View Full Version : High Volume 4x5 b&w processing

Tadge Dryja
21-Jan-2004, 18:38

I'm doing a lot of processing of fp4. I'm shooting a lot, and processing pretty much daily at this point. I know that people have discussed trays vs tanks vs etc a lot, but here's what I've tried.

I did tray processing for a few batches. I did 12 sheets at once in a 5x7 tray,and everything seems OK. I don't really mind standing around in the dark. I'd just be standing around in the light anyways.

Then I tried some tank one teacher reccomended. It wasn't marked with a name, but it took a huge amount of chemistry (55oz) and couldn't be inverted. That was a lot more convenient, but two of my sheets got stuck together and the corners didn't develop (which is fine since I'm really just testing right now). Also, besides the stuck sheets, it seems like they all have somewhat uneven edge development, although I'd have to enlarge them to be sure.

So here are my questions:

How many sheets can you process in a tray at once? I've got 6 holders, so I did 12, seemed to work fine. Does 24 sound a little insane? (Well, even if people says it does, I'll probably still try it :)

Does processing with 2 parallel rows of trays, 12 sheets in each, also sound a little overzealous?

Will I get some horrible disease if I don't wear gloves and soak my fingers in d76? I tried using gloves but it makes me so much clumsier, I know I'd scratch things up.

Any secret way to do high volume, consistent devlopment that no one has mentioned yet? Ah, it was all so much easier when I could just load up reel after reel of 35mm film, and develop them all at once in the light.

Thanks everyone!


Ralph Barker
21-Jan-2004, 18:51
To be honest, Tadge, I'm surprised you didn't encounter problems doing 12 sheets in one batch - particularly in a 5x7 tray. Although I've done 8 sheets a couple of times, I get nervous going over 6-sheet batches. The total volume of developer is a concern, as is the time that individual sheets in the batch are exposed to fresh developer, not to mention the differential in total time in the developer between the first sheet and the last in the batch.

For serious volume production, you may want to consider the traditional large tanks and metal frame systems that were used in labs in the past. The larger metal frames hold 4 sheets per frame, and the large tanks would hold a dozen frames, I believe. Naturally, chemistry was measured in gallons, not mililiters.

Bruce Watson
21-Jan-2004, 20:57
You da man Tadge! Twelve sheets is pretty awesome. You've checked very closely for scratches and found none? Even development on all 12 sheets? I'm impressed. I was never that good with tray developing of sheet film - I could only do six reliably.

My early years in the darkroom I was young and stupid and spent hours up to my elbows in the soup. This resulted in a disease called "contact dermatitis" which is a permanent (so they tell me) sensitization of the skin to the chemicals that irritate it. I was 16 at the time.

Once the doctor slapped me upside the head and told me what an idiot I was, I did some research. I am pretty happy that all that happened to me was brown fingernails and scaly itchy hands. Contact dermatitis is about the nicest thing you can expect if you keep your hands in the soup. Processing barehanded with PMK can get you dead. I don't recommend it.

You should wear gloves designed for the duty when you must put your hands in the chemicals we use for photography. It's the safe, smart thing to do. As you've seen, gloves can slow you down some, at least in the beginning before you get used to them. But you'll likely live longer. Of course, it's your life and YMMV.

Alternatively, you could process in daylight tanks. I use a Jobo Expert 3010 drum. Wonderfully even development, no scratches, no contact with the chemicals, daylight processing. Very consistent, but only 10 at a time. I suspect that you could turn around batches every 30 minutes with out much effort using a Jobo processor. Twenty and hour isn't shabby in my book, but again, YMMV.

For higher throughput, you could use the traditional large tanks with film hangers as Ralph suggests. That would put you up to nearly 100 a run. If you need higher than that, I suspect that you are looking at buying old professional photolab equipment.

There are many ways. Keep experimenting until you find one that is right for you, and doesn't unduly endanger your health.

21-Jan-2004, 21:22
Use the Jobo reel system [not the expert] and 18 at a time isn't an issue. If you've got the money you could even setup multiple systems. The real expense is the tanks and reels. Tanks aren't impossible to find used. Reels are cheaper new!

Peter Witkop
21-Jan-2004, 21:25
I've personally had good luck with a jobo cpe2 processor and 2500 series tanks (the expert drums are a bit expensive for me :o), with the tank I use, I do 6 at a time (one reel), but there are tanks that do up to 3 reels at once I believe, 18 sheets at a time isn't bad. Once everything is setup, and up (or down) to temp, which takes about 15-20 min, I do a batch in about 20-30 min., and about 15 min to clean up. I'd perfer a processor with more than one speed, and a lift, but I'll get that eventually. That's how I do it, anyway, I never had nearly the luck you did with trays. Good Luck.



Ed Eubanks
21-Jan-2004, 22:15
I've begun using a hybrid system which I have not seen elsewhere, although I'm sure it has been done before. A local store had a box full of Kodak 4x5 "hanger" style holders-- the large size, described above, which hold 4 sheets each. (They also had two tanks to process them in, but I too was put off by the volume of chemistry involved in such an endeavor.) I bought three of these hangers, at about $2.50 each.
What I've found is that these hangers fit very nicely into my 11x14 trays, and I can develop twelve negs easily and quickly without very much skin contact with the chemistry. I simply lay the hanger in the soup and agitate by rocking the tray. I have found the development to be very even and I am not concerned about the film overlapping or laying on the bottom of the tray, since the hanger holds the sheets separate and also keeps them a centimeter or so off of the bottom of the tray. Also, the amount of chemistry my 11x14 trays will hold keeps me comfortably unconcerned about exhaustion, since I am only doing 12 sheets at a time. I would guess that I could do twice that number with fresh chemistry without concern.

21-Jan-2004, 23:05

Get several drums, two bases, whatever. I do other things while my film is processing. Use a timer or a stopwatch for very accurate times.

phil sweeney
22-Jan-2004, 03:52
Try the blue nitrile gloves. You want a tight fit. They are not slippery like latex. I use them for film dev but now use them almost always. Order them at a pharamacy, they are cheap in 100 box. Mechanics buy them in 2-3 packs at auto stores at higher prices.

John Cook
22-Jan-2004, 04:28
For many years, I developed film in Kodak 3-1/2 gallon hard rubber tanks, using their stainless 4-gang 4x5 stainless hangers. It used to be the standard in all professional labs and that equipment was very common. I could run 48 sheets in twelve hangers at one time.

If you can locate this stuff (used) in some dealer's srap pile, you can probably buy it for a song.

Downside is keeping that much liquid chemistry at the proper temperature, ready to go at a moment's notice. A heated, air-conditioned darkroom is almost a necessity. I once knew a photographer in Aspen who kept little glass aquarium heaters in each tank to maintain temperature in the winter.

Plan B is a stainless sink, tanks and water jacket from Calumet or Arkay (if they still make them). In between runs, you can get a paper hat and play "soda-jerk" in the sink.

As for swimming in D76, I believe everyone has a unique genetic tolerance to metol (the bad ingredient). It may take weeks or decades to reach it, depending upon daily time of exposure and your individual body chemistry. But once your body has reached its limit, your darkroom days will be over. I had a friend, back in the 1950's, who ran 16mm B&W film through a big processor filled with D76. He eventually developed blisters on his lungs from inhaling the dust when mixing the developer. Had to sell all his equipment and change professions.

David A. Goldfarb
22-Jan-2004, 06:25
If you're using a replenishable developer like D-76, and if you've got room, a tank line with hangers is the way to go for high volume.

Trays do have the attraction of being easy for multiple batches--no hangers to load, wash, or dry. I think Jock Sturges was known for doing something like 16 8x10's per batch in deep trays.

I do 12 sheets at a time in my Nikor stainless tank, which works like a normal inversion tank for rollfilm. Some people seem to have trouble loading 12 sheets into a Nikor tank. I suspect their reels are bent or the reel isn't adjusted properly. If you are getting uneven development along one edge in an inversion-type tank, you probably need more chemistry. I found this happening with the Nikor tank with 1000 ml of developer, which just covered the reel, but the problem was solved by adding another 100 ml.

Bruce Barlow
22-Jan-2004, 06:26
I routinely do 18-20 at a time in 8x10 trays. Use 2 liters of chemicals. Never had a scratch, just make sure that when you pull the bottom neg out of the stack to put on top you flatten it out before dropping it on top. I like to hear the splat as it hits the surface. I can go thru the stack in 30 seconds, which is what I want.

I only wear gloves for PMK and Selenium toner, and then decided that my 14 minute PMK development time was too long for 4x5 (only because I'm impatient!), so, back to HC-110.

Tadge Dryja
22-Jan-2004, 10:01
Thanks for all the answers guys!

So, apparently developer eventually will screw up your hands. So, ok, I'm going to tryt o find some good gloves. There was a special kind of latex glove they used in a biotech lab I worked in last summer that was really good so I'll ask them what brand it was and try to get some.

I printed some of the negatives last night. It seems the ones in the tank are slightly under developed at the edges, and the negs from the trays are slightly over developed at the edges, but the tray ones are much closer to even. I'm happy with the tray ones because the uneven part doesn't even go past the film holder marks, which I crop out anyways.

As for rubber tanks, jobos, etc, I will look around. This is at a university darkroom, which has a lot of excess capacity, and lots of unused equipment (my bet is cause kids like digital). So I will ask if there are any of these things locked in storage or in the pile of stuff under the sinks.

Well I'll let you guys know how it all works out, and I'm sure I'll haev other questions along the way.


Frank Petronio
22-Jan-2004, 11:25
Now that I no longer have a darkroom, I find that shooting color E6 or TMax in my lab's drum the simpliest way to get even development. But my past experience confirms that 6 sheets in a tray creates more even development than tanks and hangers.

John Cook
22-Jan-2004, 15:46
Tadge, here is an excellent source for absolutely every kind of glove currently known to civilization (as well as glass and plastic labware, respirators, aprons and eye protection).

Their free catalogue is about three inches thick and makes an excellent weight for flattening fiberbase prints. (But your mailman will hate you.)


Bruce Watson
22-Jan-2004, 16:40
There was a special kind of latex glove they used in a biotech lab I worked in last summer that was really good so I'll ask them what brand it was and try to get some.

What you are doing isn't biotech. Latex gloves leak and tear more easily than Nitrile, and they can be slick in alkaline solutions where Nitrile performs fine. Also, you might exhibit alergies to Latex, where Nitrile is much less likely to cause an alergic reaction.

John's suggestion of Lab Safety Supply is a good one - that's where I buy mine also. What works best for me is a fairly tight fitting relatively thin (4-5 mils) glove with textured fingertips.

Gloves are a pain, it's true. Sort of like flossing. But if you don't look after your health, who will?

BTW, Lab Safety Supply also sells respirators. If you are going to mix developers from powder, especially anything from the pyro family, buy and use a respirator. You really don't want to breath any pyrogallol dust.

Robert C. McColloch
23-Jan-2004, 10:55
The absolute best, in my experience, is the Combi Tank. You can easily process 6-4x5 sheet at one time and the tank only use 1-liter of liquid. Some people use two tank to increast there process rate. The contnuous rotation type systems over agitate in my (and others like Steve Anchell) in my/our/many opinions.

9-May-2007, 12:28
12 sheets at one time in trays is excessive. 24 sheets really is insane. LOL In fact, I have never heard of anyone even suggest such an amount before. What's the big hurry? Processing in two parallel rows of trays is even worse. It would be difficult enough to agitate 12 sheets (let alone 24!!!) in one tray but in two it would be impossible... and crazy. In general, you should shoot for one pass through the stack per each 30 seconds. You would be shuffling so fast that you would almost certainly scratch the film. Ideally, I process 6 sheets of 4x5" film per batch but I will go up to 8 or possibly 9 when that's what I have and I just want to get it done quickly. I wouldn't even think of doing 12 sheets. I try to stick to about 4 or 5 with 8x10" film.

However..... when I get back from a long trip I often have a LOT of film I process it in deep tanks. I have never had the problems that some describe when processing in a line sink. In fact, I wish I could do it that way all the time but since I am not processing film every week, it doesn't pay for me But, from what you describe, deep tanks would be a great way for you to go. If you are processing film several times a week, it's not only fast, but it's economical, consistent, and it produces great results. Agitation is much easier to keep consistent in deep tanks. That's how I would go if I was you. If you don't have a line sink, they are going for very low prices these days as labs close down. Get a setup with a water jacket tank that the other tanks go into. Temperature control is very easy due to the large volumes of water and chemistry that you will be using.

Unlike many other photographers, I do not like processing in Jobo processors. I have used them and I just don't like them. Also, you can process film faster in a dip & dunk line sink. In addition, Jobo processors are expensive... something that those who recommend them seem to forget sometimes. Let's put it this way... even if I had a Jobo, I would still process large quantities of sheet film in a line sink.

As for health issues. I have been processing film in trays for decades and I have had absolutely no problems. I generally develop with HC110 but I also use other developers and I even occasionally use Pyro. However, I do wear gloves with Pyro and you should definitely do so too if you use that developer in trays. The other time I wear surgical gloves is when I do selenium toning of prints or negatives. (I have recently re-done my Zone System calibration testing and found that selenium toning (mixed 1:2) for about six minutes gives me almost exactly N+1 with all my films with the added benefit of not increasing grain size and also it can be done "after-the-fact" as needed."

That said, some people are sissies. LOL Seriously, some people can develop allergies or other problems but I haven't. But I'm not allergic to anything. I can even rub poison ivy all over me and I can even eat it without a reaction! I guess that's why my wife says I'm insensitive!

9-May-2007, 12:38
I can do 18 sheets at once in a Jobo tank on a Unicolor motor base.

Total cost for three new reels and one new tank was just over $100 plus a used Unicolor base. I picked up two for $20. If I really needed it I could add three more reels and a second tank. It's not that hard to run both Unicolors at the same time.

A used tank would have saved more money.

Ken Lee
9-May-2007, 12:39
I often do 12 or more 4x5's or 5x7's at a time. A deep "tray" is the answer.

Deep - but not wide - will allow you to economize on chemistry, and will prevent oxidation and fumes.

For much less than the price of "photo trays", you can get wonderful plastic food containers (http://www.kenleegallery.com/html/tech/tech.html#SheetFilm).

Another very helpful item is an infra-red viewing device (http://www.kenleegallery.com/html/tech/tech.html#Monocular). When you can see everything you do, it makes life much easier, far less error-prone.

Bruce Watson
9-May-2007, 15:19
Will I get some horrible disease if I don't wear gloves and soak my fingers in d76? I tried using gloves but it makes me so much clumsier, I know I'd scratch things up.

You might. I did. It's called contact dermatitis. Metol seems to be the culprit.

You might want to consider a Jobo 3010 tank. I've put many hundreds of sheets though mine. Ten sheets at a time and my hands don't contact the chemicals. My film comes out with perfectly even results, every time.

9-May-2007, 21:41
If you are processing a lot of 4x5 film, one good possibility is the one gallon 8x10 tanks. Not as solution greedy as the 3 1/2 gallon tanks, but you can do several sets of four sheets of 4x5 in the 4-up 4x5 hangers previously described, and same with 5x7s in 2-up 5x7 hangers (as well as 8x10s so you have total flexibility). The one gallon tanks aren't as available as the larger tanks, but they are out there. I was the beneficiary of a set of tanks for something like two gallon sizes recently - same 8x10 max hanger size.

A gallon isn't all that much if you are using a ton of film, and replenishment is another option. Keep your gallon bottles of solutions in a wash tub full of water. Everything will be at same temperature.



David Karp
9-May-2007, 21:51
A question for those of you using the 4 up holders in an 8x10 tank (I used the 1 gallon ones). What is the trick for using those and getting nice even development. I never had problems when I used 1 up hangers, but sometimes did when using the 4 ups. I thought my technique was pretty good, but sometimes found uneven developement - Of course in the skies. Tips would be appreciated, because I have built up a nice backlog of negatives and this would be one way to cut through it more quickly.