I am taking a BASIC B&W photography class. I have been told by my instructor to get a package of Grade 3 B&W photo paper, any finish but without filters and NO fiber based or multi contrast paper.

I know that FB means fiber based. On one of your packages of AGFA paper, the description reads, "AGFA Multicontrast Premium Semi-Matte RC - 8X10". Is this paper that I will need? In other words, is it at least a Grade 3 paper with no filters or multi-contrast and not fiber based?

I don't want to spend a lot of money, since we are only going to be printing proof sheets. Please help!

Your instructor is very specific about paper for proof sheets. I have always told my classes that they could use any good variable or multicontrast RC paper for their proof sheets and we always had good results....without using filters. I have been teaching a while in several venues and have never had a problem with any of my papers. My reason is that students usually have limited amounts of money to spend, and I would rather the spend their money on good printing paper and quality film.

I, myself, use Luminos Variable Contrast RC paper, glossy, without any filters on the enlarger and get fine results. If I run out of my Luminos, I will then pick up a package of my Agfa, or my Ilford, or my Forte. We have a rule here, I do not sell anything that I have not used before or would not hesitate to use again. I use the different papers for different moods, subject matter, etc. I use the neutral and the warm toned papers, and I use only fiber based papers for my prints. I use RC paper for the proof sheets and for those customers who don't want, or cannot afford, fiber based prints.

Let me inform you of some qualities of our papers, or any variable contrast papers on the market today. The variable contrast papers first came out years ago, and there were some problems with them at first. Now those problems have been solved. Multicontrast and variable contrast and polycontrast all mean that the photographer can use the different filters to achieve different results in the contrast of a print, regardless of the contrast of the negative. Many photographers feel (and mostly rightly so) that a grade 3 is the best contrast to work toward in a print and that it should be achieved in the negative.

However, orginally papers were "graded" in contrasts, or had built-in contrast levels that did not need filters to achieve. If the negative was a bit flat, or low in contrast, then the photographer could choose a "harder" or more "contrasty" grade of paper to use with it to get a good print. Thus, a photographer had to keep a stock of all the grades of papers around to use in printing, or at least the ones needed for the range of contrast and density his/her negatives. This was costly and so the industry repsonded with variable or multicontrast papers and filters. As we have seen in recent years, the graded papers are actually getting harder to stock because companies are not making them as much as in the past. In fact, several companies do not make any grade below a 2 or over a 4 anymore.

What I have always taught, and I suspect that your instructor might also, is that the goal in photography is to get as close to perfect in contrast and density in your negatives as possible. Most all the variable contrast papers we have and use are actually about a 2 1/2 to 3 "grade" when printed without filtration. But, they will pick up (and show) the different contrasts of the negatives of the student. This was valuable to them and to me when teaching students to control the exposure and development of a negative. I allowed them to use the multicontrast or variable contrast papers because they could not afford to buy a lot of different papers, and the filters were available through the school.

Not knowing the specific reasons behind your instructor's request, I can tell you the following info.

Ilford Multigrade RC will print closer to a Grade 2 1/2 with a long tonal range and warm-neutral whites.

Forte' will print closer to a Grade 3 with long range and crisp whites (you can see some examples in recent photo magazines) and is a bit closer to neutral in tone/color.

Luminos will print very rich blacks, long tonal range and brilliant whites in a true neutral tone that is closest to Grade 3 that I have seen in multicontrast papers. It also will pick up those changes I mentioned above.

Agfa is the warmest in tone of the papers we have, with a creamy base that gives nice, clean whites, smooth tonal range and warm blacks and prints about a Grade 2 1/2 without filters, but will pick up a nice grade 3 to 3 1/2 if the negative is of such contrast.

I have probably given you more information than you need, and it is a lot to digest. However, I am not one to sell items to a customer that they do not need, or cannot use. My goal is to help people learn to take the best images and then supply them with the best materials to do that task. I will gladly help out in any way possible. I suggest that you take this info to your instructor and ask which paper would be preferred for the project at hand. If you feel comfortable with the above information, then just order the one you want to use. If we can help you save money and make good images, we will have accomplished some of our mission.

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