View Full Version : BW 4x5 processing. Newbie needs advice.

10-Dec-2006, 14:06
I am new to BW 4x5, I have shot color slides so far. I got into LF only 2yrs ago. I would like to shoot more BW and process it myself. I have to admit that my job&wife restrict my photography to only few months a year, I shoot in bursts, I take a couple of weeks off and shoot around 50 sheets traveling place to place. then there are several months of break.

One reason I want to get into BW photog is so that I can explore the creative side, I have done a lot of shooting at national parks etc, and I feel like this is already done so many times. Also BW will allow me to pick more abstract subjects and hopefully help me shoot more around town and at home.

So, given that here are the three questions I have.

1. I understand that photo chemicals dont live for long periods typically 6months (correct?). What chemicals should I get that would be most economical for me? I dont want to buy chems process once and have to rebuy the next time I shoot. am I better off buying premixed concetrated solutions? or does powder have greater shelf life.?

2. I love the idea of the jobo processor, but I think that I am not ready for it given the frequency with which I shoot. I am looking at the HP combi-plan tank. What are your thoughts ? Its not practical for me to do tray processing due to space restrictions.

3. I am better off paying $2.50 persheet for processing instead?

Thanks for your suggestions & advice

Paul Ewins
10-Dec-2006, 14:45
I'm in Australia, so the prices are different, but I expect that $5 - $8 would buy you a gallon pack of ID11 or D76 in powder form. These are very popular developers (almost the same thing, but not quite) so you should be able to get advice on developing times for almost any combination of film, temperature and push or pull. In powder form they should last for many years.

They also make a good yard stick, in that when somebody recommends another developer they should be able to explain what that developer does compared to ID11/D76. Unfortunately whenever you ask the "what developer do you recommend" question you'll get a list of everybody's favourite developer but no clear idea of which one is best for you. If you can ask a question like 'I'm using D76 and my negs are too X or don't have enough Y" then the answers will be a lot more relevant.

I started developing with a Yankee tank which I believe is a distant ancestor of the Combiplan. It worked, but I wouldn't call it great. I've graduated to a second hand Jobo CPP2 with expert drums which is excellent. If you are thinking about a Jobo then maybe get the 2509n reel for the 2500 series drum and use it on one of the old Beseler or Cibachrome print drum electric roller bases. Although the 2509n reel will hold six negs I found it easier to only use four. This can be done in a large changing bag so you don't need a dark room at all.

Ralph Barker
10-Dec-2006, 14:49
Considering the decline in pro lab services, particularly with respect to B&W processing, I'm of the opinion that processing yourself is the best way to go. Doing so gives you control over the entire process. Although I tray process my B&W LF film, the HP Combiplan tank has been discussed many times in the past, mostly with positive comments. If you're space-limited, that's probably a good way to go.

As to developers, based on your shooting cycles, I'd suggest you consider the liquid concentrates, like Ilford DD-X or Ilfotec HC. Generally, the higher the concentration (as with Ilfotec HC), the longer the concentrate will last in opened bottles. Often, that's several months to nearly a year. Unopened, well-stored bottles will last a couple of years. Additionally, there are the Pyro formulations to consider.

Ron Marshall
10-Dec-2006, 14:59
I have both the Jobo 3006 and the Combi-plan. The Jobo is easier to load and drain/fill, but the Combi works fine. I use the Combi mostly for semi-stand development.

HC-110 and Rodinal are both concentrates that keep well, as are the ones that Ralph mentioned.

10-Dec-2006, 15:05
HC-110, as mentioned above, lasts forever in concentrate form. Use it one shot mixed straight from the syrup; a perfect beginner's developer and great results with a wide variety of films, including one of my favorites, TXP 320.

Tray developing, although done completely in the dark, is not that hard to get used to and is the least expensive route to go.

Jim Jones
10-Dec-2006, 19:30
I'm with PViaplano. HC-110 concentrate can be diluted directly from the original stock. Even in a partly full bottle it lasts for many years, perhaps a decade or two. Kodak recommends making a stock solution for further dilution, which is more convenient in some ways. The stock solution probably won't last nearly as long. Ready-to-use stop bath and fixer last a long time. Tray development doesn't take much space. I do it one sheet at a time. With care several sheets can be simultaneously developed. However, to develop a few week's shooting by tray would be tedious.

John Kasaian
10-Dec-2006, 20:24
Check out the Unicolor Film development artice on the LF Home Page (above in the blue banner) Its a very inexpensive alternative to Jobos. IMHO there are quite a few chemicals that will stay potent over the long haul when stored in concentrated form. Or course there are collapsible bottles designed to evacuate air, and you can always use marbles or nitrogen gas to displace air as well (if thats any help---it sounds like quite a bother to me) What works best for your purposes can only be determined by you.
I've gotten away from HC-110 but D-76 in powder form is pretty shelf stable. IIRC, john nanian gets considerable mileage from Ansco 130, so you might consider trying these out.

10-Dec-2006, 20:27
acufine, if you can get it, can be used forever - just replenish.
Simple tray or hangar processing is way worth it - just need a dark place.

10-Dec-2006, 20:57
I'd go with the $2.50/sheet for letting someone else do it. Especially if you have to do 50 at one sitting, and frankly it sounds like you have better uses to make of your time. ALthough some people really love deveoping their own negatives, for most photographers it's just drudgery, boring, and time consuming.

Brian Ellis
11-Dec-2006, 00:23
I'd suggest using the BTZS tubes if you're concerned about the economics of chemicals. One sheet of film per tube, one ounce of stock D76 1-1 per sheet (i.e. two ounces of working solution). I commonly process six sheets at a time so I use six ounces of stock developer to process six sheets. Six ounces of developer costs pennies. It takes about 15 minutes per run to develop, stop, and fix six sheets so you could do 50 sheets in about 2 1/2 -3 hours. However, limitations on space to hang the 50 sheets for drying might be more limiting than the actual processing time.

Spending a couple dollars on developer, stop, and fix plus a few hours of your time is a whole lot better IMHO than paying a lab $125 to process 50 sheets for you, not to mention the greater control you have by doing it yourself. You can buy the BTZS tubes from The View Camera Store or you can make them yourself out of materials available at Home Depot. A tray with a water jacket to hold the tubes takes up very little space. I don't know what developers besides D76 to suggest, it's the only developer I've used for about 12 years except for a brief flirtation with pyro and Rodinal.

11-Dec-2006, 22:34
Thanks a ton for all those responses, BTZS tubes looks like the way I am going to go, and use D76 powder. Looks like $125 will go long ways in getting the material I need for doing my own processing, and a bigger changing bag/tent. Wow now I am nervous... I am going to start this weekend!

Thanks a ton

11-Dec-2006, 22:36
oh! and BTW does it change anything if I am processing Illford films in the same D76? I have read that specific chems are used for specific film for contrast etc...


John Kasaian
11-Dec-2006, 23:30
D-76 is great stuff. It should work fine. Check the Freestyle site as they have a big honkin' list of suggested time for different film/developer combos.

Jay DeFehr
11-Dec-2006, 23:33
D-76 is a fine developer, but it won't keep reliably for months at a time in partially full bottles. I would recommend one of the highly stable concentrates that are used one shot, like HC110, PC-TEA, or 510-Pyro. These concentrates will sit happily on the shelf for as long as you care to leave them, and will be ready to go to work when you are. If you leave D-76 for a few months in a partially full bottle, I'd recommend doing a clip test before processing any important films. Good luck, and have fun!


C. D. Keth
12-Dec-2006, 09:43
I've got another vote to tray develop yourself. You have a much better idea of what happens to your film if you do it yourself. If you want to give one sheet an extra 10% after seeing some others, you can. If you want to try another developer, you can.

Tray development isn't hard to get used to and I can comfortably do 6-8 sheets at a time. without problems. Another plue is that, with your limited photography schedule, you won't spend some of it waiting for film to get to a lab, be processed, and get back from the lab. You can spend an evening in the dark with some music going and be all done with the developing.

13-Dec-2006, 14:39
Have you considered PMK Pyro or Pyrocat-HD? I use PMK - haven't tried Pyrocat-HD, They are very economical - about $25.00 for enough stock to mix 50 liters of working solution and the stock has an essentially unlimited shelf life. I personally use a Jobo processor as I also do E-6 processing, but I believe many people have had great success with Pyro in the BTZS tubes. Another advantage is that because these are staining developers, the negatives you get are particularly easy to print. If you're interested, go over to apug.org and take a look at what they have to say about pyro developers.

steve simmons
13-Dec-2006, 16:19
View Camera did an article on staining develpers in our Sept/Oc06 issue and it is posted in the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site. There is also a detailed how-to on tray development.

steve simmons

Bruce Barlow
14-Dec-2006, 06:12
I vote for 8x10 trays for 4x5 film. "Waste" two or three sheets of film and practice in the light shuffling them one at a time from bottom to top in a tray of water. Then practice with your eyes closed, then turn off the lights so you're not cheating anymore. You'll know it for life and be bored to tears after 15 minutes. I have scratched one negative (a loser, not a keeper, thank God) in 22 years and literally thousands of negatives.

I'm an HC-110 fan, and also a big fan of Clayton F-76. For me, pyro makes me nuts for sheet film because I hate wearing nitrile gloves and losing the feel of the film - I'm always afraid two will be stuck together and ruined bacause I don't have the dexterity. More trouble than I have found pyro to be worth, having tested it side-by-side with Clayton and HC-110. Only one man's opinion. I use my pyro with 35mm where it's easier and gives results worth the trouble.

With practice, I've gotten to 18 negatives at a time in a tray, shuffling them once every 30 seconds. 12 is certainly quickly achievable.

Turner Reich
14-Dec-2006, 09:56
You could even think of tanks and hanger. I have them for formats from 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10. You can get a set of tanks on the eBay or want ad and some hangers and really go to town. Just a thought, everyones different and you will have to decide. The idea of having someone develop the film isn't a bad one. Leaves you to concentrate on printing.


14-Dec-2006, 14:55
I would definitely recommend that you learn to develop your own B&W film. Knowing how to do so offers multiple creative possibilities that will not be available if you have someone else develop your film.

There is no single best answer as to what method to use. However, I second Brian Ellis' suggestion that you consider processing in BTZS type tubes. Tray processing is simple and works well for many persons, but not for me and not for a lot of other people. I developed sheet film in 5X7 film in trays for over ten years but shifted to tubes some fifteen years ago. Now, when I compare the tray developed negatives to to ones that I developed in tubes (in scanning and looking at high magnification views of the scans) there is no question but that the tube developed negatives are superior in terms of eveneness of development, and in the fact that they are absolutely scratch free. I also hate to stand around in the dark for long periods of time, and that is what yoiu have to do with tray development.

If you don't mind standing around in the dark you should consider the slosher type of cradle. This will allow you to develop up to four sheets of 4X5 or 5X7 film in a 11X14 tray, with no risk of scratching because the negatives are separated. This method of development can also be used with minimal development which, in combination with the right film and developer, can significantly enhance acutance and apparent sharpness.

Sandy King

Bob Salomon
14-Dec-2006, 15:09
"I started developing with a Yankee tank which I believe is a distant ancestor of the Combiplan."

Not even remotely related in features or results. The Combi system of roll film and sheet film tanks was developed by a machinist in Germany more then half a century ago. The machinist was named Krause and that was the original name of the system. The Krause Combi-Plan T and the L. Later the system was sold to Gepe and it became the Gepe Combi-Plan T and L. Then we purchased it from Gepe in 1980 or 79 and it became the HP Combi Plan T and L. Today we no longer make the 57 or roll film or L versions.

The most obvious difference between a Yankee and a Combi-Plan T is that the Combi is a daylight tank designed for inversion agitation. A big difference from the Yankee.

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