Tray vs. tank/hanger development : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'd like to start developing 4x5 b&w film on my own. Can anyone who has experience in this area provide me with the pro's and con's of tray vs. tank development with hangers? Is one method clearly easier than another? Is one a bigger pain in the neck than the other? Any major pitfalls I should be aware of right off the bat with either method?

Also, if I choose to go the tank development route, will I have to purchase official development tanks to hold the chemicals, or will any plastic container large enough to allow complete submersion of the hangers in the chemicals suffice?

Thanks for any insight you b&w masters can provide.

-- Dan Blair (, August 28, 2000


I would never claim to be a B&W master, but will answer anyway, because I am probably in the distinct minority in that I use hangers. I like them because it's easy to make sure all negs get just the right time in developer (they all go in at once, and it's easy to keep track of which is which, in case you want to take some out early or leave longer for N- and N+). It is also easier to maintain the developer at right temperature, since your 98.6 hands are not in the soup. It is also easy for me to avoid scratches, since the negs never touch each other or my hands. Proper agitation is important...and will avoid what some people view as disadvantage of hangers...streaking along the edges. I lift the hangers all at once, tilt to the right, drop back in the soup, lift and tilt to the left, drop back in soup, etc. This is described in detail in Bruce Barnbaum's book...I think title is "The Art of Photography." Special tanks are not necessary. You just want to be sure the neg is covered, and it is helpful to be able to cover several negs without using a huge quantity of liquid, so you don't have to waste developer. I use small plastic paint buckets from Home Depot. I have a number of them...I can leave one set of negs washing in one while I do more, have one for wash aid, etc. Just get plenty of hangers so you are not tempted to reuse them while they are wet...getting a dry negative into a wet hanger is not much fun. Hope this helps.

-- John Sarsgard (, August 28, 2000.

Out of personal preference i'd go for daylight tray processing - the paterson orbital thing used for colour print developing. it is, however not suitable for bulk runs as you have to rinse and dry it after each use (unless you have the luxury of a light tight room in which to load it, as in the confines of a changing bag it is a horror when wet). One thing to note though it is advisable to roughen oe score the bottom inside of the tray prior to use, else the film can stick to the base, potentially leading to uneaven development.

-- David Kirk (, August 28, 2000.

Dan: I am in the process of changing over to the drum and motor base developing system after years of using tank and hangers and occasionally tray development. I got tired of streaking caused by the drain holes in the hangers. I have tried every agitation method known to mankind, and a few I made up myself, and I still get streaking occasionally. It usually shows up in the sky areas of scenic shots, and only on shots with great cloud formations. I know there are many photographers who use the system, but I am tired of streaks. As for tray development, unless you do a few sheets at a time, it is the best way ever invented to scratch negatives, regardless of what Saint Ansel said (he didn't say he never got a scratch...he said he seldom got one). The tank and hangers are a good way to develop a lot of negs at once, but watch how you agitate and insert and remove the film from the tank during agitation. I have been developing LF film for more years than I care to admit and I am tired of streaks and scratches. I don't get either with the drum system.

Regards, Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (, August 28, 2000.

Having done both off and on for many years, I would say that I don't believe one method has any overwhelming advantage over the other, but here are some thoughts. For years one of the advantages of tanks was that they stayed full of solutions and were replenished from time to time according to volume and were always ready for a batch to be processed (floating lids prevented evaporation and/or oxidation when not in use). More space is needed to keep the tanks ready. Lately, many favorite developers are mixed and used immediately on a "one-shot" basis, so for time savings there isn't much difference between tray and tank. Two big concerns (pitfalls) are scratching and agitation and, with practice, both methods produce good, problem-free negatives. Consistent and thorough agitation needs to be coordinated to the characteristics of the solutions, especially developer. The tray shuffle method provides more or less constant agitation while the "dip & dunk" hanger method is less constant but certainly can be as consistent, I have never had the incomplete development around the holes syndrome and have processed many thousands of negatives on hangers. With 12 or more negatives in a batch, I believe the hanger method is more convenient, under 12 it's a toss up. Washing large batches is certainly more convenient on hangers. The tanks can be anything that fits, I like the plastic paint buckets as well but the sized hard rubber tanks usually hold less solution. The daylight Combi tank for 6 or less is another good option. Having said all this, I presently use the tray shuffle method mostly because I don't do large batches any more.

-- C. W. Dean (, August 28, 2000.

Why don't you save yourself a whole lot of agrivation and use a Jobo drum on a hand roller for starts. No scratching or uneven developement, plus you get to do it in the light with minimal amounts of chemicals. If you don't get all the bells and whistles they are not that expensive. I have the smallest drum made for 4x5 and can do 6 sheets at a time or you can get bigger drums and do more. You can also add on until your hearts content and have temperature control and motor rotation. The only disadvantage is that you can't mix different develpment times in the same drum. The advantages of the system have outwayed that minor inconvenience for me.

-- Paul Mongillo (, August 28, 2000.

I use hangers and tanks. I have a couple of Kodak hard rubber tanks and a couple of plastic yankee tanks, I also use a few tupperware style containers which hold about 2 quarts. I mix fresh developer each session, the developer I use is Kodak Dektol print developer, mixed at a 1:10 ratio. Six oz. develooper to 60 oz. water. Believe it or not, this developer works fine, it is fast working and cheap to use. By dumping each time I make sure the developer is fresh. I adgitate the standard way, lifting and tilting the hangers slowly, first to the left, then to right. That makes one cycle. I presoak the film for about a minute, place in the developer and agitate 3 cycles. Then I agitate one cycle about every 45 seconds, lift, tilt left, lower, lift and tilt right, lower. Adverage times are about 5 1/2 minutes for normal development. This gives surprisingly good results. Mostly I use Arista 125 and 400 films. Using Dektol makes tank development practical for me.

-- bill Moore (, August 28, 2000.

Agrivate, outwayed......Sorry. This thing could use a spell checker.

-- Paul Mongillo (, August 28, 2000.

Dan, I'm new also, but so far have tried a few ways. First was the daylight tank. I got uneven development most of the time no matter how I agitated it. Second was rolling PVC tubes in trays. It worked great, but more than 3 tubes was difficult. Temp was easy to maintain because of the small amt. of chemical. Now I'm working with tanks & hangers. So far this works best. Development has been even. I also have not given up roll films. I process them in the tanks also. Only problem is adjusting temp. if it gets too high or low. Cooling down a gallon of liquid takes time. Open trays are easier to maintain temp. I have not tried Jobo processors.


-- Jim Hobson (, August 28, 2000.

Go with rotary processing. It costs more to get started, but you will save yourself many headaches.


It is no surprise that Dektol works for film. A 1946 Kodak publication lists Dektol as a developer for "films, plates and papers." Strong developers appear to have been more popular than.

-- William Marderness (, August 28, 2000.

I've only developed in open trays, which for me has it's advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that it's cheap (a few plastic trays is all you need to get started), and a LOT of 4x5s can be developed at one time (a good 8 to 10). Personally my batches are sized depending on the format, as the films become considerably more difficult to manage with size (e.g. 10 - 4x5s, 8 - 5x7s, 6 - 8x10s). On the flip side, the disadvantages are that (for me) it is difficult to manage multiple development times within one batch (I don't bother even trying). And I am slightly allergic to hypo, as many people are, so if I process a few batches and go to sleep shortly thereafter, I will "develop" red splotches on my chest, where my hands have rested. If you don't want your hands soaking in chemicals for 30 minutes at a shot, you'd be better off with a tank.

-- Chad Jarvis (, August 29, 2000.

Dan, here's my two-cents worth. First, let me say that I develop 4x5 only (not larger) and in relatively small batches. Sometimes I have 100 or 150 negs to develop, but these are usually the result of a several week "photo safari" and I don't mind spending a couple of days in the darkroom developing them all. I use the tray method, developing no more than 6 sheets of film in a deep 5x7 tray at one time. Many use 8x10 trays, but I've found that the smaller trays keep the film straighter and therefore easier to handle. Since I use two developers, two films and a myriad of development times as standard, the tray method works best for me. I can change developer and time for each batch. Tray development is uncomplicated, but does require a bit of dexterity and practice (the simplest tools require the most skill). I have had (and solved) problems with scratching negs and uneven development, and now rarely have defective negatives. I shuffle through the film stack once every 30 seconds, which means a different speed for larger and smaller batches, i.e. one shuffle every 5 seconds for a 6-sheet batch, one every 10 seconds for a 3- sheet batch, etc.

Practice in the daylight and with your eyes closed with a tray of water and four or five scrap sheets of film to get the hang of it, and see if you feel confident enough to adopt this as your developing system.

If I had hundreds of sheets to do every week, I'd probably find another way to develop that lent itself more to bulk processing. As it is, tray processing by hand is ideal for me. See Ansel Adams "The Negative" and many others for an in-depth description. Hope this helps. ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (, August 29, 2000.

Good morning, I have been developing large film since the late 1930's. If there is a method available, Ihave used it at one time or the other. I own tanks, Unirollers, Jobo and trays. After may thousands of sheets of film of all sizes I have for the past 15 or 20 years used stainless steel wire baskets in trays. The baskets hold 6 sheets of 4X5 in an 11X14 trays, as well as other configurations I have had made. I have also made trays from plastic which also work well. In use, the wire baskets are loaded with one sheet of film in each section. The basket is then placed in the processing trays in order and agitation is by lifting alternate corners of the tray. To move from tray to tray, the basket is lifted, film drained and then placed in the next solution. The advantages are: no danger of scratching, no streaking, agitation patterns are easy to establish and maintain, hands stay dry. it is as if one were developing single sheets in a tray, but more can be done simultaneously. For the past several years I have had my college students using this method, and the number of failures due to processing is almost zero. If you are interested, e-mail me directly and I will write you more detailed information about constructing and using baskets from stainless wire and from plastic. Jim

-- JIm Noel (, August 29, 2000.

in the short time I've been shooting and developing 4x5, I've tried trays (cheap to start out with, but messy, prone to scratching, poor temperature and processing in the dark), Combi-plan inversion tank (leaked like crazy, took so long to pour chemicals in and out that times were hard to keep uniform), tanks (Back to working in the dark, to much chemical required for one-shot processing) and finally got a Unicolor drum and motorized base. I wished I had heard of these much sooner! They are fantastic! I got the used base and drum off eBay for about what the hard rubber Kodak 4x5 tanks cost me used. You work in the light, you can go away and do something else while developing, the temperature remains pretty constant, agitation is consistent, chemicals are poured in and out quickly, it requires very little chemicals so you do one-shot processing economically (avoiding having to adjust times for developer depletion, keeping track of number of films processed, having to replenish, etc.), it is fairly free of mess (no pouring chemicals back in bottles, etc.), and takes little space.

I since found a deal on a used Jobo CPE-2 and bought the sheet film reel and drum kit. That's getting pricier, but it works like a charm!

-- John H. Henderson (, August 29, 2000.

I do film hangers exclusively. Only because this is the method I like. If you choose it as well, keep in mind that you can use single hangers, or quad hangers. My experience is this. In order to use the quads, it is next to impossible to find a container to submerge two hangers, and not use a lot of chemistry. Its a personal thing for me, the chemistry and the environement. If you choose the single ones, Calumet has Cesco 4x5 single tanks, and hangers. I couldn't find single hangers anywhere but Calumet. They are on back order. Its extremely frustrating waiting for them.

-- Raven (, September 03, 2000.

"Combi-plan inversion tank (leaked like crazy, took so long to pour chemicals in and out that times were hard to keep uniform), "

1: We stand behind our products. Did you contact us about a new tank that leaked so we could replace it? Or was this a used tank of uncertain age and heritage?

2: Timing is so simple. The clock starts when you start filling and ends when you stop, The fill and drain times are even. Especially if you popened the air vent when filling or draining.

-- Bob Salomon (, September 04, 2000.

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