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Thread: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

  1. #1

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    My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    I was excited with the idea of developing 4 sheets of 5x7 in the 20th Century Camera's QL57 reel that holds four sheets for developing inside a Paterson tank.



    I went out weekend after weekend shooting 5x7 only to be disappointed with the results after developing them in this reel. Not all sheets, but one or two out of a batch of 4 would get a white band of undeveloped film emulsion that runs lengthwise and right behind the center arm that supports and prevents the film against slipping out. Worse yet, I would get very uneven development anytime I would have a large clear or sky area. See the scans below for examples. Please pardon the vignetting in some pictures from extreme lens movement.

    I always loaded 4 sheets of Arista EDU Ultra (Foma) 100 film in this reel with the emulsion side facing towards the center column. I followed standard swizzle stick agitation at room temp (20 C/ 70 F). I have tried switching developer (Rodinal vs HC-110), agitation type (slow vs vigorous), switched to fresh stop bath and fixer, but nothing could solve my issues.

    I also have 20th Century Camera's QL45 that lets you develop 6 sheets of 4x5 using a Paterson tank. I am extremely happy with how my film development comes out using this reel for 4x5 film. Loading the sheet films is very convenient in both reels, although the QL45 is easier because of the film size and orientation. Both have the center arms to anchor the film, but note that the 4x5 sheet loads with the short side (4") in the spiral while the 5x7 loads with the long side (7") in the spiral. I am inclined to think that the stiffness or flexibility of the center arm affects differently during development.

    I do want to mention that Jeff Perry from 20th Century camera has been tremendous in extending his support and help during pre-sales as well as throughout my challenges with the results for 4-5 weeks. He was courteous enough to review my results, offer helpful suggestions to tweak development recipes and offer advice in resolving my issues. At the end when nothing seemed to be helping, he was most graceful in offering a full refund for the 5x7 reel that I decided to return to him.

    At the end I want to mention that this is my experience only. I really wanted this reel to work for me since the loading was simple and getting 4 sheets of 5x7 developed in one shot was important to me. The QL57 reel is a fine design and might work very well for others. It just didn't produce results that would make me happy.






  2. #2

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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    Kmallick,

    One thing that stood out to me in your process description is the swizzling, which in general is a terrible agitation technique. Did you try inversion?

    I made a 4x5 insert for the Paterson/Jobo tank as part of a deep dive into sheet film development uniformity and have found (as expected) that vigourous intermittent inversion agitation (the same as Kodak recommends for roll film, for example) gave as close to perfect uniformity as is possible. Of course my design was quite different than the product you reviewed here and there are many tricky variables but since you have nothing to lose in an experiment, try flashing a sheet of 5x7 (so that it receives uniform exposure), loading into your reel and using inversion to see if you get better/usable results.

  3. #3
    David Schaller
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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    I agree. I use inversion with a Jobo 2520 tank, just as I would with roll film in a smaller tank, with perfect results. It’s a bit heavy, but works consistently.

  4. #4

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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    Thanks for suggesting inversion. I typically do inversion for 35mm but I get excellent result with swizzle stick method in processing 120. Agitation by inversion was heavily discouraged by Jeff at 20th century camera for this type of reels because the sheet films are not in close proximity to each other. I was also afraid that agitation and sloshing due to inversion may risk popping the sheets out of the arms. In my hindsight, I should have given inversion method a chance.

    In addition I wanted an agitation method that will also work for color (C41 and E6) processing of the 5x7 sheets. The reason for preferring a spiral holder like this was to use the swizzle stick method so that I can avoid the drip and leak of the color chemicals.

  5. #5

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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    FWIW, I had similar issues with the reel for 8x10. I always use inversion agitation with all formats in a tank and, with inversion agitation of the QL81 reel, I experienced uneven development and emulsion damage. I, too, was processing Foma 100 sheet film. After contacting 20th Century about my issues, I tried the swizzle stick method; even though I've never had good luck with that agitation method with any format. But, for completeness... I wound up returning the reel for a refund.

    I, too, own and use the 4x5 reel without issue. Perhaps this design doesn't successfully scale up to larger sizes? I'm sure others have been totally successful with these larger reels, but it simply didn't work out for me.

  6. #6

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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    I can't say whether or not your reel will hold the sheets securely enough for inversion. I'd still try it though, just to see if it is doable. Costs you a sheet of film and a liter of B&W chemistry. Sheets potentially popping out of holders is a common problem with the various Paterson inserts I've seen, with the exception of the one made by Bounet (although that has other potential issues).

    Re drip/leaking, I have found if I quickly "burp" the lid before starting agitation, after pouring in each solution, the Paterson tank I've been experimenting with stays dry. It's not 100% foolproof, but if you're worried about colour chemicals perhaps you can process with some gloves on and just make sure the tank is over a sink while agitating.

    Just some thoughts. Not sure if any of this will help.

    With the exception of the Jobo rotary Expert drums, daylight sheet film developing is a kind of "holy grail" quest, although not impossible. The challenge in designing things like Paterson inserts is to solve all of the problems:

    1) Uniformity (#1 issue or else there is no point in going further down the list)
    2) Secure holding of sheets
    3) No scratches
    4) Ease of loading/use
    5) Efficiency (amount of film and chemistry)

    All of the various commercially available contraptions I've seen are compromises when it comes to the above list. In other words, solving one problem creates another. Further, when it comes to uniformity, my sense is that this is never really tested. People just design things and more or less assume development will be uniform.

    Further, there is usually a focus on getting the maximum amount of film done in one shot, and/or minimum chemistry. Since in most cases we are attempting to use an existing tank (ie Paterson) which was not designed for sheet film, in my opinion we need to live with less efficiency if we want high quality, consistent results (ie solve problems 1-4 above and settle for less than optimal for problem 5). If we are really set on good efficiency combined with excellent results, we need to add a dedicated tank to the design.

    Quote Originally Posted by kmallick View Post
    Thanks for suggesting inversion. I typically do inversion for 35mm but I get excellent result with swizzle stick method in processing 120. Agitation by inversion was heavily discouraged by Jeff at 20th century camera for this type of reels because the sheet films are not in close proximity to each other. I was also afraid that agitation and sloshing due to inversion may risk popping the sheets out of the arms. In my hindsight, I should have given inversion method a chance.

    In addition I wanted an agitation method that will also work for color (C41 and E6) processing of the 5x7 sheets. The reason for preferring a spiral holder like this was to use the swizzle stick method so that I can avoid the drip and leak of the color chemicals.

  7. #7

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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan9940 View Post
    FWIW, I had similar issues with the reel for 8x10. I always use inversion agitation with all formats in a tank and, with inversion agitation of the QL81 reel, I experienced uneven development and emulsion damage. I, too, was processing Foma 100 sheet film. After contacting 20th Century about my issues, I tried the swizzle stick method; even though I've never had good luck with that agitation method with any format. But, for completeness... I wound up returning the reel for a refund.

    I, too, own and use the 4x5 reel without issue. Perhaps this design doesn't successfully scale up to larger sizes? I'm sure others have been totally successful with these larger reels, but it simply didn't work out for me.
    Thank you Alan. I find comfort that someone else had similar issues. I agree with you on the scaling up the concept from the 4x5 reel to 5x7 and 8x10 may be a different challenge. For note, I use only swizzle stick with the QL45 reel that processes six 4x5 sheets and I am extremely happy with the results like yourself.

  8. #8

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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael R View Post
    Further, there is usually a focus on getting the maximum amount of film done in one shot, and/or minimum chemistry. Since in most cases we are attempting to use an existing tank (ie Paterson) which was not designed for sheet film, in my opinion we need to live with less efficiency if we want high quality, consistent results (ie solve problems 1-4 above and settle for less than optimal for problem 5). If we are really set on good efficiency combined with excellent results, we need to add a dedicated tank to the design.
    I concur and I have since switched to Stearman Press SP-810. I am processing 2 sheets of 5x7 at a time and getting excellent results in the tray like processing. I will continue to use this until something better comes along.

  9. #9

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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    I like the SP-810, though I have only used it with 8x10 at this point. I have been happy with my B's 4x5, once I mastered the loading. Previously I was very happy with the Modified Dip and Dunk method using the HP combi holders for 4x5. For 8x10 I either used trays or BTZS tubes. For 5x7, I used trays. I plan to go back to the combi method when my home darkroom is back in order (I am currently using a community members only darkroom that isn't totally dark). I have been attacking light leaks there as I can with gaffer tape.

  10. #10
    http://www.spiritsofsilver.com tgtaylor's Avatar
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    Re: My experience with 20th Century Camera's 5x7 reel

    Years ago I started developing 4x5 B&W by hand inversion using Jobo 2521 tanks and 2509N reels which I purchased new. Everything went fine for a while - a year or more -then I started getting bands of underdevelopment at the top and bottom of the sheets that matched the area on the reel where the sheets were inserted. I theorized that this was due to photoflo buildup on the reel interfering with the flow of developer in that area. I switched to rotary processing in my CPA and the bands instantly disappeared.

    Thomas

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