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View Full Version : Developing Multiple Sheets in Trays....With Consistency, Flexibility, and Control



John Layton
10-Jun-2015, 11:26
In my own experience, the most frustrating aspect of processing multiple sheets in a single tray of developer (no, it ain’t scratches!) is that there is really no way to effectively achieve anything other than continuous agitation, and even then things are chaotic at best. Think about this…no matter that you are moving a single sheet at a given time - the whole stack is always moving, furthermore introducing developer in between “non active” sheets in an inconsistent, chaotic fashion. And even if you leave a pile of say, six sheets alone for three minutes or more - you’ve still just moved them together for thirty odd seconds to get through the stack. Also…do you really know that what is happening between the sheets, from top to bottom, is truly consistent from sheet to sheet for this “interval of stillness?”

While I find the inherent smoothness of some other Pyro-based formulas to work fine while developing multiple sheets in a single tray, I find Pyrocat developers to be a bit more responsive - rewarding me greatly when I can achieve known consistency of process and biting me when I cannot. My experience…yours might vary from this.

But in light of the preponderance of vertical tube processing of sheet film (I get it, especially for doing semi-stand and stand for films that will be scanned) - I want to chime in in favor of a specific tray processing (prior to wet-printing) method which allows for great flexibility, control and consistency, while developing multiple sheets, while maintaining good efficiency and economy.

Its a very simple technique, and my guess is that lots of others might already be doing this. Then again, for those of you who are not, you might appreciate this info: For my typical six sheets of 5x7 FP4+ or Delta 100 in 1:1:100 Pyrocat HD (in glycol) I start in an 8x10 tray for my presoak as usual - with just a bit of photo-flo added for lubricity, then transfer each sheet, face up, in clockwise sequence, to its own, individual 5x7 tray - to each of which 10 oz. of 1:1:100 Pyrocat has been added. Thus my total developer volume (60 oz) is basically the same as that which I’d earlier been using for six sheets in a single tray.

The six 5x7 trays (or 4 8x10 trays) fit perfectly inside a 20x24 tray - and to agitate I simply rock the large tray…top to bottom then side to side, for one minute initially - then rock twice in each direction (about 8 seconds) once every three minutes. Sheets then go, in the same sequence, into a single tray of very weak stop bath, followed by a tray of plain water…to de-acidify in preparation for the next tray of TF-4 fixer - then wash for 25 minutes.

12 minutes in the developer at 70f with minimal agitation gets me a great N minus…so, for example, for a 15 second to one minute (or more) exposure of a rocky brook, I can realize great substance in rock shadows while water highlights remain very reasonable. Plus, no unevenness/mottling (I think some photo-flo carryover might help with this), great shadows, mids, and highs - with nice microcontrasts/adjacencies yet also nice and smooth. In other words, I’m realizing the better effects of minimal agitation (even with N minus at 12 minutes total) while tray processing multiple sheets, with the further advantages of control and consistency afforded by the fact that each sheet has its own tray. While the idea of single sheet processing had earlier sounded discouraging, I’m finding that I can now effectively do single sheets while keeping up with my old, multi-sheet per tray numbers for a given time period - furthermore maintaining equal cost efficiency.

Again, keep in mind that I’m wet printing…so find no advantage in going further with either semi-stand or stand - which might be indicated if I were scanning my negatives.

And about those scratches? Right now I’m batting close to 100 percent clean, and I suspect that those few drops of photo-flo in the presoak helps!

Vaughn
10-Jun-2015, 12:32
Similar procedure I used for 4x5 (but no photoflo in pre-soak, using HC-110/TMax100 and two 5x7 trays in an 11x14). My number of sheets I expose is not high, so the time commitment was not too bad on me -- and I like to change development based on how previous negs look.

Expert drums for 5x7 and 8x10's now (cat's meow!)...constant agitation is fine for me.

Drew Wiley
10-Jun-2015, 13:07
I tray develop for things way way way more fussy than ordinary shots, like tri-color separations on sheet film which have to be precisely consistent sheet to sheet
and of exact density and evenness. It's not that hard to do given the right methodology, though for ordinary work you don't need the kind of utterly nitpicky temp
control that one does for this specific kind of work. Glad Vaughn has found the cat's meow with drums, and would be happy if he picked up a few of our porch cats because we already have too much meowing as it is. But I use oversized dimple-bottomed trays in a water jacket, rotate thru the stack plus one sheet every 30 sec cycle. This means that the same sheet is never on the top of the stack, but that they all take turns. Each rotation I orient the stack 90-degrees, so that the film gets developed from four directions overall. Emulsion up, always, to minimize the effect of air bubbles. Prewet always. No more than four sheets of 8x10 at a time, or 8 sheets of 4x5. Everything evenly paced. Have a 30-sec beeper on the Zone VI compensating dev timer when using a passive water jacket.
For truly fussy work I'll use an automated thermoregulator instead, which keeps temps inside +/- 1/10th F (ridiculous overkill for ordinary work).

Vaughn
10-Jun-2015, 15:19
If I wanted to break up with my lady-friend, all I would have to do is get a cat -- she is extremely allergic.

Before my lady-friend came into my life, there were still no cats in the house -- one of my boys is also allergic (to cats and dogs). Actually, the main reason I do not have a cat or dog is that I can neither afford nor want to pay for vetinary care. And if you can't/don't, then one should not own them. (at the same realizing that farm/ranch animals is a different situation.)

Drew Wiley
10-Jun-2015, 15:53
We solved that problem by becoming our own vets. There are certain problems, like trying to clean a cat's teeth without anesthetic. A thick pair of gloves helps.
When I was a kid just about the only thing I WASN'T allergic to was animals. One reason I spent so much time in the high country, above the pollen zone. It was
the only place I could breathe in summer. But we did get slammed with 6K in vet bills last year. Animal rescue is an important part of my wife's life. That's OK. She makes twice as much money as I do. I'm just starting to run out of grave plots in the back yard. I'm going to patent a paint roller frame that recycles dead cats for that kind of application.

Bob Mann
10-Jun-2015, 16:30
Could I through in a "plug" for using IR night vision goggles while doing this, makes it a whole easier to "see" what you are doing.

Peter Lewin
11-Jun-2015, 06:35
Drew: I also shuffle- tray-develop using a ZoneVI compensating timer, and have one question which has bothered me (but not too much...). I normally develop at around 70F, but don't worry too exactly because the compensating timer takes care of minor differences. But the "30 second beep" of course changes along with the developer temperature, so above 68F, it is actually less than 30 seconds. If you are judging your "shuffle speed" with the timer, do you care about those differences?

Doremus Scudder
12-Jun-2015, 08:16
In my own experience, the most frustrating aspect of processing multiple sheets in a single tray of developer (no, it ain’t scratches!) is that there is really no way to effectively achieve anything other than continuous agitation, and even then things are chaotic at best. Think about this…no matter that you are moving a single sheet at a given time - the whole stack is always moving, furthermore introducing developer in between “non active” sheets in an inconsistent, chaotic fashion. And even if you leave a pile of say, six sheets alone for three minutes or more - you’ve still just moved them together for thirty odd seconds to get through the stack. Also…do you really know that what is happening between the sheets, from top to bottom, is truly consistent from sheet to sheet for this “interval of stillness?”

<snip>

While I find the inherent smoothness of some other Pyro-based formulas to work fine while developing multiple sheets in a single tray, I find Pyrocat developers to be a bit more responsive - rewarding me greatly when I can achieve known consistency of process and biting me when I cannot. My experience…yours might vary from this.
And about those scratches? Right now I’m batting close to 100 percent clean, and I suspect that those few drops of photo-flo in the presoak helps!

John,

While the trouble you have gone to is admirable, and I'm sure the results are great, I really don't see why you have problems shuffling multiple sheets in a tray.

First, continuous agitation is far from the only choice (and what we call "continuous" usually isn't really). I shuffle once through my stack (max 8 sheets of 4x5) every 30 seconds for the first half of developing. That means that, for the majority of that time, the sheets not being shuffled or having a sheet placed on top of them are NOT receiving any agitation. The trick is to not move the rest of the stack and keep the sheets tightly in contact with one another when they are not being agitated. My stacks are not "always moving" and no developer gets in between the sheets.

With six sheets, for example, the shuffle interval is five seconds, so, counting from when I pull a sheet from the bottom of the stack, that sheet gets exactly ten seconds of agitation from the time it is pulled till another sheet is placed on top (pulling from the bottom, lifting, turning, submerging in the developer and placing another sheet on top). After that, I simply keep the stack still and tightly together so no developer gets in. Result, 20 seconds of no agitation every thirty seconds.

My usual regime is to reduce the agitation frequency for the second half of the development to half as fast. Result, 40 seconds of no agitation in a one-minute cycle. If I wanted to, I could reduce the frequency even more.

As for evenness: as long as you don't push the sheets down into the developer to fast causing turbulence around the edges, tray developing is about the most even method I know of. I had trouble with evenness with rotary processing...

As for scratches: I've been at 100% no scratches for the last five years (watch me scratch one now...).



Drew: I also shuffle- tray-develop using a ZoneVI compensating timer, and have one question which has bothered me (but not too much...). I normally develop at around 70F, but don't worry too exactly because the compensating timer takes care of minor differences. But the "30 second beep" of course changes along with the developer temperature, so above 68F, it is actually less than 30 seconds. If you are judging your "shuffle speed" with the timer, do you care about those differences?

Peter,

I'm not Drew, but I'll chime in anyway :) When I use my compensating timer, I simply increase the rapidity of my agitation scheme to match the shortened seconds on the timer. Once through the stack in whatever the compensating timer "thinks" is 30 seconds for the first half of development, once through every "timer minute" after that. The Zone VI timer has a digital display so it's easy to see when to shuffle. The speeded up agitation simply matches the increased activity of the developer when it's a bit warmer than "standard." The result is the same.

Best,

Doremus

Peter Lewin
12-Jun-2015, 09:03
Doremus: You know I love it when you chime in! Happily, I do exactly what you do with the compensating timer, shuffle at "timer speed" (i.e. faster when the developer is warmer, and the timer interval is correspondingly shorter). What I have never tried is slowing down the shuffle for the second half of the development period (since my normal times for PMK and Pyrocat-HD are roughly 12 minutes, that would mean slowing down for the last 6 minutes). Drat! You've given me another variable to experiment with :).

Drew Wiley
12-Jun-2015, 09:26
When using the compensating timer, I still try to have the water jacket reasonably close to my working standard temp, so that the shuffle sequence will still be
reasonably paced. In other words, a few degree here or there, but not five or ten degrees off. My sink room is very well insulated, so even passive "drift-by"
temp shift simply averaged for "standard" is relatively precise. Once in great awhile it will be unusually hot or cold outdoors and the air exchanger might create difficulties. But there are all kinds of simple ways to temper the water jacket, such as blue ice or a dripping water line. And of course, I have the nuclear option,
the thermoregulator, but rarely need it. I am certainly capable of shuffling up to twelve sheets of 4x5 film inside thirty seconds, and used to do that with low contrast printing masks. But for unrepeatable typical shots, I prefer to be more conservative, and standardize on six.

David Karp
12-Jun-2015, 09:49
When I had a more convenient darkroom situation I developed my 4x5 in a homemade slosher. This has many of the same advantages as the multiple tray approach, but even less handling of the individual sheets. You just lift up the slosher, let it drain, and move it to the next tray of chemicals.

paulr
12-Jun-2015, 10:18
I got nowhere with this, so I gave up early. I got a jobo tank and simple motor base, and put a piece of hose on the end of a funnel to pour in chemicals while the thing is spinning. No more destroyed negs.

Power and praise to all who can manage a bunch of sheets in a tray.

David Karp
12-Jun-2015, 10:49
Now that I don't have a convenient darkroom situation, I develop my negatives in the light, using a method like yours Paul. I devised the apparatus discussed in this post to work with the drum and motor base: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?51174-Apparatus-to-aid-using-Expert-Drum-with-roller-base.

John Layton
12-Jun-2015, 11:25
To follow up...I'd been having problems specifically with getting decent N minus results with multiple sheets in a tray of Pyrocat, more specifically while also doing minimal agitation. With six sheets in one tray...shuffling through once every three minutes, I still could not get satisfactory results. With this single sheets in multiple small trays approach - I'm now a happy camper. Furthermore, I really do need to emphasize that I'm finding this procedure to be no more "inconvenient" than shuffling, and the economy is the same, whereas slosher trays require a greater volume of chemistry.

Not suggesting that others might not be perfectly happy with what they are doing now - just saying what works great for me...and putting this out there on the principal that I always try to share what I know - in the hopes that somebody might benefit in some way.

David Karp
12-Jun-2015, 11:42
Not arguing against your method at all John. In fact, I think I read something by Gordon Hutchings once where he said that the best way was to develop one sheet at a time in its own tray, and your method comes close to that.

paulr
12-Jun-2015, 12:23
Now that I don't have a convenient darkroom situation, I develop my negatives in the light, using a method like yours Paul. I devised the apparatus discussed in this post to work with the drum and motor base: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?51174-Apparatus-to-aid-using-Expert-Drum-with-roller-base.

Yeah, that looks like the grown-up version of my setup.

I like the blender and fruit bowl in the background :)

Ben Calwell
12-Jun-2015, 17:00
Pyrex glass bread pans are excellent for tray processing 4x5 negs. The narrow dimension is just wide enough to keep the sheets from moving around. It keeps the stack of films quite stationary, yet submerged in developer.

David Karp
12-Jun-2015, 17:10
I like the blender and fruit bowl in the background :)

For the record, that is not where I develop my negs!

That usually happens in the bathroom, next to the bathtub. :)

Doremus Scudder
13-Jun-2015, 09:43
Doremus: You know I love it when you chime in! Happily, I do exactly what you do with the compensating timer, shuffle at "timer speed" (i.e. faster when the developer is warmer, and the timer interval is correspondingly shorter). What I have never tried is slowing down the shuffle for the second half of the development period (since my normal times for PMK and Pyrocat-HD are roughly 12 minutes, that would mean slowing down for the last 6 minutes). Drat! You've given me another variable to experiment with :).

Yeah, I found that reduced agitation from the get-go didn't yield really even results with the pyro developers I tried. They seem to need a lot of agitation at the beginning of the development cycle. However, reducing the agitation frequency by half or more for the second half of development didn't adversely affect the evenness and gives a compensating effect as well as encouraging edge effects. I use this scheme now for all my developing in PMK. Of course, you have to adjust your developing time accordingly, but the increase is less than you might think. I believe it was 10% or so for me.

Like Drew, I can shuffle a whole lot of sheets at a time, but like to stick to batches of six. I did a batch of eight the other day just because that was the number of negs I had and I'm leaving on a trip tomorrow and wanted to get them developed and stored. They were just fine, but I still like the comfortable rhythm of six sheets at a time.

Best,

Doremus

jnanian
13-Jun-2015, 10:55
john

i have been using sheets in open trays and shuffling them for 22 years, and never had a problem with
scratches or control. i have even developed 30 sheets at a time ( sometimes more , sometimes less ) and every sheet look as good as the last.
some folks like rotary processors for perfect negatives, maybe that is the way to go if you are worried about trays ..
but i have better things to do with my time than process 4 or 6 sheets at a time since i always exposure way more than that, and have
lots to process .. currently i have about 100 sheets of 4x5 and a bunch of 8x10/11x15 paper negatives to develop, if i did them all a handful of sheets at a time
it would take me a week or 2 ... i'd rather be doing other things ...
good luck !
john

Michael Cienfuegos
14-Jun-2015, 11:17
If I wanted to break up with my lady-friend, all I would have to do is get a cat -- she is extremely allergic.

Before my lady-friend came into my life, there were still no cats in the house -- one of my boys is also allergic (to cats and dogs). Actually, the main reason I do not have a cat or dog is that I can neither afford nor want to pay for vetinary care. And if you can't/don't, then one should not own them. (at the same realizing that farm/ranch animals is a different situation.)

I have both a cat and a small dog. Dog is fine, big problem with the kitty is that she will sometimes get into places I really don't want her, like snoozing on my scanner, leaving fur everywhere. At least she is a short haired cat, my GF's Persian is a nightmare when it comes to hair and dust control. As for Vet bills, when my dog got pneumonia it cost me a bundle, but he's just like my son, gotta take care of him or I have no business having a pet. He and the cat are part of my family. It's just the three of us. (GF doesn't live with me, her cat and my cat don't get along.)

m