We all have our personal preferences, but after "messing with" a lot of film/developer combinations, it has become my standard developer. I now only shoot two films, Agfapan APX 100 and TMY, both developed in D-23. I use the Agfa when I can, because I just love its tonality. Its also incredibly sharp and smooth. I do landscape work in soft light, on a tripod, and find I can use the Agfa for most anything unless there's movement - then I usually go to TMY for more speed. I only go to lower EIs if I'm concerned about shadow detail. I shoot a lot of abstracts, where I sometimes use the dark tones as form - without detail - and hence will actually shoot both the Agfapan and TMY at their rated speeds.

I'm attaching a handout (see below) I made up for local photographers, hoping to spur local sales of Agfapan 100 so that local dealers will keep it on the shelves.

I believe that Ilford makes the new Brilliant for Zone VI (and Calumet). Supposedly, it's made to their specifications (lots of silver). However, its definitely not recycled Galerie. I gave up Galerie after Ilford reformulated it around 1989. When they changed it they made it weak as hell, probably cutting back on the silver content. In the early 90's, I started using a paper that I fell in love with, Mitsubishi Gekko. When its sole distributor made plans to drop it about 3 years ago, I bought up several thousand dollars worth and froze it. I'm still using it, as I've never found anything I like better. Brilliant comes close, as it really has nice tonality. Luminos graded cold-tone is ok (a little too cold tone for my taste) as is the new Cachet line from the old Oriental folks. Cachet makes prints that have more 'snap' than Brilliant, but the tonality is not as smooth. I guess you've figured out by now that I still like and use graded papers. I'll probably change over some day, but I like what I'm using right now.

The other thing that I feel has improved my prints is the use of GAF 130 (AKA Ansco 130 - which Ansel discusses in "the print"). The glycin in this developer tends to make prints glow (which may be a good thing or not, depending on your taste). I like slow working print developers - I believe they improve tonality and are easier to control. I use GAF 130 in conjunction with GAF 120 if I need contrast control. Coupled with a good, silver-rich paper, GAF 130 can render exquisite prints.

Hope this helps. Good hearing from you.


David's handout on AGFAPAN 100 APX 120 Black and White Film:

Agfapan 100 APX 120 film produces beautiful, long-scaled negatives that are fine grained and very sharp if combined with the right developer and developed for the correct time. Most photographers (including a lot of professionals) use Rodinal developer with this film. For fine-art purposes, Rodinal is not the best developer for Agfapan 100 (it produces somewhat grainy negatives no matter what the film). Moreover, the times Agfa lists for all developers are for producing a gamma of 0.65, which is much too high and makes for contrasty negatives (most companies list times to produce gammas of 0.50 - 0.56 for their films).

These two factors are probably why Agfa black and white films do not enjoy a larger following. For the life of me, I don't understand why Agfa doesn't rectify these problems, since they would probably sell a lot more film. Brett Weston used Agfapan and I'm pretty sure he didn't use it with Rodinal and develop it to a gamma of 0.65!

My developer of choice for this film is D-23. This is not a commercial developer, one has to mix it up from chemicals obtained from supply houses (the most widely used is The Photographer's Formulary (often referred to as simply The Formulary) . Their number is 800-777-7158. Mixing up D-23 is fairly simple, since it only contains two chemicals (metol and sodium sulfite), and goes about as fast as mixing up a batch of D-76 from the bag (homemade D-23 is extremely economical - probably about 1/10 the cost of packaged D-76). To make up a liter (slightly more than a quart) of D-23, use the following spoon formula:

  1. Heat to 120 F, in a stainless steel or enamel pan, 1000 ml of distilled water.
  2. Take a "pinch" of sodium sulfite, drop into the heated water, and stir until dissolved.
  3. Stir in 2 1/2 teaspoons of metol (be sure the metol is completely dissolved before proceeding).
  4. Stir in 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of sodium sulfite.
  5. Pour into Pyrex cup, cool slightly, and then fill two 16 oz or four 8 oz glass bottles.
  • Get a set of stainless steel measuring spoons at the supermarket.
  • Use a small straight edge to level off the chemicals in the spoon.
  • Distilled water can also be found at the supermarket.
  • Get a 32 oz Pyrex measuring cup, it makes life a lot easier (first use clean cup to measure the distilled water, clean, and reuse to pour the D-23 into containers).
  • Warm the bottles with hot tap water, empty, then fill with the D-23. Fill all bottles evenly with D-23, then "top off" with distilled water (instead of completely filling each bottle sequentially). Topping off will make the developer have a longer shelf life.
  • Use brown bottles. Some root beers are bottled using 16 oz brown bottles. Most supermarkets sell four packs of ready-made cappuccino that use 8 oz brown bottles.
  • Buy a pound of metol and 5 pounds of sodium sulfite. Put a couple of silica gel packets in each container (also available from The Formulary).
  • Store chemicals in a cool, dark location (but not the refrigerator).

Note: these are basically non-toxic chemicals, but some people develop a skin rash from the metol. Kitchen gloves may be worn. (metol is also found in D-76).

Developing Agfapan in D-23
(follow this procedure to get negatives that absolutely glow).

  • Use D-23 1:1 (mix equal parts stock solution and distilled water).
  • Fill film container with developer, adjust to 68F, then drop in film with all lights off (as opposed to placing film in container and pouring in developer through the top).
  • For "normal" development, try 7 minutes as a starting time (this time will also work with D-76 1:1, although the results won't be as good as with D-23).
  • Do not use a stopbath. Shut of lights and rinse with tap water between developing and fixing.
  • After fixing, give 3 rinses with tap water, then use a washing aid for 3 minutes (I prefer Heico's PermaWash).
  • Wash for 10 minutes, then let soak one minute in wetting agent dissolved in distilled water.
  • Hang to dry - do not wipe - a good wetting agent (Edwal's LPN) will eliminate streaking.
A small additional comment from Lloyd:

As David Vogt says:
Hang film to dry, and do not wipe.

But also: do not use a wetting agent. Never use wetting agent. Use distilled water in a wash or spray bottle. Once the films are hung in their drying place, spray distilled water on them, both surfaces, from top to bottom. The last drops of tap water will be carried down and away, along with any stray bits of dust (and cat hair, if your darkroom buddy provides as mine does!) After drying, the film will be pristine.

There is the familiar chem lab 'wash bottle' which relies on hand pressure to squeeze distilled water out a small nozzle. I used one of these for many years, but always disliked the need to squeeze. The bottle just never seemed to enjoy it! So I went to the garden supply store and looked at hand-held pump-spray bottles. I wanted one that was made of materials that would never add solute or particulates to the distilled water I planned to keep in it long-term. The cheap ones had that funny lubricant they put on plastic molded parts, and some had galvanized steel parts inside. Rust sooner or later there. But the more expensive ones were all plastic that felt absolutely clean when I poked my fingers inside. The one I bought [made in Germany by a garden implement maker called Gardena] has only one internal metal part, a stainless steel spring in the pump mechanism. I've been using it for several years now, and the interior is as clean as new. No deterioration in the plastic, either. The nozzle adjusts the spray pattern. It holds 1.5 liter, which is more than enough for eight rolls of film. If you're willing to use much larger quantities of distilled, dispense with the spray bottle and immerse the rolls of film in a succession of tanks of distilled.

With a few pumps of the handle, the last thing to touch my film is a vigorous spray of distilled water that floods their surfaces.)

D23, distilled water and wetting agent
Here is another round in our planet-spanning conversation about D23, distilled water and wetting agent. Subjects you can't discuss with your friends! Lloyd's replies to David's remarks are in italics. Date: Fri, 08 Oct 1996

Saw your Internet posting of our e-mail conversations, and as a result, have some questions.

1) Like you, I use distilled water as the "final touch" to my negatives. However, as stated before, I use a few drops of Edwal's wetting agent so that I do not get any water marks on the negative. You state that your final treatment is to spray distilled water on the negative, but without any wetting agent. Can you tell me a little more about this, and how you arrived at this procedure? Have you compared spraying distilled water with and without a wetting agent?

I arrived at it primarily because the old squeegee method (you know the ones, they're overpriced clamp-like things with soft rubber wiper blades inside, all set to grab anything available to scratch your film) was ridiculous. And tap water of course leaves spots of formerly-dissolved municipal pollutant.

At first I used wetting agent in the distilled in my sprayer, but I never liked its evil smell. So I tried without, and lo and behold, no difference! Distilled leaves nothing behind, and the film dries perfectly evenly, no buckling or twisting, even if overspray puts drops all over adjacent hanging rolls that are partly dry.

2) About a presoak for TMY to reduce highlight contrast: I've not tried this because of an article I read in Photo Techniques about prewetting film. The article was the result of extensive testing by Phil Davis on the effects of prewetting on contrast. Essentially, he found that for most films, including TMY, prewetting film resulted in an INCREASE in contrast. Not to take anything away from Mr. Davis, but I've always been a little skeptical of photography "scientific research" since my own experience has been that I don't necessarily get the same results in the "real world" of my photographic endeavors (I'm a pragmatic sort of person: I'll use something (method, film, paper, etc.) if it actually improves my prints, in an artistic/aesthetic sense, rather than "improving" the HD curve of a film I'm using). How about it, what does prewetting do for TMY (I assume in distilled water)? I think I read that you do a 2 minute presoak, is that right?

I can't speak definitively about the reasons prewetting works to reduce contrast. I saw the article you mention, and was surprised to see his results. He also found the length of presoak had an effect. There is probably more to prewetting than we realize.

I can not prove my contention that prewetting controls contrast for TMY. I do know that I was ready to abandon this film when I first started using it, and tried prewetting after every attempt at developing it resulted in burnt highlights. I tried it because I remembered a much earlier article than the one you mention, "Taming Contrast with Water-Bath Development", by G. W. Burgess. I have no date for it, but it's from the old Darkroom Techniques magazine. Burgess details a method for alternating developer and water bath for intervals throughout development. But he specifies that the beginning presoak swells the emulsion without beginning development, thus allowing the developer to penetrate more evenly, and slowly too, I believe, because the plain water in the emulsion must be displaced first.

Oh, yes -- another reason. I'm a suspicious lad, and for some reason I got a look at the water that comes off TMY. Try it: just presoak a roll for a minute or two, and pour the water into a glass container. Examine it in bright light. I personally find it calming to know whatever that stuff is does not enter into my development. Just personal bias, I know.

I use tap water to presoak. I have found no advantage to distilled here. And another half-baked theory: commercial developers have chemicals to deal with certain compounds found in tap water. Providing a small amount of tap water to take up these chemicals is useful. I won't even begin to defend this one!

Other possible factors in TMY contrast: I use an EI of 200, half Kodak's recommendation. And I develop in D76 diluted 1:1 for 11 minutes, about three quarters of recommended time. So you could say I'm a traditionalist who overexposes and underdevelops.

Copyright Lloyd Erlick. All rights reserved.