writings on photography & other media
Don Snyder
Elite's Paces

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Elite's Paces
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With the release of the Elite line of enlarging papers (Photovideo, Nov/Dec, page 41), Kodak has signaled a renewed commitment to premium-quality B&W materials. Having heard good initial reports, and having been impressed with early samples of the product, we eagerly accepted when asked if we would test the material in the Film and Photography Department at Ryerson.

We gave the paper a thorough workout and ended up even more pleased than we had expected to be. Five of us were involved in the testing procedures. We all reported that the paper is visually impressive, has a remarkable tone range, a pleasing surface, hefty weight, and excellent processing characteristics.

Tim Reid, a fourth-year student in the Instructional Media program who has also gained technical expertise from experience on the Toronto City Archives Nitrate Conversion Project, tested Elite sensitometrically, with reference to similar grades of Agfa Brovira, Ilford Galerie, and Ilfospeed paper. He noted that, although the Elite paper stock is heavier than that of other double-weight materials tested, it can be washed and dried in a comparable time. He also found that Elite will withstand considerably more bending and stress before the emulsion cracks than will the other papers.

Tim's darkroom work confirmed that Elite is a smooth and consistent performer in terms of its response to processing variables. He found that longer development picks up both shadow detail and shadow contrast, and that changes in development time enable you to vary effective contrast considerably, particularly with the #2 paper. He pointed out that the increased brilliance of the paper surface represents an increase in visual contrast relative to Brovira and Galerie, even though the characteristic curves and density ranges were not too dissimilar.

Plotting fourteen steps of a twenty-one step calibrated wedge and using development times of one to four minutes, he established a minimum reflection density of 0.05 and a maximum density (D-max) of 1.96 to 2.14 (depending on development) for the #2 Elite paper, and corresponding figures of 0.05 and 2.12 to 2.19 (again, D-max increases with longer development) for the #3 paper. The absence of any increase in highlight density with longer development ensures crisp highlights under widely varying circumstances. The trends of the characteristic curves imply that D-max can probably be further stretched by more development and/or selenium toning.

By comparison, Brovira had slightly less density range at maximum development, and Galerie had almost the same (grade for grade). Furthermore, comparison of the curves shows a smoother transition between the straight-line portion and both highlights and shadows with Elite than with Galerie — an unexpected result. In any event, careful analysis of the 25 curves confirms Kodak's claims about surface, tone range, and contrast control.

Rebecca Upjohn, a fourth-year Media Studies student who was preparing for an exhibition of an extended studio portrait series, tested Elite paper against Oriental and again came up with results that confirm many of Kodak's statements about this paper.

Working under controlled conditions with no processing variables, she noticed that Elite has a distinctly warmer tone than Oriental, with excellent separation in the highlight areas and superb shadow contrast, particularly because of the brilliant surface. She remarked that developing times are critical, with the image coming up in about 45 seconds, and rapid changes occurring between the one-minute and three-minute marks. Close scrutiny of her comparison prints reveals more available shadow information and more effective midtone definition with the Elite than with the Oriental paper. And like everyone who worked with Elite, Rebecca expressed admiration for its weight and surface characteristics.

Chris Langstroth, a Still Photography major who works with contrasty negatives and difficult, available-light situations, tested Elite in comparison to Ilfobrom paper, and achieved a startling increase in midtone contrast in addition to vastly improved reciprocity characteristics.

A reference print on Ilfobrom required four and a half minutes of development and burning-in of up to 525 seconds in the lightest areas. A much livelier-textured print was obtained on Elite with significantly greater ease — overall exposure was 35% less, development was three and a half minutes, and the light areas only required 390 seconds of burning-in. Chris agreed about Elite's distinctive weight, surface, and tonal range. He also found it very responsive to changes in development time.

Finally, Prof. Barry Philp, who teaches Advanced Printing and Still Photography to students in the upper years of the program (and whose work will be familiar to many through his recent exhibitions at Toronto's Del Bello Gallery and other galleries in Ontario), tested Elite and declared unequivocally, "this paper is dynamite — the midtones are absolutely amazing" after re-printing a tricky negative on the new material. 

It seems clear on the basis of these results that this paper is indeed something to be reckoned with. It combines attractive physical characteristics with ease of handling and real responsiveness to adjustments in processing. While some who have tested Elite question Kodak's incorporation of optical brighteners, and consequently recommend extended wash times (see Popular Photography, December, 1984), everyone welcomes this paper as both a new product of remarkable quality and a very positive sign of Kodak's interest in a small but very important market: photographers who have the highest possible print quality as their prime concern.

Course Materials

2010 Function and Image Arts: Origins and Change
2010 Portfolio Eleven
2009 Portfolio Ten
2008 Portfolio Nine
2004 Alphabetically by Title: Afterword
2004 Portfolio Seven
2003 Appendix
2003 Introduction - Function #5
2003 Portfolio Six
2001 Introduction - Function #3
2000 Introduction - Function #2
1999 Introduction - Function #1
1998 Images and Ideas
1985 Elite's Paces


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