A Study On Technical Film Processing By Baxter Bradford ( see uklandscape.net/Baxter-Bradford/ )
This feature aims to show the benefits of using DiXactol (pronounced Dye-Zaktol), a compensating and staining film developer, over more conventional developers. It should also allay worries about the complexity and expense of using this ‘exotic’ developer and show that DiXactol negatives are eminently suitable for digital scanning.
Last summer I went to view the Faye Godwin exhibition at the Barbican. It motivated me to shoot more B+W images and to make a significant improvement to the quality of my pictures. I tend to be impatient and like to make rapid progress. Reading and using the advice of experts are vital processes, sometimes buying a new ‘toy’ is essential…. you know the script! This quality quest led me to Barry Thornton’s book ‘Elements - the making of fine monochrome prints’. I was impressed not only with his prints, but also his knowledge and understanding of the craft of monochrome image making.
The concept of Pyro type compensating and staining developers intrigued me, but I did not want the hassle of two bath development nor mixing my own raw chemicals. These developers seemed at first glance to be fairly expensive, have a short shelf life and to be intolerant of poor technique; therefore they were completely inappropriate for myself! Spurred on by the realisation that photographers I admire frequently use these developers I decided that I really ought to take the plunge. DiXactol seemed to lack these drawbacks and so was my choice.
Negatives from staining developers are easier to print in the darkroom. Upon looking further it seemed that the benefits extended to scanning for digital production of monochrome images.
My flatbed scanner with a transparency hood has a relatively small range of brightness adjustment and must scan the whole negative in a single pass at a predetermined setting. As I already had a bottle of Agfa Rodinal, my first attempt for compensating development was using this at 1+50 dilution.
The result can be seen in the image of Piswell wood. Whilst I quite like the effect it has had for this shot, I wouldn’t choose it for my standard developer, neither did I relish the prospect of repeatedly using an18 minute development stage. However Rodinal is readily available, cheap, keeps well and has a long, successful track record. I bought the DiXactol over the Internet, from www.barrythornton.com for £12.95 + £2.50 postage. Using the mode described, these two 250ml bottles will process 21x120 or 35x35mm films (Another two 250ml bottles of solution B costs the same again, to use the remainder of solution A for the single bath modes). Full instructions on how to use the developer in any of three modes are available on the site and also come with the product. Other articles on the site are also very helpful. The recommended ‘Single bath, Partial stand’ process is given in the technique box. Honestly, it’s much easier to do than say! I read the instructions several times before developing my first film as per the box, which quotes recommended times. Taking the film off the spiral, I was relieved to see everything looked fine and the stain was quite an attractive warm brown.
Once dry, I eagerly scanned a couple of frames, producing a significant improvement from my previous developer. Highlight details, sharpness and tonality were very good. I found on that there was some blocking in the shadows. Adjusting film speed from ISO100 to ISO64 has rectified this, with no subsequent loss of highlight detail. I have experienced slight marking on the edges of some films caused by air bells, not the developer. Harder rapping of the tank has cured this. DiXactol has fully met my objective to increase negative quality and consistency. I now use it as my standard developer and not just for exposures with a wide contrast range.
This article first appeared in Black and White Photography magazine Issue 10, June 2002.