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  1. #1
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Sheet Film Frustration - Uneven Development

    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
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  2. #2
    dpurdy's Avatar
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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. #3

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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. #4
    Jim Noel's Avatar
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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.
    [FONT=Comic Sans MS]Films NOT Dead - Just getting fixed![/FONT]

  5. #5

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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. #6
    MurrayMinchin's Avatar
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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
    _________________________________________
    Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.

  7. #7
    Mark Fisher's Avatar
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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. #8
    ic-racer's Avatar
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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. #9
    jeroldharter's Avatar
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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.
    Jerold Harter MD

  10. #10
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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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


    Quote Originally Posted by MurrayMinchin View Post
    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
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

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