Sheet Film Frustration - Uneven Development

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Thomas Bertilsson, Feb 25, 2008.

  1. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    OK, so I have given sheet film development the benefit of a doubt for about three years now, and I cannot like it like a medium format camera, despite the nicely sized negatives.
    My main issue is in developing the negatives. Let me tell you, I have tried the following techniques extensively:
    1. Single sheet in a tray, emulsion side up or down.
    2. Several sheets in a tray, emulsion side down.
    3. Slosher tray with six compartments for 4x5 sheets.
    4. A Yankee tank (or equivalent)
    5. A Nikor stainless tank.
    The only method, so far, that I have been able to use successfully is the single sheet in a tray with the emulsion side up. I do this development by inspection to make sure I get nice density in the highlights, and that is not a problem at all. The highlights print very nicely. But I get uneven development and scratches. I also have a severe dust problem.

    I would say that in total I have probably developed about 150 sheets by now. I bought a lot of cheap film just for trial and goofing around, so it's no real loss in that sense. But this is becoming disheartening. I'd say I have about ten sheets or so out of all those that are perfect. All the others have uneven development or dust / pinholes in the emulsion. The dust is not really a problem. I can always fix that, although it is extremely cumbersome.

    What do you do to avoid:
    1. Dust
    2. Scratches
    3. Uneven development

    To avoid dust I vacuumed out my film holders. Then I cleaned them out with a wipe that was just very lightly damp with alcohol. Then I zapped them with a static electricity eliminator that normally works great for my audiophile endeavors and my turntable playing LP records. Finally I keep the holders in ziploc bags.

    To avoid scratches I have tried emulsion side up, emulsion side down... Doesn't seem to matter. they all scratch at some point. In the Yankee tank I got scratches from putting the negs in the tank and taking them out again. In the Nikor tank I get scratches for the same reason. The only scratch free negs I have are developed single sheet in a tray. Talk about time consuming.

    Uneven development? I have tried every agitation method between heaven and that other place and I cannot for the life of me get an even sky. No matter how I agitate, prewet the film, what developer I use, filtered water or even distilled water to mix chemistry - it doesn't work. It just won't happen. Out of all those negs that are useful - none of them contain a sky.

    I am really frustrated with this and searching for 'uneven development' gives me about fivehundred threads. Like looking for a needle in a hay stack.

    I think that I am cursed. The only expensive piece of equipment I have is my 4x5 camera, and by most people's standards it's probably dirt cheap. I'm in this on an extremely tight budget and spending $1200 for the camera and a 210mm Schneider APO Symmar was something I had to save up for two years to do. I actually think I had a higher rate of success with my old Crown Graphic, which means I should never buy a new camera...

    Thankful for advice,

    - Thomas
     
  2. dpurdy

    dpurdy Member

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    Well before you sell it you might give my technique a try. I do tray development but instead of a photo tray for the developer I use a glass Pyrex bread pan. It is the perfect size in that it is about 8 or 9 inches long and at the top it is about 5 inches wide then it tapers down in size to the bottom to about 3.5 inches wide. It holds one liter perfectly and when you put the film in it doesn't quite rest on the bottom due to being slightly too narrow. It leaves a very nice space to be able to put your finger under the film to gently slide it off the bottom of the stack and then put it on the top of the stack. I use both hands in development so that I can lift the stack a little to avoid dragging a sheet of film along a sharp edge of another piece of film. If you go ahead and get one of these cheap bread pans you will see what I mean. In agitation I go first the long way and then I go the side way. I process 10 sheets at a time. Actually I have processed a lot more than that but I don't like to tell anyone. I get even development and minimal scratching. I use the same kind of bread pan for photo flo and for washing film with a syphon. Everything else I do in the normal 5x7 tray.

    As to LF versus medium format, they both have their strong points. I believe that the most important issue is whether you enjoy using the format. It kind of sounds to me like your frustration level is pretty high with your 4x5. Dust is hard to avoid but one rule I have is to never store film in a holder. If I load a bunch of film and then don't use it in a session or outing, I unload the film back into a box. I also keep a can of air in the dark and blow off every sheet after I have loaded it in the holder before I put the dark slide in.
     
  3. Konical

    Konical Subscriber

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    Good Evening, Thomas,

    I have considerable admiration for those who can tray-develop multiple sheets without problems. Perhaps I could reach their level of skill with a concentrated effort and lots of practice. It will probably not surprise you, if you've read some of my previous Forum posts on sheet film processing, that I'd suggest instead the use of drum developing to eliminate your problems with unevenness. After processing many hundreds of sheets over several decades using a Chromega 8 x 10 Color drum on a motor base, I can honestly say that I can't recall ever experiencing any kind of uneven development, nor do I have any problems with film scratching when loading or unloading. The tools (drum and motor base) are dirt cheap on E-Bay; I think that, for a small investment, almost all of your film-developing frustrations can be alleviated.

    Konical
     
  4. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    A simple drum like the Chromega or Unicolor when used with appropriate dividers is a very good way to develop without streaks, etc. an 8x10 drum will handle four sheets of film. One caveat here, careful handling of the film from opening the box, to loading holders, unloading holders and loading the drums are all potential sources of scratches. I don't understand why you have had so many problems with all of the methods you have tried. but the drum may be the simplest and least expensive method for you. Some films, Efke is one, scratch much easier than others and often the scratches come about while loading film, loading trays,agitating during processing, and washing. Often it is difficult to know whence they come.

    Now on to dust. Each of us has had this problem and solved it in various ways. For some reason it seems LF film attracts more dust than does roll film.There is a lot of dust in the the air most places. One method for reducing it on film is to always work in a damp atmosphere when the film is exposed to the air. A good place is the bathroom. Run the cold shower for about 5 minutes, close the door and allow the air to settle. The dust will settle to the floor of the shower. Then carefully load the prepared holders. I use an anti-static brush on my holders and never rub them with anything other than an anti-static cloth. To rub with anything else generates static electricity to attract dust.
     
  5. John Simmons

    John Simmons Member

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    I understand your frustration Thomas. I would either invest in a jobo with the expert drum for sheet film or the BTZS Tubes. The BTZS Tubes are really inexpensive and work like the jobo without the exact temp control and motor...in the case of the BTZS Tubes you are the motor. Until I upgraded to the tubes I experienced the same problems as you. I hope you are able to get this sorted out.

    Regards,
    John
     
  6. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Concerning your uneven development issues; what film, developer, dilution, agitation sequence and time combination are you using? There must be some fundamental breakdown for you never to have gotten an even sky. My guess would be not enough developer stock solution for the amount of film being developed..?

    Murray
     
  7. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    I've used both a combi-plan and BTZS tubes and never had uneven development....except when I tried semi-stand.....won't do that again.
     
  8. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    A couple questions:

    What kind of dust are you talking about? Do you mean dust on your processed negatives from drying (white dust) or dust on the negative in the camera (black dust)?

    What is your developer/film combo. Some combinations will produce uneven development in just about all settings (the worst probably being the old Technidol/Tech Pan combo).

    T-max film and T-max developer, in my darkroom, are less likely to be uneven than some other combos.

    Could it be your film? Seems like you are doing all the right things.

    I can't help on the scratches because I only do either one-sheet-at-a-time or Jobo Drum.
     
  9. jeroldharter

    jeroldharter Member

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    Another vote for BTZS tubes. I rarely use my Jobo now. That should help with processing. Also, use dilute, one shot developers.

    For dust, dry in a dust free environment. I use an Arkay drying cabinet. A Jobo Mistral or DIY equivalent would work. For the DIY, use some cheap shallow plastic storage bins (or darkroom trays) on top and bottom, Tyvek sides with a velcro opening.

    For film holders, I use a compressed air generator to blow dust out before loading film. Readiloads are expensive but cut don on dust.

    I have never had scratches.
     
  10. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Murray, it is true. I have never gotten a perfectly even sky.

    I use the same dilution of Pyrocat-MC that I use with roll film. 1+1+100 at 70*F. Since I develop by inspection I don't really know what time I develop the sheets for. I start inspecting them at 9 minutes, normal time is around 13 minutes, and sometimes I go for as long as 20 minutes if I need to expand the highlights. I use Tri-X film, or FP4+. I have also used Rodinal developer at the 1+50 dilution, Ilfotec DD-X, Sprint, as well as Xtol both straight and 1+1. Same results from all of these.
    With trays and the slosher tray I have been agitating for the first 30 seconds, then once every 30 seconds.
    In a 5x7 tray, for developing a single 4x5 sheet I think I've used about 400ml just to be safe. In the slosher tray I've used 2 liters usually for six sheets. Preferably I've been using chemistry I can reuse for this, but like the look of the Pyrocat best.
    With the tanks it's been more like my roll film development where I've used minimal agitation, i.e. once every 3 minutes.

    I can't think of anything else...

    - Thomas


     
  11. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Black dust, so it's on the film at the time of exposure. I think it's static electricity. It's worse in the winter when it's really dry here, so that theory makes sense.

    - Thomas

     
  12. david b

    david b Member

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    I am having all of the same issues. I even tried quick loads. I've probably shot 200 sheets in the last 9 months. I probably have $3000 invested.

    So, I am taking a break from it for now.
     
  13. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    I'm not familiar with those developers so I don't know how much is needed for a given area of film. I wish you a future filled only with even skies...good luck!

    Murray
     
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  15. Kirk Keyes

    Kirk Keyes Member

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    I use a Jobo 3010 drum and a Fuji Quickload film holder. No scratches, ever, no dust, never.
     
  16. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Another heads up for Jobo drums, easy to use and get consistent scratch free negatives. Although mine are the older 200 series, designed for inversion they are still in regular use 20+ years after I first bought them. Rectangular tanks areharder to agitate and get even development.

    Be careful what clothes you wear when you handle & load film into your dark-slides (film holders US-eng), sweaters (jumpers) are the worst, some types of shirt are bad too.

    Ian
     
  17. P C Headland

    P C Headland Subscriber

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    I used to use a 120 tank and the "taco method", developing one or two sheets at a time. Using Rodinal 1+100, I always got fairly even development. I've now bought a Paterson Orbital, which can do four 4x5 sheets at a time and uses very little chemistry (I use 150ml, you can use less). The negatives are even, no scratches and it is dead easly to load & unload.

    A friend of mine uses a Jobo drum, and gets even development.

    I've not had any real problems with dust, but then we never suffer from low humidity... I just blow or brush out the holders, shake out the changing bag and load the holders. I have heard that some people give the holder a sharp tap in order to dislodge any dust prior to inserting it in the camera, but I'm not sure how advisable this is (and have not tried it myself).

    Good luck, and don't give up. Yet ... :wink:
     
  18. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Most even ones

    It is ironic that as this thread is lingering, I scanned these negatives to check them again for evenness, so far it's only been based on what a look on the light table might give. These ones isn't too bad. They're developed in a slosher tray using Kodak Xtol chemistry full strength. Agitation every thirty seconds and by development (counting seconds from a metronome).

    I will take everybody's suggestions into consideration, especially with regards to dust. A very kind soul has offered to help me out with a processing drum and motor base. We will see how that endeavor goes. I'm excited. I'll probably start developing them at the normal times I have for roll film and go from there.

    Thanks again everybody for all of your suggestions and help, both here and in the instant messages.

    - Thomas
     

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  19. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Hi Thomas,

    Are you using a changing bag to load film in your film holders? I had one that was rubber coated nylon on the outside and a loosely woven cotton on the inside and it literally rained the lint fibres down on my film. The solution was to turn the bag inside out and the problem was solved.

    Murray
     
  20. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Hi Murray,

    I've used both my darkroom and a changing bag. I haven't really noticed a difference, but haven't looked really hard to distinguish a difference either. I believe the problem is static electricity anyway. I've been given the advice to use clothes dryer sheets and rub the film holders with it (used ones). Seems like a project worthwhile.

    Thanks for your suggestions. They are greatly appreciated. I think I eventually have to buy a changing tent.

    - Thomas
     
  21. Guillaume Zuili

    Guillaume Zuili Member

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    Hi Thomas,
    Jobo will make you feel better with sheet film, easy and flawless (almost...).
    Changing tent can be a beautiful dust trap. There is no rule.
     
  22. Konical

    Konical Subscriber

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    "A very kind soul has offered to help me out with a processing drum and motor base. We will see how that endeavor goes. I'm excited. I'll probably start developing them at the normal times I have for roll film and go from there."

    Good Morning, Thomas,

    Good luck to you.

    Hint #1--Since uneven development is your biggest concern, give the film a couple of minutes of water pre-wash. Some find this unnecessary, but I can't think of any harm.

    Hint #2--Even though color print drums were designed for use with minimal amounts of expensive color chemicals, it's a good idea to be generous with the cheaper B & W solutions. I normally use at least 8 oz. in an 8 x 10 drum, more often 10 oz. or 12 oz.

    Hint #3--One of your previous posts mentions using intermittent agitation with a slosher. I think that continuous agitation would have been far preferable and may have solved your problems.

    Hint #4--Do not start with roll film development times. The rotary approach (drum and motor base) gives continuous agitation. For me, the continuous agitation times Kodak indicates for its sheet films have always been a good starting point.

    Konical
     
  23. lee

    lee Member

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    Thomas no one has mentioned vacuuming out the camera back. I find in dry conditions I can draw dust to the film plane by pulling out the dark slide. I don't know how you avoid the issue of dry humidity.

    lee\c
     
  24. DaveOttawa

    DaveOttawa Member

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    On developing I use the Kodak s/s hangers in a Kodak rubber tank, will take 6 sheets at a time. I use HP5, D76 1+1 anddev for the Ilford time. I agitate by lifting the hangers out every minute and draining them 3x every minute so very little agitation. Gives negs with no visible uneveness in skies. Never scratched film this way either.
    Dust I don't really have an answer for, I quite often do get a few specks however much I clean.
    I do have white spotting compound though as well as the usual black...
     
  25. Doug Webb

    Doug Webb Member

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    I imagine it can get very cold and dry where you live. There is an old "joke" within the photo community that photographers in the northern part of the USA have dust problems on their film, etc. and photographers in the southern part of the USA have fungus on their lenses, etc. The most effective way to control dust indoors in a dry climate is to introduce humidity. Small portable humidifiers are inexpensive and work, particularly in a small enclosed room like a dark room, to dramatically reduce airborne dust particles and reduce static electricity. You need to run the humidifier for at least an hour before opening a film box. If you are going to do any cleaning in the room you are loading film in, don't do it just before you load film, almost any so called dust removal method actually stirs up quite a bit of dust or creates even more static electricity. Clean up first, then run the humidifier for at least an hour or maybe 2, then get out your film to load it. I live in Atlanta and I only have dust problems in the winter.

    In so far as the developing problems with uneven development, if you were able to develop roll film with even development, you can develop 4x5 sheet film in exactly the same way, well almost. I often use a stainless steel daylight manual film developing tank for developing 4x5 film, the size that will hold 2 reels of 120 film. In darkness hold the film with emulsion side toward you and bow the film slightly so that it is close to the shape of the inside of the film tank then just insert it into the tank all the way down so that the edge of the film hits the bottom of the tank. I insert the film so that the 4inch sides are toward the top and bottom. It is important that the emulsion side is toward the inside of the tank, otherwise it will be pressed against the sides of the tank during development and fixing. If you use a 5 minute water presoak before pouring in the developing you will reduce the chance that time consumed in pouring the chemicals into the tank over dry film will cause uneven development. You can use the same agitation method that gives you even development with roll film. It takes approximately 1000ml of chemistry to cover the film in this setup, which is a downside, but if you could only achieve even development with this method it could be worth it, particularly since you may not have to buy any equipment at all to use this method. I use a lot of XTOL 1:3 or PMK with this method and haven't really felt the financial pinch that much. I use this method because I have often had probelms with uneven development myself. I have BTZS tubes but for some reason I can't get them to work as well and I really never use them anymore.
    Good luck,
    Doug Webb
     
  26. 23mjm

    23mjm Member

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    Thomas

    I am new to LF love it to. Dust spots are KILLLLLLLLLING me to.

    I have gotten very good even development though!!! This is how I do it. Tray development---So far I have only mastered 2 sheet at a time---so a presoak for 3-4 minutes shuffling every 30 sec, into the developer next shuffling every 60 sec ( Delta 100 in DDX for 12min@68) then to the stop n fix. The big open sky areas look very nice and smooth except for the few dust spots:sad:

    I first tried to shuffle every 30 sec but the negs were over developed--so I slowed down the shuffling and kept the time the same--I feel that if you use a short development time that's when you run the risk of uneven development.

    But if only I could get rid of the dust spots------------arrrrrg