developing 4x5, help : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm confused. I keep hearing that it is easy to get uneven developement with sheet film using tanks, and that tubes are the way to go. My experience with 4x5 format was in school, where there were metal tanks with automatic agitation. We put the film on metal hangers, then set them into the tanks for allotted time. The agitation was set to appropriate times. Never a problem. Now that I will be developing at home, I don't want my work to be ruined by uneven developing. My question that I submitted the other day about Arca Swiss cameras included a concern about uneven developement with 4x5, and the responses questioned my concern. It is because of what I read in this Darkroom section. I don't know anything about tubes except to see a picture of the Jobo ones in the Abbey catalogue. When I called for info, the person was short with his answer, not very helpful, and I felt like I was bothering him. This is par for the course with Abbey camera!!!! Not a very helpful bunch. On the other hand Jerry from Le Camera seems to welcome questions, but I did only speak with him once. Anyway, everyone says tanks use to much chemistry, too, so please can you tell me about these tubes. I don't want to develope in open trays. I can see a concern for scratched negs using this method. Thank you, Raven

-- Raven Garrow (, March 07, 1999


P.S. Just how does agitation work with4x5 compared to 35mm. I use TMax film, usually 100, with TMax developer, agitate cannister every 30 sec. for 5 sec.

-- Raven Garrow (, March 08, 1999.

Aren't you confused with uneven exposure? This is possible with any view camera, also on 6*9, when you shoot macro's with extreme swings, because the distance between front and back is uneven.

-- Lot (, March 08, 1999.

I've also seen various comments about uneven development from using trays, but I've never experienced it myself. There is quite a discussion of this in 'View Camera Technique' by Leslie Stroebel, which includes the phrase '... tray processing is capable of producing more uniform development than tank processing.' He discuses pitfalls of possible over agitation, among other factors.

-- Alan Gibson (, March 08, 1999.

PS In answer to Raven's PS, yes, that's pretty much what I do. Agitation is by rocking the dish in each of the four directions. Continuous for the first 30s, then one cycle of four rocks (which takes about 5s) every 30s.

-- Alan Gibson (, March 08, 1999.

I just started large format and developing my own film (no expert here). I have not had a problem with uneven devlopment using a tank but it was a concern - To agitate, the tank instructions state to rock it back and forth, instead I use a virtical circular motion to try to swirl the chemicals up (reducing the settlement affect). I don't know if this helps but like I said, no problems so far.

P.S. I've noticed that there seems to be reletively high amount people in LF with an "Why are you bothering me?" attitude (especially toward beginners). Then again, I have met some very nice people as well.


-- Bill (, March 08, 1999.

FWIW, my $.02, etc.

I used to tray process in the card shuffling techniques described by Kodak and Adams. There would be a scratch from time to time, but I usually had enough shots that it wasn't an issue. Making two or more exposures for the really good shots is not a bad practice anyway as you never know what could happen. Many a slip between cup and lip....

Then a friend pointed out I could use the daylight print drums that Besseler and Unicolor (and probably others) made when color print processing at home was a big hobby. You load the film in the drums, getting 4 4 X5's in 1 8 X 10 drum, in total darkness and then cap the drum. From that point on, everything is done in the light.

Each run requires 75 ml t0 150 ml of chemistry (I tend to use more to be safe) which avoids all the chemistry from trays and tanks. If you want to, you can open the tank between chemicals in the dark to check to see if the film has moved in the tank, if you got a 2nd hand tank without the little plastic dividers that prevents this. You don't want the sheets to overlap and get wierd uneven or incomplete fixing, development, etc.

You agitate with a Besseler or Unicolor motorbase. Some have a continuous and reversing switch, but the ones I get always seem to burn the reversing switch out almost immediatley. The agitation is continuous but fairly gentle, you will have to adjust your times for your enlarger and tastes. I've been using this poor man's Jobo for 4 years and had no problems. Don't buy any of this stuff new as the price for a motorbqse is absolutley obscene! I have payed as little as $15.00 and as much as $35.00 for 'em. The drums go around $7.00 - $8.00 or as high as $12.00 - 15.00 depending on where you get 'em. If you decide to go this route, lemme know and I can photocopy the instructions that come with the drums. Like the plastic divider thingies, they are the first things to get thrown out after the box is opened.

This system does not bypass the temperture drift issue as the BTZS tubes do when agitated by hand in a tempered water tray. Adorama or B&H or someone sells a Doran outfit that is essentially a Unicolor base with a drum and tempering bath. The whole outfit is cheaper than a Jobo, but as they sell the components speratley, they charge a bit much and I think the total bill is less than $500.00 but more than $200.00.

-- Sean yates (, March 08, 1999.

My first sheet-film developing was in a tray, in a closet at night. It was 1953 and I had my first 4x5, a Crown Graphic. I scratched 'em up something fierce. That summer, I worked with John Gregory in Provincetown. He used hangers, but developed by inspection, using a very low-power green filtered safelight. I couldn't see what he was talking about, BUT that experience made me switch to hangers. First, totally immerse the film in the developer [pre-soak or not to pre-soak is something I'll leave up to you or for another discussion!] then pick up the whole group of hangers, tap them on the edge of that tank and re-immerse. Lift them again and tip in the opposite direction, etc. The number of lifts needs to be constant, until you find that you have the contrast level that will work for you film, subject, exposure and enlarger light-source. It's been, what, 46 years with hangers? 4x5, 5x7, 8x10 they all work just the same and produce fine negatives.

-- Dick Fish (, March 08, 1999.

I develop in trays with no problems. I use a set of 8X10 stainless steel trays that I picked up used somewhere. (I believe Calumet still sells them) The bottoms are NOT FLAT..they have four ridges moulded into them which radiate from the center towards each corner..AND..I hammered the bottoms out (on a studio sandbag) so they are slightly concave...each tray rocks sitting on a flat surface, or sink duckboards. Use a water presoak..sheets MUST be immersed singly or they will stick together. Transfer the sheets from solution to solution one at a time. Handle only by 2 edges at a time..develop emulsion side down. In the developer, agitate constantly by moving the bottom sheet to the top...slowly, etc. Use enough of each solution to completely fill the trays..approx 64 oz. so the sheets have plenty of room. I process 6 - 10 sheets at a time this way with no problems..completely even (generally) and no scratches. Scratches occur when a corner digs into the soft emuslion (or even backing). For hypo clear, washing, and photoflo; I transfer each sheet to a hanger and wash in a small PVC tank (B&J, I believe) changing water completely every 2 - 3 min.

-- C Matter (, March 09, 1999.

Since no other oldtimer has spoken up, let me put in my vote for gas burst! Yes, you can still do it, and it avoids all those handling problems mentioned above. It's just about as simple as the first message on this thread. I figured out how to avoid using so much chemistry by going to a 5x7 developing tank [making my own plenum to go in the bottom] for the developer only [you need the depth under the hangers] and then using 4x5 tanks for the remaining steps. The gas is cheap. It seems everybody is getting rid of the timers so they are still reasonable. Try it!

-- Alec Jones (, March 09, 1999.

Dick Fish said it all. Well almost. The only thing I haven't tried is the tubes. I still don't see how you get the slimey film out after you're done without scratching. Oh well. Anyway. If all you are doing is a few sheets try using tupperware. They make all kinds and shapes of containers that will work. Go to the 99cent stores or salvation army stores. They have all kinds of stuff that will work well. As for using tubes for the economy of chemistry. The chemistry is the cheapest thing about photography besides the subject matter. My small tupperware cream container holds 4 - 4x5 hangers and about 2 cups of chemistry. Three containers and when I'm through with the stop and fix it goes into the printing trays. Agitation depends on what contrast I'm looking for in the negs. Pick it up and lean to the right, pick it up and lean to the left. One of those cycles every 60 seconds usually is good for normal contrast. More often for higher contrast. More dilute developer for less contrast. As for a water bath to keep it all warm? Get a fish tank heater. About $10 is all a good one will cost. If you need anything more just E-me. James

-- james (, March 12, 1999.

Since the question was about developing in tubes, and nobody yet has offered any advice regarding them, I'll weigh in. I develop my 4x5 and 8x10 negatives in home-made pvc tubes. They are basically copies of the darkroom innovations tubes.

The advantage of tubes includes, yes, using less chemistry. I am a big fan of using as little chemistry as possible not for the money saved but because I am skeptical of claims that the stuff when poured down the drain is benign to the environment. The less the better. Other advantages are ease of use, semi-daylight developing, and the ability to develop a batch of film with different developing times without a lot of trouble. Development is very even. I'm sure I was doing something wrong, but I got uneven development with tanks. I also just didn't like standing in the dark for 18 minutes.

Anyway, you take some pvc pipe of the diameter your film generally rests in long ways without overlapping. Glue on a cap. Make another cap that is big enough to hold the chemistry (2 oz 4x5, 8 oz 8x10). In the dark put the exposed film in the tube. Put on the cap, which has chemistry in it. Invert when four are filled, spin in a water bath. For 8x10 I do one or two at a time. Open them up, pour out developer, pour in stop, spin some more. 4x5 I open and plunge in stop bath with cap off, then to fix, and pulling them out isn't a problem. I do use old bad negatives as backing for 4x5s to prevent scratching.

-- Erik Ryberg (, March 12, 1999.

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