Alternative technique in tray processing : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I completed my first attempt at tray processing this weekend (Crown graphic Ektar 152, 4x5 Delta 100, Sprint (~D76) in 8x10 trays, 72 deg, time 7min 30sec, 8 negatives, tray was abt 1/2 full with chemicals). I followed AA's recommendations from "The Negative" but found a two problems:

- I tried my best to keep the negatives together in the 8x10 trays and turned around one of the negatives to keep track of my agitation(all were emulsion side up in the trays) but the negatives kept moving about the tray and got out of sequence. I did one complete rotation every minute after two initial complete rotations.

- I wound up with several scratches.

question: As an alternative, can I use a single 5x7 tray and pour dev, stop, fix, etc. into and out of the tray instead of separate trays? Also, can I agitate as I do with my prints by swirling the tray instead of moving the the bottom neg to the top? I found my initial set of D100 rather contrasty so I believe I was agitating too aggressively.

Thanks - It feels great to be developing my own negatives now. Just looking to fine tune my technique.

-- John Welton (, December 04, 2000


Don't try to learn with so many negs. Just start w/2, then 3, etc. No, you can't get the same results with a "swirl". Practice.

-- Alec (, December 04, 2000.

First, don't try so many negs to begin with. Try four to start. Next, place a stick in the sink at the back of the row of trays so they tilt forward--gravity will 'herd' the sheets to the front of the tray and make them easier to control. Keep the stack in line with one hand while you pull and move the bottom sheet with the other hand. Next, despite AA's advice, process with the films face *down*. Much more even development and no worse for scratching. Most important of all, sacrifice some unexposed film and practice in full room light until the whole operation feels natural. Then go ahead and process real negs.--- Carl

-- Carl Weese (, December 04, 2000.

All of the above are good suggestions! In addition, get use to the fact that your hands will be in the soup more often than not. If you're sensitive to the chemicals, try using non-latex surgical gloves. After suscessfully staining my fingers brown by using a split D-23 developer with bare hands, I went to using the gloves and I find no perceptible loss in sensitivity. And knowing that my hands are protected allows me more "freedom" to keep my hands in the developer in order to maintain control over the stack of negatives.

-- William Levitt (, December 04, 2000.

John: The previous posters gave good advice on practicing with fewer negs and waste a few unexposed negs for proctice. As for the contrasty negs, I don't see where your methods lead to excessive contrast. I would suggest you back off the time or temperature. It may be easiest to back off the time. Try a couple of negs with a 20 percent reduction in time. You will have to do some testing to establish the best time-agitation-temperature for your own working methods. Be aware that your hands in the developer will raise the temperature of the solution. Either dip your hands in cold water before putting them in the solution or consider putting the tray in a larger tray of tempered water. You can also start a degree or two colder and average out the temperature during the development cycle. As for scratches, that is a fact of life with tray development if you do more than a couple of negs at a time.

-- Doug Paramore (, December 04, 2000.

Yeah! And despite the problems with your initial run --DIDN'T IT FEEL GREAT?

-- Bill Mitchell (, December 04, 2000.

Thanks for the quick responses. Yes, it was GREAT doing my first run despite the overall minor flaws in my technique. Now I can keep my costs down and have more fun.

Any other comments on using a 5x7 vs 8x10 tray? I'll probably stick to Sprint(D76) for now but thinking about Rodinal and PMK Pyro in the future. Thinking about minimum amt of developer needed per tray.


-- John Welton (, December 04, 2000.

you can John, I use 4 5x trays in two 11x14 tempering tubs.... I don't think I'd like draining and pouring into 1 in total darkness. I've found myself slowing waaaay down to developing singles one by one... you may find you do this too as you get things down and your ratio improves.... I've found it to be far more consistent for me. It's slow going but this side of buying a jobo or a print drum and automating the most parts.... this is what I'm reduced to.

good luck

-- tribby (, December 04, 2000.

If you want to process in trays (rather than other methods like rotary processing), consider making yourself a slosher. The easiest thing in the world to make - pick up a sheet of acrylic and cut it to about 9x11 or so. Place a 4x5 sheet and drill holes around the sheet and then put in screws or dowels in the holes. Now place the sheets to be developed into the space (so that the dowels hold the sheet in place as you rock the tray) and lower the whole acrylic sheet with the sheets into an 11x14 tray of developer (make sure there is enough developer in the tray to cover the sheets well) - agitate by rocking the tray. I find I can process about 4 negs at a time in trays and there is no need to risk scratching the negs etc. Cost of making this is less than 10 bucks. Good luck. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (, December 04, 2000.

I'll concur with all the above suggestions (though face-up works for me). Start with fewer negs at a time and lower developer temperature and, you will get more even results.

Are you getting scratches from the bottom of the tray or from the corner of the bottom negative striking the emulsion of the top negative when you rotate it to the top? If the former, you might try a different style of tray or just be extra careful that the film doesn't adhere to the bottom. If the latter (and if I can explain this in a clear way), try to insert the sheets with a kind of sweeping motion from the front edge of the tray to the back so it glides under the liquid with the center becoming immersed before the edge closest to you. If you try to slip it under edge first, you are more likely to damage the emulsion of the top negative.

-- David Goldfarb (, December 04, 2000.

Tray processing is the hardest, most inconvenient, riskiest way to develope sheet film. Any other way is preferrable and safer for you and your film. james

-- lumberjack (, December 04, 2000.

Straightforward plans for a "slosher" (referred to above) can be found at

-- Alan Shapiro (, December 04, 2000.

When I started devloping 4 X 5's in trays, I used 5 X 7 trays and instead of shuffling, I transfered - i.e. 5 in the first tray - then pull the bottom one out and put it by itself in the second tray of developer. Then the fourth one comes out of the first tray and goes on top of the fifth in the second tray, and so on. When the first tray is empty, start over. it worked fine and I believe Adams mentions this approach in "The Negative".

I'm sorry lumberkjack has such a low opinion of tray processing. Since switching to development by inspection I won't do it any other way.

-- Sean yates (, December 04, 2000.

Add my vote for a "slosher." I built a one from the plans Phil Bard provides on his web site. Perfectly even development and nary a scratch. Highly recommended.

-- Dave Munson (, December 04, 2000.

A distinct advantage of tray processing (inspection aside), particularly if you are shooting 8x10" or larger, is that you can eventually handle 8 sheets at a time in one batch, no scratches, once you get the hang of it.

-- David Goldfarb (, December 04, 2000.

Might as well add my two cents worth as well.

Tray processing uses the most basic and simplest of equipment, and, the simplest tools require the most skill. However, after practicing a bit, unless you are really all thumbs, you should be able to master it and reduce the incidence of scratched negs to a minimum. I hadn't had a scratched neg in years until yesterday when a negative sliped out of my hand over the tray and fell in corner first. OUCH! Luckily, I had a back up. But back to the point.

I use 4x5 only and have found that a deep 5x7 tray, one that will comfortably hold 750ml of solution, is best for me. Depending on the number of sheets to be developed, I use 500ml to 750 ml of developer solution. I rarely develop more than 6 negatives at a time although 8 every now and then is OK. I would rather do another batch than have to hurry the agitation to get through the stack in the allotted time. I, too, develop my film face up, but I see no reason why my techniques wouldn't work face down as well. I simply have never seen the need. As for agitation, I shuffle once through the stack every minute. This means shifting one sheet from the bottom to the top every 10 seconds with 6 sheets, or one sheet from bottom to top every 20 seconds with 3 sheets total, etc. I also agitate along the short axis of the film (i.e. not as AA shows in The Negative). That means I set up my trays with the long dimension running right to left. The film goes into the tray on the left side with the long dimension running top to bottom (I'm right-handed). This gives plenty of room to slide the bottom sheet out. When removing the bottom sheet from the stack, it is a good idea to pull it out about an inch, then lift it up and down once or twice to put a fluid cushion between it and the sheets on top. It should then slide out easily without sticking to the sheet on top. It is important to make sure that when you put the sheet back in the developer it doesn't go in corner first. I usually use both hands to hold the edges up and make sure the film goes in flat. Then I push it down with the balls of my fingers. To transfer the stack to another tray, herd the sheets into one corner so they are all aligned and pick up the entire stack with both hands keeping a finger under the bottom to make sure no inner sheets slide out. After a 10-second drain, transfer the entire stack to the next tray and agitate from bottom to top as usual. I use gloves with PMK, but bare hands for HC-110 etc. The gloves aren't a big hindrence, and PMK hardens the negs so they don't scratch as easily.

I advocate tray processing because of its simplicity, low cost and quick set-up and take-down time. Also, once the basic technique is mastered, one can develop several sheets with different development times together, adding the sheets requiring shorter times at the proper intervals. It is also easy to use different agitation schemes, water bath and stand developing with the same basic equipment: a few trays and your hands. Sorry this is so long! Regards, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (, December 05, 2000.

In the year since I got a 4x5 camera, I've tried tray processing, then tried a Combi-plan inversion tank, then 4x5 Kodak hard rubber developing tanks, then a Unicolor drum and base, and finally a Jobo processor. If cost is a concern, I'd recommend finding a used Unicolor drum and base. You should be able to get them for $30-$50. Not a whole lot more than trays and probably even a little less than 3 used hard rubber tanks. You don't worry about scratching. You work with the lights on. You don't worry about chemicals on your hands or the effect on temperature of your hands in the bath. You use very little chemicals and use them once, so you don't worry about time adjustments or how depletion is affecting the developing process.

I wish I had started out with the drum system.

The only reason I traded the Unicolor for the Jobo was that I found a used CPE-2 in my local photo shop for $50.

-- John H. Henderson (, December 05, 2000.

One more suggestion regarding the tray system. I find I get more even results if I turn the sheets 90 degrees every few cycles. It may not be as much of a problem with 4x5" sheets, but with 8x10" I got some uneveness at first, I presume due to not having trays that are perfectly level or maybe uneven temperature in different parts of the tray.

-- David Goldfarb (, December 05, 2000.

Jeez John H... 50 smackers! Where do you live?

John W... some folks just buy the tube without the rotary base and roll them around in a sink full of tempered water like BZTS tubes too... might sound interesting to you... some folks just make their own tubes out of pvc pipe and caps.

We've seen the "rockers", "sloshers", "tankers" and the "tray" and "rotary" folks... what of the "tubers" or other methods we haven't heard about?

why is your method easier? why? why am I not starting another thread?

rowdy mentions "inspection"... wasn't there an article in view camera mag a coupla years back? I can't see under those weird green lights! I used to print color in total darkness... what's the trick? I don't mind my trays... I can stack and shuffle as well as the next but I just got to a point where I liked processing one by one... not having to keep track of the stack.... so maybe tubes would be better for a confusable guy like me?

got a good link to the "slosher"... thanks!

how 'bout one for "inspection" or homemade "tubes"... why am I asking you? I'll go look and post here... why am I thinking "aloud"? shhh!

-- Trib (, December 06, 2000.

Hi Trib. To hear is to obey.

Just one of many, I suspect. Cheers, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (, December 06, 2000.

that's so cool! thanks DJ!

-- Trib (, December 08, 2000.

Your wish is my command Oh Tribolius Maximus:


and there's an article in the newest edition of Anchell's "Darkroom Cookbook". Also it is described in the famous "Photographers Mate Handbook".

-- Sean yates (, December 08, 2000.

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