View Full Version : 4x5 sheet film combi tank(?) agitation

Derek Kennedy
26-Apr-2009, 14:58
I just got myself a used sheet film developing tank. Made by the FR company (never heard of them myself).

Its a square tank, takes about 1600mm of fluids, holds up to 12 sheets, adjustable for smaller sheets. Sure its light tight (at least i hope still is), and there is a place on top of the lid to poor in chemistry - but how do you agitate using these type of tanks?

Yes light tight but not liquid tight (I assume). If I try to agitate Im sure to spill chemistry all over. So, other than a *gentle* rocking back n forth motion - is there a proper way to agitate these sort of tanks? Times?

Now, I've never developed more than 1 roll of 35mm or 120mm film at a time, so - if I have more than one sheet (takes up to 12) - is the developing/agitation time the same as if you are processing one sheet?

Up until now I have only processed my sheets one at a time in a tray with awesome results but if I have a lot of sheets to process, doing one at a time was not going to work for me time wise! So as soon as I saw that tank in the basement (in the lab) of the local photo store I jumped at it thinking that this thing will be a time saver.

Thanks for any help/advice!


Gene McCluney
26-Apr-2009, 15:08
You have hit upon the "flaw" in the FR tank design. You do have to rock it back and forth for agitation, and most probably you will slosh out a bit of chemistry, and you won't get as good a result as tray or an inversion tank like the Combi-Plan T.

Back in the days when these tanks were most popular, 4x5 was used for newsgathering, and speed, rather than quality was the important factor in getting film developed. The news photographers didn't care about even development, they just cared about getting the photo, and getting it printed by deadline.

If you consistently need to process larger quantities of film, you might consider stainless steel film hangers and dip-n-dunk tanks.

Gem Singer
26-Apr-2009, 15:37
Take your FR tank out into your garden, fill it with potting soil, plant a nice flower in it, and you will discover that it makes a better flower pot than a film developing tank.

Go back to doing your development in trays and learn how to do multiple films at a time by shuffling through the stack. It is possible to do if you are careful not to scratch the wet film.

There are descriptions of the tray developing technique in dozens of photo books. Start with Ansel Adams, "the Negative".

Derek Kennedy
26-Apr-2009, 16:06
Thanks Gene and Gem Singer!

I'm sure the wife would love to plant flowers in the tank! I didn't want to try several sheets at once while tray developing as I was concerned with scratching them so I only did one at a time. Or at least while one is in the fixer, another in the developer.

Maybe if I placed the FR tank in a tray so as not to make too much of a mess?

Sigh. And I thought I was making a smart decision getting the FR tank! Live and learn!

Thanks again.


Gene McCluney
27-Apr-2009, 09:06
Thanks Gene and Gem Singer!

Maybe if I placed the FR tank in a tray so as not to make too much of a mess?

Sigh. And I thought I was making a smart decision getting the FR tank! Live and learn!

Thanks again.


You can do that, or just sit the tank in your sink, BUT rocking back and forth (the only way with the FR tank) will not yield optimum results. Your results may vary. You can maximize your success by choosing a developer that gives you a long development time. You should avoid all developers and developers dilutions that give a 5 minute or less developing time.

E Thomson
27-Apr-2009, 11:30
Oops. Double-post. See below.

E Thomson
27-Apr-2009, 11:37
I am getting serious about setting up a 4x5 sheet developing process myself and had an old Yankee tank laying around (by description, same as or similar to yours). I was aware of strong opinions on the subject, so I recently looked around at all the relevant threads I could find on this forum, APUG's and the Graflex forum. The advice was running at least 5-to-1 against trying to make these tanks work, but I was accumulating various tips from the minority that swore they would work if only one did this, that or the other thing. I felt it was worth trying to put all those tips together into a formula for making the Yankee tank work, given I had no taste for setting up a darkroom tray system.

That is, I felt it was worth trying until I came across the thread titled "Is the Yankee Tank the Antichrist?" It was on APUG I think. This thread was well contributed, so long, so detailed and so overwhelmingly negative that I gave up. I concluded that this sort of tank is simply fatally flawed. I decided that the conditions under which some people make it work are very narrow. I also conclude that, perhaps, taken as a group, their standards may be somewhat relaxed. It looked like it would take a lot of film to determine what worked and whether it was good enough for me.

After all that, if you still want to try, my collation of tips boiled down to this:

--Use a dilute developer, one that gives extended times in development. Seven minutes or so came up a couple times. But this can perhaps affect results if solution is too dilute; one person claimed soft image edges from too-dilute solutions. In any case, you have to make sure the strength of the chemistry will handle all the film surface in the tank.

--Pre-wet the film. This came up some, but was not a unanimous approach.

--Fill the tank with developer while still in the dark, and place the film rack into the tank before going light. This made sense to me, since some people claim one problem is the inability to fill the tank quickly.

--Recommended to alternate slots with six sheets, not the whole capacity of twelve. This seemed to be about two issues; the exhaustion of the developing capacity of the chemistry or the crowded conditions in the tank. Take your pick.

--Agitation. Little consensus here. Some say lift the side of the tank a quarter of an inch and set it down. Do same to the other side after a while. Others say constant agitation over a sink and dam* the losses from sloshing. This devolves to religious conviction. A problem with certain sloshing techniques and certain developers seems to be a 'standing wave' pattern, where the conditions in the tank are cramped and convoluted and a certain type of sloshing creates a turbulence where chemistry doesn't actually move around but gets pinned in place. Hence areas of over- and under-development having to do with turbulence.

Intractable problems cited are: mottling in even tones like skies, surge marks around edges, exhausting the developer, wasting chemistry and impossibly inconsistent results. Most common advice; use as a planter.

Art is long but life is short. I'm setting up to use a Jobo drum.

27-Apr-2009, 12:28
I tried using one of these and experienced uneven development. No matter what I did I could not get it to agitate correctly enough to get even development. Perhaps the comment about them being used by news photogs is spot on. I have the same problem with a couple of Angelus Color Tanks I have. And, both of these use lots of chemistry.

I myself prefer dip and dunk but that requires a dedicated darkroom, a luxury I do not have. I can take a class at a local community college and use their darkroom, but I don't have the time for that right now.

Aside from dip and dunk, I also like tray development. In the college darkroom I sometimes use, they have a stainless steel rack that fits inside an 8x10 tray, letting me tray develop 4 sheets at a time. There's enough counter space that I can process two trays simultaneously. But again without taking a class this resource is not available to me.

So I still tray develop, I just do it in a Paterson Orbital. I can get 4 4x5 sheets in the tray, or 2 5x7s, or 1 8x10. The tray has a lightproof lid with a port on it to introduce chemicals rather rapidly, though the drainage port is slow. I have experience very good results with this unit, utilizing the gentle tray tip method of agitation. Unfortunately these are getting harder and harder to find, and when they do show up, now command hundreds of dollars.

So, my dos centavos...


Derek Kennedy
27-Apr-2009, 13:27
Thanks guys - sounds like I got the wife an antique planter for Mothers day.

Maybe I'll just stick to tray developing.

Good idea Gene on not using developers with short developing times.

I'd like to try it at least once - so I dont think I wasted my money! But it sounds like I'll just go back to trays.

Thanks a lot guys. Appreciate it.