Recommended Materials For Photo Classes
I recommend choosing a single black and white film, a single developer, and a single printing paper for high school photo classes. This keeps the process simple for the students so that they can learn the basics without being confused by the large numbers of different films, developers, and papers available.
Black and white film photography differs from color photography in that there is no "Standard" process for BW. With color print film, all films are processed in the exact same C-41 process, using the same chemicals and developing times. This is the same for all films, regardless of manufactuer or film speed. Black and white films can be processed in literally hundreds of different developers. Each developer gives different looking images, with grain, film speed, tonal rendering, and image sharpness all being influenced by the developer you choose. Advanced workers often try many different combinations of films and developers, and will keep several different developers to choose frm depending on how they want the photos to look.
While all of the black and white films made today are capable of high quality results, I recommend Kodak Tri-X for students. It is a very easy film to work with. Tri-X is not overly sensitive to minor errors in developing time and chemical temperature like some films are, and it has enough exposure lattitude that students can get printable negatives from it even if their exposure was not perfect.
Tri-X is a 400 speed film, which works well in a variety of different types of lighting. There are other films with finer grain and higher detail resolution, but most have characteristics that make them harder for students to use. Kodak Tmax 400, for example, has very fine grain but is very sensitive to errors in expsure and processing technique. In experienced hands, it is a beautiful film, but students may have difficulty with it until they become more experienced.
Tri-X was used for decades by photojournalists as their standard BW film, and I have used it for many, many years.
Film Developer Recommendation:
I recommend Kodak Tmax Developer for students. It is a liquid developer that comes as a concentrate that is diluted before use to make the working strength developer. I like Tmax Developer because it has proven itself to me over many, many years of use as an excellent, easy to use general-purpose developer that works well with just about every film out there. Kodak recommends diluting it 1+4 (one part developer added to four parts water), but I have found it gives gorgeous results diluted further, at 1+7. This saves you money because you use about half as much of the concentrate for each roll developed! My Tested Developing Times page lists Developing Times for Tri-X and several other films in Tmax Developer at the 1+7 dilution.
Some people recommend using Kodak D-76 Developer. D-76 is probably the world's most popular developer. It has been made since 1927 and gives beautiful results with almost all films. The reason I do not recommend it is that D76 comes as a powder that must be dissolved in very hot (120 degree) water. Any time you work with powdered chemicals, some of the fine powder WILL become airborne, and students WILL breathe some of it.
Fixer is used for both film and paper; it removes the unexposed silver from the film or paper after developing, thus making the image permanent. I recommend a liquid Rapid Fixer. Do not use Powdered fixers like Kodak Fixer Powder. Powdered fixers have the same health hazards as powdered developers. In addition, powdered fixers use a different fixing agent (Sodium Thiosulfate) that is much slower-acting and that researchers in recent years have concluded is incapable of fully fixing modern films. Rapid fixers come as a much-safer liquid concentrate that is diluted with water to make the working-strength fixer, and they use Ammonium Thiosulfate as their fixing agent. This fixes in less than half the time needed by powder fixers and is more effective with modern films.
Rapid Fixers are all very similar to each other. I recommend Ilford Hypam Rapid Fixer because it is quite a bit less expensive than Kodak's Rapid Fixer and works just as well.
This is the ight-sensitive paper that your students will print their photographs on. There are many different types of Black & White papers available. You'll want to choose a Resin Coated (RC) Variable Contrast (VC) paper.
RC papers have the paper base coated on both sides with plastic. This is the type of photo paper most people are familiar with, since all color prints were made on RC papers back when we still shot color film and had it developed at the local one-hour lab. RC papers are best for students because they process faster than Fiber Base papers, which do not have the plastic lamination. Class time is limited. My school district's high school classes are just 50 minutes long, and that seems to be common in most American schools. RC paper is also less expensive, dries flatter, and is more durable when wet than Fiber-Base papers are.
Variable Contrast papers allow the contrast of the paper to be changed using colored filters on the enlarger. This lets students make good prints from negatives shot in very conrtrasty light, or films that were not developed correctly. Most schools I have been in have enlargers fitted with VC light sources that have built-in filters that the user selects by turning a knob on the enlarger, thus freeing you from having to have sets of printing filters (which inevitably get lost or damaged) on hand.
I recommend choosing just one type of paper, so that the students can concentrate on learning to print, without worrying about differences in papers. If money is not a concern, the very best is Ilford Multigrade IV RC Deluxe, which is made in England. I used Ilford MGIV in both the RC and Fiber-Base versions for many, many years.
If you need something cheaper, but still high in quality, Kentmere Select VC-RC is about 20 cents a sheet less, and it is made by Ilford as their "Budget" paper. It is not the same formulation as the Ilford-branded paper, but it is a good paper and it is also made in England.
Many schools use Arista.EDU Ultra VC-RC paper. This is a private-label paper sold by Freestyle Photo at a considerably lower cost than Ilford paper. The paper is made by Foma in the Czech Republic, and is simply Foma's Fomaspeed VC-III RC paper. I have not used it, but I have used Foma's Black & White films, which are very well-made. The Foma-branded paper is the price as Ilford MG-IV, so the Freestyle version is a very good deal.
Paper Developer Recommendation:
Printing paper is developed using a different type of developer than that used for films, so you'll need to have seperate developers for each. There aren't many differences between different types of paper developers, so any commercially produced print developer is ok. Kodak Dektol is the old standard, and has been made for decades. Because Dektol is a powder, I prefer to use a liquid developer like Ilford Multigrade Print Developer.
Stop bath is an acid that stops the developer after the print is removed from the developer. Developers are Alkaline, and will contaminate the fixer, so the Stop Bath prevents that. It is actually diluted Acetic Acid...vinegar! The stuff sold for photo use is free of impurities that food-grade vinegar can contain, and they contain a PH indicator that causes the chemical to change color when it becomes exhausted. Kodak Indicator Stop Bath is the standard, but since all stop baths are basically the same chemical, any brand is fine. This stuff is heavily diluted in water before use, so a small bottle will last a long time.
Those are all of the chemicals you need!
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