View Full Version : Two-Bath and Single-Bath Compensating" Developers

Ken Lee
23-Dec-2005, 16:46
Has anyone tested or compared two-bath developers versus Pyro and other single-bath "compensating" formulas ?

Steve Sherman
23-Dec-2005, 20:25
Hi Ken,

I can't lay claim to be the chemical genius that many of the contributors who frequent these forums.

But I can tell you I have made scores, no hundreds of negatives where extreme contrast has to be managed. From the slot canyons of the Southwest to abandoned buildings with windows and bright light streaming in, all with the detatil in shadows and highlights which I wanted.

Years ago I used extremely dilute HC 110 and extended periods of time in solution with reduced agitation.

Recently, I have used the Semi-Stand approach in varying combinations and even tried some Ascorbic Acid as an accelerator for just a short burst of time in full strength developer before transferring to an extreme dilution of Pyrocat HD all in the spirit of increasing shadow detail.

What I learned in each case is that compressing extreme highlights while preserving as much shadow detail as original exposure allowed was a function of dilute developer that would exhaust itself in the highly sensitized highlights while continuing to develop and promote shadow detail to fullest allowed based on exposure. Together with reduced agitation allowing this technique to repeat itself over time will give you maximum compression.

There are many more tricks to effectively transfer this information from the negative to a pleasing print, but without a perfectly exposed negative you're working at a disadvantage from the start.

Ken Lee
23-Dec-2005, 21:23
Thank you Steve, for your wise and articulate reply.

I recall reading somewhere, that Two-Bath formulas can be used for general purpose developerment - as well as for those cases where we need to manage an extreme range of contrast. I may have misunderstood.

I'm fishing around for some suggestions about which formulas to try or avoid.

Donald Qualls
23-Dec-2005, 21:24
What Steve said. I haven't seen anything that wasn't a real specialty soup that did a better job than HC-110 Dilution G with reduced agitation or semi-stand process. I've even used this soup with full stand development -- agitate one minute after filling the tank/tube, give a couple sharp raps to move bubbles, then put it down and just walk away until the timer goes off (times can run up to a couple hours). You can get similar results with slightly "grittier" look with Rodinal or equivalent at 1:100 or weaker (some folks have gone as far as 1:300).

With dilutions and times like these, especially in full stand development, you control contrast with dilution -- use a long enough time and thin enough soup to ensure the developer is exhausted when you pour it out, and if the negs are too thin, increase developer concentration a few percent; if too robust, decrease a little.

None of this can be done in a Jobo or other automatic system, mind you; nor in BTZS tubes where the cap doesn't hold enough soup to let you stand the tube on end with the negative immersed; and in trays only with single negatives or multiples on a processing panel (and some developers don't work well with stand development in trays, while others produce problems standing on edge in tubes or tanks).

This can be very helpful when you have subtle gradations down in the shadows but need to keep details up into Zone XII or so...

Oren Grad
23-Dec-2005, 21:42
Reduced agitation and stand development have been really popular topics recently. But has anyone here actually tried one of the two-bath developers - say divided D-76, or D-23, or even off-the-shelf Diafine - with sheet film?

Ben Calwell
24-Dec-2005, 08:13
Years ago (in my energetic 30s), I tried two-bath development with D23 and Kodalk. I would develop a neg with long brightness range in the D23 for a few minutes and then move it into a separate tray of Kodalk solution, where it rested for a couple of minutes. I'm sorry that I cannot remember the times for each tray, but the method worked very well for contrasty subjects.
I've also used highly dilute HC110 with good results, but in some situations, it would often degrade the entire image, i.e., the whole thing would look a bit flat.
I'll refer back to my infrequently updated darkroom journal to see if I jotted down the times for the two-bath development. As memory serves, I think I used the times outlined in Ansel's "The Negative," the newer version of that book.
I also followed his directions in the book regarding diluted HC110.

Henry Ambrose
24-Dec-2005, 08:34

Yes, I've tried those developers with sheet film and I got results that they are known for, which is no surprise. Most of my fiddling around was seeking ways to tame 35mm film shot under difficult conditions but it carried over to roll film and 4X5. I also tried water baths and multiple trips between developers and baths and after baths. I guess what I'm writing is no big news to anyone who has researched this subject a bit but here goes..........

Diafine does not give a lot of control used as directed but it will give a printable negative under a wide range of conditions but not necessarily the optimum negative. Three minutes in each solution looks about the same as five minutes in each solution. In my opinion its mostly good for speed boosts and of course if the user just like the way it looks.

Divided D76H and D23 and variations on that theme give similar results. They allow more control than Diafine, just like any normal developer would. I think they are good choices as they are simple to mix and use few components. What I found was that there was no real difference on the film when compared to standard off the shelf chemistry. Variations obviously depending on how you use each. Longer times give more density, shorter times less. There is a good article about D23 at unblinkingeye.com - my experiences generally follow the results reported there.

In the end I found that Xtol suits my needs better than anything else I tried but I could be just about as happy with DDX, D23, D76H except for the slight speed hit with the last two. I do think that I get some "compensation" from reduced agitation and higher dilution. I'm thinking and working based on what might be just an informed guess -- that high dilution with just enough agitation to keep even development is desirable and good for taming highlights with whatever developer.

David Karp
24-Dec-2005, 12:27
Hi everyone,

I have used Diafine, DD-76, and the late Barry Thornton's 2 bath formula, which is a derivation of the Stoeckler formula and DD-23. I have also used X-Tol 1:3, PMK, and dilute D-76/ID-11. I have now pretty much standardized on Thornton's 2-Bath.

First, Thornton's formula: A bath - 750 ml water, 6.5g metol, 80g sodium sulfite, water to make 1L. B bath - 750 ml water, 12g sodium metaborate for N development, water to make 1L (7g/liter for N-, and 20g/liter for N+). In spite of the formula, I have split the sodium sulfite 50/50 between the two baths with good success. 5 minutes in each bath without a wash in between works well. As with Diafine, extra time or temperature variations make little difference, especially if you split the sodium sulfite between the two baths. I have used this formula with HP5+ and FP4+. I have not tried it with Delta or T-Max films. I expose HP5+ at 200, and FP4+ at 64-80, depending on how I feel that day.

A little background on how he put this formula together, from his book "The Edge of Darkness," and my recollection of his now defunct website. He had been using the Stoeckler 2 bath formula, but decided that it needed a reformulation for modern films. He liked the idea of a metol only developer because he wanted to take advantage of metolís ability to deliver high acutance, especially when it is carried over into bath 2, where, mixed with the accelerator "it gives the effect of dilute development for edge effects." He felt that the Stoeckler formula needed more metol in bath A, and concluded that the Ansel Adams version of DD-23 included too much metol. He also cut the amount of sodium sulfite from 100g/L to 80g/L to ďcut down grain dissolving activity and increase apparent sharpness without increasing grain size too much.Ē Thornton felt that modern film emulsions were too thin to use borax as the accelerator, so he used sodium metaborate instead. After a while, Thornton became interested in PMK, and started experimenting with it. He found that he did not like it, and invented his Dixactol, which used pyrocatechol.

I find that his 2 bath formula works great for the landscapes and exterior architecture I like to photograph. It also gives the opportunity to accomplish "+" or "-" development by varying the amount of sodium metaborate in the B bath, as mentioned above. I have not needed to do - development because of the compensating nature of the two bath system. I like his formula better than DD-76 and Diafine. It is far easier to use than other developers. There is really very little concern over time and temperature, and you can develop different types of film in the soup at the same time. I have found that I get printable highlights, and if I meter properly, good detail in the shadows in scenes with a broad range from highlight to shadow. In a few instances where I felt I needed more contrast, instead of developing my backup neg in the ď+Ē B Bath, I gave the first negative a bath in selenium toner diluted 1:1 for 5 minutes. This gives approximately the equivalent of N+1 development without an increase in grain. Developing negatives this way is easy. No anxiety regarding time or temperature. Almost one half the amount of time in the developer compared to X-Tol 1:3. Plus, I really like the way the negatives look and how they print, which is the most important thing of all.

Funny thing. My Dad taught me how to develop film many years ago. He had me use Diafine, because it was almost impossible for me to screw up a negative with that developer. I had good success from the start, and I was hooked. When I started with 4x5, I went back to Diafine to develop my sheet film, so I could become comfortable working with the big negatives and not worry about anything else (like time or temperature). Diafine gives a less contrasty negative than Thorntonís formula. To increase negative contrast when needed, I just used the selenium toner 1:1. Usually my photos printed well on Ilford MGIV FB at grade 3. Never had a need to reduce the contrast. I liked the way HP5+ and FP4+ looked with Diafine. I did not like T-Max or Delta films in Diafine. I canít explain it, I just did not like it. By the way, I never saw the speed increasing benefits of Diafine. I shot HP5+ between 200 and 320.

DD-76 does a nice job on sheet film. A bit finer grained than Thorntonís formula. If you like D-76, then you will like DD-76. If I ever develop another roll of 35mm film, then I would probably use DD-76. I have used Thorntonís formula for 120 negs (645 format) and it is fine. DD-76 would work here too.

I have not spent a lot of time in situations photographing fog, which I understand is an area where PMK excels. And I understand that there are photographers that do not like the look of their negatives developed in a two bath. I donít see it myself. I even had a photographic chemist tell me that he did not think I would even get an image with this formula! I can reliably state that this is not true.

I liked my PMK negatives, my D-76/ID11 negatives, and my X-Tol negatives (luckily, never had a failure). I just donít see enough of an advantage over Thorntonís 2 Bath to go back.

I would try out Thornton's combo. To test, I just shoot 4 sheets at different EIs and develop them for 5 min in A and 5 min in B. Then I pick the one that gives me the shadow detail I like and go from there. You might also look at Thornton's book, "The Edge of Darkness." It has a lot of good information, and is a good read.

Hope this helps. I do not test with a densitometer. I use my eyes. If the film/developer/paper combo works for me, I am satisfied. So, I don't have any graphs or anything to show.

Jay DeFehr
25-Dec-2005, 04:16
I've used quite a few 2-bath developers, with mixed results. I think 2-bath development occupies an interesting niche between one-shot and replenished developers, and can be useful in many darkrooms. If a two-bath developer is to be used for a single developing session, and then dumped, it doesn't require a high sulfite content like replenished developers, or two-bath solutions that are stored for long periods do. This allows the formulation of very economical, low/no -sulfite, high acutance developers. The composition and pH of the second bath permits a very high degree of contrast control. Here are some ascorbate formulae for anyone interested in trying a truly novel approach to 2-bath development.


part A

water 750ml

sodium sulfite 50g

metol 5g

water to 1 liter

Part B

water 750ml

sodium carbonate 20g

borax 10g

ascorbic acid 10g

water to 1 liter

1-3min ea. bath with no rinse between. Very fast acting, good for expansion development.

MC 2-bath


water 750ml

metol 5g

sodium ascorbate 20g

water to 1 liter


10% sodium metaborate

3-5min ea. bath. Excellent all-purpose developer.

PC Chloride

water 750ml

sodium chloride 20g

ascorbic acid 4g

phenidone .2g

water to 1 liter


10% sodium metaborate

3-5min ea. bath. Excellent film speed, very fine grain.

All of these developers will last at least a week, but are formulated to be used in a single session, and then dumped. Develop as many films as you like before dumping.


Jim Noel
25-Dec-2005, 11:40
Over the years I have used about every compensating developer available. I still keep D-23 to use as a divided developer when I am not in the mood to use HC 110.

Ray McSavaney, whom I consider the master of compensating development, uses HC 110, one ounce of syrup in a gallon of water. With this in a 16x20 tray he shuffles up to 24 sheets of 4X5 film and gets amazing results. Development times for Tri-X run up to 25 minutes for N, and work down from there to N-4.

He worked this out while photographing in the old Royal Tire factory just south of LA. The images were made with existing light, which was what little filtered in through the dirty glass windows and skylights. You can imagine how black a tire factory must be, and also how bright the Southern Cal sun can be coming in through a skylight. In each of these images there is excellent detail in the shadows as well as in the dirt on the windows. The range had to be at least 12 stops.


Steve Sherman
25-Dec-2005, 12:31
I actually learned the technique through Ray McSavaney and know of his work in the tire factory. He actually made some negatives in the tire factory where he kept the shutter open all night long while he rolled out a sleeping bag next to the camera.

Ray tells the story that he originally discovered the technique when he mistakenly grossly over exposed a sheet of film and rather than throw the film away he decided to experiment with a variation on Ansel Adams Water Bath development. He dramatically diluted the developer and reduced agitation rather than using full strength developer and periodically transferring to a tray of water and then back to the developer.

I have used this very method in the slot canyons of the Southwest and successfully preserved detail in Zone 15, a statement that Kodak tech reps continue to dispute as impossible.

I have achieved the same dramatic compression with Semi-Stand development which does not fall victim to greatly reduced micro contrast as the earlier technique suffers from.

David Karp
25-Dec-2005, 21:46

I have not tried the two bath developers in the extreme conditions of McSavaney's photos of the tire factory. In those conditions, his method may be the best. I just don't know. Other similar examples of extreme compensating developers are the pyrocatechin developer given in "The Negative" by Adams, and John Sexton's use of extremely dilute T-Max developer (sorry, I can't remember the dilution). In fact, I think that McSavaney used the pyrocatechin developer from "The Negative" to make some of his night time photographs of downtown Los Angeles.

The only thing I have done close to this sort of photograph is a dark architectural interior photo with several lit sconces. I used the Thornton formula and got good detail in the light fixtures.

By the way, if any of you have not seen McSavaney's work in that tire plant, it is magnificent. You can see at least one of them right now at Freestyle Photo in LA, in their gallery, along with a couple of Kirk Gitting's photos, and some photos of another photographer, whose name escapes me right now. Take the opportunity to look at his stuff. It is just wonderful. McSavaney's work is as good as it gets. His book, I think it is called "Explorations," is my favorite book of photographs.

David Karp
10-Jan-2006, 22:32

Sorry about the late post. It took me a while, but I found some information that I saved off of the late Barry Thornton's website, and some other information you might find useful.

First, here are some reasons that Thornton gave in favor of 2 bath developers (if in quotes, they are Thornton's words, if not I am paraphrasing). "[N]egatives of high contrast subjects have the highlights held back while the shadows continue to be built up so that detail can be printed easily at both ends of the scale." In the second bath, in "the highlight regions where the developed silver will be densest, the developer available in the emulsion is soon exhausted and development halts, thus automatically limiting the density of the negative at that point. The more the exposure, and the denser the highlight, the faster development ceases. In the shadows, though, there is little silver to reduce and there is enough developer to keep working there to push up the shadow detail density." And perhaps most interesting in answer to your post, Thornton said: "Indeed there is a minor hump put into the characteristic curve of many films between the shadow and mid tones to give heightened shadow contrast. The effect is not the same as the well known technique of compensating development by diluting developers, which does work in holding back dense highlights, but can give muddy mid tones and does not have the same automatic contrast equalisation as the tow bath." I found this latter statement interesting after reviewing it again for the first time in a long while, and it goes directly to what you were asking about in your first post.

Thornton's comments on various formulae: The Stoeckler formula is soft working and gives very fine grain, but he felt that with today's thin emulsion films it can be too soft. He called the Adams DD23 formula "robust" and said that it might give too high contrast on roll film. He felt that his formula was "in between for contrast" and had "extra acutance."

Next, I dug into my files and found the information about John Sexton's procedure for extra-dilute developer in high contrast situations. (At least the procedure he used at one time, anyway) He used T-Max RS concentrate, to which is added the small packet of part B. Do not prepare a stock solution. Dilute this with water 1:15. Process at 75 degrees. Film is processed in Sexton's slosher, which we have discussed elsewhere on this forum (just Google "slosher" in this site). Agitate gently for the first minute, and then ten seconds every 2 minutes thereafter. He suggested T-Max 100 at EI40 for 8-11 minutes. This procedure might be helpful if you use T-Max 100.

I hope you find some of this of interest.

Ken Lee
11-Jan-2006, 12:59
"The effect is not the same as the well known technique of compensating development..."

Yes - this is the kind of info I have been looking for. When I get the time, I intend to try some of these formulas for general use as well as high-contrast situations (if that makes any sense... I'll find out).

David Karp
11-Jan-2006, 13:27
It is too bad that Thornton's website disappeared not long after he passed away. There was a lot of good information there. I copied some of it, and happily was able to find the stuff on 2 baths.

Have fun, and please let us know what you think about your results.

11-Jan-2006, 16:49
Barry Thorntons site is still up and running except the shop.

Barry Thornton (http://www.barrythornton.com/)

David Karp
11-Jan-2006, 16:59
Thanks Rob. I recall a notice that it was going to disappear, and actually thought it did disappear for a while. I am glad it is still available.

11-Jan-2006, 17:18
It did disappear for a while, but Andy, who was webmaster, has put it back up. Don't know for how long though, so copy anything you want for long term reference.

You can still buy Barry's chemicals from Peter Hogan (http://www.monochromephotography.com/) who was a friend of Barry's and has taken on production of the formulas.

Ken Lee
18-Jan-2006, 11:02
Let's say we only plan to print on multigrade Silver Paper, and want a non-staining developer that allows us a reasonable range of expansion and contraction ability on its own.

In other words, not for cases like Slot Canyons or Tire Factories, which require a special mix of perserverance, talent, and craft (or Hollywood lighting) - and not for printing via UV light.

Dick Arentz says in his recent Pt/Pd book that TMAX 400 and D-76 is (start paraphrase) perhaps the best combination for Pt/Pd (end paraphrase). I presume he is referring to the long linear scale and facility for expansion and contraction along that scale, along with the helpful ISO speed, somewhere around 200-400.

Given the above, wouldn't Divided D-76 (as referred to in Unblinking Eye (http://unblinkingeye.com/Articles/DD-23/dd-23.html" target="_blank)) be a good candidate for most uses ?

David Karp
18-Jan-2006, 15:38

Having used DD-76 with HP5+ and Thornton's metol 2 bath formula on 4x5 HP5+ and FP4+, I guess that I can comment on DD-76 and my preference for Thornton's formula.

I first used the Thornton formula after reading "The Edge of Darkness." In that book he discusses the benefits of metol as a high acutance developer, and explains that this characteristic is defeated in formulae that use 100g/L of sodium sulphite. Such developers included D-76 and D-23 (and their divided versions). His feeling was that at this concentration, the sodium sulphite reduces acutance. He formulated his 2 bath to take advantage of metol's high acutance benefits by reducing the sodium sulphite to 80g/L. (By the way, if you look at Thornton's website, the formula given there is different from the one I gave above in this thread. Thornton confirmed to me by e-mail not too long before he died that the formula I gave from his book was his most recent refinement of his 2-bath.) I thought that I did not have to worry too much about grain when working with 4x5 negatives, so I thought his solution seemed a good one for me. (Most of my photographs are of landscapes, architecture, or mechanical/industrial objects - No people.) So far, I have not been disappointed, and really like the results I get with his formula. I have not tried this formula with T-Max 100 or 400.

In addition, I have used DD-76 with 4x5 HP5+ negatives and liked the results. D-76 is the "standard" for developers. It seems to give very good results with most films in most situations.

So, I guess that is my long-winded way of saying "yes" DD-76 is a good candidate for most uses. I happen to like the way my photos look developed in Thornton's formula better, but that is just a matter of personal preference.

ronald lamarsh
13-Feb-2006, 10:01
I have read quite a bit about 2-bath developement but have never been able to find a consensus as to agitation. Some texts say "no agitation"(which gives me blotchy negatives) to continous agitation which seems to almost defeat the purpose of 2-bath developement. I just recently developed 4 images, all the same subject, 1 each in Beutlers, Stoeckler 2 bath, Rodinal 50:1 and D-23 3:1. HAven't printed the results yet but to my eye the Rodinal and D-23 3:1 gave superior results as to overall contrast shadow detail and "sparkle".
Anyway anyone have good information on agitation for 2 bath developement

David Karp
15-Feb-2006, 12:05

I don't use any of the 2 bath devs you listed, but I agitate gently for 10 sec. each minute in each bath. That is what works for me.