4x5 neg processing in homemade tubes

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For those of you who followed my "just couldn't leave it alone" thread, you already know how adept and handy I am. I also relish the idea of using off the shelf plumbing supplies for film processing, rather than spend 10 times that at photo supply store.

I spent many hours in the archives looking for answers, but I still need some guidence.

1. I visited the BTZS darkroom website, and I think I understand the theory. But one thing kinda disturbs me. All the talk about rigorous consistancy with agitation during development, and timing the agitation to within seconds, and warnings about "over agitation"....then the BTZS instructions say "don't worry, just keep the drums rotating". Question: isn't a more methodical, consistent agitation system required with tubes? I do have an idea to build a motorized tube roller from an old 33rpm record player. 16 rpms would be easy to achieve, thus having the tubes constantly rotating.

2. If you have made your own tubes, could you contact me and kind of fill me in on what materials you used? Thin wall PVC, or schd. 40? Or, if folks could suggest websites that may have more specifics on building developing tubes.


-- Douglas Gould (assistdelrey@earthlink.net), February 22, 2002


As far as I can tell, there is really no difference between overagitation and overdevelopment. The effect is basically the same for both, the neg is too dense. As long as you're adjusting your timing to reflect continuous agitation, you're fine.

I use open tubes. No caps on either end. The tubes I use are 1.5 inch black ABS, but I could have used anything just as well (4x5 negs of course!). I just fill up an 8x10 tray with .75 to 1.0 liters of soup (1 tray for each flavor) and I can drop up to five tubes in the tray. I spin them continuously by kind of pinching a pair of tubes between my thumb and the rest of my fingers. If I'm doing five tubes, I alternate groups I'm pinching so that they're all moving a lot. Everything in total darkness since the tubes are open. I tune a shortwave radio to WWV for a timer. Occasionally I use a metronome, but I like WWV because it reminds me of the count every minute.

This method is only really practical for low volumes. I can fit 5 tubes in an 8x10 tray, but if I went to 11x14 trays, the chemical volume needed goes up really fast. I could probably do as many as 10 maybe 11 at a shot if I could find a set of 8x20 trays. If I have only two sheets to develop, I use a 5x7 tray for the developer and 0.5 liters. Three might fit. You don't need enough soup to cover the tubes! That would be a lot more than 1 liter in an 8x10 tray. You just need enough that it covers the film at the bottom part of the tube as it rotates through the liquid.

I use two fixing baths and the second fixer is in individual rubbermaid sandwich containers. This gets the fixer to all sides of the film. With TMX, I had problems with antihalation dyes not being removed - I'm guessing the developer removes this. I've found that Kodak hypo clear solution after the fix removes the AH coloring pretty well. Another five minutes in the developer after full fixing seems to do as well.

You do have your hands in the chemistry with this technique. B&W chemicals are generally benign enough and my volumes are pretty low so I haven't worried about this too much. Gloves would probably not be a serious impediment. I have found that XTOL and Ilfosol-S are easier to use this way. Rodinal is slippery enough that it's harder to spin the tubes with the pinching motion I use.

-- mike rosenlof (mike_rosenlof@yahoo.com), February 22, 2002.


IMHO - Don't bother making something that you can get REALLY cheap at a photo show/meet. Except for loading, It's all room light developing. I'm currently developing my B & W 4x5 films using a Unicolor Print drum. It can take up to 4 sheets of 4x5 film. Agitation is continuous on the motor base. Only take about 20 oz. of soup. I've never had a problem and my films come out perfect every time. (Tray developing sometimes streaked and negs stuck together and basically was a real bore!!). I know Jobo and BTZS makes a complete system, if you've got the $$$.$$.

For small amounts of film this is the way to go. When you've got a handle on the time/temp/agitation formula. It's a cheap process in terms of equipment and chemicals (no 3 gallon tanks of dev. slowing oxidizing into oblivion) and it gives the results you want.

Now if you had planned on going on safari for 6 months and came back with 100 or so sheets, then I might think differently. Maybe 2 sets of drums & motors.

-- Steve Feldman (steve@toprinting.com), February 22, 2002.

Gosh, I just love this forum. So many great responses, and so quickly.

I should have added that I will only be doing a few negs at one time. As a new amateur to LF, I'll be just messing around with 4, or maybe 6 negs at one time.

Due to limited space, I want to do as much of the work in daylight as possible, which is one reason for thinking tubes to begin with.

So, with the continuous agitation as Steve mentioned above, how does that effect your development times. I haven't done any personal testing yet to find my own ASA's, and I understand that if I stick to the same development routine, I should get consistent results. So I'm just looking for some ballpark times to begin with. Should I just go with the developer Manufacturer's package specs to begin with?

-- Douglas Gould (assistdelrey@earthlink.net), February 22, 2002.

I print on a diffusion enlarger, and I find that I can take Ilford's published times for intermitent agitation and use them with no change for continuous agitation.

I think I cut some other times by about 10% from published.

I'm not a zone system person, but I will nudge developing one way or another occasionally based on the light in the photo.

-- mike rosenlof (mike_rosenlof@yahoo.com), February 22, 2002.

Hi Douglas

As per your previous thread “just couldn’t leave it alone” I too am wonderfully adept at “tinkering my way into trouble” :>)

In regards to your question on building tubes I went through that stage about a year and a half ago. As Steve Feldman posted “Don't bother making something that you can get REALLY cheap at a photo show/meet” is really very good advice. Even though the builder in me wanted to construct my own I did the math and discovered it would be just as cheap using the Unicolor system.

Here is a link where you can see detailed pictures of my Unidrum system as well as how to make a spacer and other ideas for developing films.


Hope this helps.

-- James Phillips (grey_wolf@telusplanet.net), February 23, 2002.

I've used the 4x5 BTZS tubes for about six years. Agitation with the BTZS tubes consists of rolling them with your hand while they're immersed in a water bath. I'm a believer in trying to achieve as much consistency as possible in film developing. That includes using the same rolling technique every time (10 spins in one direction, 10 spins in the other direction throughout the development process). There's nothing magic about 10 spins, it was just an easy number to remember. It is important, I believe, to vary the direction of the spin periodically, whether you choose to do it after five spins, ten spins, fifteen spins, or whatever. Rolling them in the same direction througout the development process may lead to uneven development. I don't know whether a 33 rpm record player motor could be adapted to peridocally vary the direction of the spinning or not but if not then I'd abandon that idea.

I looked at my instructions for the BTZS tubes and didn't see anything like "don't worry, just keep the drums rotating." My instructions say that "agitation, time and termperature are your major development controls and carelessness with any of them is likely to affect your results adversely."

I've also built my own 8x10 tubes because of the expense of the BTZS 8x10s ($65 or so per tube). If you have access to Phil Davis' book "Beyond the Zone System" there's are good instructions for building your own tubes in one of the appendices. You don't use PVC unless you want to do everything in the dark because PVC will leak light. You use black ABS, which wasn't that easy to find in my area though I did eventually find it in a Lowe's store. I've never been happy with the 8x10 tubes I built (in fact I gave them away) and personally I'd buy the 4x5 BTZS tubes rather than making my own since the 4x5s aren't as expensive as the 8x10s. The main problem with the ones I built was that if the cap was put on tightly enough to prevent developer from leaking, it was very hard to remove and that messed up my development times. If it was put on loosely so that it could be easily removed, then developer tended to leak. This was partly a function of the sheer size of the 8x10 tubes and perhaps wouldn't be a probelm with 4x5. The BTZS tubes solve the problem very nicely by screwing on and off.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), February 23, 2002.

I hate to get in the way of a good idea, especially one that has me wondering whether your low volume is the film or the short wave (or was it that slow-motion phonograph)! But for developing 4x5 film without a darkroom, I've found the HP Combi-plan tank (available from Calumet) a heck of a lot easier than an engineering test. (They're also light years ahead of the old Yankee tanks, which are just fine if you only need to develop some of your film some of the time.) Even with a darkroom, this beats tray development for small amounts of film since you never scratch a negative, and you can use tank development times. I checked this thread because I'm always hoping someone will come up with a comparable system for 5x7--please tell me if you know of one. Even called HP's distributor recently to be sure they didn't make such a thing. They told me, if I wanted 5000. Which leads me to ask, are there 4999 of you out there who'd buy one? 4998?


-- Stephen Longmire (spyglasses@earthlink.net), February 23, 2002.

About the CombiPlan: There was indeed a 5X7" version of the CombiPlan tank available. I bought one in the late 80's. The difference was that that it was larger (obviously!). The tank was still the same height as the 4X5" version and the film holder could be divided into two sections, making it able to hold 12 4X5" sheets (24 if you dare processing the 4X5" sheets back to back!), with a slotted ridge in the middle. Because of this there was also a double set of toothed lips at the bottom and a double set of locks that you put on the top of the holder.

The tank was just a tank, without nozzels, just a soft rubber lid that is easy to put on/take off.

I don't think that this item was made in any great numbers, but I recon that it could be found somewhere. (I certainly hope that I can find mine again!)

-- Björn Nilsson (b.w.nilsson@telia.com), February 24, 2002.

Thanks for the tip, Bjorn. If anyone knows where I can find one of these, it would really make my month.

-- Stephen Longmire (spyglasses@earthlink.net), February 25, 2002.

Brian, regarding the problems you had with either the lids being on too tight (tough to remove) or too loose (developer leaks), this was my solution:

I matched the male and female couplers such that I could screw the two together (heh, that sounds a bit nasty, doesn't it?) all the way, without any effort. This would technically make a poor seal, but that's ok, since that's what your after.

I then found a small rubber O-ring to place on the male coupler. It's this ring that makes the seal, not the actual ABS threads. You can screw these things together practically as tight as you want, and you'll still be able to unscrew them.

As with everything, YMMV. Works for me, however.



-- Ken Miller (andawyr@hotmail.com), February 25, 2002.

I too made homemade black ABS tubes with male and female screw on couplers. After a year (maybe 30-50 unscrewings), the threads alone - - more technically, the end of the threads where they hit the place an o-ring would go it I needed one-- still provide a perfect seal (easy to test with hot water which will try to escape). It takes quite some time to unscrew these ABS couplers though: almost 5 full revolutions. This translates to 15-20 seconds for switching caps, so I try to not have more than two tubes with the same end of development time. (+/-15 seconds in a 7 minute development is less variation than most of my exposure variance). Having made these, I would probably recommend buying the marketed BTZS tubes for 4x5. Two caps and one tube roughly cost me: 3 end caps (3x$2), 2 female threaded couplers (2x$1.50), 1 male threaded coupler ($2), plus small amounts for the tubing and ABS cement. Add to that about 20 minutes labor and shopping time and the savings isn't so great. You might well find a cheaper source however. Plus mine are clearly clumsier, slightly off-balance axially and rotationally, than I imagine the BTZS tubes to be. The BTZS come with a nice tray too.

PS: I follow advice from these pages to back the negatives with a sheet of transparency film to reduce scratching. This guarantees that you will need to get off the anti-halation backing separately, but really protects the film from abrasion.

Number your tubes as they will get out of order sometimes. Also assume that all published development times and formulas are irrelevant. Don't worry too much about agitation, just be slow and not particularly regular. I stop rotating when emptying tubes and just sort of bang at the tubes as they bob once or twice if I can. Fast rotation can cause ill-effects.

-- Eric Pederson (epederso@darkwing.uoregon.edu), February 27, 2002.

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