It’s not everyday that Geoffrey Crawley releases one of his formulas but today was one such day.
You might remember FX-50. It was one of the Paterson developers of the 90’s and was formulated by Crawley, the man who compounded all the other FX developers. FX-50 was a very good Vitamin C developer, with all the qualities of XTOL; fine grain, sharpness, acutance and excellent gradation. What would you say if that man was to give you the formula for free?
FX-50 was a good developer and didn’t have the confounding and very annoying issues of XTOL i.e. failing prematurely and without warning. This was the XTOL curse and the reason I never used it. Many, like me, used FX-50 instead for it's reliability and similar photographic virtues. But then came the problems in the photographic industry for us wet film users. Paterson stopped selling their developers altogether and looked like they might abandon them to the history books. What we didn't know was that they were looking around for a new wet chemical manufacturer. This manufacturer was eventually sourced and the Paterson brand developers were once again on the market but without their FX-50!
Well, if I had to guess, Paterson won’t be making it again because today Mr Crawley, together with the Amateur Photographer magazine in UK, released a formula which is probably very close to that of FX-50. What makes this developer very interesting is the way it is made. Part A of the developer is the usual liquid stock solution but contains no developing agents. Basically it is just the accelerator and preservative. Therefore, this part A should last pretty well indefinitely, at least for a few years.
Part B is the unusual bit. It is made of just the two dry ingredients, the developing agents Sodium L-ascorbate and Phenidone. Yes, this is quite unusual. But it does seem a touch of genius if you have agents with shelf life problems when in solution. Of course, these dry chemicals should also last a long time.
Once the working solution has been made, Crawley says it keeps for about 36 hours. I have tried up to 24 hours and it does work perfectly although the developer solution starts yellowing.
To make the developer, the stock (part A) is made up to working strength by diluting 100 ml with 900 ml of distilled water. The Part B dry developing agents are then added to the working solution to create a viable developer.
Here it is:
Pot. Carbonate 20g (for Anhyd. use 15.4g)
Sod. Bicarbonate 1.5g
Sod. Sulfite 25g
Sod. Metabisulfite 12g (will fiz when added)
Water to 1000ml
This is a stock solution and will keep indefinitely.
Before use, dilute some the above stock 1+9 with water to make 1 liter of working solution.
Then add and dissolve the dry chemicals of part B below to the 1 ltr of working solution. If 1 ltr is too much for your film, just decant enough for your tank and discard or save the remainder (it will keep for around 36 hours in a sealed container).
FX-55 Part B
Sod. L-ascorbate 1.3g
For the Phenidone I make a solution of 1g Phenidone in 100ml 91% Isopropyl alcohol from the pharmacy. This dissolves easily. I keep this 1% solution in a brown bottle with my other chemicals. I then add 10ml of this solution to the working solution above.
This weekend I started testing the developer. I’m using Fuji Acros for my tests because it’s capable of very fine grain and smooth gradation. The film is also capable of stunning detail and sharpness and, in my opinion, exceeds TMax100 and Delta100 in all areas. Unfortunately I have found that some developers give this emulsion a plasticky almost technical look and I’m interested to see if FX-55 can improve on this with better gradation and control in the highlights.
I mixed 100ml of the stock with distilled water up to 500ml. I then added part B. Finally, I made it up to 1 ltr with more water.
After a few tests with Acros in FX-55 I settled on 5:30 minutes at 24degC as around the correct development time (80 ISO). Agitation was for the first 30 seconds and then four gentle inversions (10 seconds total) every minute. Grain is extremely fine and gradation very smooth indeed. The plasticky look, that I have seen with Pyrocat HD and Acros, is not at all evident. More testing tomorrow with some landscapes.
The landscapes are now developed and they are very sharp! I used my Rollei SL66 for the test as I knew the Zeiss lenses on this camera are my very best. But still, this is a nicely sharp combination. For this second session I used the working dilution from the day before; so I know that this will last at least 24 hours. I noticed a yellowing of the solution before I used it so this is the sign that it is going off.
Acros at 80ISO developed in FX-55 6 mins 24degC - very slightly over developed. Use 5:30 as below. Nevertheless, the clouds have been rendered very faithfully showing an element of developer compensation.
The grain from the picture above. This is a tiny section just above the tall tree. You can see the stunning detail that this combination has captured, the micro-contrast is excellent.
This picture shows the very clean and sharp Acros macro-contrast and lovely pictorial gradation with FX-55. You can see clearly that this film/developer combination has really held the sky beautifully (no filter used). The developer gives a speed for Acros of 80ASA. This roll was developed for 5:30 at 24degC - agitation 30 seconds followed by 10 seconds each minute.
FX-55 with Ilford IR film SFX