View Full Version : Arrrrrghhh!! Ok, Developer recommendation?

Paul Kierstead
23-Apr-2004, 18:55
Ok, deep breaths.

Film processing (B&W, 4x5) is slowly driving me nuts. It seems almost impossible to get a really good, practical comparison; so much anecdotal stuff, usually conflicting, so much information left out. I have all but abandoned a rational based-selection. I don't (actually won't) try a bunch of different films and develops; I just don't have the interest or attention span.

I thought I had found it in TMAX/D-76. Nice grain, nice results, no real quirks, both easily available even at local sources, at least 2 different speeds available. I recently discovered (the hard way) the flaw in D-76: oxidization. I used some oldish stuff and the contrast was insane. Sigh.

So I am looking (begging?) for recommendation. I don't want some special "look"; I found the look of T-MAX in D-76 (which I suppose could be called a boring look, nothing special) to be happy for me. It is only the oxidization of D-76 that kills me. So here are the requirements:

<li>Shelf life. I do 6-12 sheets, then wait a while. I can't mix a large batch each time of something like D-76 since I will end-up throwing it out all the time.
<li>Compatible with a Jobo, 2500 series tank (i.e. no insane dilutions of a liter of solution for 3 sheets of film) at 25 degrees or so (warm house much of the time), constant agitation
<li> Reasonably easily available. I don't want something made only by midgets in Madagascar.
<li> Easy to use. I don't mind precision, but I don't want to mix my own from 10 chemicals.
<li> S-type curve....more or less. I guess straight is ok.
<li> Happy to be scanned. This mostly just means reasonable contrast. No contact printing will be done....I don't care for 4x5 prints.
<li> Not a speed killer. I could live with a little speed loss I suppose.
<li> Regular to fine grained. Acutance is not so important as it tends to have to be tweaked a lot for scanned stuff anyway.

Only a little list, right? :) OK, there is probably more, but I guess you can fill in your own gaps. Xtol looked good for a bit, but apparently only comes in 5l quantities. HC110 looks ok, except for that upswept curve which is in serious risk of giving way contrasty highlights in TMAX.

On TMAX...I might be convinced to change, but I really want 2 films...one ultra-fine for those detail shots, one a little faster for portrait, etc. Hence why I like the TMAX 100/400 family. But if someone can convince me Tri-X/whatever will make my year, then I might be convinced.

Thanks for reading and the therapy.

Francis Abad
23-Apr-2004, 19:07
Here is my recommendation: Dump TMAX 100. Keep TMAX 400 and partner that with Efke PL100. Both developed in Pyrocat HD. I cannot think of anything more economical, easy to use, more forgiving and more flexible. Good luck!

bob moulton
23-Apr-2004, 19:07
T-Max RS developer is worth a look. Like many others, I use it diluted 1:9 straight from the stock bottle. Mix the "B" packet into the "A" bottle to get stock. Dilute that 1:9. I process it in a Jobo 2500 series tank either on a Jobo CPA-2 or on a Uniroller. At 75 degrees, my time for 100TMax (N) is 8.5-9 minutes.

In my experience the stock solution keeps well over 6 months. As a test, I shot identical images and processed them split into two groups, one in older RS stock, one in brand new. negs looked and printed the same, and on my densitometer no differences existed. Hope this helps.

Kevin Crisp
23-Apr-2004, 19:11
Paul: If you like D76 and TMAX 100 (I do too) then stick with it. Order some glass bottles from Specialtybottle.com. They're cheap, and when you fill them to the top with stock D76 it will last a year without problems. I store Xtol this way and up to a year old it works like new. Tri-x and HC110 is a time-honored combination, it just depends if you like the look. You'll have to convince yourself with that or any other combination.

Pete Caluori
23-Apr-2004, 19:55
Greetings Paul,

I'll second Francesco's recommendations, but will add a few additional comments. I sense a desire for the one size fits all paradigm. Most folks on this forum are trying to get the absolute most from their materials/process - I know I am. Pushing the envelope to achieve the maximum result usually only comes with careful testing and careful execution. There are many varibles and until each is controlled and understood you wont know what can happen.

If you want a developer that has a truly long shelf life, then I would recommend Rodinal and I would use it at dilutions up to 1:150. Rodinal has a long history and as a stock solution lasts for years.

For film, I would stay away from the newer T-grain/crafted emulsions, which are much more sensitive to variations and stick with films that have a little more "slop," or are little more forgiving in exposure/development. Films like FP4+, HP5+ and Tri-X; Efke PL100 would also fall into this category. The Tmax emulsions are very nice, particularly TMY, but they are very responsive to variations; change the development time one minute and the contrast index changes - not good if don't want to test.

My personal favorites are Efke PL100, Kodak TMY and Ilford FP4+ all souped in PyrocatHD, but PyrocatHD stock solutions may only last 6 months to a year, which isn't a problem for me given all the film I develop. Good luck!

Regards, Pete

Paul Kierstead
23-Apr-2004, 20:23
Urk, I may have mislead you a little on the testing....I am willing to nail down a development for a specific film/developer combo, just not willing to fool with different film/developers forever.

Precision is not a problem. I can nail development to +- 0.2 degrees, +- 5 seconds no problem over and over. What I don't want to do is do it different; I am obviously not a zone person man :)

I am happy getting 95% out of my process; they last 5% would be nice, but really -- for me -- I would rather be doing other things to improve my shots. This is my technique; I certainly understand others but I think I am lacking too much in other areas right now.

Pyrocat intrigues me, but I think maybe the staining is a problem with scanning, not an improvement. It would seem to me that most of the advantages are lost in the digital darkroom (which is nonnegotiable). And having read a quite a bit about it, it still remains iffy in a Jobo....or am I reading too much old stuff? Or too much operator trouble? Pyrocat HD availability is iffy too. I don't know of any Canadian distributors, but maybe that is just me.

TMAX-RS I have seen a lot of references to. It would seem simple enough to try. What is the gotcha? Everything has to have a downside...

But will be keeping the simple glass bottles in mind...

23-Apr-2004, 20:35
Are you using the processor for the tanks? You could mix up D-23. It's only two chemicals. Both easy enough to find in Canada-) The formula I think wouldn't have too much of an issue with 25C. You'd just have to shorten your times. If you mix it up the day you process shelf life is basically forever. If you really like D-76 then how about making D-76H up to working strength same day? It's three chemicals.



He can likely fill all your chemical needs.

Paul Kierstead
23-Apr-2004, 20:36
Hmmm...that sounds almost combative. So I shall rephrase it as a question, since I am looking for your knowledge instead of attempting to illustrate the lack of my own.

<li>How does pyrocat HD work out with scanning? Does the staining interfere with it?
<li>Does pyrocat work ok in a Jobo? I have seen lots of reports of streaking, etc.
<li>Is there a canadian distributor for pyrocat HD?
<li>Assuming I am not contract printing, what is the advantage of pyrocat? The ultra-long neg doesn't seem so important if you are not doing alternative printing process, although I suppose scanning is alternative :)
<li>What is the downside of TMAX-RS?

To quantify one thing: 6 months shelf life is fine, so long as I don't have to mix more then 5 liters at a time.

Michael Kadillak
23-Apr-2004, 20:42
Read Sandy Kings excellent article on Pyrocat HD at unblinkingeye.com. It is concise, comprehensive and complete on this subject.


Darin Cozine
23-Apr-2004, 20:45
Paul, I regularly use ilford fp4+ with Rodinol at 1:50 dilution.

Fp4+ offers outstanding results at a reasonable price. It is also great with pyro developers (unlike tmax100) if you want to go that route. HP5 400 or Tmax400 are excellent if you need extra speed.

Rodinol is famous for is outstanding quality and looong shelf life(in concentrate form). I am like you.. I only get to develop sheet film occasionaly. Rodinol is also easy to use.. it comes in a liquid concentrate that you mix with water when you need it. Get a syringe to measure the ml.

Use the 1:50 dilution and one little bottle will last you months.

If you are using continuous agitation, dont forget to reduce the development time by 15-25%

23-Apr-2004, 21:39
I'm surprised at your problem with D-76. In fact, many workers claim that it needs some aging before it really works properly. My first thought is since you've found somethng that works for you, just to recommend that you carefully mark mixing date on the bottles where you store your developer (be sure it's glass and out of the light) and automatically discard it after 6 months. My second thought is (like many of the others) to suggest Rodinal, which seems to last forever, and gives the best acutance with TMax100 of any film/developer that I've ever tried (including Technical Pan).

Sharon S.
24-Apr-2004, 00:09
I had a random thought (not unusual). A local wine shop sells a product in a spray can that dispenses an inert gas (argon, I believe) that they use in open bottles of wine. It prevents an open bottle of wine from oxidizing by sitting on top of the liquid, preventing air from reaching the wine. Theoretically, if you kept the bottle of developer in the dark, well stoppered, this might work. worst case, your wine will keep well...

Ole Tjugen
24-Apr-2004, 02:57
I have settled on Pyrocat-HD and FX-2 for everything. Both have great shelf life, the concentrates last for six months or more. Ready-to-use FX-2 was on one occasion left in a beaker in the darkroom for a week before I got around to use it - it worked.

Both are exellent with "classical" films, which are all I use anyway. FX-2 is non-staining, Pyrocat-HD is staining. I tend to use the Pyrocat-HD for 5x7" film which might be contact printed, and FX-2 for everything that will probably be enlarged.

FX-2 gives a significant speed increase, up to one and a half stop. Pyrocat-HD might give a slight speed loss, not more than half a stop.

Both work well with reduced agitation and prolonged development/reduced concentration to control exessive contrast.

24-Apr-2004, 06:14
Paul, may I suggest you try Ilfosol-S diluted 1:9. It is an easy to use one-shot liquid concentrate available in 500ml containers (and cheap enough that you don't mind tossing it after a few months if you can't use it all). I shoot infrequently as well and often forget about developer quirks after a few weeks of inactivity. The consistency of one-shot is nice. Personally (and I do emphasize personally), I have found it to be a great substitute for D-76 using the Tmax and Delta films (as well as 35mm/120 stuff). Regards,

24-Apr-2004, 07:01
Though I'm not in the majority, I'm happy with TMAX in HC-110 B. I develop it in a Jobo rotary drum.

I've also used D-76 and TMAX, which I find to work well at times especially in rollfilm, but I've had some problems with sheet film in drums - mainly problems with low overall or local contrast.

D-76 is cheap enough it shouldn't be a problem to keep it new.

I've also used TMAX-RS, which I found to have poor avalibility and relatively high price (on the local scale). I only used it on two sheets, which were TMAX 400 pushed to 1600, with exceptional results.

Patience is a quite important thing in photography. You should try experimenting a bit more with different techniques, perhaps that will help you see the importance of spending time on every part of the photographic process.

David Karp
24-Apr-2004, 08:59

Here are a couple of suggestions. Try D-76H. One of the reported problems with D-76 is that it changes over time, becoming more active. I believe that this is due to the fact that at the target pH for the developer, the hydroquinone is inactive. For some reason, the pH changes over time, activating the hydroquinone and causing more contrasty negatives at the same development time. D-76H was devised to avoid this. It omits the hydroquinone (which is not necessary because it is inactive in fresh D-76 anyway). The formula for D-76H is in the Film Developing Cookbook, The Darkroom Cookbook, and at http://www.jackspcs.com/d76.htm. Use D-76H just like you would D-76, including development times.

Another thought - try Divided D-76H. It is the ultimate in simplicity. The developer is divided into two baths. The developing agent is in bath A. The accelerator/activator is in bath B. You develop all films for the same time in baths A and B, and you can mix different films in the same developing session. Results look like D-76, because it is D-76. An additional advantage is that the 2 bath developer is self compensating. The developer absorbed in bath A exhausts in the highlights before it exhausts in the shadows. Great for landscapes and other similar scenes. You can do plus development by experimenting and adding more borax to the B bath, or even switching to a more active accelarator. (But then it is not really D-76, is it?) The formula is in the Darkroom Cookbook. Alternatively, try Diafine, an off the shelf 2 bath developer (although I and others do not like it with T-Max). It works great with non-T Grain films. Reportedly, it was developed with Tri-X in mind, and may report great results with it. I can vouch for it with HP5+ and FP4+, along with their Arista equivalents.

Try the Divided D-76H if you like the look of D-76 with your films. No more fussing and agonizing over developers. A few minutes in A, a few minutes in B, rinse, fix, dry, and voila - perfect negatives.

Pete Caluori
24-Apr-2004, 09:00
Hi Paul,

If you are willing to do some testing, then I'll stand by Francesco's recommendation: Efke PL100 and Kodak TMY in PyrocatHD. Bostick & Sullivan was going to start selling Pyrocat in liquid form (they may already be doing this) and they will ship to Canada. If you rather not deal with Efke film, you can certainly substitute Ilford FP4+, it wil work vewry nicely for your application.

My knowledge and use of digital imaging is quite limited, but I have plenty of pyro stained negatives (Pyrocat & ABC) that scan just fine; I'm able to grab every bit of detail from the shadows and the highlights. Tmax-100 produces an incredibly sharp, detailed negative in Pyrocat and it scans easily, but you;ll have to find your optimal time/exposure to get the most from it.

Regards, Pete

Henry Ambrose
24-Apr-2004, 09:34
PyrocatHD negs scan just fine. Its an excellent developer and economical. I would think that Photographers Formulary would ship to Canada. I use it and like it. It will look different than your D76 does now.

However, I also suggest Xtol which is my standard developer.

You disqualified Xtol because it comes in 5 liter packages, although I can't imagine why thats a problem. Look at it this way - you only spent $10 US on the whole package so you can use it generously - you've got all you want and more. Shoot lots of film! Or don't - its only $10! Six months later dump any thats left and mix a fresh batch. Five one liter bottles filled to the top will keep for over six months with NO degradation. Even better get some smaller 250ml bottles and fill them so you have a "dose" of Xtol ready to go with no further measuring.

So..... go buy 3 or 4 one liter bottles and 4 to 8 250 ml bottles, mix your Xtol and fill the bottles. After you deplete four 250s re-fill them from one of the liter bottles. Your bottles will fit in a small cardboard box or on a shelf. Its always fresh and you're always ready to run film. Its always fresh because you've kept it in glass with no air space.

250ml Xtol plus 750 ml water gives you one liter of working solution 1:3. Put that in your 2500 drum (the large one that holds two 4X5 film reels) and run it for about 10 minutes (you'll have to figure out the exact times you like) with your TMax. The film will look GREAT. Soooo easy, cheap and dependable. Using this method you have an abundance of stock solution for 6 sheets of 4X5. 1000ml will turn on a Unicolor motor base, no problem. (thats what I use but maybe not on an old CPE2 Jobo) This is the best and most convenient way I've found to get what you seem to want with sheet film.

Once you've got that little collection of 250ml bottles full of Xtol you don't even have to think very hard. Pour one bottle into your drum, add 750ml water and go. If you have three sheets to develop, just do it the exact same way and don't sweat it because you now have a repeatable, dependable consistent process and you have plenty of developer to use. You are well away from any developer exhaustion issues. Your consistency is high with timed continous agitation. Just get your temp and times figured out then do it the same every developing session and your film will look the same everytime.

This is as fool proof and simple as I've found. Try it.

Paul Kierstead
24-Apr-2004, 10:10
One really quick interim question: Many seem to stress glass bottles. I have been using "photographic" brown plastic bottles; for D-76, the collapsible sort. I don't believe these chemicals should interact with plastic. Are you guys saying that the plastic is gas permeable?

Bruce Watson
24-Apr-2004, 10:13

I use 4x5 Tri-X, developed in XTOL 1:3 in a Jobo 3010 tank, Jobo CPP2. The rest of my process is digital - I scan everything for printing via inkjet. Ten sheets to a liter of XTOL 1:3 without problems.

This combination of Tri-X and XTOL 1:3 gives me speed (IE of 400), nice grain (subjectively a little smaller than HC-110H), and excellent sharpness. It's easy to use, and repeatable as the day is long (I store the XTOL stock in wine bottles, with Vacuvin stoppers - I've never had any go bad, up to 8 months on the shelf). That, and 10x enlargements (that is, 40x50 inch prints) are virtually grainless (I can't see the grain with my nose on the print, but I know it must be there). I love this combination, but of course YMMV.

For a slower film I would look at FP4+ (or 100Tmax if you want to stay with it) in XTOL. I've heard many good things about both these combinations, but I've never found a use for a slower film myself. Just the way I shoot.

If you really want to know what the various combinations of film and developer can do (and won't do) then it's probably worth your while to pick up and read a copy of "The Film Developing Cookbook" by Anchell and Troop. Quite a resource.

Pete Caluori
24-Apr-2004, 11:39
Many types of plastic bottles are gas permeable. I can't speak to the specific ones you're using as I've never used them, but you can't go wrong with glass.

Regards, Pete

John O'Connell
24-Apr-2004, 18:20
If you like D-76 and you get results you like scanning without messing around with staining developers, I'd stick with HC-110, Ilfosol, or TMax RS. These are full speed developers that won't change your workflow and the stock solution isn't as unreliable as D-76.

An alternative is to simply mix up D-76 out of its component chemicals. The formula is well known and doesn't require unobtainium: just a lab balance of some kind.

Personally, I use Rodinal juiced with sodium sulfite (see unblinkingeye.com) and TMY. But I don't scan, I contact print with contrasty processes. I'd find out what process someone uses before I bother with their film/chemistry choices.

24-Apr-2004, 22:36


25-Apr-2004, 01:41
I lost access to a dark room and currently not shooting, however, I was very happy with Rodinal, and Agfa100APX, now discontinured in 8x10 size. I have also used Ilford ID-11 and always very happy with the results!! Prefer to do photography and not too keen on experimenting with all the possible combinations of film and developer. (Yes, I know darkroom work is part of photography.) I think my prints are good enough for me, that is who I shoot for.

I am now setting up for shooting 14x17 and will need to figure out a good combination. I am thinking of Ilford FP4+ and either Rodinal or ID-11. Any thoughts?

Thanks, Kreig

Francis Abad
25-Apr-2004, 01:55
Kreig, like you I am moving larger from 8x10 (12x20 in my case). TMY is not available in this size - replace with Classic 400 and partner that with Efke PL100 - Pyrocat HD 2:2:100, minimal or gentle agitation in tubes. The resulting negatives will be perfect for a contact print on AZO or alt process.

Armin Seeholzer
25-Apr-2004, 02:56

In german lab magacin they did a large testing some years ago and ower all the XTol was the winner! So test it and be a winner! For me its the modern D-76 I use it also for IR films with great results, but you need a testing for your needs anyway!

John D Gerndt
25-Apr-2004, 07:03
Well, you see, you get as many recommendations as there are people. I like the one slipped in by "Jon".

HC-110 is the cheapest, most versitile, long lasting Compromise developer there is. If you want something for nothing HC-110 is as close as can be had. I have had concentrate last two years. (It turns dark but is still quite good.)

Small glass bottles ARE better. (Think chemistry lab here.)

Film? Older formulations Are more forgiving. Ilford is a good source, very consistant and committed to continuing manufacture.

You don't say what kind of scanning you are doing but I doubt its resolution will exceed what can be had with the versitie HC-110. I have heard as much about Rodinal but in my location it is less frequently found, so I cannot speak from experience. I have used HC-110 for 28 years.

That said, I am switching now to Pyrocat HD. I do more shooting now and I contact print. These are good reasons to switch - otherwise I would stay with my long time friend HC-110.

John Kasaian
25-Apr-2004, 09:35
Nacco Super 76 from Freestyle might be worth looking into. Its an inexpensive, super concentrated liquid D-76 sold by the gallon for school use. Easy to mix like HC-110. Behaves live D-76. You can whip up fresh working solutions from the syrup as easily as from stock solutions.


Sharon S.
27-Apr-2004, 00:02
I had posted a note earlier about a product that wine lovers use to preserve open bottles of wine and I thought it might work on photo chemicals. I found the product and it's called "Private Preserve". Here's the response from my inquiry:

"Our photographer here in the Napa Valley (Robert M. Bruno Photography) has used our product for about 17 years in his darkroom. The only molecules in our can are inert nitrogen, carbon dioxide and argon...

You should always start with fresh bottles, as nothing will reverse the oxidation process.

Regards, Scott Farmer

ps- We have had wine opened, and preserved with "PP" for as long as 4 1/2 years."

Might be worth a try to extend the life of your chems? Just a thought.

Paul Kierstead
27-Apr-2004, 11:56
Well, I certainly have been give lots of great answers to contemplate. I didn't know at all about D76H, so that is pretty interesting. Perhaps I discarded Xtol too rapidly; I never really realized the price was so low. I think Pyro will have to wait for a while yet; *I* am not yet satisfied with the handling recommendations nor output advantages. An experiment in the future perhaps, particularly if a liquid concentrate becomes available. HC110 has that upswept curve with TMAX....I really like the liquid concentrate idea, but think I would have to change films to use it. Not out of the question (TMAX is kinda expensive), but I am in no rush to do it either.

My short term thing will be to get my storage in order. Time to go find some glass bottles. Since I store in a cupboard, I won't worry about brown ones...making life much easier. Next step I think might be to give Xtol a swing when my current stores of unmixed D-76 run out (a while!).

And I actually have the wine preservative...I use it to preserve woodworking finishes. Never even thought to spray some on my chemicals...

Many thanks for all the helpful replies.

Eric Pederson
29-Apr-2004, 10:18
I use an inert gas preservative in my not-full bottles. Since CO2 is a large ingredient, I'm not so sure it works as a preservative with developers which interact with acidic compounds -- certainly in my experience it has not seemed appreciably better than just atmospheric gases with paper developers. With fixers (acidic) it seems (subjectively) to help preserver. Collapsable bottles are another option, though I agree the best are small one-shot bottles completely full.

Tom Smart
15-Jun-2004, 15:03
Can D76 be mixed one-shot straight from the powder to the working solution by weighing the powder? It seems this would increase the shelf life indefinitely.

15-Jun-2004, 15:40
If you mean the commerical stuff it can't be a good idea. How do you know the powder is perfectly mixed? OTOH if you mean stuff you mix yourself that's exactly how I mix film developer up.

tim atherton
15-Jun-2004, 15:47
"Can D76 be mixed one-shot straight from the powder to the working solution by weighing the powder? It seems this would increase the shelf life indefinitely."

Use ID-11 instead, it's a liquid concentrate