I am into old topic revival today....
After shooting 4x5 almost exclusively for about 2 months ( for my film work ), I am finding dust on the film during exposure to be by far the biggest deterrent to continuing in using the format. I just can not print these negs, not with what will be black hairs on the print. I live in a high elevation, super dry climate and this year being a severe drought year makes it especially bad. So I already take a lot of common sense precautions in using other formats and digital and do well at keeping my sanity.
I am used to a very profitable hit rate in using both 35mm and 120, but 4x5 has been so horribe in terms of dust, I have yet to print a single negative after 2 months, terrible ROI...
So I do a lot of what has been said here, clean the holders in between uses, store them full time in their own anti-static ziplock bags and even load them in my bathroom after adding some humidity via turning on the shower. All my holders are near new if not brand new in the case of my 3 Chamonix holders. The camera is always cleaned too, it is also brand new.
Sometimes I get really clean negs, it surprises me. Other times I shoot a holder of 100 speed using a 10 stop ND filter making it to where the dark slide is out for up to 3 minutes...and get totally effed negs, beautifully shot, composed and souped...hairy negs...
So before I punt this format as totally unusable, what other solutions are other people who LIVE in very arid climates like the West and South West employing to control dust to the point that they can make quality prints from their negs without hairs botching it all up?
If you are getting hairs on your negatives, it must come from somewhere. Are they cat hairs, dog hairs or your hairs?
In any case, if you have the right technique, there are only a couple of opportunities for anything to get onto the negative: when loading and when shooting, i.e., when the darkslide is pulled. So, those are the places where you need to look to refine your dust-control.
If you load/unload in a changing bag, that is likely your problem. Ditch the changing bag and find somewhere with clean counter space to load.
Make doubly sure that your loading area is really clean. Vacuum your bathroom, wipe down the walls, etc. with a damp cloth and run the shower to humidify the air. Wipe off your working area.
It doesn't matter if your holders are new, vacuum them before loading anyway. I have an upholstery attachment (the rectangular brush attachment) that I've put a turn of masking tape around the brush that is dedicated to film-holder cleaning. First vacuum the outside of the holders, then pull the slides, vacuum the light traps and the inside. Insert the slide and push it past the light trap a time or two while vacuuming near it on the inside of the holder. When you're sure the holder is dust free. close the slide and stack it with other vacuumed holders. Keep them under a plastic bag so that airborne dust doesn't settle on them. Keep the vacuum out of the room if possible and make sure you use one with a Hepa filter.
When loading, wear a long-sleeved non-linty shirt. I wear a shower cap as well (the kind hotels give out for free) to keep my hair off the film. If you have facial hair, wash your face and dry with a lint-free towel and keep your head away from directly over the loading area. Wash your hands too. When loading, I always keep the film stack emulsion-side down, only turning the sheet face-up to load it into the holder. I pull the darkslide about halfway out, grab a sheet of film, turn it and load it. I quickly check to make sure the film is under the guide rails and then push the darkslide shut. Total exposure to possible dust is just a few seconds.
Loaded holders go into new Ziploc bags immediately after loading and do not come out till they are to be used.
Extend the bellows of your camera all the way and blow a time or two with the back off and the lensboard removed to make sure it's clean. If you see just a few motes of dust flying around, then you are likely okay.
When shooting, check the outside of the holders for dust, etc before inserting into the camera. Yes, I know it just came from a Ziploc bag, but... I carry a soft lipstick brush or make-up brush for brushing dust off the outside of the holders. Dust on the darkslide is what you need to get rid of. Try to let things settle down for a few seconds after inserting the holder before pulling the darkslide. Pull the darkslide slowly and carefully. Expose quickly and get the darkslide back in again. Dust that lands on the undeveloped negative after exposure is not an issue unless it stays there after processing.
When processing, make sure your area is clean and that the negs emerge from the wash and final rinse without dust, hairs, etc. on them. If so, rinse under filtered running water, mix a new final rinse of distilled water and wetting agent and soak them again. They must be spotless before you hang them to dry.
You need to dry your negs in a dust-free (hair-free) area. Clean your processing area as described above before processing. Keep doors closed and people and animals out of the drying area. If lots of stuff lands on the negs when drying, it is often next to impossible to clean them off.
The same applies to enlarging/contact printing; you need cleanliness and you need to make sure there is no dust on your neg before printing it. I use strong reading glasses and light at a glare angle from a bare bulb or the enlarger to check for dust. I use a blower to remove dust; a clean micro-fiber cloth for stubborn cases.
Do all that (it's not really that difficult) and you should reduce your problem immensely. But, with sheet film, you are bound to get the occasional black spot on the print. You need to learn how to etch, or bleach and spot these areas (or, alternately, how to retouch pinholes on the negative).
Doing all of this is the tradeoff for the other increases in image quality achieved by using larger sheet film.
BTW, I have a darkroom in the Oregon Outback / High Desert and work a lot in the Southwest deserts. My negatives are very dust-free.
When traveling with his 8x10, Alec Soth will load his holders in a motel bathroom completely naked to eliminate dust in his holders, then put them in plastic ziplock bags.
How does that help? Doesn't most dust originate from our own skin?
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For 8x10 I use the wooden holders made by Folmer-Graflex. The light traps can be disassembled to clean out the dust which lurks there. If the holders get very dirty, the light trap is usually (with newer holders) the one area you cannot access for cleaning.
Originally Posted by Allen Friday
When I load, I clean the holders and work area, then hold the holders over my head with the side I'm loading down, so any dust in the air is falling away. When not being used, the holders live in ziplocs.
I also vacuum the inside of the camera regularly.
Vacume the inside of your camera as well as your holders on a regular basis, like every other loading for holders (use a micro attachement for the light traps) and a couple of times a year for your camera. Store your holders in zip lock bags when not in use. Keep your loading area immaculate. This works for me (and my store room looks like the snake pit/tomb scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark!)
So my wife helped me out on this a bit. Being the calculating scientist she is, she remembered that the last time I re-loaded was when we were at 12,000 feet in our camper and I was using my changing bag which is quite old. I thought it was really clean because I hardly used it but I guess not.
So last night I went through the cleaning ritual and loaded in my partially steamed bathroom. I then cleaned all my gear, my holders live in bags full time. I shot six sheets this morning, exposures ranging from 1/8th of a second to a full 16 minutes. By and large, the film came out much much better with one sheet being spotless and most of the other with just one or two tiny specs. The hairs I referred to we're lint sized hairs, not large hairs like some might have misunderstood. Only on the 16 minute exposure did I find a couple of those lint hairs, not too bad I guess.
I also got to talking with the friend of mine who gave me a lot of the fine darkroom equipment I own like the jobo and the Ecowash. He told me he is a very good neg and print spotter and could help me deal with problem negs. Since he is local, I am going to outsource the spotting to him for a mutaully agreeable amount.
So I am sticking with this for a bit, the film is looking wonderful in the Jobo and battle with dust will be met with robust execution...
Thanks for the tips, I hope the thread revival pays off for others who will read it.
Last edited by PKM-25; 06-11-2012 at 03:24 PM. Click to view previous post history.
... powder-free latex food preparation gloves for handling film and film holders, and when cleaning lenses.