Sheet Film Development Options : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am looking to purchase a Jobo system next year for processing 4"x5" b&w sheet film. At the current time I am looking for a reliable system that will work for a reasonable price. I have seen the HP Combi Sheet film tanks that will process 6 sheets of 4"x5" film. This would be an option if it works. I am also looking at the BTZS film tubes. Can anyone tell me if any of these work and to what degree? I have seen a few comments on the BTZS tubes but not anything on the HP Combi tanks. Thanks in advance.

-- Bruce E. Rathbun (, July 23, 2001


Hi Bruce,

I have a work-around thata is a little unique but works amaingly well.

I have been down the Jobo road and didn't like the results I was achieving technically fine but aesthetically not what I was after.

So, I ended up with some 2500 series tanks and some 2509n reels. What I wanted to do was increase acutance by using intermittant agitation (hard to do in a tray unless you use John Sexton's slosher design) and achieve some compensating effect by using dilute chemistry.

(Note: Because the Jobo machine system requires so little solution to process it is difficult to get sufficient stock solution for the surface area of film without overloading the mechanism.)

My solution was to buy a Jobo centre shaft extension to act as a handle. I place 12 sheets into 2 reels on the shaft and use 3 litre measuring jugs (cost $10.00 each Australian) in a line for the solutions - Pre-wash, Dev, Stop, Fix, Ridfix. The jugs have more volume above the 3.0 litre mark and so I use 3.5 litres to cover the reels. Shop around and you'll find the right size.

The reels are kept in the light-tight 2500 series drums until I'm ready to go. Once the fixing time is over I use the now empty Jobo tank with a cascade washer to rinse and wash the film. The first time the film is touched by hand is when I remove each sheet for the ritual Photo-Flo.

I attain very even processing over the entire sheet, each sheet is held in its own slot to prevent abrasion and I get ample throughput at 12 sheets a time.

It might be a suitable solution to your problem.

Good luck ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (, July 23, 2001.

FYI, B&H has Jobo single and dual reel sheet film developing kits which includes the loader, tank and reel. The single kit (#4341) goes for $125 last I checked. The dual reel kit is #4342, and would allow diluting the developer if only loading one reel. Both are daylight for hand agitation and from what I suspect can be used later with the machine. Next best alternative for little money is cheap plastic containers and sheet film holders.

-- Wayne Crider (, July 23, 2001.

Bruce: You might try the Beselar or Uniroller motor base and drums. Much cheaper and they work great. I don't think either is being made now (I may be wrong on this) but they are still to be found in camera stores and are fairly plentiful used. I got mine from a forum member and they work fine. I use them constantly.


-- Doug Paramore (, July 24, 2001.

Bruce, I have used the BTZS tubes in 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10. Mostly 4x5, and I love the system. Easy to use, nice even developement, easy to control temperture, and the lights are on while you roll the tubes like logs in the water bath. I've never used anything else so I can't comment on other methods, but I don't ever plan on using anything else. Watch E-Bay, the tubes come up every so often. In fact there are some on right now.

-- Brett M. Thomas (, July 24, 2001.

Here's what I use:

1.5 inch ABS tubes, about 6 inches long, but I have some that are longer and some that are shorter.

a few 8x10 print trays, a few rubbermaid looking, but made by somebody else containers that hold a 4x5 neg easily.

Curl the film, the long way, emulsion side in, and slide into the tubes.

Drop the tubes into a tray with developer - about 1 liter, but a little less is enough. Spin the tubes by hand. The tubes are open at both ends, so solutions flow through the tubes. They're not floating in the soup, but sitting on the bottom of the tray. I kind of "pinch" a pair of tubes between thumb and forefinger to rotate the tube. 5 tubes fit in an 8x10 tray, and I shoot low enough volumes that I'm happy with processing only 5 sheets at a time. This is all in total darkness. I listen to WWV on a shortwave radio for my timer. Spin the tubes continuously because only the very bottom part of the tube is actually under water at any time.

When the developing time is up, move the tubes to the stop tray and spin for a bit, then to the first fix. I then take the sheets out of the tubes into the little rubbermaid containers for the second fix, and I wash in those same containers. If I put them on hangers, I could just run a hose into a tank, but instead I keep a hose filling and dumping those containers one at a time.

I have three different tube lengths, so if some sheet is going to get a shorter developing time, I put it in a shorter tube, and I can identify that by feel in the dark.

Developing is very reliable. With TMX, the antihalation backing is not normally removed in the developer (back of the sheet is pressed against the tube) and it usually takes a little sodium carbonate for a few minutes after the second fix in those little containers - solutions can get to the back of the film there.

Materials are really cheap. Sand the cut tube ends with fine sandpaper until they are very smooth.

Disadvantages are max of 5 sheets at one time. High solution volumes. I use relatively highly dilluted developer, so the volume hasn't really been a problem. If I'm only doing 2 sheets, I use a 5x7 tray and half the solution. I could do more sheets in a bigger tray, but I would want a long skinny tray, with my next size of tray 12x16, it would take a lot of developer to get the depth required.

I think I could get away with 1/2 liter if I'm doing 4 sheets in an 8x10 tray. I tried 2 sheets, 8x10 tray, 1/2 liter and the solution wasn't deep enough that the film was getting well immersed as I spun the tubes.

-- mike rosenlof (, July 24, 2001.

Not merely to be annoying, but somebody needs to speak up for plain old tray development here. It's the simplest method of all. It was good enough for Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Eugene Atget, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen .... I can't think of a significant critic or art historian remarking that Weston, for instance, could have been REALLY good if he'd just had a Jobo drum processor or a nitrogen burst set-up. Or pixels. -jeff buckels

-- Jeff Buckels (, July 24, 2001.

I have tried the tubes and still go back to my 4x5 hangers. I can process up to 20 sheets at a time if needed and to me it is a personal preference... that's all. Cheers

-- Scott Walton (, July 24, 2001.

Bruce, IMHO the CombiPlan is a really convenient and reliable method of developing sheet film. The holder is a doddle to load and as long as you are careful there are no real problems. Make sure that the clip that holds the sheets on the frame is pushed far enough down to stop them moving, but not so far that it causes the sheet to buckle, and agitate slowly (sort of a slow motion version of the standard 35mm/120 tank method) and you'll be fine. Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, July 24, 2001.

I use a Jobo single reel tank and agitate by hand. It works great for me. Mine was designed to be used with a lift, but I put a rubber stopper into the hole so I can invert it and use more chemistry. I use one liter of each solution and agitate constantly by rolling forward 10 seconds, backward 10 seconds, then invert twice and slap to dislodge bubbles. Works great for me.


-- David Willis (, July 24, 2001.

I am with you Jeff...there is just something that "feel right" about standing in total darkness and flipping sheets of film in the trays. I know it's not the easiest way to control development, but it works VERY well, and it sure is satisfying!!! -Dave

-- Dave Richhart (, July 24, 2001.

So many options! I have tried to do the tray method. I can not seem to get away from even the smallest of scraches. Even if I process a few sheets at a time I will still get small scratches on the film base. I have tried sheet film hangers with a Nitrogen burst in college. This was by far the best method that I have found. No scratches and I could do 12 8"x10" hangers. This method is a bit pricey at this time. I have looked at the Jobo reels and have been advised that there are problems loading the reels. Is this a problem that anyone has found? I also like the idea of the BTZS tubes. I have been on the web to see the instructions for using the tubes. It seems like it may take a bit of time to get used to it. Finally I have considered using the good old hangers in the tank method. I would do enough negs to justify but I have also been advised that there is the hazard of uneven development. The last method that I have tried was to place a sheet film hanger in a tray. BIG MISTAKE for me. I was horrified to see "development spots" (for lack of a better term) where the holes in the hanger were. I am in search of a simple method of developing around a half dozen 4x5 negs. I do thank everyone for the help.

-- Bruce E. Rathbun (, July 24, 2001.

Bruce: One last little pitch for tray development. I did tray dev. for awhile before I got consistently clean negatives. At this point, doing 5x7 negatives, I don't get many problems. I do some singles (never a problem) and up to about five at a time. If I'm shuffling five, I might get a scratch on one. What helped me the most was changing to the shuffling procedure urged by Gordon Hutchings in The Pyro Book (emulsion side DOWN, etc.). The main point, I think, is that it's just such a simple procedure. Also, you're pretty much looking at tray dev. if you want to develop by inspection, which I do. Dev. by inspection, again, is the simplest method. It seems to be thought of by a lot of people as very tricky/difficult or something, and yet godzillions of the old photographers managed.... -jeff buckels

-- Jeff Buckels (, July 25, 2001.

If you've done nitrogen burst & tank lines, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to do the same on a smaller scale (without the nitrogen)....we run a 2 gal. tankline (7, 4-up racks) and do hand agitation with no problems and have been doing it this way for 10 years at least. The lab across the street from us uses 3.5 gallon tanks (98 sheets) and hand agitation as well. I run a small tankline at home with 1 gallon Cesco-Lite tanks (w/floating lids) in a Leedal waterjacket. I can run 12 4x5 hangers (but it's tight, I mostly do 6-8) at a time, 5x7, 2x3 hangers, and roll films. The small Kodak hard-rubber half gallon tanks will let you do around 10-12 at once as well. The beauty of a replenished tankline is in the control you can get out of it, and the fact that the chemicals are all ready to go....walk in, load the racks, pull the covers and run your film...providing you don't have to run a waterjacket. A run is about 45 min. for us, in another hour the film is dry as well. It's the same with my little tank line as well...I use a heat dryer too. You should be able to buy a used set of Kodak tanks, lids and single sheet racks (3 tanks) for less than a $100. The new plastic tanks will run about $20 each. Stainless steel is the best.

-- DK Thompson (, July 25, 2001.

Let me suggest a variation on tray processing that I came up with years ago when I started down the large format path. I took some cheap 8x10 plastic trays that have subtle ribs on the bottom. I glued a few strips of plastic about 1/2 inch tall and 2 inches long , standing up in the center of the tray as dividers (one "north-south", the other "east-west"). Each tray holds 4 sheets of 4x5, a reasonable number and is essentially scratch proof. The solutions are free to spill around the divider. Now if only I can think of a way to handle 8x10...

-- Bob Krantz (, July 26, 2001.

I've used the BTZS tubes with 4x5 for years and like the system a lot. I really haven't found any down side to them. I've always gotten very even development, they don't cost a whole lot, and they take up very little space. They have the advantage of allowing you to process your N, N+, and N - negative simultaneously. I've used the Jobo system in a workshop and liked it except for the fact that you have to process only the N negatives in one run, then a second complete run for the N + negatives, then a third complete run for the N - negatives. This would be fine if you had a whole lot of negatives to develop at one time but I usually don't process more than 8 or 10 negatives in a session and it was really aggravating to process the 5 N negatives then have a second complete run for the two N+ negatives, and a third complete run for the 1 or 2 N minus negatives.

-- Brian Ellis (, July 26, 2001.

I should have added that I use tray development for 8x10 negatives (due to the high cost of the 8x10 BTZS tubes). Although I've gotten good results as long as I don't do more than four negatives at a time, I don't care much for it, partly because I don't enjoy standing in the dark with my face over a tray of chemicals, shuffling negatives for 10 or 15 minutes but mostly because it's a real pain keeping track of which negative gets what development time. Some people say they get around this by having separate trays for each development time but I don't have room in my darkroom sink for that.

-- Brian Ellis (, July 26, 2001.

Another vote for BTZS. Have used them for more than 5 years. 1) Consistently fine development. 2) Easy control of each negative for different development time in the same session (i.e. 2 negatives at "N", 1 negative at "N+1", 2 at "N+2", etc.) or use the BTZS test system for amazingly accurate results with reflective or incidence readings. 3) can work in the light once they are loaded. 4) one shot developer for quality and freshness (I used TMax RS) with no depletion. 5) develop as few negatives as you have or as many tubes as you want to buy. 6) Fred Newman, who owns the company, is very helpful with honest and friendly advice (even calls on his own dime).

-- D. Meriwether (, July 28, 2001.

I''ve also been in a quandary about how to process sheet film. I tried using film hangers and got surge marks near the holes. I was pre-soaking my negatives in water and think that may have had something to do with the surge marks.

I have to have absolute control over temperature, so that I can control development. I've purchased a used compensating timer, and I'm going to try a slosher with four quadrants for 4x5 in an 8x10 tray. In this way, I can get the same results for 4x5 that I obtain for single-sheet processing of 8x10, and I need only do my calibration tests on 4x5.

-- neil poulsen (, July 29, 2001.

Neil, one old method to control temp is to run a water jacket around your doesn't matter if it's having them all in a sink with a standpipe, a dish tub, or a deep tank configuration. Just as long as the tanks don't float....drain the water off at some level. In the "old days", like 20-30 yrs. ago, alot of E6 was run this way...and alot of b&w film still is.

We run film by hand in tanks, and don't use a prewet. It comes down to getting the agitation just right though. Another cause of the agitation patterns can come from an improperly replenished tank, where the bromide build up in the tanks can get stirred up, and poor agitation can cause "bromide drag", or in roll films, "sprocket drag". I've seen this on a heavily used developer, working through Kodak hangers and getting channeled through the side holes...but once you get the technique down, there isn't any reason why your negs can't be clean.

-- DK Thompson (, July 30, 2001.

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