Alternative tray development of sheet film

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by sanking, Jul 24, 2005.

  1. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Here are some thoughts on an alternative method of developing film using tubes.

    Development of Sheet Film in Trays in Open-Ended PVC Tubes

    Although most people are able to get satisfactory results when developing sheet film in trays with shuffle development the fact is that many others have experienced difficulties of one type or another, primarily with uneven development and/or scratching or gouges on the film. Uneven development at the edge of the film is caused by local hot areas that result from the increased speed of the developer as it bounces of the edge of the tray during agitation. The use of trays one size larger than the film being developed reduces but does not entirely eliminate this problem and in practice it will be found virtually impossible to get as even development with tray development as with rotary processing in tubes and drums.

    Scratching and gouging of the film is another issue. Many people who develop sheet film in trays with shuffle development are capable of making excellent negatives, with no scratches or gouges. Unfortunately this is a talent that some never learn and in spite of best intentions wind up ruining many important negatives when using this type of development.

    Fortunately there is a simple variation on tray development that will give very even development and significantly minimize the risk of scratching or gouging the film. With this method we continue to develop the film in trays, but first place them in individual PVC tubes. Since the specific gravity of PVC is greater than that of water the tubes sink to the bottom of the tray and to insure continuous contact of the developer with the film we need only make sure that the developer in the tray covers the tubes. Agitation is carried out moving the tubes around in the water using some consistent pattern. However, since the film is in always in contact with the developer agitation need not be constant as when developing in tubes or drums with rotary agitation. This fact makes it possible to develop multiple sheets of film in the same tray with minimal agitation procedures, not recommend with shuffle development. Another advantage is that one can develop more sheets of film per sessions using tubes than with shuffle agitation because the logistics of handling the film and moving it from solution to solution is much easier.

    One could also use a light tight tank instead of a normal darkroom tray and carry out most of the operations in the dark. For example, my preferred method at this time of developing 7X17 film is in a light tight wooden container that measures 20”X13”X4”. I fitted this container with slots on the top to accept a 1/4” plywood top which I slide into the slots and thus seal out the light. I place the film in 3” diameter PVC tubes and four of these tubes will fit in the container at the same time. I generally use minimal agitation with these system, which means that every threee minutes or so I slide the top out of the slots (in the dark of course), agitate the film by rolling the tubes, and then replace it. This is a very convenient method of develoment as most of the time I can have the light on, and you get great results. I am thinking of building one of these containers for 12X20” film, but the 4” diameter tubes required will probably limit me to two or three sheets at a time.

    To use this method of development you must first prepare the tubes. You will need sections of PVC tubing of the proper diameter cut to about an inch longer than the long dimension of the film. Use the following diameter tube according to film format: 1.5” for 4X5, 2” for 5X7”, 3” for 8X10” and 7X17”, and 4” for 11X14 and 12X20”. This material is easily cut with a table saw or circular saw fitted with a smooth tooth carbide blade. After cutting to the right length sand off the edges with a medium-grit sandpaper to eliminate rough edges that might scratch the film.

    1. Begin as for regular tray processing by washing and arranging in proper order your trays.

    2. Now turn off the light and place your holders containing the exposed film on a clean work bench or table well away from the developing chemistry and remove the film that you plan to develop. Remove the film from the holders, cup it in one hand and slide it into the tube, and set it aside. Leave just a bit of film protruding from the tubes. Repeat until all of the tubes are loaded.

    3. Now move the tubes, one at a time, into the tray containing the pre-soak water. As soon as the tube is in the water grab the protruding end of the film and gently move it partially in and out of the tube. This will ensure that the base side of the emulsion is wetted and will promote even clearing of the anti-halation coating on the base of the film. Finish by pushing the film all the way back into the tube so that no part of it could come into contact with other tubes during processing. Repeat for all of the tubes and allow the films to soak in the pre-soak bath for five minutes.

    3. Now set your timer for the required development time and move the sheets, one at a time and as quickly as possible, into the developer tray, rocking the tray vigorously after each sheet of film goes in. This can be done as vigorously as desired because there is no concern with scratching film.

    4. Agitation is carried out by gently rotating the tubes in the water and by moving them from side to side, or by rotating the tubes and sloshing rocking the tray from side to side so that the solution flows through the tubes. Agitation could be continuous if desired but one of the primary advantages of this system is that it allows for minimal and extreme minimal procedures.

    5. At the end of the development period transfer each of the tubes to a tray that contains the stop bath and agitate by rotting the tube for a few seconds as soon as it goes into the solution. Development is completely stopped within about ten seconds and the film can then be drained and transferred to the fixer.

    6. Now remove the film from the tubes and transfer it into the fixing bath. Agitate gently by rocking the tray as each sheet goes into the fixer, then begin shuffling gently through the stack. Lights can go on as soon as all of the films are in the fixer. As fixing continues the milky/cloudy emulsion will begin to clear. Note the time when clearing is complete as general procedures calls for films to be fixed for about two times the clearing time. In theory you could fix the film while it is still in the tubes but in practice removing it from the tubes allows for faster clearing of the anti-halation back.

    7. After fixing transfer the sheets to a the tray containing a clearing bath and shuffle through them a couple of times.

    8. Finally, transfer the films to a film washer or tray of running water and wash for fifteen minutes.

    9. After washing soak the negatives for about one minute in a one-half strength Phot-Flo solution made up from distilled water, adding about 25ml of 90% Isopropyl Alcohol per liter of solution.

    10. Hang the negatives to dry without squeegeeing.

    Give this method a try. Very easy, inexpensive, and almost guarantees even develoment and scratch free negatives.

    Sandy
     
  2. medform-norm

    medform-norm Member

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    Thank you, Sandy, for writing such an extensive description and sharing it with the community. After reading it, I have some questions regarding your process.

    How do you avoid scratching the film when putting it inside the tubes? I read you have sanded off the edges to a smooth surface, but it' still a surface to surface contact between tube and film.

    Once the process is done, with what kind of tool do you remove the wet sheet/paper from the tube? I can imagine the paper/film stick to the inside wall of the tube. Can you pry it loose easily without damaging the film/paper?

    That's it. Thanks, mf-n
     
  3. bobbysandstrom

    bobbysandstrom Member

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    Would this be any more advantages than using a slosher?

    Thanks
     
  4. sanking

    sanking Member

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    I have never had any problem scratching the back of the film when putting it inside the tubes. The inside of the tubes should be very smooth, and if you take care to take the rough spots from the cut edges there is no rought surface to scratch the film. Just cup the film in such a way that you insert it most of the way inside the tube without contact, then gently push it in the rest of the way.

    It is very easy to remove the film from the tubes once processing is completed. Since the back side should be thorough wetted out, it simply slides from the tube very easily. Of course, a critical point is in the initial wetting out of the film. If you don't carry out this operation correctly some parts of the film back will stick to the inside of the tubes and make it very difficult to remove later.

    If you do what I suggst and still have problem with scratching there is always the trick suggested by Donal Miller in which you use small pieces of nylon screen material between the back of the film and the inside of the tubes.

    Sandy
     
  5. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Both systems work very well with small sheet film. However, the tubes will take up less space than a slosher/crade and this becomes more important as the size of the film increases. For developing 4-6 sheets of 4X5" film I would rate the two systems as about equally efficient, but on the other end of the scale the slosher/crade system would be quite impractical for ULF film.



    Sandy
     
  6. bobbysandstrom

    bobbysandstrom Member

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    Thanks Sandy. I ordered the pyrocat HD from PF in liquid form. I'm looking forward to trying it. I've hesitated to this point due to toxicity concerns. But, I know if I'm careful there should be no problems.

    Bob
     
  7. George Collier

    George Collier Member

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    Thanks, Sandy, for this idea. It's cheap enough to at least try, and it makes sense to me. It sounds like an 8x10 tray would be the right size for 10 sheets of 4x5 in tubes, 2 long and 5 wide, tight enough to keep the tubes from moving in chaos and minimizing developer volume.
    Someone mentioned the comparison to the cradle - it seems to me that the advantages would be more films at a time, and far less developer to air exposure.
    A couple of questions:
    If the developer in the tray covers the top of the tubes, do I need to worry about sufficient quantity of developer?
    Also, I read some earlier threads on this, and I get the idea of the adjacency with local exhaustion for good acutance (I won't use that lengthy buzzword). Could you comment on a balance of standing and agitation with this method?
     
  8. Jeremy

    Jeremy Member

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    WIth the slosher you can use IR inspection :smile:
     
  9. sanking

    sanking Member

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    With this type of development the total amount of developer that would be required to completely cover the tubes would be far greater than the minimum actually required for development. In fact, I am certain that the total volume would be so great that you could use it for developing more than one batch of film.

    As for how to best take advantage of this method I would recommend minimal agitation. With this method you choose a dilution that would normally give a develoment time of about 14-16 minutess with normal agitation, but after the first minute of agitation you agitate thereafter for only ten seconds or so every three minutes. You will need to increase total time of development by about 35-50% to compensate for the reduced agitation. This method allows the film to rest for long periods of time, which maximizes the formation of adjacency effects, but agitaiton is still frequent enough to give even development.

    Sandy
     
  10. George Collier

    George Collier Member

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    Thanks for your quick response - I didn't mention in this thread, but I'm looking to use this with PMK (from Bostick & Sullivan). Would you change your answers?
     
  11. JohnArs

    JohnArs Subscriber

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    Hallo Sandy

    Sometimes a pictures tells more then 1000 words is it not possible to show your setup on a picture because I did not fully get it, because english is not my motherlanguage.
    You just could use normal cheap paper or misused film for it!
     
  12. sanking

    sanking Member

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    OK, I am attaching a couple of jpegs. Hope this explains the concept of the light safe developing tray. As you can see, once the top slide is inserted the inside of the box where the tubes are is light tight. To agitate, I simply turn off the lights, pull out the slide and move the tubes around as I want. With this particular box I can do four 7X17 sheets at a time, using either normal, minimal, extreme minimal or stand agitation.

    The box was made by cutting the wood to the right size and gluing everything together with epoxy glue, then the outside and inside was coated with epoxy paint.


    Sandy
     

    Attached Files:

  13. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    I had this problem on the first ABS "tube" that I made for 4x5. The scratches were caused by the ABS after I had sanded the cut ends expressly for the purpose of eliminating scratches on the back side of the film. The sanding (not fine enough I guess) created sharp ridges on the inside of the tube. I solved the problem by NOT sanding at the cut ends, but rather by slightly bevelling the insides of the cut ends with a sharp knife. The inside of the tube itself is smooth as glass and causes no trouble.

    I picked up some 0.020" thick clear plastic (mylar) from a hobby shop (it was cheap) and cut it approx 1" larger than the negatives (5x6). I then put the negative inside the mylar and slide the pair in together. The mylar is on the back side of the film so there's no interfering with development and when it's time to pull the negative out, you can grab the mylar instead of the negative with a pair of tweezers (or whatever) and they pull out together. The added benefit is that the mylar helps to prevent "back-side" scratches also.

    cheers
     
  14. sanking

    sanking Member

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    I am not sure. According to most sources pyrogallol needs a lot of agitation to avoid staining. On the other hand Steve Sherman, in the article on semi-stand development published in View Camera, mentioned that he had used the semi-stand type of development with very dilute solutions of PMK.

    Sandy
     
  15. Steve Sherman

    Steve Sherman Subscriber

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    Sandy, great idea, allows multiple sheets of film to be developed using reduced agitation. Each tube could be uniquely marked so as to allow for different development times within the one large container. Adjusting each negative's development is paramount to my way of thinking.

    Initially, I did fool around with PMK and Semi-Stand, noticed a build up of stain which is what caused me to turn to Pyrocat HD. I was using equal parts of A & B with PMK which I believe caused the increase in stain. The A & B ratio could be altered to combat the build up of stain but when mixing your own Pyrocat it is so inexpensive why reinvent the wheel.

    There is one X factor I don't see getting discussed too much when talking about the Semi-Stand or Minimal Agitation technique.

    I believe the desired adjacency effect is a function of the light you shoot in, the inherent contrast of the original scene and the contrast index required by the final positive process, not to mention our own likes and dislikes. Therefore, I believe while the process in general provides impressive results because of increased adjacency effects to truly dial in a negative to ones own likes and materials requires specfic testing and adjusting to elevate ones work to the next level. The big reason I shoot two negatives exposed exactly the same way is it allows for minor development adjustments with the second negative. I tend to shoot in low and soft light conditions which can regularly push exposure times well into the minutes and sometimes hours. For me, traveling far from home, if a scene is worthy of an hour exposure, it is certainly worthy of a back up negative.

    Sandy King has proven to be a wealth of knowledge for everyone here, myself included. That said, I would encourage everyone to use Sandy's starting times as just that, start there but keep pushing things until you arrive at the exact look and feel you want.

    Strive for perfection, it's all in the lighting!
     
  16. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    For cleaning burrs from the PVC tubes, use acetone. It dissolves them leaving a smooth edge.
    I have been developing using minimal agitation with open ended tubes in buckets. I experienced increased density on the ends of the negatives - the top and bottom as they stood in the tubes. I believe it's because with the tubes standing on end, there was more agitation at the open ends than closer to the middle.

    It would seem this new method would avoid that problem. I'll give it a try.
     
  17. Daniel Grenier

    Daniel Grenier Member

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    Sandy;

    Can one expect the same results if the tubes be "stood up" rather than laid down? I want to set this up for my newly acquired 7x17 but my sink space is rather limited and small area required for vertical processing would be more practical.

    Thanks.
     
  18. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I've finally had a chance to try this method - I think I like it a lot. Laying the tubes down in trays allows me to easily keep up with which is which, so I last night I developed SBR10, SBR8, and SBR7 negatives all together - removing each at the appropriate time. With my previous method of standing the tubes up in a bucket, I was never able to be sure which tube was which.

    I also see no evidence of the other problem I had with the tubes standing on end - the increased density at the edges of the negatives closest to the open ends. These negatives appear to be evenly developed all the way across.

    I used JandC400, 2x3, in 1 1/2" tubes, Pyrocat HD 1:1:150.

    Daniel, the "stood up" method worked fine for me with the exception that some negatives had increased density at the open ends. Sandy tells me he does not have this problem, but I think he avoids it by inverting the tubes during agitation. I never did this - only agitating them in one position. He can, of course, explain his method better than I.
     
  19. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    The 4x5 tubes I made are cut into 6" sections of 1 1/2" abs, then the other parts are added. This requires a bit more developer (240ml in my case), but the only problem I've had was not pushing the film far enough into the tube, my fault.

    With PMK I wouldn't use a minimal agitation system and expect decent results.Even if the film is completely submerged, the 15 second agitation rule comes into play and there will be uneven stain creeping across the surface. You may get away with it in a shot with plenty of textures, but with a clear blue sky, well.... tim
     
  20. Peter Rockstroh

    Peter Rockstroh Member

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    I assume that with minimal agitation there has to be enough developer in the tray to cover the tubes completely ? Stop Bath and Fixer should be no problem, since you are turning the tubes during processing. Is there a difference in volume between the chemicals in these steps ?
     
  21. Donald Qualls

    Donald Qualls Member

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    I'm not Sandy, but my tubes are made to be used vertically, with the tube full of developer and agitated by inversion (they have daylight fill tubes and liquid tight inversion caps). I've had good results with semi-stand and stand development in this kind of tube. Vertical tubes with open ends, for use in a deep tank, should work well, but ABS is the wrong stuff in this case; ABS pipe is "cellular core" which means it's foam with a solid surface inside and out; as such, it floats in liquid. If you use PVC instead, the plastic itself might float (especially in solute-rich developers like D-76 stock), but not to anything like the extent the cellular core ABS does.

    Of course, for 7x17 (inches, LF panoramic, right?) you'd need 17-18 inches of 3" diameter pipe (I haven't seen 2.5 inch, and two inch would be too small), which comes to a LOT of developer per sheet -- or 7-8 inches of 6" diameter, which I'm pretty sure is hard to come by (and would be prone to the film unseating from fluid motion due to agitation). A single 16x20 tray, with chemicals poured in and out as you go, would be much more practical in terms of chemical volume per square inch of film (except that pouring out of that size tray in the dark promises to be Too Much Fun). The down side, as always, with this kind of tube-in-tray process is that you're limited to constant agitation, and can't use reduced agitation to control contrast and compensation.
     
  22. sanking

    sanking Member

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    In fact I do indeed use reduced agitation in horizontal orientation with the tube-in-tray method that I described at the beginning of this thread. I am of course using the special light-fast container that was pictured in one of my messages on this thread that was specfically construced to accept four 7X17" tubes. It does take quite a bit of developer to completely cover the tubes as you need for reduced agitation, but since we are using a very dilute solution of Pyrocat-HD (1:1:150-200) the total cost per gallon of developer is not all that much more than if using a regular dilution. And of course, per gallon Pyrocat-HD is very inexpensive, even if purchased in kit form.

    The specific gravity of PVC tubes is just a tad more than water so they will sink to the bottom of the container in the very dilute Pyrocat-HD solution. I can not say for other developers.

    Sandy
     
  23. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    My PVC tubes stay submerged with no problem.

    For pouring solutions out of the tray, I cut another piece of PVC the approximate length of the inside of the tray. I hold the tubes down with the PVC and tip the tray to dump the solution. The tubes stay in place with no problem.