In Search of Speed

By Omar Ozenir

British Museum, London, 2001

The introduction of SPUR’s HCD developer, claiming speeds up to ISO 51200 with TriX, got me intrigued. Could this really be possible? Could there be a solution to one of film based photography’s weakest points? Personally, I’ve never managed to get anything useful past EI 1600 – ok, call that 3200 – and I’m not even talking about TriX, but the high speed champions Delta 3200 and Tmax 3200.

Consider the top photo, which I made in the Americas section in the wonderful British Museum. It was a time when I took the writing on the film box literally and happily exposed Delta 3200 at EI 3200. Now look at the negative:

A bit thin, isn’t it? Well, I still got a print at grade 5, but only just and only because it’s the geometric shapes that carry the picture, not the shadow detail. Had I read Ilford’s technical specs at the time, I probably would have noticed that Ilford’s measured speed with ID11 is actually ISO 1000!

What about this photo, where two ladies are inspecting an Egyptian mummy?

British Museum, London, 2003

This time I had downrated Kodak Tmax 3200* to EI 1200 and got this negative (with Tmax developer diluted 1+4 for 12 minutes):

Much better shadows, don’t you think? I must have learned something in the intervening two years after all. :-)

Nevertheless, downrating is not really an answer that users of an alleged high speed film want to hear, right? Possibly because anything in the EI1000 range as a usable speed doesn’t look like a significant enough improvement over other ISO400 films? I tend to disagree actually (maybe more on this in another post), but would welcome more speed at the same time. So, is there a developer that can give the shadows a good hard kick? Decent EI 3200 wouldn’t be bad for a start.

Over the last few months I’ve been lovingly and carefully home-brewing some developers, amongst them phenidone based speed-increasing developers like Crawley’s FX-4 and FX-37, which are commercially unavailable, or ID-68**, which is claimed to be identical to Ilford Microphen. So far, my tests with Delta 3200 haven’t been very promising; I still wouldn’t rate it beyond EI 1600. I hope the above negatives give you an idea of what I’m after and what I try to avoid (as always, your preferences may be different, and that's OK).

Another potential method of getting more speed with flat grain films is mentioned in Anchell & Troop’s Darkroom Cookbook***: use twice the normal dilution (e.g. 1+2, instead of 1+1), which is quite against the convention, and increase development times by up to 100%. I haven’t tried this yet - any readers who have, feel free to comment.

All my failures in squeezing out more than one stop additional speed make me think that we’re stuck with the films' capabilities at a deeper, molecular level. I do wonder what SPUR’s recent magic potion is truly capable of and I would be very happy to read your comments if/when you have had the chance to test it.

As a final note, I would like to express my appreciation of British museums where entrance and photography is free for all. Thanks!

*Alas, Tmax 3200 is no more. Kodak discontinued it last autumn. I think it was a very good film with a tonal palette that I rather liked.

**Thanks to Ian Grant for publishing the formula on the web -

**”The Film Developing Cookbook”, Anchell & Troop, page 61.


  1. Interesting! I have tried Spursinn HCD but not a very high speeds. Results seem to be nothing very special. I have used Ilford 3200 at 1600 in my OM2 developed in Ilford DD-X and I quite like the results. Not sure I could really use very high speeds anyway as I don't have a TTL meter which goes over 3200 (in my Nikon FM)

  2. HCD "nothing very special"? That would be a shame, Alan. I was hoping that HCD would be a good replacement for Tri X and Diafine. Do you have any examples you could ping my way? I'm just about out of film and developer and will be placing an order with AG Photographic shortly. Might get some HCD to give it a try.

  3. I've got a few samples on my blog ( and on Flickr (my ID is AlanJarvis)

  4. Thanks, Alan. I'll check them out.

  5. Hi, I tried Fuji Neopan at EI 12,800 developed in Spursinn HCD. Bit of a failure but due to my meter I think, have a look at my blog

  6. Looks like underexposure to me (center-weighted average metering is not always the best). Overdeveloping might be worth a try... (e.g. shoot at 3200, develop for 6400)

    My first steps in high contrast available light scenes looked similar until I learned how my meter fooled me so I was able to compensate for it. A magic developer won't help much. ;-)

  7. Hi Hein,

    I think Omar's metering technique was fine but his problem, as he explained, was that he took the box speed of the film literally in those days. He now knows that he should have rated the film at 1000 ISO instead of its nominal 3200 ISO.

  8. there seems like much more could be documented on push processing!
    I've bought a lot of polypan f iso50 that I've tried to push to ei1600 in dektol and ei400 in rodinal stand (for four hours!)

    the dektol ones were barely good enough to scan but the rodinal seems good :)