View Full Version : LF beginner needs processing advice (BTZS tubes)

13-Mar-2007, 08:24
I know, another one of "these" threads-- but my question is actually rather specific.

So I've been lured to LF by way of 35mm -> MF ->LF . I have purchased a Shen Hao 4x5 and a 135mm Nikkor-W (with help from Jim at Midwest) and I'm ready to start experimenting. Long-term goal is mostly landscape with this setup, but time will tell where I end up.

I already develop and print my own B&W (35mm and 120) and have been happy with a combination of FP4 and HP5+ usually developed via intermittent inversion using HC-110, dil H. My guess is that I will end up shooting quite a bit of color with the 4x5, but I want to get comfortable with the kit using B&W to keep the costs of my multiple and inevitable mistakes as low as possible.

All of my reading has thoroughly convinced me that 4x5 sheet film is a whole other barrel of fish with regards to development. I am not going to start with trays secondary to my concerns re scratching and the fact that my converted bathroom/darkroom is very small -- no fun to hang out in complete darkness for long periods of time.

I have decided to start with BTZS tubes for several reasons, chief among them that I may not be processing large numbers of sheet film at one time. The other concern is that I want to spend some time working with exposure-development relationships and the flexibility of the tube approach regarding the ability to alter developing times per sheet is attractive to a beginner like me. I have also been thinking about trying some less dilute developers (Ilford DD-X, for example) and my other major option, the Combi-plan, takes nearly 1.5 liters per round-- not cost-effective for me.

Before I buy the BTZS tubes, however, I have a few questions:

1. For those of you using the Ilford films, I know the company advises against a presoak, while many of the threads I have read make the point that presoaks are important for sucessfully using the BTZS system. Any input?

2. Are there any problems with using the dilute developers like hc-110 at dil h in the tubes given the 3 oz of syrup limitation? Any other specific advice regarding hc-110?

3. I have been thinking about trying either xtol, d76 or DD-x with the FP4/HP5+ -- are there any known problems regarding using constant agitation (tubes) with these developers? Can you point me to any references that show me where to start with my times?

Of course, any and all advice or suggestions would be great. I've lurked here for quite awhile and learned a ton.

Thanks in advance,


Eric Biggerstaff
13-Mar-2007, 08:47

Welcome to the group.

I am sure others will chime in but here are my thoughts.

I have used the tubes a lot in the past and my primary films are HP5+ and FP4+. These work great in the tubes with or without a presoak in water. I use a presoak and have never had any issues with regards to even development. My presoak is for 5 minutes with constant agitation. I now primarily use a Jobo 3010 drum which makes this easier.

In terms of developers I have used in the tubes - DDX, Rodinal, TMAX RS, D76, XTOL, all work fine. Because rotary processing involves constant agitation, your development times will be shorter so you should do some simple testing to dial in your times. A good place to start would be 15% less than the recommended time on the development charts. The Ilford site will have development charts and will give you some rotary starting points if I remember correctly.

The tubes work very well and once you have the procedures down they are very simple to use. Given your cramped bathroom, I think it is a great choice in terms of developing methods but you will still need space for trays for the stop and fix steps so just be aware of that. If this is a concern, then you might reconsider the Combi tank or look into a used Jobo tank with either the $20 Jobo roller base or a Beseler motor base. Jobo makes a tank / reel set up for sheet film and these are on eBay often.

Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

keith english
13-Mar-2007, 09:05
I use a combination of the BTZS tubes and the combi tank for final fix and washing. Since I have been trying Diafine 2 part development I can't use a pre-soak. The only problem I have had is more pink stain, which can be removed with fix, extra washing and hypo-eliminator. Only thing I wish I had was more BTZS tubes or caps so I could run more film. Has anyone else tried Diafine in the tubes? I get decent results with Tri-X and Tmax, but still not quite the shadow detail and tone I want.

13-Mar-2007, 09:24
Jil, it sounds like youstarted just like me, and are going through what I am right now! I have a Shen Hao 5X7 however. I'm not quite as space- limited as you are so I decided to try trays first to keep costs down. Mind you, I've seen directions some where on making your own tubes. I just asked the pre-soak question too, and there are many correct answers, it seems. I actually just developed my 1st two negs yesterday by tray. I followed an amalgamtion of advice I've found here and at APUG, and everything went fine. That was 2 negs only, but I think I could go to 4 pretty easily. If you think about developer capacity, there wouldn't be alot of waste in 1 liter of developer in tray. You could dilute it too (I tried Ilfosol S at 1:9 and 1:14 at my tested times and they negs look similar). I'm using FP4+ rated at ISO64. I've read BTZS, and want to start applying it when I get the hang of this format, and I see how the tubes would be useful for that. I guess what I'm saying is that you shouldn't discount tray development when learning if you can find the room. It is the least complex of all the methods. Just get some good music :)


13-Mar-2007, 09:48
1. against a presoak

2. Are there any problems with using the dilute developers like hc-110 at dil h in the tubes given the 3 oz of syrup limitation?


I used to use BTZS, and now use Jobo. I use a lot of HP5, and used a presoak in the BTZS tubes, and never had an issue.

There is a possibility that you will exhaust some dilute developers - for HC-110, you need 3/4ml of syrup per sheet.

A couple of the things that I did when I was using BTZS:

I standardized on a developing time, and did my N-, N, N+ developments by altering the dilution of the HC-110 on each sheet.

I did presoak and develop in the tubes, then after dumping developer I put the open tube into a tray of stop, then would drain the tube, and put some fix in the tube for a short time, then remove the sheet from the tube and put it in a tray of fix to finish fixing - I loaded the tubes and switched caps from presoak to develop, and then from develop to stop in the dark From stop to first fix in very dim light, then once the sheets were in the second fix, I turned on the lights.

Brian Ellis
13-Mar-2007, 19:14
"For those of you using the Ilford films, I know the company advises against a presoak, while many of the threads I have read make the point that presoaks are important for sucessfully using the BTZS system. Any input?"

A presoak probably doesn't hurt anything other than cause some uneeded time and trouble but it doesn't help anything either. I've been using the BTZS tubes for about 12years with HP5+ (and TMax 100), never presoaked, never had a problem. I attended two of Phil Davis' workshops and he never suggested a presoak with any film when using the tubes. Since he's the inventor of the tubes I figure he would have said something about a presoak if he thought it was necessary or desirable.

"I have been thinking about trying either xtol, d76 or DD-x with the FP4/HP5+ -- are there any known problems regarding using constant agitation (tubes) with these developers? Can you point me to any references that show me where to start with my times?"

I used D76 1-1 at 70 degrees with HP5+. My normal time was about 7min 30 secs with constant rolling of the tubes (10 times in one direction, 10 times in the opposite direction throughout the development process) in the tray/water jacket.

But since you'll presumably be buying your tubes from The View Camera Store why not let them do a zone system test for you. Then you'll easily have your EI and all your plus, minus, and normal development times without any muss or fuss at a cost of about $30.

One problem people new to the tubes sometimes have is removing the film from the tubes after the stop bath in order to put the film in the fix (I used small trays for the fix but there are several ways of doing it). There are two easy ways of removing the film from the tubes but neither is easy to describe in writing. One way is to grasp the corner of the film at the notches with your thumb and forefinger and slightly twist it. That will break the "seal" that seems to exist between the film and the side of the tube and makes it easy to then pull the film out of the tube. The other way is even harder to describe. Hold the tube in your left hand, with your right hand grasp the tube keeping your thumb against the film, then twist hard by exerting pressure against the film with your thumb. That will break the "seal" and you can then slide the film up and slightly out of the tube, then grasp it and pull it the rest of the way out. There probably are other ways but these have always worked for me.

John Kasaian
13-Mar-2007, 19:52
If you use a Unicolor you'll have both hands free for----beer!:)

Claude Sapp
13-Mar-2007, 22:43
Removing the film from the tubes after processing is really easy if you do it under water. I use the tubes, and use a tub full of water for stop, and the film slides out easily if you fully immerse the tube in the water to act as the stop bath, then pull the film out while the tube is full of water.

14-Mar-2007, 01:32
I've been using an 8x10 unicolor uniroller print drum for my 4x5 processing, 2 sheets at a time. I can do two or three batches (6 negatives) with 150 ml 1:1 ID-11 and 150ml fixer. Information about this method is on the front page of this website (not the forums). I've never used the BTZS tubes but the uniroller method seems a lot easier. I do a pre-soak for about 30 seconds in water. I'm not sure if it's necessary, but it's never hurt. So far I've mainly used ilford delta 100, but I've done a handful of sheets of agfa apx-100 with equally good results. I can't imagine FP4+ or HP5+ would be that different (and I've used a similar methodology including the short presoak with 120 rollfilm HP5+ and my only problems have been loading the stupid reel without mangling my film).

14-Mar-2007, 01:34
If you use a Unicolor you'll have both hands free for----beer!:)

Hey, you're right. I can't believe I haven't even thought of beer as an accessory for those long evenings of processing film ;)

Jim Rice
14-Mar-2007, 05:04
Silly Walter. ;-)

14-Mar-2007, 05:34
Wow, thanks guys, truly a wealth of info and experience weighing in on my concerns.

I actually went ahead and bought a set of BTZS tubes, though the Unicolor approach remains high on my list -- certainly wouldn't be expensive to give it a go at some point once I was happy with my times and conditions.

The ability to develop a workflow where I could modulate my developing via changing N in a single batch is intuitively pleasing (I'm a bench scientist in "real life") so the flexibility of the tubes appealed to me. Mark_S, I like your approach, can you share some details as a starting point?

I very much appreciate the developer-specific input, I had been concerned about exhausting hc-110 (and any suggested dilutions are appreciated). I am also very pleased to see that folks have used so many developers in this system as I had been toying with moving beyond hc-110. I feel much better about the presoak question as well-- :) , I was pretty concerned about that one.

My darkroom isn't miniscule, but it's in the attic with a sloping roof and a very old antique bathtub -- with a big piece of plywood I have plenty of working space, but the sloped roof makes it a bit "dangerous" to my head in complete darkness. I just took delivery of an old Omega D2V to refurb and use, this monster may finally push my husband to build me a proper darkroom in the basement!

One of the interesting aspects of LF (IMO) is that it seems like I could *read* about it forever. It's like when I used to train junior doctors to perform procedures -- some would show up having read everything in the known universe about an approach and then hesitate endlessly about applying their knowledge, while others would dive right in ;) . I usually fall in the middle -- but 2 weeks ago decided to just buy a camera, decide on an initial developing choice and get to it.

I can see that I have found the right place to get help -- a virtual beer to all!



16-Mar-2007, 02:26
I tried many different methods (8x10) to process my sheets, and always got bad uniformity. Tray, dip & dunk tank, large drum, etc. Finally I tried a small drum (actually one of those stainless steel tanks) that, when the film is rolled up, leaves the ends nearly touching. That's important because it's the change in shape that leads to the poor uniformity at the edges. Once in the drum the shape is pretty much the same all around.

I bought some of the mesh that is made for drawer liner, I use it as a backing. I slide the rolled sheet with mesh backing into the tank, then process with a roller base. Great uniformity, no scratches, no disasters, couldn't be better.

I do use a pre-soak, I think it helps.