4x5 film processing techniques

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I would like to learn more about 4x5 film processing techniques, how to process this films so it wont't be dull, looking. also i like more processing technique if available, thanks. Ara.

-- ara meshkanbarian (ara@vinet.com), January 08, 1998


LF Processing

Dear Ara,

Although I'm not an expert I am an enthusiastic photographer and have been processing large format films for several years. There are a couple of ways you can do it.

1) Tray processing. This has the disadvantage of using a lot of fluid and it must be done in total darkness. It can also be a challenge to keep the developer at constant temperature since you have to put your fingers in to agitate the film, and your fingers are at 37 degrees while the developer is 20-24. Purists will develop 4x5 sheet film in a 12x16 inch tray with 3 quarts of fluid, ensuring processing uniformity; also using a lot of liquid makes the temperature more stable. You can process several sheets at the same time by 'stacking' them; you push the second sheet on top of the first, and the third on top of the second, and so on. By pushing gently you ensure that the films stay seperated. Then you agitate by removing the bottom sheet and transferring it to the top, and moving through the stack until you are back to where you started. This takes a bit of practice.

2)Dip and dunk. Instead of trays you use vertical tanks, like tupperware, and the film goes into a frame like a toast rack. To agitate the film you pull the rack out and then drop it back in, so your fingers don't touch the developer. This too must be done in total dark. Timing in darkness is a trick. I record myself counting on an audio tape and then play it while processing.

3) You can get light tight developing tanks which will take sheet film, although these seem to be rare. Combi make them. You pour the fluid in and out in a lit room. These also use a lot of chemistry

4) Rotary processing. At the top end you buy a Jobo processor for a few thousand dollars. The film is loaded into a tank which is rotated continuously. These only use a small amount of chemistry, and they're great if you can afford them. You could also buy the tank from Jobo and a kind of table top roller assembly, then rotate it by hand. This would have the advantage of using little chemistry and you could do it with the light on. The tank for 4x5 is quite cheap, 5x7 and 8x10 is astronomically expensive and would be too large to roll by hand anyway.

You said your negatives were dull. Do you know about the Zone System? It takes a bit of mastering but if you're into large format it's a must. By doing your own tests you can determine the precise development times and ASA, thus producing an optimal negative every time (in theory). Ansel Adams has written all about this; see "The Negative". There are also great websites at www.cicada.com and www.sound.net/~lanoue/howto.htm

Good luck!


-- ANdrew Herrick (andrewherrick@hotmail.com), January 12, 1998.

I've used a Combi tank to process 4x5 negatives for a class that I was taking. The tank sells for about $45 at B&H and Adorama. It takes about 2-1/4 quarts of chemistry to develop a maximum of 6 negatives.

I've been told that the dip 'n' dunk method could scratch your negatives. Ditto for tray processing.

For additional info, see the question that deals with the HP Combi Tank in the Q&A section.

-- Stuart Goldstein (satgre@worldnet.att.net), January 12, 1998.

Plastic plumbing pipe (1 1/2 inch inside diameter) made into 5-6 inch long tubes works well for me with open tray processing in darkness. The payoff is the emulsion does not get damaged. When wet, the emulsion is about the same consistancy as pudding. Everything damages it. one sheet of film per tube. My procedure leaves the film in the tube throughout development, stop bath, and 3 minutes of fix. Then I remove the film from the tubes and finish fixing in room light for the remainder of the time. (I fix for about 10 minutes.) When the film is removed you will notice a stain on the non emulsion side of the sheet. The additional fixing time removes the stain. The tubes are cheap to make. A processor is $$bucks$$. A washer and basket are more important at first. Sheet film needs a good rinse. Calumet sells a washer and basket for 4x5 which works really nice. I learned about this from Jimmy Mac Donald at joyxeh@artic.ca If memory serves, the article written by Jimmy is at http://www.fine-art.com/joyxeh/darkroom.html If not , e mail Jimmy Mac Donald for the info.

Large format is a journey (a long one) not just a goal. Patience is everything. Walk, don't run. enjoy. Robert Patrick

-- Robert Patrick (woodcamera@aol.com), January 26, 1998.

Hi Ara

I just came across this site and was going to post a reply - then I saw Mr. Robert Patrick had posted already about development using tubes and he was so kind to give me credit! Simple pvc tubes. If you wish to read more I have it set up at my site or by auto responder. Just send a blank e-mail to photo@digital3.net and it will be sent to you via e-mail with in 1 - 3 mins.

Have fun with them - they sure worked for me and also others..




-- Jimmy Mac Donald (joyxeh@arctic.ca), February 06, 1998.

With some practice, you can get to the point where you can process 12 sheets of film in a tray, without scratching and with virtually perfect evenness and consistency. Total cost, under $25 for the trays. Use developer as a one-shot, which only adds to your consistency. In my opinion, rotary tube processors are for rich amateurs. Of course, this applies primarily to b&w; I wouldn't want to process E-6, for example, in a tray! But why bother processing color film yourself unless you live in the boondocks?

-- Peter Hughes (ravenart@redshift.com), April 11, 1998.

By the way, two things I forgot to mention: 1.Sheet film tanks are crap 2.Don't listen to tek-heads who tell you that for large format "the zone system is a must." You'll be so intimidated and confused you'll give up! I shoot 8x10, get gorgeous results, and don't know squat about the zone system. Visit my ste at http://www.ravenvision.com

-- Peter Hughes (ravenart@redshift.com), April 11, 1998.

The best and only way I've been able to process my 4x5 without scratching and uneveness is with the BTZS tubes


Pricey, for sure, at $150 for 6-tube 4x5 kit, which is just a bit of plastic.

But I was sick of all the other methods:

Trays always got uneven development, splotches, and worst, scratches.

Dip and Dunk tanks (like the HP Combi-Plan and the Yankees) got uneven development, especially near the edges.

I've only used the tubes a few times, but they seem to be the best.


-- Jon Law (jrl@blast.princeton.edu), June 22, 1998.

I have to disagree with Peter about the Zone system. By admitting he doesn't know the zone system, shows that he can't speak adequately about it. I used the zone system for 35mm, yes 35mm, and consistently got printable negatives every time. You can make excellent print without it, but why not increase the odd of obtaining good printable negs which take less manipulation in printing. The zone system is not hard to learn, any more so that anything else in this art. My 2 cents

-- Chet Wright (chetwr@zianet.com), November 29, 1998.

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