New Spur HRX Dev: Same Grain, More Speed

Ilford HP5 Plus at 400 ISO in Spur's new HRX

UPDATE: In response to a comment left below, Spur said the shelf life of the developer is excellent. Part B will last "virtually forever". Part A will last for more than two years if it's either kept in its sealed, unopened bottle or, once opened, if stored with protective gas according to Spur's instructions. Perhaps adding glass marbles to keep the fluid level at the top of bottle would achieve the same. The new developer will come in a gas proof PET bottle for convenience.

Charting the history of Spur's HRX developer can be somewhat confusing. It began as a one component developer, HRX, in 1999, morphed into HRX-2 and then HRX-3, still as a single component brew.

Now this is where it gets complicated. Spur brought out another updated version - a two part developer - and kept the HRX-3 name. Three years ago two-part HRX-3 New was launched - this developer is the present one. Now, the German company is gearing up for the latest incarnation of the fine grain developer and HRX-3 New's replacement - new HRX - which is due to come out in the next couple of months.

Still with me? I'm not sure I am! From what I can gather, the changes have been largely confined to minor tweaks to parameters such as grain and longevity. The new HRX - plain "HRX" is how it will be known upon launch - is supposed to offer reduced grain and, with many of the emulsions tested by Spur, a claimed increase in speed to something approaching box speed. Earlier versions tended to cause some loss of speed, not uncommon with fine grain developers.

Spur are making some big noises about new HRX. They claim it is the "best fine grain developer on the market". The company told me, "The shelf life has been an essential problem that Spur have been working on improving since the millennium. Of course, we've also striven to gradually improve speed, sharpness and fineness of grain.

"Shelf life is now dramatically improved which is great in light of exporting HRX overseas. The reason why Spur has gone back to the original name HRX is that we believe the product as it stands now cannot be improved any further. It's a perfect Spur product from our point of view."

I tested HRX-3 New (the present one) back in July and found it produced negatives with very slightly finer grain than D76 1+1 when using Ilford's HP5 Plus rated at Spur's recommended 250 ISO. This time, I shot a roll of HP5 Plus again rated at 250 ISO for development in HRX-3 New (the present) for comparison against the same film rated at 400 ISO which Spur said is achievable with the new developer. I also shot a few frames at 250 ISO on the film destined for a bowl of new HRX to compare grain at the same ISO between the two developers.

The upshot of all of this is that I can't see any difference in grain between the two developers but 400 ISO does seem a valid speed for HP5 Plus in the new developer which is a very useful "development". The grain has a slightly different appearance but I can't really say that it is less noticeable with one developer rather than another.

Here are a few examples. First, two scans of sections of actual darkroom prints followed by two 3200 DPI scans of small sections of the negatives:

HRX-3 New - HP5 Plus 250 ISO
Section of a 20x30 inch print

New HRX - HP5 Plus 250 ISO
Section of a 20x30 print

New HRX - HP5 Plus at 250 ISO
Half-inch square section of 35mm neg at 3200 DPI

HRX 3 New (the present dev) - HP5 Plus 250 ISO
Half-inch square section of 35mm neg at 3200 DPI

There's really nothing to choose between the two developers when it comes to grain. In 10x8 prints from 35mm HP5 Plus at 400 ISO grain is noticeable but very small. Grain in most of the photos here is accentuated by the need to print at a hard grade to get some oomph into my very flat negatives, the result of the dull weather and normal exposure and development. Normally, I would have rated the HP5 Plus at a higher speed and developed for longer to boost contrast a little. Dialling in grade 4.5 on the Durst really makes the grain pop.

Now here are a couple of shots of the same scene, the first with HP5 Plus rated at 250 ISO and the second at 400 ISO. Both look fine to me.

250 ISO
400 ISO

With regard to the ISO speed, the one caveat here is that the day I chose for shooting the test films was quite misty and those low contrast conditions aren't the best for determining shadow detail. Notwithstanding that, there is plenty of shadow detail in the 400 ISO negatives. A few negs shot late in the day when the mist had lifted also showed good shadow detail at 400 ISO.

Here's another 400 ISO shot - a scanned print - which has a nice range of tones and good shadow detail. There's a little more information in the shadows on the negative than I've captured here. This one is a good guide to the sort of grain you'll get from 400 ISO HP5 Plus in a 10x8. This was at grade 3.5. A grade 2 print would show slightly less grain.

The new developer, then, is another fine product from Spur, a company that is really spoiling photographers with the range and frequency of new products. The only problem I foresee is that Spur's naming convention for its chemicals is not exactly conducive to instant recall. Aside from, HRX-3 there's SLD, PXD, NHC to name a few. Wouldn't it be great if they were renamed Spur Fine (for fine grain), Spur Speed (full ISP box speed), Spur Push+ (for pushing films), Spur Comp (compensating developer), Spur Grain+ (for big grain), Spur Hard (for contrast), Spur Soft (low contrast), etc.

All the pics in this post were shot on an Olympus OM2N and a variety of Zuiko prime lenses. Below are a few samples from the day. These are negative scans that were processed in Adobe Lightroom with a little warmth added to the highlights.

HRX-3 New (the present developer) Samples:

And some samples from HP5 Plus rated at 400 ISO and developed in new HRX ( the soon-to-be-launched developer):

Andy Murray may have won Wimbledon this year but the boost he's
 given the sport will be short lived when kids realise they have to battle with
the Scottish weather to "enjoy" a game. This is a long way
from Andy's teenage training camp in Spain!


  1. What a nice surprise! I've tried the 'original' one-part HRX-3 once. The results were very, very pleasing, but I never bought a second bottle. The developer went bad before I finished half of the bottle. So, I am very interested to find out what the improved shelf life is. Any thought on that?

  2. Interesting stuff. Having said that, I rather like grain !

  3. Very interesting stuff. And some lovely pictures too: a substantial cut above "test shot" level.

  4. Interesting, as I have used D-76 for a very long time, so I would welcome a concentrated liquid developer that performs the same or better.

    I will stay with my regular Ilford films though.

    I hope it also does the business with FP4 Plus too.