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Sunday, March 3

The lowdown on Spursinn HCD

Well, it turns out there is nothing new under the sun after all. As suspected by readers Hein and Andy Forbes, the new Spursinn HCD developer announced by AG Photographic some weeks ago has indeed been on the market - but not, I think, in the UK - since April, 2011. AG billed the developer as "unique" and described it as new and I suppose that's true as far as the UK market is concerned.

It's a two-bath developer that can also be used as a single bath. The film is initially developed in Spursinn HCD-S which is then poured out and substituted with HCD-2. HCD-2 can be used as a stand alone developer but HCD-S on its own produces pretty grainy, coarse results.

Best results for HP5 or Tri-X are said to be obtained at any speed between 25-25,600 ISO. HCD is supplied in two parts and comes with a set of instructions that are comprehensive enough to cover "virtually every black and white film on the market". There are even times supplied for Tri-X at 51,200 ISO, tested by the manufacturer.

Hein and Andy were right in pointing out that HCD has been out for a while but identifying which developer is made by whom can sometimes be tricky so I waited until I got confirmation of this straight from the horse's mouth. It also seems that my on-the-ball readers were right that there was an earlier, short-lived version of HCD which has been replaced by the latest formulation which the makers call HCD New.

From Spursinn's website (and below): HP5 Plus at 50 ISO

Spur, who make the developer, very kindly agreed to answer some questions I sent them and their very full answers are both interesting and revealing and hold much promise for the future of black and white chemicals. I have to confess that I don't have much experience of the company's products - they don't seem to have as high a profile in the UK as in some overseas markets - but I sense that's set to change as they seem to be at the cutting edge of monochrome film and developer technology.

My questions were sent to Heribert Schain who I believed was the man responsible for the HCD formulation. In his answers, he was joined by his colleague Dr Wolfgang Heidrich and Spursinn's Michael Weyl.

TriX at 50 ISO

TriX at 3200 ISO

I think it's best if I just publish the questions and their answers. If this raises any more queries in the minds of readers then let me have them and I'll try to get some more answers.

BR: Is this a completely new product or a rebranding of an existing Spursinn developer? If the latter, can you say which existing product? AG Photographic give the impression that this is a new product but the suspicion is that it has been on sale in other markets.

HERIBERT SCHAIN: HCD new has been available in Germany since April 2011. It is indeed a completely novel, versatile two-bath push- and pull developer custom-tailored specifically to up to date photographic needs. HCD new was inspired by, and conceived in constant cooperation with Spürsinn, the latter being our co-operation partner, trainer for the application of SPUR products, and point of contact for end users. SPUR has subsequently newly developed a ground-breaking HCD formulation, and manufactures HCD new, exclusively for Spürsinn. Researching and developing innovative photochemicals is our craft.

BR: Can you explain the theory behind the way the two developing baths HCD-S and HCD-2 work? Since HCD-S can be used as a stand alone developer, can you say how HCD-2 affects the development process? What particular qualities does it provide? (Note: I confused the issue somewhat here by getting the stand alone part mixed-up. It's HCD-2 that can be used on its own and not HCD-S).

HERIBERT SCHAIN: Before there was HCD-new, development aiming at high contrast reduced tonal values. Soft development on the other hand would result in a great range of tonal values, however the negative so developed would lack contrast and therefore sharpness, looking flat.

So what Spürsinn and SPUR had in mind was a push- and pull developer that would enable us to obtain a great range of tonal values along with contrast and therefore, great sharpness for a perfect picture.

SPUR concluded that in order to achieve this, we would have to find a way of significantly increasing the contrast of detail (i.e. micro contrast). Considering that moreover, we needed to render possible the flexibility required actually to juggle pushing and pulling, we finally settled down for developing a novel two-bath developing technique.

We consequently developed the first component HCD-S as a means to start off development by lifting the latent image to a higher level in energetic terms, thus impregnating the negative to enhance existing, as well as newly enable further unthought of specific properties of a second component, HCD-2.

In a figurative sense, HCD-S thus acts as software, while HCD-2 could be considered hardware. HDC-S so to speak tells HCD-2 what to do and how to do it. At the development stage, the HCD new bundle was therefore actually half-jokingly merely referred to by the working title "Hardware-Software". 

Whereas the idea of conceiving a two-bath developing technique is nothing new really, what's innovative here is the way those two developing baths act and interact on the negative in terms of chemical processes, hence enabling limitless pushing and pulling.

You claim that the impregnating agent HCD-S could be used as a stand alone developer. Certainly you might have a crack at that if you like to experiment. Yet if you so tried using HCD-S on its own, the result would be a hard negative marked with coarse grain. We therefore recommend HCD-S exclusively for use in conjunction with HCD-2. By contrast, the second component HCD-2 definitely is a great stand alone developer!

DR HEIDRICH: We're currently getting some feedback from users who personally believe HCD-2 might be regarded even superior to ILFORD ILFOTEC DD-X. SPUR being but a tiny-sized photochemicals manufactory, we consider users finding we might be playing in that league quality-wise a truly great compliment. We're certainly delighted end users thoroughly enjoy using Spürsinn HCD-2 to the extent of considering it a darkroom staple.

HERIBERT SCHAIN: HCD-2 may be used as a stand alone developer with any film format. Compared to other, customary developers, the base fog is really low. HCD-2 enhances micro-contrast, thus leading to great sharpness. As quite some other developers, HCD-2 as a stand alone developer may be used for pulling and pushing - within reasonable boundaries. 

The advantages of HCD-2 will however be dramatically improved and replenished by using it after HCD-S, as the result will be a pioneering degree of micro contrast, and therefore extreme sharpness. Plus, you can use the HCD new two-bath bundle for limitless pulling and pushing.

Compared to conventional developers, the HCD new developing technique stands out due to its far greater range of film speed. Before HCD new, if you developed e.g. a 400 ISO film at 25 ISO, you would obtain a flat negative lacking contrast. Pushing to obtain high speed however would result in a negative rich in contrast yet lacking tonal values. But these days, using HCD new, we are free to choose from a considerably greater range of designated speeds, e.g. with ILFORD HP5+ we may choose any speed we like from a range of 25 up to 25,600 ISO. When pulling, tonal values will remain largely unaffected, and when pushing, gradation will be preserved to a great extent, producing excellent tonal values at the same time.

BR: What is the active developing agent in the developers?

HERIBERT SCHAIN: In fact there is not just one wonderful active developing agent to be found in either component of the HCD new developing technique – there's plenty. Both HCD-S and HCD-2 are packed with plenty of powerful active agents that will unfold their workings exclusively in specific conjunction with each other. The way those agents interact with each other approximate the complex dynamics of an ecosystem. You can't really point to the one specific substance that does the trick, as you would with the one active ingredient of e.g. Parodinal, or even traditional developers like Rodinal.

BR: Are the 25,600 and 51,200 ISO ratings for Tri X fully usable?

HERIBERT SCHAIN: Sure. Still those are just specifications for practical use, which will work under extreme lighting conditions. They are not on the other hand consistent with the Zone System, which is rather more strict.

BR: Can you compare the grain and tonal qualities of Tri X at the above film speeds to any existing film/developer combination?

MICHAEL WEYL: Each emulsion reacts differently. The combination HCD new with any film works very well, but each film has its own characteristics.

BR: Is there any one film that is especially good when developed in HCD-S and HCD-2?

MICHAEL WEYL: It depends on the requirements. Personally I love to use large format and so I have a lot of fun (and very good results) with Kodak Tri-X 320 and in special tasks I love Ilford Ortho plus (highest sharpness). I'm a people photographer and most times I need speed and tonal quality. One of the best combinations is Ilford HP5 / HCD new to use wide range of usable ISOs with maximum tonal and contrast range.

BR: Can you say what the grain and tonal qualities of faster films such as Tri X and HP5 Plus are like when they are downrated to 25 ISO? 

MICHAEL WEYL: You will save a long ratio of long-wavelength light – much more intense than is possible with ISO 100 film speed.

BR: Do HCD-S and HCD-2 have any vices? Do they raise fogging levels at higher ISOs or suffer from any uneven development or bromide drag effects?

HERIBERT SCHAIN: It's all smooth. Expect even development and a total absence of bromide drag effects. Pushing will of course raise fogging levels just very slightly, however nowhere even near the degree of fogging that you would get using customary developers.

BR: Do you have any jpegs you can email me showing some examples of HCD- S/HCD-2 with different films?

MICHAEL WEYL: Feel free to take a look at our example site

BR: Do you have any other new developers at the planning stage? Without giving away secrets, is there anything you're working on and can you say what your goal might be with any new developer?

DR HEIDRICH: Within the past twenty years, Heribert has developed a number of ground-breaking black-and-white developer formulations, a number of which are manufactured by SPUR and distributed under the brand names of our consignors.

Apart from that, we market our proprietary trailblazing SPUR developers, films, and paper. You may be particularly interested in our flagship fine art negative developing techniques featuring one cutting-edge backbone negative developer (see as well as three unprecedented special developers.

In addition to that, SPUR has developed numerous other innovative photo and darkroom chemicals of superior quality, which are equally manufactured by ourselves on our premises.

HERIBERT SCHAIN: All SPUR developers are marked by our trademark downsizing the photographic triangle model whose cornerstones are speed, graininess und sharpness. For these photographic features there has up to now been an established dogma to the effect that an improvement concerning any one of these three features could only ever be made at the expense of the other two. Yet long-standing research by SPUR and consequently, our edgy developers with their complex formulations, suggest that there need not forcibly be any such correlation, outdating that dogma. SPUR special developers in particular establish that a striking improvement of one photographic feature without compromising another is in fact possible.

DR HEIDRICH: SPUR SLD developer proves that a marked increase of film speed clearly surpassing the nominal film speed as stated by the manufacturer can be achieved without enlarging grain or losing sharpness. SPUR HRX-3 New establishes that we may achieve a significant increase in fineness of grain without losing speed and sharpness (see SPUR SD 2525 supplies evidence of the fact that we may obtain high sharpness through development without there being any correlation with a loss of speed or graininess. Attached please find some further information on SPUR products in the English language for your reference.

HERIBERT SCHAIN: Innovation is what we constantly seek. I would like to emphasise here that while of course we're currently in the process of conceiving and developing further unthought of developers, unfortunately we are unable as a company to disclose to the press any specific information relating to ongoing research and development.

In general terms, one of our main areas of renown is the vanguard development of, and exclusive expert technical know-how worldwide, relating to ultra-high resolving power in pictorial photography using microfilm. This is also reflected in our company name SPUR, being the contraction of Speed Photography + Ultrahigh Resolution.

DR HEIDRICH: In 2006, SPUR set an ultrahigh resolving power world record in co-operation with Carl Zeiss AG in Oberkochen, Germany.

HERIBERT SCHAIN: May I mention that when scanning highest resolution photographic zoomings, the depiction of resolution is limited by the resolving power of the scanner. The scan resolution thus obtained is equivalent to the resolution of best quality digital photographs. Even the finest state of the art drum scanners are unable faithfully to render the far higher resolution of the ultra-high resolution Orthopan UR negative, which boasts 800 line pairs per millimetre.

However due to the high exposure latitude of 10 to 12 f-stops of the analog ultra-high resolution original, the scan does approximately render some of the original's clearly perceptible, fine detail in the lights and shadows. 

Spur/Spursinn are certainly confident about their products, believing them to be right up there with the best and, in some respects, a little ahead.

As an example of their film/developer capabilities, Mr Schain gives the photographs below as evidence.  Photo 1 shows a full format print of a 35 mm ultrahigh resolution negative. Photo 2 shows an extreme enlargement from that full format print. The microfilm used was SPUR Orthopan UR. The negative was developed in SPUR Nanospeed UR developer, which has now been succeeded by the new and improved version, SPUR Modular UR New. 

The bottom four pics show just how good the Spur Ortho film is in a 5x4 v 35mm comparison. Photo 3 was taken using a large format camera and Kodak 400 T-MAX 4x5 inch film. The negative was developed with SPUR HRX-3 New. Photo 5 was taken using a 35 mm camera and SPUR Orthopan UR 135 film. The negative was subsequently developed with SPUR Modular UR New.

Photo 1
Photo 2

Photo 3: 5x4 TMax 400 in SPUR
HRX-3 New

Photo 4: Detail

Photo 5: SPUR Orthopan UR 35mm
in SPUR Modular UR New

Photo 6: Detail

Mr Schain said, "Since the film formats used do differ greatly, comparing enlargements of the same image section you would expect the large format film to render significantly better resolution and detail contrast. Astonishingly enough though, the results appear nearly analogous, an ever so slight yet perceptible edge over the large format resting with the 35 mm microfilm.

"Hence follows: using 35 mm SPUR Orthopan UR film in conjunction with SPUR Modular UR developer brings about a picture quality not just equivalent, but even slightly superior to 400 ISO large format high speed film."

Here's an English translation of an article further exploring the qualities of Spur materials.

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