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Thread: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

  1. #1

    Join Date
    May 2013
    Central Minnesota

    Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    I have recently decided to take the plunge into large format photography. I've tried various film and developer combinations in 35mm and medium format, but I would really like to standardize my large format experience around one or maybe two film/developer combinations. I've been reading about BTZS, and intend to use this system.

    I'm looking for a recommendation for film and developer combinations that work well with BTZS and tube development. I'm primarily interested in landscape and architecture photography. I'd like a slow to medium speed film with minimal grain. I'd rather use liquid developers vs. mixing my own, but that's not a requirement. I also want to be mindful regarding which films and developers will likely be around five or ten years from now.

    With 35mm and medium format, my favorite film is probably Fuji Acros with T-Max 100 being a close second. I also really like Pan-F, unfortunately it's not made in large format. I'm certainly not opposed to switching to an Ilford film like Delta 100 or FP4. In fact, given the current uncertainty surrounding the future of Kodak and Fuji film, I may prefer to use exclusively Ilford for large format.

    As for developers, I've used Ilford DD-X in the past with mixed results (it was the first developer I ever used, so I probably didn't have my process down very well yet.) I like Kodak T-Max developer. I've used and like XTOL, but didn't enjoy mixing it. I also liked Perceptol with Pan-F, but it's quite expensive. Again, I'm looking for a fine grain developer that will likely be around for a while.

    I should also add that I intend to use the film testing service provided by the View Camera Store.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post. I appreciate any advice you can provide.

  2. #2
    Roger Thoms's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    San Francisco, CA, Flagstaff AZ

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    I use Pyrocat HD. Here's a link for times until you can do your film testing. I would also recommend getting a copy of Beyond The Zone System by Phil Davis, it explains a lot.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Adelaide, Australia

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    While I use XTOL, HC-110 seems a common choice for BTZS, probably because it responds in contrast quite linearly to time and dilution, without secondary effects like changes in grain structure or acutance.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Stevens Point, WI

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    Pyro is the worst choice for starting BTZS because it is the most complex. However, it would be no problem if using the View Camera Store service. BTZS is quite a bit to learn and Pyro is another step up so that is why I say it is the "worst." But try multiple combos.

    Xtol is an excellent choice, especially with TMAX. I use that combination.

    However, any combination that you want is fine.

    The film testing service from the View Camera Store is a very good resource. But be on the lookout for a densitometer. Many are almost free on Ebay considering what they used to sell for. Then you can test as many combinations as you like.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 1997
    Baraboo, Wisconsin

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    I'm unclear whether you mean you're going to use the BTZS system of exposure and development as espoused in the late Phil Davis' book "Beyond The Zone System" or whether you just mean you're going to use the BTZS tubes or both. FWIW I'd forget about the "Beyond The Zone System" system itself if you're just starting out. For one thing it isn't really "beyond" the zone system or anything else as Phil Davis emphasized at his workshops (he said he always regretted the title of the book for that reason). The book is also not easy to understand at first, especially with no prior knowledge of the zone system. I studied the book in depth, attended two of Phil Davis' week-long workshops, and used the system for several years and still wasn't sure I had it all down pat.

    As for the BTZS tubes, I used D76 with mine in 4x5 and 8x10 for years, usually with Ilford HP5+ or TMax 100 films. D76 has been around for a century or so and is an excellent general purpose developer. Diluted 1-1 it gives you long enough development times such that being off by a few seconds here and there won't matter.

    As for testing, I'd suggest doing it once yourself just as a learning experience, then for future tests use the service mentioned by jeroldharter above. I bought a densitometer, ran one series of tests, and after that it gathered dust as I found the BTZS testing service better and less expensive than doing it myself.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  6. #6
    Joel Edmondson
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Yatesville, Georgia

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    I have to agree with Brian as far as the BTZS approach is concerned... and I don't say that to disparage the method. It is simply different and, after pursuing the methodology for a couple of years, I went back to the zone system. The BTZS tubes are (for me) great because I never develop more than one sheet of film at any given time (and that isn't meant to discourage you if you choose to develop multiple sheets/tubes). Whichever approach you use, stick with it long enough to become comfortable with your materials... then, if you want to try a different approach you have a basis to judge from.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    San Jose, CA

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    Quote Originally Posted by polyglot View Post
    While I use XTOL, HC-110 seems a common choice for BTZS, probably because it responds in contrast quite linearly to time and dilution, without secondary effects like changes in grain structure or acutance.
    I used to use BTZS, and used HC-110. In those days I had standardized on a 5 minute developing time, and had done testing to determine HC-110 concentrations to get N, N-1, N+1 development, this meant that I could develop several sheets, all together and at the same time, and individualize the contrast on a sheet by sheet basis.

    I now use a Jobo processor and have a somewhat different methodology since with the Jobo, all the sheets get the same developing.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Sep 2012

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    To get a good starting point for film testing you can probably just use the times that people are posting for rotary development.

    I'll second the combination TMX and XTOL (1:1) for continuous agitation. You get a little bit more pronounced grain than with normal development, but nothing that should scare you off.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Massachusetts USA

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    If you purchase a copy of the BTZS "Plotter" software, you'll see that it comes with a large number of files which describe tests already performed on a variety of films and developers. Your favorite film/developer combination may have already been carefully tested. Comparing and contrasting the different combinations is in itself an illuminating exercise.

    If you plan to learn BTZS and perform your own testing, you'll find the Plotter program very helpful. If you don't care to do the testing on your own, you will still find it helpful, for the above-stated reason.

    There is much to be learned from the BTZS book: even if you don't plan to make darkroom prints, the section on light meters alone is worth its weight in gold.

  10. #10

    Re: Film/Developer recommendations for BTZS

    When Phil Davis did an article for the D-Max Newsletter testing 9 film & 5 developers, the 2 film developers he liked the best were D-76 (Ilford ID-11) and Ilford DDX (liquid). They give the greatest spread in the family of film curves. For a good article on BTZS film testing, please see the articles by Phil Davis at Since you prefer liquids, my recommendation would be Ilford DDX. It is now the developer I use. Yes, I too prefer liquids.

    Also if you are testing 35mm, 120 & 4x5, you will have to test each format.

    Fred Newman
    Fred Newman
    View Camera Store

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