In a recent conversation with an online friend about my current preference for Tri-X over HP5 Plus for my 35mm black & white film hybrid film photography he mentioned that he was getting good results with HP5 Plus developed in Photographers Formulary FA-1027. Because I find Ilford films easier to handle than Kodak films, and because I appreciate Ilford’s commitment to black & white film photography, I decided I would give it a try. And, as is my usual practice, I didn’t shoot a test roll but rather put a 24-exposure bulk load roll of HP5 Plus in my IIIc and took it on my next photo outing, in this case a long weekend trip to Florida.
I returned home on Tuesday, developed the film in FA-1027 (1+19) on Wednesday and digitized the negatives yesterday (Thursday). At first glance the negatives looked very crisp and clear. There was none of the gray haze that characterizes my HP5 Plus negatives developed in Ilfotec DD-X (1+4). Without magnification, the negatives look remarkably like those developed in Rodinal (1+49). The possible slide down a slippery slope began when I started editing the RAW “scans.”
My standard workflow these days is to convert my RAW files to DNG using Iridient X-Transformer and then edit the DNG files with Affinity Photo. When I did that with the HP5 Plus in FA-1027 files I was disappointed with the image on MacBook Air screen. The overall appearance was what I have come to expect from HP5 Plus, which is to say very good, but the edge contrast had the same kind of fuzziness that caused me to switch to Rodinal in the first place. I was discouraged, but there was one more thing to try.
Before I started using Iridient X-Transformer to convert my RAW “scans” I converted them with the same Affinity Photo app I used to edit and print them. I was very happy with the results. When I switched from Ilfotec DD-X to Rodinal for all of my film stocks I found I preferred the results with Iridient X-Transformer. It seemed to work better with the appearance of the film grain in large light areas of the images, particularly the sky. But with the new FA-1027 negatives looking more like my old Ilfotec DD-X negatives was X-Transformer still the best choice, or might Affinity Photo work better for the DNG conversion?
I did a simple comparison. I selected one of the images from the trip, converted the RAW file to DNG with Iridient X-Transformer, opened the DNG file in Affinity Photo, converted the color format to Grey/16, set the profile to Generic Gray Gamma 2.2, inverted the image, cropped the image to a 2:3 aspect ratio, set the black and white levels to the extreme ends of the histogram, and exported the file as a JPG (best quality). I made no additional edits to the file.
Then, half hoping that I was going to find a better film/developer combination, and half hoping that I wasn’t starting down the slippery slope of even more testing, I repeated the same process with the same RAW file, except this time I converted the RAW file to DNG with Affinity Photo. The result? Comparing 8×12 prints from the two JPG files I had a slight preference for the X-Transformer version. It was just that little bit sharper. (I use no software sharpening in my workflow.) And more important, neither of the prints had the almost three-dimensional appearance of my best prints from Tri-X developed in Rodinal.
For now at least, I am putting the HP5 Plus film and FA-1027 developer back on the shelf and using just Tri-X and FP4 Plus film, both developed in Rodinal.