If I had to choose between Microphen and Perceptol, Perceptol would win every time. And it all has to do with how the developer works. If you know me, I’m a fan of the old school, not only do I shoot and develop my own film, I like older film stocks, older developers, and that classic look. And while it’s easy for me to whip up a batch of D-23, there’s just something that Perceptol does that makes it the perfect mix between new and old. If Microphen is your fast-moving friend, Perceptol is one that takes a little more time. While I wouldn’t use Perceptol for faster films, I love what it does with slower films.
Primary Developer: Metol
Type: Reusable or One-Shot
Mix From: Powder
Like Microphen, Ilford only has Pereceptol in one-litre kits (shame really) but you only have a single pouch of powder to mix into the stock solution. Then all you need to do is use a litre bottle to store it in, as always keeping the lid airtight. As long as the solution remains airtight it has a shelf life of six months. Unfortunately, the stock solution will only give you a total of four rolls of film before exhaustion. That said, you can extend the life by increasing the development times after those first four rolls by increasing the time by 10% for each successive roll. That means if the stock time is seven minutes on roll five the development time would be 7.75 minutes (7:45 minutes), and roll six 8.5 minutes (8:30 minutes), and so on. Of course, you could just run it diluted 1+1 and use as a one-shot developer each time. I will often purchase a box, and leave it in powder form until I have the need, then plan out my shooting so that I run through the developer quickly.
If you’re looking for the best possible results out of your slower films or require a bit finer grain than normal in faster films. Such a move also comes with a price, a loss of speed. Sometimes it’s a full stop for best results (Delta 400) or a slight loss (HP5+). But on slower films the loss of speed is imperceptible. I find that Perceptol does the best job on the slower films, I’m talking about Rollei RPX 25, Ilford Pan F+, Delta 100, Fuji Acros 100 (both OG and II), and FP4+. But it still produces excellent results with faster films once you’ve dropped the speed down, Tri-X and HP5+ look good at ASA-320, a classic speed for Tri-X. And despite my initial distaste, it does a good job with Delta 400! But what I do like about the developer is that it helps bring out the texture in the image giving an almost dimensional quality to the shots. And yes, it works well on both cubic and tabular grained films.
As I mentioned in my earlier paragraph, Perceptol does an amazing job in producing both sharp fine-grain images that are designed to maximize enlargement in both traditional darkroom and digital printing purposes. But it is that sharpness and fine-grained nature of the developer which makes images truly magical. Every detail is held in high regard without too much increase in grain. If you’re shooting for details then Perceptol is the developer for you, or if you just want to milk as much grain reduction that you can from your faster films like Delta 3200. When it comes to contrast I find that Perceptol does little to adjust the contrast inherent with the films, but you can do a little by diluting the developer and extending the development times.
I like Perceptol, I also like Microphen. Both are excellent developers but aren’t the same developer. Which is a good thing, because it allows you to choose what you need your developer to do. Perceptol is the developer I reach for if I am shooting slower film in the summer months and want to show off texture, detail, and sharpness. While it’s not the most economical film developers out there I certainly make a point of keeping a box or two in storage until I need to mix and use. The only trouble is that it is far harder to find in stores than its faster cousin, Microphen. Which is why whenever I pass by Downtown Camera I check and pick up a box or two just in case. Yeah, Perceptol is a developer I highly recommend.
Don’t just take my word on Perceptol check out these other blogs on the subject!
ilfordphoto.com – Perceptol product page