Following the last post, which was about my go-to selection of film and developer if I want solid, dependable results, now a preferred combination at the sunnier side of things. Yes, moving on to slower films, and ending up with a more specialised recipe. More spicey, but sometimes a meal needs that.
All I wrote last time about what I look for in a film, and what I look for in a developer remain exactly the same. Those criteria apply 100% to this recipe as well. And if you can make it till the end, you will find this recipe hits those criteria 100% too.
Selecting a slower film than the middle-of-the-road ISO400 films does create a bit more questions for me. Part is down to my own preference: I never quite saw the point of tabular grain ISO400 films (like Delta 400 or T-Max 400). If I want smoother grain, then I’d need to be shooting slower film. If I genuinely need ISO400, I should accept grain, and then traditional grain (like Tri-X 400 or HP5) looks right to me. For the slower films, though, the choice between tabular grain film (from here on T-grain) and traditional film is more interesting to me.
How’d you like you grain, sir?
To my eye, the differences in the ‘look’ you get between more modern T-grain films and traditional grain films can be pretty evident.
The T-Grain films: smooth, devilishly sharp; a modern look, perhaps more digital and less film-like in the sense how one expects a level of grain and imperfection with film. These films look really different from the Tri-X/HP5 films that massaged our expectations for decades.
The traditional films instead can show more of a hint of grain, and if you try to squeeze out maximum sharpness, that grain can become visibile. If you try to reduce grain, you may end up loosing the ultimate edge in sharpness. As a result, a more old-school look. Still less grain than the ISO400 counterparts, but otherwise very similar.
I don’t make a choice between these two, since I found happy combinations for either look. Today’s recipe is the first one: T-grain, modern, sharp, contrasty. Recipe for sunny days with plenty sun.
So, what do we eat today?
Well, clearly a T-Grain film 🙂 Ilford again, Delta 100 Professional this time.
As for the developer, obviously a developer that will emphasize sharpness. Rodinal would be your prime suspect maybe, but it’s not the developer of choice. Instead, I go with Beutler’s formula. Not the most famous, but for me, it works very well with Delta 100. And being less famous, it deserves its moment in the spotlight.
The choice for the film was driven by economics, and it stuck because it does the job. Kodak tends to be more expensive by a considerable margin, so I never have tried T-Max 100. Probably I should, but as said, Delta 100 stuck around because it works well for me. The other choice could be Fuji Acros 100. I have tried this film, and liked it a lot. But again, it’s a lot more expensive and compared to Delta 100, I found it difficult to justify the extra cost.
The choice for Beutler is not driven by economics, but it does end up being economic. It’s a very simple developer, and its ingredients are not hard to find, nor very expensive. Per developed film, you’re not spending a lot of money using this developer.
The ingredients themselves have very long shelf life; just keep them dry. Once mixed up, you create 2 solutions (A and B), and both of those also have very long shelf life (at least 6 months in my experience). So, important checkbox ticked there.
I mix up enough for a bottle of 100ml of ‘Beutler A’ and 100ml of ‘Beutler B’. Per roll of 35mm film, I need 25ml of each, so each mixed up bottle is good for 4 films. As I do not shoot enormous amounts of Delta 100, this is perfectly fine.
Beutler A consists of Metol and Sodium Sulphite. Beutler B is Sodium Carbonate, a.k.a. soda.
Preparation – part 1
To prepare 100ml of Solution A, you will need 1gr of metol, and 5gr of Sodium Sulphite (water free):
- First put in the sodium sulphite in 100ml of water (I used demineralised water to reduce risk of contaminations). Shake until fully dissolved.
- Next put in the metol, and shake until fully dissolved. This usually takes longer as Metol does not dissolve that easily. But all in all, doesn’t take terribly long.
Part one done. Part two is even simpler.
For 100ml of solution B, it’s 5gr of water-free soda. Dissolve it and done. The tricky part could be getting water-free soda in the first place. The normal soda you can get in supermarkets and convenience stores is not water-free.
Since you will need to get metol and sodium sulphite from specialised stores anyway, those typically will sell water-free soda as well. Expect to pay more than in your supermarket, but calculated per-film it actually ends up costing the same more or less.
You can use supermarket soda just fine, but you will need to adjust the weight. There are two sorts of cleaning soda available: one which is very fine crystalline and one which is larger blobs. (The third option is baking soda, which is a different salt completely – do not use for Beutler, just for … baking).
The fine crystal soda is 1,2 times heavier, so 5gr. becomes 6gr. The more crude crystals are 2,7 times heavier, so 5gr becomes 13,5gr. The finer crystal soda is a bit easier to manage in small quantities, so my advice is that one.
Now, you have the two solutions that will keep well for months.
There is an even simpler solution: Fotohuis RoVo sells ready-to-mix small bags with the ingredients. Easier than finding a chemistry shop in your country, and still relatively reasonable priced. And since it’s small quantity – a perfect way to test for yourself if this recipe works for you.
Preparation – Part 2
Mixing up the developer for use is a simple 1+1+10, so 1 part solution A, 1 part solution B, 10 parts water. For a single 35mm roll, I use 300ml in total, so that is 25ml of solution A, 25ml of solution B, 250ml water. As with all developers, once mixed up, use it soon.
Unlike well-established developers like D-76, Rodinal or Xtol, you will not find Beutler on the list of recommended development times on the packaging of your film. Or on the website of the film manufacterer. For this, luckily, we have the Massive Dev Chart, an incredible resource that any film shooter will have in his or her bookmarks. It has one entry for Delta 100 and Beutler, with the film rated at ISO64.
I do shoot the film at ISO100 though, and as a result use a slightly shorter development time: 13 minutes for 20 degrees Celsius. Stop, fix, wash all as usual.
It scans really well, no real hint of grain, plenty tonality, highlights are kept nicely and shadow detail is sufficient too. It’s hard to dislike the results.
My experience with darkroom printing is still very limited, but I’ve printed some of these negatives. No real issues to report at all. Enlargements around 24×30 cm, looking grainless and very sharp and defined.
The road to Beutler
Using Beutler was a happy accident for me. It got me curious as I was shopping for other items (in the above mentioned webshop of Fotohuis RoVo). I ordered a single bag, just to try. From descriptions it was clearly for slower films. At the time, I already had Delta 100, so it was the obvious one to use.
Before that, I had used different developers with Delta 100, nearly all of them working really well. But what happened with Beutler is that I saw the good parts of the others, without their drawbacks. Since then, this has become the standard recipe I’ll use with Delta 100.
That said, I can imagine people aren’t thrilled with buying ‘raw’ chemicals and a scale that measures precise enough and so on. So let’s look at alternatives too.
Alternative developers for Delta 100 are plenty. The ones I have used are Rodinal, HC110 and Perceptol. Out of these, Perceptol definitely is the one worth mentioning. It delivers absolutely lovely tonality; lush, smooth negatives that scan absolutely fabulous. Yes, perhaps I like this combination even more. If only Perceptol would keep well, which it does not.
Rodinal also works really well, but shadow detail and tonality are a step back. But great sharpness and bite.
HC110 – works well, as expected, but it doesn’t show off the qualities of this film as much as the other two do. A solid choice, but not the most inspiring one this time.
And there it is: Beutler fits exactly between these two: almost as sharp as Rodinal, almost as much tonality as Perceptol.
As alternatives for the film, Ilford Delta 100 is generally good available, and in Europe typically also the most affordable in its class. The alternatives are T-Max 100 and Acros 100. As mentioned above, I lack experience with T-Max 100. Acros 100 I have used and like it a lot. A bit more contrast and sharpness than Delta 100, I’d say (tested both with Perceptol). But considering the price difference, ultimately not worth it to me. Would Acros 100 be the same price, I’d probably use it instead.
That’s my recipe for sharp, modern-looking black and white goodness. The one thing not mentioned is of course that this kind of film begs for a camera with a good lens. It’s not an allround combination like HP5/HC110 is; it’s a lot more specialised. It needs contrasty light to shine, and it needs optics that do it all justice.
The complaint could be that it is rather clininal. Would I recommend it for portraits, for street photography? No, I think those are better served with more old-fashioned looks. The beauty of it all is of course that those choices are all available. And this choice for a clean-looking, smooth, sharp look is definitely a valid choice, in the right circumstances. A more specialised tool, not your everyday option, but useful all the same.
And personally, these negatives make me smile. They manage to bring something to the table that just really works for me. So, a recipe I’ll continue to use and refine.