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Sunday, July 7

Film developer test: Spur HRX-3 New

Six weeks ago, I posted a comparison between 35mm Ilford Delta 100 developed in D76 and Spur Acurol-N. The short version is that Acurol-N delivers impressive sharpness but reveals a little more grain than D76. At the same time as I shot the test frames for that test, I also shot a group of identical frames for later development in Spur HRX-3 New, a developer that sacrifices some film speed for fine grain.

I finally got round to developing the third batch of frames in HRX-3 New and this post reveals the results. HRX-3 New comes in two parts labelled A and B. If you're using 300ml to develop a roll of 35mm and the dilution is 1+14 (that's what it is for HP5 Plus) then you simply divide 300 by 15 to get 20. Split the 20 evenly for 10ml each of A and B and add to 280ml of, preferably, distilled or de-ionised water. The "New" appellation doesn't mean it's a recent product but is there to distinguish it from its predecessor HRX-3.

Being a fine-grained developer, HRX-3 New causes a loss of speed with most films. The roll of Delta 100 I developed had already been been shot at 100 ISO and not Spur's recommended 80 ISO so was lacking a little shadow detail, although it was otherwise fine.

For the Acurol-N v D76 test, I made prints from comparable frames and scanned the results. Although I could see the differences brought about by the developers when holding the prints in my hands, those weren't so apparent once I'd posted them here.

The usual test scene from the bathroom window.

This time, I decided to scan the negatives from the HRX-3 New, Acurol-N and D76 tests and post those instead in an effort to better show the differences. Did it work? Well, not in any obvious way. You have to bear in mind that these differences are never massive: they're subtle effects that often don't show themselves in enlargements unless they're over 10x8. They are real, though, and can influence the film you choose for a subject. Most of the characteristics of a negative come from the actual film stock with the developer bringing perhaps 5-10% to the party. And in this case, we're comparing two developers - HRX-3 New and D76 - designed to achieve the same goal so it's no great surprise that negatives developed in each look similar.

So, with all that out of the way, I think I can say that the claims Spur makes for Acurol-N and HRX-3 New are borne out in practice. If we think of D76 as the "control", Acurol-N is sharper and HRX-3 is, in my opinion, slightly finer-grained. Hopefully, it will be visible in the jpegs I've posted here but my scanner is so poor that I find it very difficult getting really sharp scans and that's what you need to show off the grain. Having examined the HRX-3 New/Delta 100 negs at 16x20 on the baseboard, it's obvious that the grain is extremely fine - in fact, it's difficult finding any to focus on! Here are some 100% crops from the 3200 DPI scans.




Delta 100 in D76 is a wonderful balance between sharpness and fine grain but, although there's not much in it, I think grain with HRX-3 is just that little bit finer and sharpness is about the same. The two developers actually produce negatives that look pretty well identical to the naked eye.

Delta 100 - D76 on top and HRX below. See what I mean about the similarities?
The correctly-exposed neg is on the left followed by +1 stop, +2, -1 and -2.

HP5+ in HRX-3 New. These are just slightly too dense for my taste but I was using the Sunny 16 rule with my old Nikon F and gave the development an extra half minute since I use a diffusion enlarger and Spur's times are pitched midway between condenser and diffusion enlargers, leaning slightly towards the condenser. In future I'll stick to Spur's exact dev. time which should be about perfect for me.

I also tried HP5 Plus in HRX-3 New, exposed at Spur's recommended 250 ISO, and that's a nice combination as well. The proof of the pudding will be in the printing and I'm too busy for a session in the darkroom right now so that will have to wait. But the HP5 Plus negs look beautiful and the grain seems very well controlled. Frustrated by my difficulties in getting good, sharp scans of the negs, I resorted to photographing the HP5 Plus negs using a slide copier and my D700. The results were definitely better - but only in the centre. Definition falls off towards the edges.

The more I try to capture the qualities of negatives for digital reproduction, the more I appreciate making darkroom prints. Negatives and silver gelatine paper are made for each other. Negatives and scanners are a bodge unless you're prepared to spend a lot on high quality scans. Below are some shots from a roll of Delta 100 and another of HP5 Plus, all developed in HRX-3 New. They're just "getting to know you" photographs but will give you some idea of how the developer and Delta 100 and HP5 Plus get along. Suffice to say that HRX-3 New is at least as good as D76 and possibly slightly better - and you don't get much better than that.

DELTA 100 and Konica Hexar AF

(With apologies to Phil Rogers)

HP5 Plus and Nikon F

105mm f2.5 Nikkor-P Auto

35mm f2.8 Nikkor-S Auto

24mm f2.8 Nikkor-N Auto

LtoR: Hamish, Maggie, Molly. 35mm f2.8 Nikkor-S Auto

UPDATE: Omar has posted his initial thoughts on HRX-3 New (OK, he beat me to it by a day) at:

UPDATE 2: Andrew Sanderson has published a review of Spur HCD-S/HCD-2 developer. Interesting stuff.


Jez said...

I'm wondering whether it would be more appropriate to compare with Ilford Perceptol - also well suited to HP5+ at 250 ISO. It doesn't seem to me you are comparing like with like using ID11/D76.

Bruce Robbins said...

I'm happy to sell you some HRX if you'd like to do the test yourself, Jez. :)

Oscar said...

I really like the last picture, by the way. The reflected clouds creates a nice contrast to the calmness of the dogs.