I have also tried a lot of different methods, and regarding the print drum method, I use the "Color by Beseler" drum with a removable divider inside which locks four sheets of 4X5 in position; the anti-halo backing might not come off but a soak in hypo clearing agent takes care of that.
But the greatest flexiblity is still the Jobo 2500 system, which is modular and can be made to be as long as you like it. The 1509 sheet film reels present no problem with loading, and while primarily for rotary processing, I can also hand-process it with inversion agitation if the need arises. Also, replace the funnel top in the lid with a cup, it becomes a print drum too.
I have not used trays in years. When I was, development was very uneven and the film would scratch. Now I use HP Combi tanks for my 4x5. You can get them from Calumet.
They are daylight tanks that hold 6 sheets per load. I have one tank for each step, from presoak to photoflo, filled with solution, and just transfer the holder for each step, in the dark of course, and snap on the lid, then turn on the lights. It is not advised to try to pour the solutions through the top spouts because it is too slow to fill the tank and will streak the film.They are great for proceedures like compensating development.
Agitation is very simple, just invert the tanks so that the narrow sides turn end over end, as if the axil were through the wide part of the tank. This keeps the film from jumping the channels from the pressure of the water weighing on the film.
I have a perferated rubber stopper in the bottom drain of one tank and that serves as my film washer.
An option to consider.
Time & tides wait for no one, especially photographers.
I use the a 2500 type tank with 2509N reels on a motorbase. IMHO it's better then a real Jobo setup unless you need to run only one or two sheets. My smallest setup needs 600ml of chemicals. Anything smaller won't work with the roller. The tanks are easy to find and often cheap. The reals are harder to find used and I'd want to make sure it was the 2509N not the older 2509. Plus you'd want to make sure it was complete. Likely best to buy a used tank and new reel(s).
Add an external water bath to heat your chemicals and the system will handle colour processes to.
Buy some 35mm/120 reels and the same tank will handle everything from 35mm,120,9x12 and 4x5. Plus 127 and 6x9.
New the tanks can be expensive but a few years back I got an eight reel tank , a five reel tank ,12 35mm/120 reels, three large graduates and a bunch of odds and ends for about $60.
The 2553 tank will do up to 12 sheets of 4x5 with two 2509N reels. Only needs about 600ml of chemicals in that setup so it's not a chemical hog. Plus by plugging it into a timer it's more or less 100% repeatable.
I've been using the BTZS tubes and tray for several years and have very even developing and once you get the routine, it's real simple. Some of it can be done with the lights on. Also, you only use 2 oz. of developer (working sol.) per sheet. You can develop 6 sheets at a time.
I use the Unicolor roller system. It's cheap and works well, although I would love to step up to a Jobo 2509/2553 setup. Could never really tray develop without scratching..
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Originally Posted by Nick Zentena
I am wondering why you prefer the 2509N to the 2509; something to do with the 2509N's locking plates?
I have done some tests to investigate the issue of development eveness across the negative, due to eveness of solution flow across the emulsion. To my surprise, the test negatives done with the locking plates were actually less even than those done without; across the edges in contact with the locking plates I could see a slight line of lower density as if vignetting.
Well the 2509N are supposed to be improved-) Jobo last I checked wasn't even reccommending loading the older reels with a full six sheets. Did you do the test with only the 2509N or with the 2509 to?
I don't know. It seems different people have different problems with these reels. I've never had any. Others seem to have nothing but problems. Worse I've never seen a ryhme or reason to the problems.
I'm just not willing to gamble on the older reels. Not with Jobo themselves admiting those reels had problems.
For a number of years I did the shuffle thing in trays. That worked reasonably well as long as I limited the number of sheets, but it seemed that I almost always got some minor scratches on the film.
I tried (one time) to use my Unicolor printing drum. In theory, the little rubber thingie is supposed to separate the sheets longitudinally. Didn't work, and I ended up ruining four sheets. Chalked it up to experience.
Last summer, in a workshop with Chip Forelli, I had a chance to use a "slosher" - essentially a six-compartment tray that fits inside an 11x14 print tray. You place individual sheets, face up, in each of the compartments, and then drop the slosher into the trays of chemicals. To agitate, you lift a corner of the slosher and then drop it back into the tray. The film remains in the slosher all the way through washing and photoflo, so there is no opportunity for the sheets to ever touch each other, and since they are always face up, they can't be scratched.
It worked so well that when I came home I dashed out to Home Despot to buy some plexiglass to make my own slosher. Subsequently, I made a second 2-compartment version that works with 8x10 print trays.
For me, a slosher is the way to go. I use either HC-110, dilution H or DD-X.
Hangers and tanks are just so darned easy that I can't see not doing it. I do use a Paterson Orbital once in awhile, but am going back to tanks for stand developing.
Slosher trays for 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 sheet film. I develop with Pyrocat-HD using either minimal agitation or semi-stand.
Everything is analog - even digital :D