Do-it-yourself sheet film developing : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

After reading past Q&As about developing B&W sheet film, I was wondering what volume of processing is required to make it cost effective vs. using a lab? Also the answers made it sound like it is VERY difficult to do it well. So I was wondering if good results could be obtained by using the same lab and adjusting your exposure techniques to their processing. Then there is the issue of commercial lab processing being compatible with optimum results for a given film (I suspect most labs use T-Max developer). Mostly I shoot B&W to test lenses and camera technique because much cheaper than E-6 films.


-- todd Tiffan (, January 03, 2000


it does not cost more to develope your own film once you have purchased the initial stuff. I can tell you a few cost cuts that work well

use 5x7 trays in total darkness.

I use a walkman with a tape that I have recorded the time on at 30' intervals starting with zero

I keep my chemicals in old 1 liter soda bottles in a dark closet

You do not need to use stop bath (I have never used stop bath)

you do not need permawash, but you will have to wash longer

This should help save money.

As to why would you do it you self zone system, zone system, zone system and by the way - zone system

None of this is difficult but it can be overwelming at first. Stick with it and it will realy pay off Marc Fleischman

p.s. I used reversal film until I mastered the zone system

I have developed in hotel rooms at night, with cardboard and black trash bags over

-- marc fleischman (, January 03, 2000.


It is really quite easy to process your own sheet film. I use a Jobo processor, but every so often I enjoy processing 4x5 or 5x7 film in trays. As long as your space is light tight you will have no problem. Get a timer with glow in the dark numerals and hands. Be consistent and accurate with time and temperature. The rest is will follow.

I would never change my technique to coinside with a labs processing. In fact, I process my own film and prints because most labs just have no concept of what a fine print is. Using the zone system, one can control and accurately predict all factors of exposure and print lattitude.

-- Poo (foo@doo.barr), January 03, 2000.

Film developing is extremely easy to do, as you will realize once you do it once. If you would like to be sure of this, see if you can rent some darkroom space/use a friends or local school's darkroom. Unlike the rather larger expense of enlarger etc involved with printing, film developing is extremely cheap. In fact, you can start with such minimal equipment that chemistry is your largest expense.

First, decide which processing method you would like to go with - trays, tanks or rotary processing. Each of these methods have their adherents. I would do some reading of the Q&A sections to get a feel for what people say about the various methods and which appeals to you. None of them need involve any more expense than the other. I've come to like rotary processing and use BTZS type tubes that I made myself (I made 6 tubes for about $15 or less) as well as a Unicolor drum on a motor base (you can pick up the drum for about $10 and the motor base can be had for about $30-40). So you do not have to go with expensive Jobo systems to do rotary processing either. You will need some way to maintain temperature. Pick up a deep Rubbermaid box which you can fill with water to use as a tempering bath. Pick up an adjustable aquarium heater from a pet supply store (probably less than $10). Pick up a graduate to measure chemistry. You can use anything to mark time - a loud clock, your glow-in-the-dark watch.

Processing your own film is very easy and very rewarding. I definitely wouldn't suggest adjusting your exposures to some lab's mistakes. Part of the appeal of doing your own developing is the steeper learning curve - no 'pointing fingers at the lab' to hide behind. Also, especially since you say you're mainly interested in doing B&W, I would definitely urge you to do your own developing - the greater creative controls you gain are well worth it. Feel free to contact me if you would like greater details than I have provided on anything. Good luck.


-- N Dhananjay (, January 03, 2000.


B&W processing is most definitely NOT "very difficult" to do well. It's easy. That doesn't mean you won't ruin 50% of your first twenty sheets, but after those twenty sheets you will rarely ruin any of them.

As for cost effectiveness, it is very cheap. If you use a cheap developer like Rodinal, water is likely to be your biggest expense once you shell out for your system. And your system can be pretty dang cheap. (By the way, this is not a slight on Rodinal. It's the only developer I use and I don't use it because it's cheap, I use it because it's great.)

-- Erik Ryberg (, January 03, 2000.

Todd, I just started doing my first LF sheet film processing at home over the last too weeks. Of course there's a learning curve, but you have nothing to fear. YES, you WILL screw up a few sheets, but that's how you learn.

So far, I've tried 5x7 sheets in a drum (manual rolling back and forth), and two sheets in an 8x10 tray with a divider in the middle. I divided the tray and only do two sheets at a time because I don't care for the sheet shuffling method (too afraid I'll scratch negs or get sheets stuck together).

Make notes of what films, developers, temperatures, and times work for you, and be consistent.

-- sheldon hambrick (, January 03, 2000.

For tray processing, if you already do your own printing,the capital cost is virtually zero. I describe a method for this in How do you process B&W sheet film?

If you use a more sophisticated method, involving a rotary processor or whatever, you will have to do the sums to see when you start saving money.

However, the reason I do it myself is not to save money, but to keep control of the whole process. I can give it the processing needed by the subject. Yes, the opposite approach is also possible, by accepting whatever processing you get from a lab, and adjusting your exposure and printing acordingly. Possible, but it strikes me as clumsy.

-- Alan Gibson (, January 04, 2000.

I second the comments above. I bought a secondhand HP Combi tank on ebay a few weeks back (there is a thread on this on this forum) and have now processed about 70 sheets of Tri-X (in HC110 and D76) and T- Max 100 (in Rodinal) from N-2 to N+1. First, it is easy, quite inexpensive and enables me to process the film in daylight in the kitchen after loading, Far more importantly, I can now really use the Zone system in practice - it's worth it! - and the quality is far beyond what is obtainable at a lab. T-Max 100 in Rodinal - what a phenomenal combination!

-- fw (, January 04, 2000.


I just bought my first bottle of Rodinal and another 100 sheets of TMax. I have been using Xtol for quite a while, thinking I was very successful, until I souped up a batch in ID-11. much better .. so I am anxious to give Rodinal a try. thanks for the report. and Todd, I did spend a bit of money, perhaps an overkill, but the Jobo Expert drums are great for temp control and ease of use. I rotate it by hand, which isn't fun when the dilute processing times exceed ten minutes, but with Beethoven playing .. it goes quickly. it really is fun, and opens up many new and exciting possibilities.

-- Daniel Taylor (, January 04, 2000.

Just to add one more point - I did make sure I bought a good thermometer, as temperature control is crucial with films such as T- Max. Even so, the best thermometer was still relatively inexpensive.

-- fw (, January 04, 2000.

Daniel ; try T-Max at 80ASA in Rodinal @ 1:50 for 13 minutes, for N

-- fw (, January 04, 2000.

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