View Full Version : Tank vs. Tube processing ?

Calamity Jane
19-Apr-2004, 18:35
I haven't done any LF format yet - just getting into it - but with 30+ years of 35mm and MF, I have a question about processing with tank/frame versus tube.

Tube looks attractive - it's inexpensive - but tank developing allows multiple sheets at one time with exactly the same characteristics and a tank would seem to ensure good (better?) solution contact.

I'd appreciate comments from those who have used both.


Bob Fowler
19-Apr-2004, 19:03
I've done tray, deep tank, Yankee type tank (yuck), Jobo and Unidrum processing of sheet films. For ease of use and economy, I'll stick with a Unidrum. It's easy to do multiple sheets of 4X5 or 5X7 in an 8X10 Unidrum.

Brian Ellis
19-Apr-2004, 19:04
I've been using BTZS 4x5 tubes for about ten years. I process six negatives at a time by rolling them simultaneously in a water jacket, 10 times in one direction 10 times in the other for the duration of the development. Most of what I've read about tanks hasn't been very good but I've never used one so I can't make a direct comparison.

Gem Singer
19-Apr-2004, 19:09
Hi Calamity,

Take a look at my article on this web site. Go to Large Format Photography Home Page, at the top of this page. Scroll down to Processing and Printing. Click on "Developing 4X5 sheet film, an Alternative Method". I'm describing dip-and-dunk processing of 4X5 sheet film, but the same principles apply to larger size films. If I were processing 5X7 or 8X10 sheets, I would probably use tray development. Also, a good book for anyone who developes their own B&W film is the Anchell and Troop, " Film Developing Cookbook".

bob moulton
19-Apr-2004, 20:05
The BTZS tubes are great as long as you have few images to process at a time, assuming you buy only 6 tubes. I recommend the Jobo 2500 drum plus the LF reels that Jobo makes. Place the unit on a uniroller and you are in business. This will work for b/w perfectly; for color it is not good, as there is no ability for very close temperature control. I have used this system, a jobo processor, and the tubes over the years and there is no difference in image processing, once you run the necessary EI and development time tests. Hope this helps, Bob

Larry Gebhardt
19-Apr-2004, 20:26
I have tried tray, tubes, Combi-Plan, and Jobo 2500 tanks on a Jobo processor. I will stick with the Jobo as I get even development, no scratches, and can process 12 sheets at a time. It is also economical for chemicals. The only downside for me is that it is harder to do N- or N+ development of just a few sheets.

John Kasaian
19-Apr-2004, 22:24
One more vote for the Unicolor!

Darin Cozine
19-Apr-2004, 23:18
If you have the money for a Jobo, that is the ideal method. Otherwise, a Unicolor drum method is definately the way to go. It takes a little work to prepare the drum for 4x5 sheet film. Once that is done, it is extremely easy.

I've used trays, tanks, and dip-n-dunk methods also.

tor kviljo
20-Apr-2004, 01:00
I think it's very difficult to improve upon the better JOBO sheet-film tanks when it comes to uniform developement. Added benifits is ease of use, possibility of automation of process etc. I have used various JOBO's for E6 & B&W for many years, now using a ATL 3000. Jobo tanks on a unicolor roller is a inexpensive approach. Using hangers, one often think this gives the best agitation etc. due to each sheet freely in a single dev. frame. However, using aggressive developers (strong Rodinal mix), developement using sheet film hangers is more prone to uneven developement for the home developer due to uneven agitation around the rims of the hanger & surrounding the vent-holes along the sides & bottom of hangers. The JOBO expert drums but also the 2509N is superior here. I agrre with other posters that unicolor tank + roller is a inexpensive & good attempt. Just note that this tank do tend not to give a thorough washing of the base side of the film, giving uneven results with films that have a backing to be removed during developement. Mostly of concern using E6 films I think (Kodak ektachrome in 8"x10" requires extensive chemistry -contact on base side to remove anti halo layer - giving pink discoloration if not remover properly) . Another important issue for some of the poor among us, is that the rotating tank developement is much lower on chemistry usage (less than 0.5l for 6 sheets 4"x5") than doing the same using sheet film hangers. Even the economical Combi-Plan requires over 1 liter (1.125 I belive) for 6 sheets 4"x5". However, for compensating developement - using 1:150 Rodinal e.l. both the agitation-issue using hangers & total dev. economy is OK and hangers is practical to use for this agitate-only-every-5-minute development

Philippe Bedfert
20-Apr-2004, 01:51
Dear Calamity,

I used to develop my sheet film in HP Combiplan tank until I discover BTZS tube. I prefer the tube because you can have a more consistent development process. The tube are floating in a water tray so the temperature is constant during the treatment. You need only 60ml of solution per tube vs 1 liter for th tank. It is more economical. My development process is : Development in tube Then I put the open tube in a stop bath tray Then I put the sheet in the tank for fixing and washing. The film are nice, even development, no trace of halation layer.

Armin Seeholzer
20-Apr-2004, 03:21

I use the Combiplan for 4x5 and in futere the Nova quad for 8x10!

steve simmons
20-Apr-2004, 03:35
On the View Camera magazine web site there is a good how-to article on tray processing. It is cheap and has many advantages.


go to the section on Free Articles

steve simmons

Calamity Jane
20-Apr-2004, 07:51
Thanks for all the suggestions fellers.

I looked at the products mentioned 'n' some of ya got way more money than I do! I'm not far from retirement and photography is a hobby, so I gotta be careful with the $$

Since I compulsively "make stuff" (from steam engines to cannons) and I'm making my own 4x5 view camera (no, I am not crazy enough to make my own lenses!), I see two viable options to do B&W and E-6, since I anticipate doing only 1 to 6 sheets at a session:

1: I found an article on making your own tubes (from PVC). Home-made tubes in a home- made roller would be about the same as the Unicolor system

2: A Combi Plan tank in a home-made rocker box would also work.

Either would work in a tempering bath for running E-6

Don't know which would be better, though tubes would allow processing with less chemical....

Bruce Watson
20-Apr-2004, 08:28
Compared to roll film processing, sheet film processing is an entirely different game. Outside the big labs, almost all roll film is processed on reels, in small daylight processing tanks. The film it processed on edge, the entire reel is immersed, and agitation is by inversion.

Since sheet film is, by definition, not on rolls, sheet film is processed differently. Outside the big labs, sheet film is processed either flat in trays, in various configurations of daylight tanks, or in rotary processors.

The big problem (if there is one) with processing sheet film is to obtain even development across the sheet, and to obtain consistant results, sheet to sheet. These are the reasons that many people, myself included, advocate rotary processing. I personally use a Jobo with an Expert 3010 tank for 4x5. It lets me process 10 sheets at a time, and the developer is used as a one-shot which really improves consistency. Each sheet is perfectly evenly developed, and sheet to sheet consistency is outstanding.

I tried trays. I tried BTZS tubes (a big improvement over trays). The Jobo, and particularly the 3010 tank, is head and shoulders above the others. Of course, YMMV.

If you are really going to do E-6, I think a Jobo is a must. My memory of E-6 is that it demands absolute consistency in agitation, and absolute control of temperature. My expectation is that you will not be happy with the quality of your processing trying to do E-6 in a knockoff Unicolor drum, or in a Combi Plan tank. Also, I don't think you'll find it much if any cheaper than your local pro lab.

People typically process their own B&W to obtain control and to save money. You gain neither in processing your own color, IMHO. Again, YMMV.

Donald Miller
20-Apr-2004, 10:23
"1: I found an article on making your own tubes (from PVC)."

If you plan on daylight processing of film, then PVC (unless it is of the gray electrical conduit type) is not the material to use. The reason is that conventional PVC will transmit light. The proper material is ABS (Black) plastic. Additionally, PVC is dense enough to sink in water whereas ABS will float.

I have tray processes sheet film with both shuffling and brush development. I have also tank processed many years ago. I used Unicolor drums and motor base many years ago for E6 process.

Today I process all of my 4X5 and 8X10 sheet film in BTZS type tubes that I built myself. I minimally agitate using Pyrocat HD and Efke film. There is, in my experience, nothing that I have ever found that will produce the results that this system provides.

Email me if you want the details on tube construction.

Francis Abad
20-Apr-2004, 10:51
As Donald said, you will be very impressed with minimal agitation of sheet film using homemade tubes. Check out the articles in the AZO forum about it. It is well documented. In addition, comparison AZO contact prints between normal/gentle agitation versus minimal agitation have been posted in APUG and clearly there is significant advantages in this procedure.

Robert J Cardon
20-Apr-2004, 12:12
CJ - Keep in mind that rotary processing, like in a JOBO, give continuous agitation. While this works OK for most situations, giving even development, it's not the best for all situations. Just keep this in mind if you want to do more "exotic" development regimes or films.


Calamity Jane
20-Apr-2004, 13:22
Thought ya'll might be interested in this http://medfmt.8k.com/brontube.html

20-Apr-2004, 13:40
If you are willing to buy used a Jobo tank,reel and something to spin it on shouldn't be too expensive. New the 4x5 reel is I think about $30 but you don't get the loader base. Plenty of near new used tanks selling for less then 1/2 the price of new. You can then use the same tanks [but different reels] for 35mm and 120.

tim o'brien
20-Apr-2004, 15:09
"Since I compulsively "make stuff" (from steam engines to cannons) "

well, now you tell us...

Get some large waste water plastic pipe (the black stuff, about 4 inch), and the endcaps that go with it. A reducer to 2 or 3 inches is nice for one end... Get some 1 1/4 pipe and cut it to 5 1/2 inches long. Three of these will fit in the bigger tank. I set up a tray with a presoak. In the dark, I unload my film holders and put them carefully in the presoak. I then load the film into the 1 1/4 pipe and load them into the 4 inch pipe. Put the developer in, cap the tank, start your timer, and turn the lights on. I use the same agitation schedule I use for roll film in my Nikor tanks. Turn the lights off, do your stop step, then put fixer in. The lights go back on. After fix, I have sheet film holders and a deep tank. Place the film in the holders and wash your normal wash cycle.

You can figure out how to build a light trap for this thing if you aren't as lazy as me.

Wonderfully consistant developed negatives. I use W2D2+ BTW on Agfa APX100 film although this also works well with Rodinal and Classic200.

tim in san jose

Brian Ellis
20-Apr-2004, 17:30
" . . . turn the lights off, do your stop step, then put fixer in. The lights go back on"

It isn't necessary to turn the lights off for the stop step. You can leave the lights on when you dunk the tubes in the stop and at all times thereafter. Just get them into the stop bath fairly quickly after pouring out the developer. I stand in between the light source and the pan holding the stop bath as I'm uncapping the tubes and putting them in the stop bath just to avoid any possibility of the light shining directly into the tubes though I'm not sure that's necessary.

Turning lights on and off throught the processing reduces one of the major advantages of the tubes compared to trays and some tanks, i.e. the ability to leave the lights on all the time once the film is loaded in the tubes. This is how Phil Davis suggests doing it in "Beyond the Zone System" and I've been doing it that way for years without any problems.

Things go much easier IMHO if you don't try to pour the stop and the fix into the tubes. Just fill a deep pan with stop bath (I use a pan that holds a gallon of stop), dunk the tubes loaded with film into it, fill one or more trays with fix, remove the film from the tubes after the stop step is completed and put the film in the fix tray(s). When I want to know which negative was developed for which time I use two or more small 5x7 trays and keep track of the negatives that way.

tim o'brien
20-Apr-2004, 17:44

I agree with the not turning the lights off, but I ain't gonna be responsible for ruining someones film with my advice.

Understand I am not using these tubes like BTZS tubes. These go in a large tube that acts as a tank for inversion processing. It uses up a bit more chemical but the results are really superior to however I have processed sheet film before. I have used tubes with the spinning method like BTZS and while the results are OK, I found I wasn't comfortable with the process. It's just me. I have also done my share of tray processing and that works, but I don't like the inevitable scratches, no matter how careful I was.

tim in san jose

Brian Ellis
21-Apr-2004, 06:41
You mean you fill a large tube with chemicals and then put the smaller BTZS tubes in it? That's interesting, I haven't heard of that method before. The spinning method has always seemed to work o.k. for me though I do sometimes wonder about consistency. When you have six tubes in the water jacket the tubes spin a certain amount, then as you remove tubes that have a shorter development time the remaining tubes spin differently. I finally decided it was just too obsessive-compulsive to worry about that and as long as I did everything the same way all the time that was the best I could do.

Stan. Laurenson-Batten
21-Apr-2004, 07:45
Hi Calamity. Turn up the JOBO website, the have bargains for sale which have been well tried and tested by photographers using a variety of formats. I use the Jobo cp2 with various drums. For chemical saving there is none to beat the Jobo 3010, up to ten sheets of 5X4. I have still got my Rodinax 35mm/120 tanks but lack of acurate temp. control means they will continue to stay shelf bound.

tim o'brien
23-Apr-2004, 18:17

I first tried this with my Patterson System 3 tank and 1 inch ( I think) tubes for 2 x3 and 3x4 sheet films. Just fits five tubes in the tank. I then made 2 larger tubes and sliced the down the length for 4x5. I could get 2 large tubes and 2 small tubes in a tank. The film had a bad habit of sliding out the large tubes so... I made the larger tank and live with a bit more cost of processing but very consitant results.

tim in san jose

Calamity Jane
27-Apr-2004, 11:40
Thanks for all the suggestions fellers.

After much head-scratching I have decided to start with the HP Combi to get my feet wet with some B&W 4x5. It's inexpensive, it's light-tight, so I can use my normal darkroom procedures for now. Once I know what I am doing (snicker!) with large format, I'll look at other possibilities. If I can just figure out how to make my own light-tight tubes that allow pour-in/pour-out processing......

The cherry wood I ordered is in, I've got a nice E-Bay lense, a few 4x5 film holders, so it's time to start camera building! :-)