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Copyright !

1996 by Paul Butzi

Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and
White Printing
by Paul Butzi
" 1996,1997,1998 Paul Butzi
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
page 2
It's common knowledge that you can use a dichroic enlarger head to adjust the contrast of
variable contrast printing papers. Lots of darkroom workers know to dial in more magenta to get
higher contrast, and to dial in yellow for less contrast. However, few people use a systematic way
to go about it.
Paper manufacturers often are little help; hampered by the differences between brands of
enlargers and between individual enlargers, they only offer vague guidelines. Even when paper
manufacturers offer tables of filtration settings, they miss one essential feature: preserving
exposure consistency when adjusting contrast. Since these adjustments are made easily, this
should be part of the convenience of using a dichroic head.
The value of adjusting print contrast without having to adjust print exposure must be experienced
to be believed. Minor changes in print contrast are made as easily and quickly as minor changes
in exposure. Because the paper appears to have a constant speed, different parts of the print
can be exposed with different contrast settings easily. Likewise, the contrast of burns can be
adjusted, and the burn exposure will still relate to the overall print exposure in a sensible way. In
addition, the ability to adjust exposure and contrast rapidly leads to understanding the effects of
altering the overall print contrast.
What the photographers need is a system for calibrating a dichroic head so that it can be used as
a Variable Contrast, Constant Exposure light source.
How the system works
Many darkroom workers follow the practice of setting the highlights of the print by adjusting the
exposure, and altering the print contrast to adjust the shadows. Like the adage "Expose for the
shadows, develop for the highlights" regarding negatives, this practice is the result of working
with the natural properties of the materials.
Unfortunately, with variable contrast papers, two effects make this difficult. First, as you adjust
the filtration at the light source, you change the intensity of the light. Second, as you adjust the
filtration (and thereby the color of the light) the apparent speed of the paper changes. These two
effects combine to produce a shift in the print exposure; this change can force you to determine
the print exposure anew each time you alter the contrast.
However, two essential observations allow us to solve this problem. First, introducing neutral
density (ND - that is, equal amounts of cyan, magenta, and yellow) will change the print exposure
without altering the contrast. Second, the change in exposure as we change the contrast is easy
to measure, and follows a simple pattern.
This system eliminates exposure changes by measuring the change in speed between different
contrast settings, and then introducing ND to offset any changes, so that when you change
contrast, the print exposure remains unchanged. In other words, we find the contrast setting
where the paper appears to be the slowest, and then use contrast-neutral filtration changes to
'slow down' all the other contrast settings to match that slowest one.
Printing using the system
To illustrate how the system works in practice, let me describe my basic printing procedure.
I start by using test strips to choose an exposure that gives me the highlight density I want. Once
I have the highlight exposure that I want, I either make a full print or a largish test patch to
evaluate the overall contrast. In some cases, I adjust the contrast to get the shadow density I
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
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want; in others, I adjust the contrast to get the right feel to the print. In either case, all the
contrast adjustments I make will produce exactly the same highlight density. By simply adjusting
the filtration according to my handy graph, I can get the contrast I want, and I never have to
adjust my exposure.
Setting The System Up
There are several things youll need if you want to follow my method and calibrate your dichroic
enlarger head for use as a VCCE light source.
First, youll need an enlarger with a dichroic filtration head.
Next, youll need a step wedge. I use a 31-step wedge, with steps of 0.1 density (part number
T3110, made by Stouffer Graphic Arts Equipment, 1801 Commerce Avenue, South Bend, IN
46628, 219-234-5023). This wedge is ! by 8, and I contact print it. Strictly speaking, I should
probably use a step wedge sized to fit my negative carrier, and projection print it. However, since
my dichroic enlarger is a diffusion light source, it makes very little difference in practical terms.
The instructions that follow can be performed with a wedge with steps other than .1 density, but
some changes will have to be made.
Next, youll need some sort of baseboard enlarging meter or comparator. My comparator is the
Ilford EM10, but there are many similar inexpensive units on the market, such as the Jobo
Comparator 2. Other more sophisticated devices for measuring light intensity at the baseboard,
such as color analyzers, will work as well, as long as you can detect when the measured light
intensity matches a previously measured value.
Finally, youll need a supply of the VC paper you intend to use, cut into strips suitable for contact
printing the step wedge, and the usual print processing setup. Youll want to use the print
processing that you use for prints, since changes in development time or print developer can
change the paper speed and contrast.
The procedure for calibration is fairly straightforward:
1. Make step wedge prints at various yellow and magenta filtration settings.
2. Using these prints, we determine the paper speed and exposure scale (overall contrast) that
the paper shows at that filtration setting.
3. Determine how many 'cc' of ND it takes to produce a given change in exposure.
4. For each filtration setting, calculate how much neutral density we're going to add to 'slow' the
paper down to match the slowest filtration (typically maximum yellow or maximum magenta).
5. Produce a graph, with exposure scale along the independent (horizontal) axis, and 'cc' along
the dependent (vertical) axis. On this graph, we'll chart how much magenta and yellow to use
to produce a given exposure scale. By always using the combinations from this graph, we
can change the contrast of the print at will, and the highlights of the print will remain
unchanged. Figure 2 shows the graph that I have for Kodak PolyMax Fine Art paper and my
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
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Generating Set Of Contact Prints
Getting Exposure Right
Set the dichroic head to maximum yellow, zero magenta, and zero cyan. Now, set the enlarger
head to a comfortable height, and work out an aperture and exposure time that gets the gray
scale centered on the image of the step wedge. It helps to know that a density change of .1
corresponds to one third of a stop; thus, a one stop change in exposure will move the gray scale
three steps on a step wedge which has .1 density steps. In addition, its a good idea to have the
lens at least three stops from fully stopped down; this gives you more maneuvering room for the
rest of the contact prints.
Ideally, youll end up with an exposure the produces at least three or four paper-base white steps
at one end of the strip, and at least three or four maximum black steps at the other end.
Making Entire Set Of Prints
Now, go ahead and make a set of contact prints, adjusting the filtration by about 35-70cc each
time, running from maximum yellow to no filtration, and then from no filtration to maximum
magenta. Getting the steps exactly the same is not necessary; were going to interpolate
between the points, so you just need them close enough together to get a good interpolation. Its
important, however, to have one strip with no filtration, because that point can't really be
interpolated from the other data points.
On the back of each contact strip, record the paper type, the filtration, the exposure time, the
enlarging lens aperture, and any exposure adjustments (which are discussed below).
Making And Recording Adjustments To Exposure
As you make the contact prints, youll discover that as you reduce the amount of yellow filtration,
the gray scale will no longer be centered on the strip; if it gets too far off center, you can adjust by
stopping the enlarging lens down by one stop. With a.1 density step wedge, the gray scale will
shift three steps for each stop of change. You may also need to adjust the aperture when going
from no filtration to maximum magenta; in this case, you will probably need to open up by a stop
to keep the gray scale centered. As you record the exposure adjustment, record it in units that
match the steps of the step wedge youre using. For a wedge that has .1 density steps, for
instance, you would record a one stop decrease in exposure as 3 steps.
You dont need to be a fanatic about keeping the gray scale centered; just make sure that you
have a few paper-base white steps at the white end, and a few maximum black steps at the black
end. For each contact print, note the adjustments made; this information is essential to sorting
out the data later.
When you record any exposure adjustments, convert the data to match the steps of the step
wedge you're using. Note that the first contact print you made will have an exposure adjustment
of zero. All changes in exposure are all recorded relative to that step. For example, in Figure 1,
the contact prints corresponding to the second and last rows both received one stop less
exposure than the strip for the first row. One stop corresponds to 3 steps on the step wedge, so
the exposure adjustment is recorded as 3 steps for both of those entries.
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
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Figure 1 - Data and Calculated ValuesExtracting Data From Contact Prints
Once the contact strips have been washed and dried, you can go ahead and extract the needed
data from them. The chart I use for recording my data is shown in Figure 1, filled in with my data
for PolyMax Fine Art and my Saunders enlarger.
The first five columns (labeled Magenta (cc), Yellow (cc), First Non-Max Black Step Number, Last
Non-White Step Number, and Exposure Adjustment (in steps)) contain data extracted from the
contact prints. The remaining columns contain values calculated in later steps.
Sort the contact strips into order, from maximum yellow filtration, through no filtration, to
maximum magenta filtration. Examine the contact prints in light appropriate for viewing prints.
Each print shows steps that are the maximum paper black, followed by a number of steps that run
through the shades of gray, and finally several paper-base white steps.
On different strips, the last strep that is not paper-base white falls on different steps; this is
because the apparent paper speed changed because of the changes in filtration and the
exposure changes made to keep the gray scale centered on the print. After we compensate for
the changes you've made in exposure, we'll know exactly how much we need to adjust the
exposure to keep this lightest non-white tone constant as we vary filtration. This is half the goal
of this whole process!
You'll see that the gray scale covers different numbers of steps on different contact prints. This is
visual evidence that changing the filtration changes the papers exposure scale. The prints made
with yellow filtration will have the gray scale cover more steps than those made with magenta
filtration. Since paper grades vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and paper to paper, I use
the measured exposure scale to express how hard or soft paper is.
Make up a blank chart like Figure 1, with one blank row for each contact print. For each print,
record in the chart the filtration used for that strip (in the appropriate "Magenta" or "Yellow"
column), the number of the first step that is not maximum black (in the "First Non-Max Black"
column), the number of the last step that is not paper-base white (in the "Last Non-White"
column), and any exposure adjustment used for that strip (in the "Exposure Adjustment" column).
If you note that the first non-black step or last non-white step is lighter or darker than usual, feel
free to interpolate values - I find that I get good results guessing at when to call something a half
or one quarter step.
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
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Now, youll need to perform a series of computations for each row of data. Ive set up an Excel
worksheet that performs these calculations for me; this simplifies the entire process. However, it
isnt so complicated that it cant be done by hand. Ill describe the required calculations in order.
Adjusted First Non-Max Black Step - This column contains the numbers from the "First
Non-Max Black" column, adjusted to compensate for any exposure changes you made to
keep the gray scale centered. To do this, you add the entries for that row's "First Non-
Max Black" column and "Exposure Adjustment" column to produce the entry in the
"Adjusted First Non-Max Black Step" column. For example, in the second row of Figure
1, I calculated the "Adjusted First Non-Max Black Step" by adding 6.50 (the last non-
white step number for that row) and 3.00 (the exposure adjustment in steps for that row)
to get 9.50. I recorded 9.50 in the " Adjusted First Non-Max Step" column for the second
Adjusted Last Non-White Step - This column is calculated similarly. Again, the goal is to
produce a column that contains the data from the "Last Non-White" column, adjusted to
compensate for any exposure changes. This is done by adding the "Last Non-White
Step" value for the row to the "Exposure Adjustment" value, and entering the result in the
"Adjusted Last Non-White Step" column.
Exposure Scale - Exposure scale is the measure of the overall paper contrast. In my
system, the exposure scale is the difference in exposure needed to change from the last
non-white tone to the first non-max black, expressed as the number of steps on the step
wedge. To calculate the exposure scale, subtract the Adjusted First Non-Max Black step
number from the Adjusted Last Non-White step number. For example, in the last row of
Figure 1, I subtracted 20.50 from 29.00 to get 8.50.
Needed Exposure Adjustment - Find the row that has the lowest step number for the
Adjusted Last Non-White column - this is the row that represents the slowest point for the
paper. Were going to even out the exposure across all the different exposure scales by
slowing all the faster entries down (by introducing neutral density) to match this one. To
do this, subtract the Adjusted Last Non-White entry from the slowest row from the
Adjusted Last Non-White entry for each row, and enter it on the chart. In Figure 1, the
lowest step number in the Adjusted Last Non-White Step column occurs in the first row,
where the value for that column is 27.00. So, to get the value for the second row, I
subtracted 27 from second row's value (which is 28.00) to get 1.00, which I entered in the
"Needed Exposure Adjustment" column in the second row.
Neutral Density Calibration
Before we can compute the final filtration values, we need some way to relate neutral density
introduced by dialing in equal values of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow to the neutral density steps of
our step wedge.
The way to do this is to measure how much neutral density we need to introduce to exactly match
the change in light intensity we get when we adjust the enlarging lens aperture by three stops.
Then, since we know how many steps on the step wedge are equivalent to the three stop change
(nine), we can just divide and we have the amount of neutral density we need to introduce to get
the same effect as one step on our step wedge.
With your dichroic head set to no filtration, your enlarging lens aperture set to fully stopped down,
and no negative in the carrier, put the enlarging comparator on the baseboard and adjust it until it
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
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reads nulled. Now, open the aperture three stops, and introduce neutral density by dialing in
equal amounts of the three colors until the comparator again reads nulled.
Recall that one stop is equal to .3 density units; three stops is equal to .9 density units. By
dividing the filtration we needed to dial in to match the three stop change by 9, we can deduce
how much filtration it takes to match .1 density units (which happens to match one step on the
wedge). In my case, I needed to dial in 78 cc of neutral density to match a three stop change, so
for my enlarger I need 78/9 or 8.61 cc of neutral density to match one step on my step wedge.
Finally, recall that black and white printing papers are insensitive to red light. Adjusting cyan
filtration adjusts how much red light strikes the paper (because transmission filters subtract their
complementary color). Because of this, for black and white printing purposes, cyan filtration
makes no difference at all, and we can ignore the cyan contribution to neutral density. As a
result, cyan filtration is ignored in the final calculations.
Its important, however, to remember that your enlarging comparator very probably is sensitive to
red light, so its important to use cyan filtration when determining how much ND you need to
match one step on the step wedge.
Final Calculations
Now that we have a relationship between the step wedge density units and the amount of ND
filtration dialed in on our dichroic head, we can calculate the aggregate filtration values, which
include both the yellow or magenta filtration needed to alter the papers exposure scale, and the
neutral density needed to even out the changes in paper speed. We do this by filling in the last
four columns in the chart in 1.
Neutral Density Needed for Exposure Adjustment - To calculate the entry in this column,
you multiply the "Needed Exposure Adjustment in Steps" by the amount of neutral
density in CC you need to dial in on your enlarger to match one step on your step wedge.
For example, recalling that for my enlarger, 8.61 CC of ND matches on step on my step
wedge, I calculated the value for the fifth row by multiplying 6.00 by 8.61, giving me
51.66, which I then round to the nearest unit to get 52.
Final Magenta (cc) - The entry in this column is the sum of the original "Magenta (cc)"
column and the neutral density column. For instance, in the last row of figure 1, I added
170 and 17 to get 187.
Final Yellow (cc) - The entry in this column is the sum of the original "Yellow (cc)" column
and the neutral density column. For instance, in the second row of figure 1, I added 135
and 9 to get 144.
Figure 2 shows the graph for my Saunders/LPL 4550XL enlarger and Kodak PolyMax Fine Art
VC paper.
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
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Figure 2 - Filtration Chart
How is it used?
To use the system in practice, suppose you want to make a print with the 'normal' exposure
scale; the one that matches the majority of my negatives. In my case, my film gives me negatives
that usually print nicely when I use an exposure scale of around 12. This corresponds to the
exposure scale I'd get printing on Polymax Fine Art with no filtration at all.
First, set the enlargers dichroic head on my enlarger to match the chart lines corresponding to 12
on the chart. On Figure 2, this would be about 52 for both magenta, and yellow. You'll see that at
this exposure scale, which corresponds to no contrast filtration at all, we're just dialing in ND to
keep the exposure constant.
After getting the highlight exposure right, take the print and think about the dark areas. If the
darker parts of the print are too dark, I would reduce the contrast, that is, lengthen the exposure
scale of the paper. To do this, try changing the exposure scale to, perhaps, 15. The chart tells
us that this requires a filtration of about 16 magenta, and 92 yellow. So, I reset the dichroic
filtration to those values, and make another print, keeping the print exposure exactly the same.
The resulting print will have the highlight density unchanged.
Similarly, if I felt the shadows weren't dark enough, I'd reduce the exposure scale, perhaps to 10,
by changing the filtration to 77 magenta, 35 yellow.
No matter what exposure scale you choose, your highlight exposure will remain the same. You
can make a series of prints with incremental changes in contrast without adjusting.
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
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In some instances, I choose the exposure scale that gives the print the right textural feel. In this
case, I'm not helped so much by the constant highlight exposure, since the texture is probably set
by the midtone contrast and density. However, the system does provide a predictable,
repeatable way of producing known changes in contrast, since it's calibrated using a measured
exposure scale rather than nebulous paper grades.
Suppose I liked the way the print looked, but felt that one particular area could benefit from
increased contrast. In that case, I might dodge that area back while making the base exposure at
normal exposure scale, then dial in the filtration for the higher contrast area, and make another
exposure (exactly the same as the first one) while exposing only the area that was dodged back
before. Voila! The highlight densities match, but part of the print has been done with higher
contrast than the rest, all without hit and miss trials to get the dodging and burning times right.
There are some variations on this basic system that might make interesting avenues to explore.
Extending the Filtration Range
To reach the extremes of the range of possible exposure scales with modern VC papers, it's
sometimes necessary to use more filtration than your dichroic head can provide. In that case,
you can extend the system by supplementing the dichroic head's filtration with magenta or yellow
gelatin filters. One of each filter should be sufficient.
It's simple to produce another chart for each additional filter. Run a set of step wedge contact
prints running from no dichroic filtration and the magenta filter, through maximum magenta and
the magenta gel. The resulting chart will extend your ability to reach the shortest exposure scale
(maximum contrast) that paper can provide. Running a set for allows you to achieve the longest
exposure scale of which the paper is capable. Note that many papers will fail to reach a
maximum black under very heavy filtration; you may want to note where that occurs on your chart
so that you can avoid that region when printing if you want full blacks.
Different Print Value Held Constant
Theres nothing magic about picking the lightest non-white tone on the gray scale as the print
value to hold constant; its just that thats the way most printers like to work.
You could, however, calibrate the system using the darkest tone, or some selected mid-tone.
This will produce a different chart, which will hold exposure constant for the selected print value.
Just add a column to the chart for recording the step number for the print value you want to hold
constant. As you extract the data from the contact prints, identify the step number that matches
that print value, and record it. Then, add another column, this time for the adjusted value; you
adjust for exposure compensation just like you did for the "First Non-Max Black" and "Last Non-
White" columns. I'd call this new "adjusted CE step". Now, instead of using the "Adjusted Last
Non-White" column when computing the entries for the "Needed Exposure Adjustment" column,
use the new "Adjusted CE step". All the remaining calculations are unchanged.
Almost Constant Exposure
Some manufacturers variable contrast filters provide constant exposure through most of the
contrast range, but for some filters (typically, the filters providing the most contrast), you must
increase exposure by one stop. Theres a reason for this - the difference between the unfiltered
speed of VC papers, and the speed with maximum yellow or magenta filtration can be more than
two stops. This system produces its constant exposure characteristics by slowing everything
down to the match the slowest point. My enlarger, a Saunders/LPL 4550xl, is exceedingly bright,
Calibrating Dichroic Color Heads for Variable Contrast Black and White Printing
Copyright ! 1996 by Paul Butzi
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so I dont find that this is a problem for me. Other people may find this to be a real annoyance,
particularly if they rarely use the extremes of the available range of exposure scales. In that
case, it would be a simple matter to take the approach used by the paper manufacturers, and
produce constant exposure over the most used portions of the range, and increase exposure by a
stop or two for the less used and slower portions.
All that's needed is to decide what region of the chart you'd like to speed up, and subtract neutral
density from those values to equal a one stop change. Recall that when we calculated how much
neutral density we had to dial in to match one step of the step wedge, we first measured the
amount needed to match a three stop change. One third of that three stop change would be one
stop. If you subtract that much ND from all the columns of the chart that include at least that
much ND, you'll speed up those columns (and all the values we interpolated between them when
we drew the graph) by exactly one stop.
For example, it takes 26cc of neutral density on my enlarger to equal a one stop change.
Referring to Figure 1, we can see that the fourth through the seventh rows include at least that
much ND. By subtracting 26cc of each of the three colors from the "final' columns, I produce a
chart that ranges from an exposure scale of 13 to 9.75 (the rest of the chart would contain
impossible negative filtration) and is exactly one stop faster than the original. Alternatively, I can
just read values off the original graph, and subtract 26cc from each value on the fly.
As with all things, credit for this system should be shared with several people.
Howard Bond's article Finding Paper Contrast and Exposure Changes, Darkroom and Creative
Camera Techniques, Nov./Dec. 1992, described how to use a step wedge to measure changes in
paper speed and exposure scale. That article provided me with the basic tools to measure paper
speed and exposure scale needed to put my system together.
Barry Sherman provided another key in one of his excellent notes posted on the Internet
newsgroup In the post, Barry described how he produced a set of filtration settings for
his dichroic head by using his color analyzer to generate settings that matched his set of PolyMax
filters. Barry's post made me realize both that VCCE printing with a dichroic head was possible,
and egged me into working out how to do it.
Several of the members of the community provided the invaluable service of reading
drafts of this article and providing excellent feedback and suggestions - Barry Sherman, Danny
Altschuler, and Myron Gochnauer all labored the reading of early versions and gave me both a
better article and deeper insight into printing. Thanks to all of you.
Naturally, these people all share credit, but not blame. Any errors are mine alone.
About the author
Paul Butzi is a photographer and consultant. He lives in Woodinville, Washington.