diXACTOL Ultra

Pictorial Planet

diXACTOL UltraTM

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diXACTOL UltraTM is a tanning and staining developer formulated by the late Barry Thornton. It was his second developer of the diXACTOL range being an improved formula over the first diXACTOL and adding the word "Ultra" to the name to show this lineage.
Negatives that would be impossible with conventional developers print with fine graduation and much less struggle in burning and dodging.
Barry Thornton
The main improvements to the developer were a boost in film speed to around box or 1/3 stop under box improving shadow detail and also an improvement in staining. It still maintained its biting sharpness and good contrast but the tonality, for me, is improved. It's subjective but I feel it has a longer tonal range, richer.

Formulated initially as a 2-bath developer it was later proffered as a single bath. As a 2-bath some people suffered from uneven development especially around the edges of the film that touched the developer reel. This, Thornton offered, was because of contamination of the developing reels and/or the local water supply. Using the developer with a new reel (unused with other developers) could help or using the developer as a single bath which alleviated the problem completely.
We now recommend single bath partial stand development as standard.
Barry Thornton
Thornton later recommended single bath development with semi-stand, reducing agitation to every 2 minutes while extending development time by around 10%. This he said gave results at least as good or even better than the 2-bath. I personally use a developing reel dedicated to Dixactol Ultra and do not have the issue with two bath.

Pyrocatechin vs. Pyrogallol



Thornton formulated the developer with pyrocatechin because of the stain colour and the tanning. He'd used PMK, a pyro (pyrogallol) based developer and although he liked it found the highlights, on VC paper, lost contrast. He said it was like printing the highlights with a softer grade filter because pyrogallol gave a more yellow stain, the same colour as the soft grade filter with VC papers. This soft filter effect was more in the highlights because that's where most of the yellow/green stain with pyrogallol is formed.

He knew of Pyrocatechin from his career in newspaper printing, and knew that pyrocatechin gave the most tanning of any developing agent.

He also said the stain colour on negatives made with pyrocatechin was mainly brown with only a hint of yellow/green. This was advantageous in the darkroom with VC papers, as compared to pyrogallol, because the brown was a similar colour to VC paper safelights therefore creating a masking effect in the highlights not the soft grade filter effect like the yellow colour of pyrogallol processed negatives.

Developing with diXACTOL Ultra



There are three main methods of developing with this formula. 2-bath development, single bath development, and the recommended single bath semi-stand development.

2-Bath Development



2-bath development was originally recommended at 24C but later revised down to 21C. Frankly, anywhere between 20C and 24C should work well with only slight development time adjustments - if necessary at all. The time in each bath, Thornton said, can be anywhere between 3 1/2 and 6 1/2 minutes, depending of the grade of paper you want to print at. Longer development, lower grade. I personally find 5 minutes in each bath is a good 'standard' time but experiment to find what you prefer.

When using di
XACTOL Ultra as a 2-bath it's important not to contaminate the baths with each other. diXACTOL Ultra is a true divided developer so no development at all takes place in bath A, the A solution just defuses into and throughout the film emulsion. It is when A is poured out and B poured in that development begins.

Always dilute the developer with deionised or distilled water. Thornton's instructions describe dilution for the separate two baths A and B as 1+19 so 15ml to 285ml for a 300ml film tank or 25ml + 475ml for a 500ml tank. My personal preference is to use a little more developer volume than that, to combat uneven development such as air bells, so I make my two baths A and B from 20ml to 380ml water to make 400ml volume for 35mm developing tanks and 30ml to 570ml water to make 600ml total volume for 120 film tanks.

After diluting your two baths you should have two beakers, one with the appropriate amount of bath A and one with the appropriate amount of Bath B. I keep these apart on my work surface to protect against splashing one to the other.

Prepare your
water rinse stop bath or alkaline stop bath (available here in shop) and alkaline fix all at the same temperature as the developer (or within a degree).

Unusually for a 2-bath, Thornton recommends one or more pre-washes of the film with water at developer temperature. This is to bring the film and tank up to the temperature of the developer and washes out any anti-halation dye in the film, particularly 120 film. As I see it, especially because this is a divided developer, any very slight dilution of the A bath, by remnants of the pre-wash, should not make a noticeable difference in development compared to not using a pre-wash.

Pour out the pre-wash and pour in bath A.

Agitate once and rap the bottom of the tank to dislodge any air bubbles sticking to the film, then continue agitation for a total of 30 seconds, rap tank again.

Now agitate by two inversions every 30 seconds for the remainder of the time, rapping the tank after each set of agitations.

At the development time, pour out bath A and keep if re-using and immediately pour in bath B - no rinse between.

Agitate once and rap the bottom of the tank. Leave to stand, undisturbed, for 30 seconds.

Each 30 seconds agitate by inverting once, rap the tank and leave to stand, undisturbed, for 30 seconds.

At the completion of development time, empty the tank of B and keep if re-using the developer. It's normal for it to be dark brown (if not something is wrong). Then stop development either by using an alkaline stop bath or at least three rinses of water (ten inversions per rinse). Some photographers use a half strength acid stop also at this point but I personally like to keep the process alkaline and use either the new
alkaline stop or water rinses as described.

Now fix the film with alkaline fix (again because I like to keep the process alkaline to protect, as best I can, the stain)

After fixing,
wash the film as normal.

If you've used an acid fix but still want to maximise tanning and staining, wash the film using alkalised water. Thornton recommended adding a small amount of sodium carbonate (1 heaped teaspoon per 5 litres) to make it alkaline. This, he said, would assist maximum stain formation and tanning after an acid fixer. Make sure the chemical is fully dissolved in the water before using it to wash the film and for a final wash, before rinse aid, use pure water for a couple of thorough rinses. Sodium bicarbonate can also be used but just 1/3 to 3/4 a teaspoon per 5 Ltrs - again, make sure it's fully dissolved and do a couple of good post wash rinses before rinse aid.

Finally, use your rinse aid per the instructions.

Re-using 2-bath developer



The A bath and B bath can be re-used for 4 hours at least, with no change in development time for each bath. The capacity of the A and B bath is at least 3 films of 35mm or 120, or equivalent.

Zone System With 2 Bath Development



Zone System photographers need to control the contrast of their negatives. This is usually achieved through adjusting development time to increase or decrease highlight values. But time is not a good control with 2 bath developers since the developing agents contained in the A bath are saturated into the emulsion are virtually used to exhaustion during the immersion in Bath B. The bottom line, extension of time does not work well. Reducing times conversely leads to inconveniently short duration and the risk of unevenness. The best method, Thornton said, is to vary the dilution while retaining the N time you have found to be right for your equipment. You should conduct tests. For N-1 conduct trials at 1+24 dilution for both baths. For N+1, start trials at 1+9 dilution for Bath A, and 1+14 Bath B.

Note: do not use Bath B stronger than 1+14 or streaking, fogging, and negative unevenness is very likely.

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Single Bath Development



Single bath development, according to the present day instructions, is carried out at 21C with a dilution of 1+7+300 or pro rata for other capacities.

Note: Only add the B component just before beginning development and stir well.

Begin the development cycle with a pre-wash again at the developer temperature.

Pour out the pre-wash and pour in the developer.

Agitate for 30 seconds and then rap the tank.

Agitate every 30 seconds, rapping the tank after each set of agitations. I invert twice in a 5-7 second period with a slight twist to the tank as I invert.

At the end of the development time empty out the developer - this cannot be reused.

Now stop with either 3 water baths of 10 inversions each or by using alkaline stop.

Fix with alkaline fix for twice the clearing time. For our Alkali-Fix that would be 1.5 minutes to clear so a total of 3 minutes when fresh.

Wash
using the Ilford wash method.

If you've used an acid fix but still want to maximise tanning and staining, wash the film using alkalised water. Thornton recommended adding a small amount of sodium carbonate (1 heaped teaspoon per 5 litres) to make it alkaline. This, he said, would assist maximum stain formation and tanning after an acid fixer. Make sure the chemical is fully dissolved in the water before using it to wash the film and for a final wash, before rinse aid, use pure water for a couple of thorough rinses. Sodium bicarbonate can also be used but just 1/3 to 3/4 a teaspoon per 5 Ltrs - again, make sure it's fully dissolved and do a couple of good post wash rinses before rinse aid.

Finally, use your rinse aid per the instructions.

This is the best method of using diXACTOL Ultra as a zone system developer. It allows maximum control of negative highlight density. Because of the high tanning of the emulsion during development this single bath development method also makes negatives of bitingly sharp character due to very good acutance of diXACTOL Ultra.

Recommended Single Bath Development with Semi-stand



This is the preferred method of development giving similar acutance to the 2-bath and similar compensation.

Single bath semi-stand development, can also be carried out at 21C with a dilution of 1+7+300 or pro rata for other capacities. However, I prefer 24C, a higher temperature to keep development times down.

Note: Only add the B component just before beginning development and stir well.

Begin the development cycle with a pre-wash again at the developer temperature.

Pour out the pre-wash and pour in the developer.

Agitate for 60 seconds and then rap the tank.

Agitate every 2 minutes, rapping the tank after each set of agitations. I invert three times in a 10 second period with a slight twist to the tank as I invert. This two minutes can be extended but beware of uneven development if there's too long between agitation.

Using semi-stand agitation extends development time by around 10% but do carry out your development time testing. I filmed a video to show how to test for development time with another developer FX55 but the principle is exactly the same. See it
here and another with D23 here.

At the end of the development time empty out the developer - this cannot be reused.

Now stop with either 3 water baths of 10 inversions each or by using alkaline stop.

Fix with alkaline fix for twice the clearing time. For our Alkali-Fix that would be 1.5 minutes to clear so a total of 3 minutes - when fresh.

Wash using the
Ilford wash method.

If you've used an acid fix but still want to maximise tanning and staining, wash the film using alkalised water. Thornton recommended adding a small amount of sodium carbonate (1 heaped teaspoon per 5 litres) to make it alkaline. This, he said, would assist maximum stain formation and tanning after an acid fixer. Make sure the chemical is fully dissolved in the water before using it to wash the film and for a final wash, before rinse aid, use pure water for a couple of thorough rinses. Sodium bicarbonate can also be used but just 1/3 to 3/4 a teaspoon per 5 Ltrs - again, make sure it's fully dissolved and do a couple of good post wash rinses before rinse aid.

Printing with diXACTOL Ultra



diXACTOL Ultra pulls an enormous amount of detail from the negative. It prints on both graded and multigrade (VC) papers beautifully. In fact this is one of the main reasons I use it. There is a useful trick to printing with multigrade papers using split grade printing. This is just a starting point to realising the enormous detail that this developer pulls out of the film. From here you can perfect the print.

Make a print or test strip to ascertain the time needed to print at grade 2-3.

Now use this full time for exposing at grade 5 and 1/3 of this time for exposing on the same paper at grade 0. So:

  1. Example: If I find that a good grade 2.5 print uses an exposure of 10 seconds I will then start a split-grade test prints at:
  2. ~10 seconds exposure grade 5 followed by
  3. ~3 seconds exposure grade 0.
  4. You can expose the grade 0 first if you wish followed by the grade 5, it seems to make no difference.
  5. If your test strip is too dark reduce the grade 5 time.
  6. If you want brighter highlights reduce the grade 0 time.

This is a simple method to get you in the ballpark for split grade printing. There's other ways that I'll show on my YouTube channel but this works well as a starter.