View Full Version : 1st attempts at developing B+W sheet film at home

29-Jun-2009, 23:22

As the title suggests, I took the plunge and developed my first black and white 5x4 neg at home the other night in trays. I've done a decades worth of roll film and 35mm in daylight tanks, but this was a first for sheet films in trays.

The first problem was finding the darkest room. My apartment is light and airy, which I never thought would be a bad thing. Even the bathroom has an enormous window. But, after blanking it out with cardboard and covering the door with a sleeping bag, I had a pretty light-tight space with running water in which to begin.

My old print developing trays are in storage, so I found 3 plastic take-out food trays and used them. This might have been a mistake, as there is a tiny small sharp point of plastic, presumably from the moulding, in the base of the tray which might have contributed to the scratching on the negs.

Have a look at the attached image, nothing special at all - just a snap for experimenting and practising purposes. The scan is also a quick contact scan - no spotting or post processing.

1. I have a light patch on the image, on the left and right sides. It's most visible on the left-side of the image attached. Might this be over/under agitation? I used a constant agitation method, lifting each end of the tray in turn up and down (like when developing prints). I tried to randomize which end or corner of the tray I lifted. It occurs on one or two of the other negs, in both the left and right edges. My trays were about 6x8 inches in size - so maybe they were too small?

2. LOADS of scratches! As above, I realised the base of the food-tray I was using had a sharp bit of plastic on it. AND I realised I was developing the sheets (one by one) emulsion down. Is emulsion-up recommended? I also didnt have anywhere to dry the sheets so I left them standing up against the tray, which may have contributed to the horizontal line in the sky - it wasnt there when the neg was in the fix or wash. Re-soaking it in water didnt get rid of it, do I need to re-fix it?

3. How dark is dark? I've worked in several darkrooms before, and this is easily the least-light tight which is a little of a worry. I have pretty good night-sight anyway, but immediately the lights were off I could make out my hands in front of my face, and after 15 minutes or so of dev, stop and fix I could easily make out each tray in the bath, I could see the neg in the fix, could see exactly where the light-switch was, etc etc etc. Is it possible that, despite my efforts, my makeshift darkroom is just not light-tight enough and I have a base fog on my film?

I'd appreciate any suggestions or tales of similar experience from people out there. Are my facilities and is my method completely unsuitable, and I should give up and start trawling the pages for a daylight tank like a Jobo or Paterson Orbital?!

Thanks in advance

30-Jun-2009, 00:16
All of the above....you need ABSOLUTELY light tight to start with. Everything else you mentioned needs to be taken care of as well.

30-Jun-2009, 00:36
Dude, Gaff tape is your friend. Seal those gaps in between the door and the frame with black gaff, stuff a towel under the door, then put the sleeping bag over it. Same thing with the window. Black cardboard with gaff tape.

Juergen Sattler
30-Jun-2009, 05:29
I use a HP Combiplan tank to develop my 4x5 sheets. Use a tent to load the film into the tank (very easy to do) and all other development steps can be done in daylight. You won't scratch the film and as long as you follow the included instructions your film will come out perfectly developed every time. Give it a try.

Ted Stoddard
30-Jun-2009, 09:01
All of the above what they mentioned is what you need to do... I suggest reading my article in the March/April 2009 Issue in View Camera regarding using Night Vision Goggles to process your film on stealth mode.... If you have more questions send me a PM... Good Luck and by the way nice image even with the problems on the neg.... Ted

William McEwen
30-Jun-2009, 11:02
Good Luck and by the way nice image even with the problems on the neg.... Ted


30-Jun-2009, 12:57
Welcome to the club. You will like it.

If you are in North America, don't obsess about the Paterson Orbital. They are SCARCE! A budget friendly Jobo answer is a 2551/2553 tank and 2509 or 2509n reels. Add a Uniroller or Beseler motor base. Add the 35mm/120 reels and you have one tank for all formats.

30-Jun-2009, 13:51
Paterson Orbitals are scarce, but can be had on the Bay UK. You just pay more to ship than to buy.

That said, I use the Paterson Orbital, and I love it. It did take me some time to figure out the best method. I bought a motor, but it provided just a little to much agitation (agitation effects can be seen in your image, they are the light area right and left of center). I fixed this cutting the motor's speed by 50%, now I get very gentle and even agitation, and with about 200 ml of chemistry!

But the most important thing is DARK DARK DARK. If you can see your hands and the light switch and the film in the trays, you have WAY to much light in there. I use a bathroom with no windows and blackout cloth hung on both side of the door to completely eliminate light. I can be in that room for 15 minutes and not see a thing. Do whatever it takes to get it completely black in there.


30-Jun-2009, 13:55
A Harrison changing tent will accomodate 3 trays. Works in the field too. Gives you darkroom access 24/7.

30-Jun-2009, 17:48
Thanks for all the replies.

So the first step is to try again with the blacking-out of the bathroom.

Second step is to get some bigger trays and develop emulsion up.

If I don't find much improvement then I'll be searching for a daylight tank of some sort. I'm in Australia so any Jobo or Paterson tanks are going to be scarce! I'm confused about the Jobo models and all the tanks, reels, magnets, cogs, loading bases and motor bases that people talk about - I will have to do some research.

And Venchka - I thought about trying to squeeze my devving trays into a massive changing bag or changing tent - wouldn't this get very very messy with any liquid spillage? Don't the sleeves of the tent get wet when you pull your wet hands out once you've finished?

1-Jul-2009, 05:34
The film developing in the Harrison tent idea is still theory in my brain since the purchase of a Harrison Jumbo tent. Good question about wet sleeves. The sleeves would be out of the way during developing. A roll of paper towels could dry your hands before removing them from the sleeves. Or, it's a bad idea and I was never here.

The best/cheapest way to develop sheet film in a Jobo tank consists of:
1-Jobo 2551 or 2553 tank. Same tank, different Jobo drive systems. Either will do. The cog lid is best for rotating. The tank MUST have the central tube with holds reels and is the light trap for the tank.
1 or 2 2509 or 2509n reels for sheet film.
1 Uniroller or Beseler motor base.
Optional: Adjustable reels that hold 35mm, 120 or 220 film. If you also use those formats.

I started out handling film in a windowless bathroom that didn't get really dark until after dark outside. That was ok in the winter. This time of year it doesn't get dark until 8pm or after. I recently bought a Harrison Jumbo tent. I can handle film 24/7. What a treat! I have a Jobo 2553 tank, several reels for all formats and a reversing Uniroller motor base. Heaven!

Good luck!

Patrick Dixon
1-Jul-2009, 08:49
I'm just trying B&W home developing with an orbital processor, and I've found it very easy to load and use, and economical on chemicals. Unfortunately my images aren't as good as your one, as the whole concept of B&W film, and it's exposure and development is rather new to me.

There seem to be a variety of approaches with the orbital, but I've roughened the bottom with a scalpel blade and 60 grade sandpaper, and I load the film emulsion side up, and use 100ml -150ml of chemicals. I manually rotate fairly gently.

I suspect it's probably a lot easier than messing around trying to blackout your room properly - unless you're going to be doing a lot of developing at a time.

1-Jul-2009, 12:48
Here's a suggestion for a cheap and easy 4x5 daylight tank to develop five or more sheets, as copied from another LF Forum member, Ed Brock. It uses the widely available Paterson rollfilm tanks and cheap plastic window screen from the hardware store. The Paterson rollfilm tanks come in several sizes; you'll need one at least big enough for two 120 rolls or three 35mm rolls.

I used Ed's suggestion to develop three sheets of 5x7 in a 1000ml Paterson tank with good results. I cut a section of plastic mesh to 5x8, folded it in two and used paper staples to hold the mesh sleeve closed. The same tank should handle five 4x5 sheets.

As copied from ED BROCK'S original message a few days ago:

"Here's how it works. For 4x5, make soft tubes from any mesh fabric by cutting 4x6" rectangles. I use plastic window screening from Home Depot. Fold into 4x3" and sew, staple or glue 1/4" from the edge. Roll the exposed sheet film and insert into the mesh tube. It will pop open and “inflate” the soft tube with the edges held firmly about 1/4" apart. Stand the tubes vertically around the fill tube of the Paterson roll film tank. You will find that 5 soft tubes will fit perfectly in a circle with the rounded edges going in the same direction (27 oz. solution required). Or, painting a word picture, looking straight down into the tank, it looks like 5 sperm swimming in a circle. Add another 5 in a second layer – sperm headed in the other direction (now 54 oz. of solution required, (the max. capacity of this tank). If you are only processing 1 layer you will need to add an empty 120 reel on top to hold the film under the solution. Yes, as an added bonus you can process sheet film and 120 at the same time – I do it often having a 6x17 back."

(Last paragraph copied from Ed Brock.)

1-Jul-2009, 13:54
An important footnote to my previous posting: when using the homemade mesh bags/folded film method, make sure the emulsion is on the INSIDE of the fold, otherwise you'll get scratches.

1-Jul-2009, 15:55
Unicolor drums are great if you are ok with constant agitation. The 8x10 will hold 4 sheets of 4x5, 2-5x7, or 1-8x10.


8-Jul-2009, 11:08
An important footnote to my previous posting: when using the homemade mesh bags/folded film method, make sure the emulsion is on the INSIDE of the fold, otherwise you'll get scratches.

I have been having a heck of a problem getting anything like consistency/scratch free from my JOBO 2XXX tank and a 2900 reel. So, I went down to ace, got some aluminum screening material, and made some tubes. VERY easy to do. The fit in both the JOBO (5 tubes), and my cheap tank (3 tubes )from freestyle.

So far, I have done two batches of two negatives each, and they are much better. As I get some time, I will post some images and let the forum comment on what I have been up to!


Speed Graphic
8-Jul-2009, 14:45
I do my 4x5 in 3 5x7 trays, using Xtol developer. (I don't think the dimples in the bottom of the tray are doing you any good.) My lab is in total darknesss, and I have a GraLab timer which I expose to light to make sure the fluorescent numbers and the sweep dials are easily visible once I turn the lights out. After the film is in the fix for about 4 min, you can turn a safelight on, and the rest is easy. It looks like you have a light leak, with that streak across the neg. Make sure your film holder is fully seated in the back of your camera, and test your bellows for light leaks. Good luck. I have been doing 4x5 for more than 40 years, and once you get the bugs out, it can't be beat.