View Full Version : Questions about 4X5 processing...

Stephen S. Mack
10-Jul-2008, 16:57
Do I need a lot of darkroom equipment to get started in 4X5 processing (B&W)? I have a changing bag, some trays, some chemicals, and a very dark cellar. Years ago I used a very dark cellar and some plastic food bins as developing tanks, and was astounded that I got recognizable images. I was also astounded at the amount of time I spent down in the very dark cellar, and thought I might be taking up too much time for my hobby, so I suppose for that reason I stopped.

But that's another story.

Anyway, once I've gotten the recognizable image, do I need very elaborate equipment to make contact prints? What is the most primitive (read IN-expensive) kit I would need? What questions haven't I asked that I need to? (I know that this is a semi-ridiculous question, but everyone has had the experience of starting off on a new endeavor, been told that one should ask questions, but since one is a tyro, one doesn't know which questions to ask until later.) Sort of a Higdon's Corollary: Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

Thanks to all who reply.

With best regards,

Steve Mack

The man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he could learn in no other way.

Mark Twain

Erik Larsen
10-Jul-2008, 17:09
Your 90% there or more. You can use a lightbulb suspended above your negative/paper sandwhich to print with or you can find a cheap used enlarger and use it as a light source. They are everywhere these days for usually the cost of picking them up. The only other thing you would need is a contact printing frame or just use a thick piece of glass instead. give it a shot and you will be hooked and the next questions you will be asking is where can I get 8x10 film:)
Have fun with it.

Lenny Eiger
10-Jul-2008, 17:17
Do I need a lot of darkroom equipment to get started in 4X5 processing (B&W)?

No. Simple trays and some developer and fixer. You can even mix your own. D-23 is a great developer and only has two ingredients Metol and Sodium Sulfite, both avail in bulk from Photographer's Formulary. (you will need a scale to weigh it out...)

While you're there, why not order some Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide. The you can make your own cyanotypes - these can be very beautiful. They can also be colors other than blue with additional processing with tannic acid and sodium carbonate.

You could pick of a copy of Crawford's "The Keepers of the Light" - and I am sure a few other publications. I think these are some of the simplest and least expensive prints you could make.


MIke Sherck
10-Jul-2008, 17:33
Basic B&W processing and contact printing is very simple; you sound as though you're all set for processing the film, and for contact printing, as Erik said, all you need to add is a lightbulb which you can raise or lower, and a piece of clean glass, at least a bit larger than your negative, and a smooth, flat surface to sit it on. My glass for contact printing is 9" x 11" (so it fits over 8"x10" paper with some left over so I don't have to be precise,) about 1/4" thick. I got it from a local glass shop and had them round the edges for me. I paid, as I recall, about $5 for it some years ago. It's just a leftover piece of tempered window glass they had laying around. They were happy to have something to do on a warm spring afternoon and, I believe, used the $5 to buy some donuts. :) The same trays you use for developing film are perfectly fine for paper.

You want a way to raise or lower the light bulb so you can adjust exposure, and a timer of some sort (I used a cheap plastic stopwatch for several years when my darkroom was over a garage; if your watch has a stopwatch function, that will do fine.) If you can scare up a safelight it would be helpful for printing (and seeing the stopwatch!); Kodak used to make a bare bulb which was coated with an amber substance. I've seen at least one darkroom where the user dipped a regular 5 watt child's night-light bulb in a red liquid substance used to coat steel and it worked all right for her. Keep it at least four feet from the unprocessed paper and you should be fine.

As for chemistry, if you have a local source I'd advise using whatever they have on hand and stick with it for a while in order to learn how it works and become familiar with it. Same with paper. If you have to mail order materials, whatever is most affordable for you will do to start. Many differences in chemicals and materials are rather subtle and it may be a while before your eye has learned to tell the difference.

Most important, experiment, learn, and have fun! There's really not generally accepted "right" ways of doing a lot of this: give the same scene to a dozen photographers and you're going to get at least a dozen recognizably different photographs. Good luck!


12-Jul-2008, 08:22
So how do you safely develop 4 x 5 Negatives, only I have a Yankee Developing Tank and when I meased the amount of chemicals required it appears that your talking just over a litre of chemicals, also I have heard that it does not process the negatives properly is this correct?

A friend of mine Pete Watkins has altered a Pattison Orbital Tank to develope his 4 x 5 as it allows him to use 300ml of developer, but I was woundering if there was a better method!

At college we have the deep processing tanks with floating lids and they mix a large batch of ID11 every couple of weeks or so!

So what methods do other people use!

Pat Kearns
12-Jul-2008, 13:56
Read the article on the LF Homepage about using a Unicolor drum and motorized base. You can develop 4 negatives using one and the only time you need to be in the dark is when you load the film into the drum. All the developing is done in room light. Unicolor or Beseler drums and motors can be found on the auction sites for little money. As mentioned above just a light bulb is needed for contact prints. Check your local library for books on b & w film developing. You can't get anything less expensive than the free information at the library. You can use the money you save there on film, paper, & chemicals.

14-Jul-2008, 03:37
The issue I found was that using the Yankee Tank I needed 1.5 Litres of Chemical, this to me seems a lot, especially if I want to develope just two negatives instead of 10 negatives!

I do not have a problem developing the films or printing my images afterwards, but as I am only used to using 300ml of chemical, a bottle of Dev solution gives me a couple months worth, instead of a single go!

So how do other people manage?

14-Jul-2008, 05:23
I use trays for small numbers of negatives (8 or less) and tanks and hangers for more than that.

- Randy

14-Jul-2008, 05:30
I use one of our bathrooms as a darkroom. I have a length of blackout fabric that is supposed to be used to line curtains that I pull across the door and simply make sure the lights in the adjoining room are turned out. It takes me about 15 minutes to develop a batch of film (up to 8 sheets) - not long at all really. All I started with for developing sheet film was a set of trays, the chemicals, a length of string, and some clothes pins. (I use the string and clothes pins to hang the negatives to dry in the shower). You can of course get far more complicated, but that serves me well to this day, although I do now also have a set of tanks and a number of hangers, which helps when I am developing a large number of sheets.

The others have addresses printing quite well. My own setup consists of basically an enlarger that sits on the counter top in the bathroom/darkroom, a couple of timers, and a safe light if that's of any interest or help. It's very simple and basic, but provides me everything that I need.

- Randy

Colin Corneau
16-Jul-2008, 16:57
Please run, don't walk, away from the Yankee tank.

Some may disagree with me here, but every single neg I put through that thing was improperly developed, and unprintable by hand (I had to scan one in and retouch it digitally in order to get a useable image, which I don't like doing).

Just my story, but one I've heard a lot.

16-Jul-2008, 18:52
Nothing wrong with a yankee tank if you know how to use it. Many people just let them soak without enough/proper movement and the negs come out uneven and thin. A tray is the simplest and uses a small amount of chemical so it makes a good place to start.

17-Jul-2008, 02:59
As I said earlier Colin, I don't use the Yankee tank as the manufacturers recommend I use it as a deep tank processor and basically keep dunking the negatives in and out of the various solutions leave the stand for a while then dunk again.

So far every negative has come out perfect, the only problem found so far, is that using a LF camera is highlighting my flaws as a photographer, so I need to work on that before I do anything else!

I do wounder if trays are the best way forward, I am just dubious about something scratching the negatives, but I suppose I would be using less chemicals providing that I can develope around 6 negatives in one go!