4x5 tray processing

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I just bought the Dick Arentz book "Platinum & Palladium Printing." He has a chapter on film processing. He himself seems to lean toward tray processing, because he useses an unusually large film size. I am just getting started with 4X5 and am considering tray processing for the advantages gained by not being tied to constant agitation. In his description of agitation he recommends lifting the film completely out of the developer at regular intervals. Isn't bringing the wet film into contact with the air that often likely to cause problems? I would have thought you would want to keep the film submerged as much as possible. thanks -----JimJ

-- Jim Jasutis (jjasuti1@tampabay.rr.com), October 12, 2001


Jim...it is not so much lifting out as it is shuffling the film. Much like a deck of cards. You do not necessarily pull the film out of the tray, but merely alternate the order of the sheets of film while in the developer. Though it requires a bit of caution and practice, it is an inexpensive and practical way to develop film. Photographers have been doing it for "THOUSANDS" of years!!! -Dave

-- Dave Richhart (pritprat@erinet.com), October 12, 2001.

The problem is, when you shuffle the sheets, the corner of one sheet can very easily scratch the emulsion of another sheet. Many many sheets of film have been ruined by this, over thousands of years... :)

-- Jim Brick (jim@brick.org), October 12, 2001.

To tell you the truth, I will be a very low volume operation, and was planning on processing one sheet at a time. So there is little danger of scratching the film. I really thought it would be proper to just slide the sheet in the developer, or maybe use a slosher type tray, and rock the developer tray from side to side and front to back to agitate. Then I read this chapter in the book that mentions that you should lift the film clear of the developer at regular intervals. I believe that the thought is this will provide a period of more aggressive agitation as the film is ripped out and then slid back in, but I am not sure if that is the idea or not.

-- Jim Jasutis (jjasuti1@tampabay.rr.com), October 12, 2001.

I usually use a Jobo for processing sheet film, but for 8x10 and 4x5 that requires N-/N+ development I go to trays. I could never get the hang of shuffling film without scratches, so I use multiple trays with one and no more than two per tray. This also makes it easier to do a batch of negs that require different dev times. I use 5x7 trays for the 4x5 negs, two 11x14 trays for a water bath and a couple of the smaller for fixing. If you use one sheet per tray, you never have to touch the film, just rock the tray during development. If you don't want to mess with so many trays, you can take an 11x14 or 16x20 and make a divider to have 4 or 6 bays. The divider has holes drilled in it to let the developer circulate but keeps the film in place. I bring these ideas up because as you get aclimated, you are going to want to see the fruit of your efforts quicker than one sheet at a time. If you want further consistency look at various threads concerning JOBO processors, mine is superb for most jobs and formats.

Good luck and enjoy,

-- James Chinn (Jim1341@DellEpro.com), October 13, 2001.

Thank you for your response to my post. The system you describe is pretty much what I had in mind. The Arentz book even describes making a divider system by using suction cups and Q-tips stuck to the bottom of the tray. I was mainly wondering if rocking the trays gave a vigorous enough agitation. I haven't had a darkroom for years. I know I used to do prints that way, but wasn't sure if it would work for film.

There are two problems that occur to me with the JOBO system. I know one of the touted advantages is less chemical use. I just worry that just because you use enough to satisfy the tank requirements, that doesn't mean you are using an optimum amount for proper processing. In other words I worry that you might not have enough chemicals. The second problem is the idea of constant agitation. This may be ideal for color work (isn't that what the JOBO was actually designed for?), but for B&W there are definite advantages to lower agitation rates (edge effect, and higher accutance). Have you not run into either of these using the JOBO with B&W. Thanks again--JimJ

-- Jim Jasutis (jjasuti1@tampabay.rr.com), October 13, 2001.

Jim, I went through the same dilema and tried slosher trays, shuffling and ended up on the HP Combi Plan tank system. It is really good perfect negs svery time. It is a daylight tank so you can work in room light once the film is loaded. Good Luck!


-- Michael Pry (vila@techheadnet.com), October 13, 2001.

When you get tired of your hands itching or having latex gloves on your wet sweaty hands, try a plain old tank w/hangers. Been done like that for "hundreds of thousands of years." You can use tupperware or make small thin plexiglass containers that hold just enough developer for one shot processing. Or like I did, get a unicolor drum with a motor base(cheap) and learn the awesome look of constant agitation developing. My negs are smoother, richer in detail, and sharp as a tack now. And no scratched film. James

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), October 13, 2001.

With regards to the JOBO, I find that you get absolute consistency once you have established processing times for a given devloper and film combination. Also once film is loaded the lights stay on, which allows me to perform other tasks while the processor is running. With regards to chemistry, as long as you use the minimum required stock developer of 100-150ml as recommended by various sources for 80 sq inches of film and use at least the minimum of chemistry, there are no problems. I use older style tanks and reels that require 170ml for 6 sheets of film and total volume allows for 1-1 dilutions and 1- 2 if less film processed at one time.

With regards to agitation, you have to establish new times for processing the film, anywhere from 10-30% less then with tray or inversion. I have never seen any difference in grain between a JOBO and tray, the constant agitation just increases developer activity and thus you reach a certain degree of contrast quicker. I have tested and used a variety of developers, D-76, XTOL, HC-110 and rollo- pyro. I still have some problems getting the times down with Rollo- Pyro to equal tray with ABC Pyro, but I may stick with the trays for Pyro as I have read it is more forgiving for inspection processing. For more information on JOBO processing, John Hicks who is a frequent contributor to these forums has an article at unblinkingeye.com where he discusses these issues in greater depth.

-- James Chinn (Jim1341@DellEpro.com), October 13, 2001.

The only time that I used tray processing was many years ago when I used film packs. The film is very thin and there is no problem with scratching.

For forty years, I used 4x5 hard rubber Kodak tanks and hangers. This method if fool proof and super easy. Two years ago I bought a JOBO processor and now use JOBO's Expert drums for most sheet film processing. Occasionally I will use the tanks and hangers if I am using some exotic developer that I made mayself.

Since you don't have a JOBO, I suggest you use hard rubber tanks and hangers. Absolutely foolproof.

-- Jim Brick (jim@brick.org), October 13, 2001.

To avoid the problem of damaging the emulsion in tray processing I put the sheets in face up, then shuffle from the bottom of the stack, lifting the leading edge of the sheet slightly as I reinsert it into the chemistry, passing it under the liquid with a sweeping motion from the front of the tray to the back of the tray. It's easier to demonstrate than to describe, but once you get the hang of it, scratched film is not likely to be a problem.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), October 13, 2001.

I use 4 cheap Yankee developing tanks with floating lids and tops. They have a scalloped edge that allows me to swing the film holders back and forth without taking the film out of the developer. In the 4th tank I have a small aquarium pump for washing. Works great.

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), October 13, 2001.

The above comments show how highly individual this subject is. There are probably as many opinions on this subject as film developers. Tray developing especially, takes a bit of dexterity and can result in damaged film. That said, let me explain why I chose tray developing over the other methods. First, it requires no special equipment and no related investment. Second, it is flexible. I develop from 1 to 8 sheets at a time, many times adding sheets during the developing so that I can develop N+, N and N- negatives and different film types together in one batch. Third, and most importantly, evenness of development with correctly done tray processing is superior to most other methods. (Just take a look at the test prints in Leslie Strobel's "View Camera Technique" for a confirmation of this.) I can travel with a bottle of developer and three trays and develop in hotel bathrooms if necessary; anyone's rental darkroom has adequate facilities for me to develop film; a boon for the travelling photographer. One can easily altenate between agitation schemes: stand development, continuous agitation or anywhere in between; inspection is possible if needed (althogh I don't inspect); and the same technique works for all sizes of sheet film.

So Jim, before shelling out money on lots of equipment, try the low tech method first. Take out six sheets and use them for practice shuffling. I develop the film face-up, shuffling from bottom to top and lifting the film completely out of the developer before laying it back down flat on the developer surface and pushing it down gently with the balls of the fingers (I use pyro regularly and have had NO problems with aerial staining). I agitate once through the stack every 60 seconds, regardless of the number of films. this means faster shuffling for more sheets. Start with three or four sheets. As you gain experience, you will be able to add more. The limit is your comfort and coordination. Sorry this got so long, but I hope it helps in your decision-making process. Regards, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (ScudderLandreth@compuserve.com), October 14, 2001.

I like tray developing because it saves you a lot of time in the darkroom. You don't have to print all those scratched negatives and have more time to get out and shoot. If you are doing more than a couuple of negatives, get a roller drum and motor base. The tank and rack system can lead to a lot of streaking and uneven skies. Even Saint Ansel, who used tray processing a lot, said he "seldom" had a scratched neg. He didn't say he "never" had one.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), October 15, 2001.

Well, now that you saw Doremus's method let me tell you about mine, I got me an expert drum, I fill it with chemical, put it on a beseler motor base and set the timer....when I hear the buzzer I drain the developer, put fixer, again I hear the buzzer.....wash and I am done...I did not have to spend 13 minutes in the dark, shuffling sheets, risking damage to them, etc. To me this is the best compromise, I did not get the entire Jobo ssystem, is overpriced for what you get, but te drums are fabulous!

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm@worldnet.att.net), October 15, 2001.

No one has mentioned allergic reaction to having your hands in that stuff all the time. I've been messing with big film for about 7 years now, and got to my allergic threshold in about 2. Once that has been accomplished, it takes very little MQ to bring the tingling sensation back. I guess all the tray guys use gloves, but I'm too clumsy to shuffle film with no gloves, let alone with.

On another note, since you're thinking in terms of PT/ PD you'll no doubt get curious and want to give Pyro a try. That's also good stuff to keep your hands out of. But once I saw a really good Pyro neg, I couldn't live with anything else. After fighting streaks and other aberations because of the darn Pyro, I'm back to one at a time in a tray, and no I don't introduce any extra oxygen to the film, I just gently rock for 8 minutes or so. I've got a big pile of film waiting to be developed because of all the extra time it takes to do them 1 at a time.

You'll eventually find what works best for you and it will likely be different than all 98 ways in this post.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), October 16, 2001.

If you have even three or four negatives to develop I think you're going to get real tired of developing each one individually in a tray. You'll have to be concerned with varying the times to take exhaustion of the developer into account (or use new developer for each sheet of film) and it's no fun standing in the dark with your hands in all those chemicals. I use tray development for 8x10, doing four sheets at a time, and it works o.k. but if I used 8x10 enough to justify the cost, I'd buy the BTZS 8x10 tubes ($60 each for 8x10). I don't, so I tolerate the tray for 8x10 but I don't like it. Among other things, trying to keep track of which sheet gets which developing time is a real pain. For 4x5 I use the BTZS tubes and like them a lot. I think they're a very cost and space effective substitute for the Jobo system, which is an excellent system but it does take up a lot of space (and money).

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), October 17, 2001.

The JOBO expert drums have some of the most consistent negative densities you can get, per densitometer measurements. Very even skies & very repeatable. So, I process my sheets in trays & view the negatives by inspection to make final decisions as to development 'on the fly' and in the dark. It works for negs from 4x5 to 20x24 and is simple. It is definately NOT for everyone. If you are allergic to Metol there are many developers that don't have it. Trays, tanks, rotary or whatever, try any one & if you like the results, stick with it. After a bit you will find the shortcomings and every method has some. You will hit a balance as to what works for you & this helps make darkroom time more enjoyable & relaxing.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), October 17, 2001.

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