New To B/W Processing-How Practical?

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by randy_larson, Jul 7, 2008.

  1. I have been doing photography for 20+ years, mostly transparencies but some B/W. I have an upcoming project that will require shooting
    TMax 100 and 400 in 120 and 4x5. Probably 3-4 rolls/week and 10 sheets/week. How difficult would processing these quantities be and
    how best to get started? Quality of the final print(negative will be scanned and printed) is number one, and I can have a lab do this for me if
    that is a better solution. What will I gain from doing my own processing(other than cost savings)? Thank you for your time and responses.
  2. Cost savings .control in processing and time. Since you are good at exposing I would just let a good lab do it. Just be sure to expose for the shadow area. B&W is more forgiving and has more range than transparencies.
  3. unless you go to a good custom lab anything you do yourself will be better.
    the two things you will face are 120 film is tricky to load on a reel.
    4 x 5 tanks are hard to deal with and get the film properly in the slots.
    there are some issues with proper agitations.
    aside from that it's best to do it yourself.
    Unless the client is willing to pay for a good local custom lab
  4. If you were going to be developing for your own I'd say forget about the lab completely. Any issues with learning to load are quickly overcome, as are developing issues in either tray or tank, but since you are doing something for someone else it might be best to find a quality lab and let them handle it. The biggest advantage of home processing for me is the ability to gain complete control over the results where a lab always does things one way unless you pay extra for custom processing, and even then you still have more control when you do it yourself.

    I'd also add the time needed to that advantages of home developing. I could process the amount you're talking about in a hour of so in my little bathroom/darkroom, but to use a commercial lab you'll have to get the film there, wait for it to be processed, and then go back and pick it up, which will certainly take more than an hour.

    On the up side, the lab should be able to do the scans you need after processing the film so you can get the entire package done in one shot. If you have time, I'd still suggest learning to do it yourself, but with your own film at first. The learning curve is rather less than some people tend to think (I've taught many students to do it) and as long as you think about what you are doing, you'll learn very quickly how to get the results that you want. Plus, it's a lot of fun...

    - Randy
  5. I wholeheartedly say go for it. Developing B&W film doesn't take much space and the control one has is well worth it to me, not too mention the cost savings. I will make the disclaimer that I have not developed 4x5. If you know you are only going to use those two films test them out with a couple of developers recommended here in the recent past.
  6. Developing 120 B&W film is not as easy as developing 35mm film. MF 120 film tends to curl around the film spool making it very diffcult to load into the developing tank unless you have some experience. There are some specialty developing tanks that make it easier, but overall loading 120 film is a pretty tedious task.
    Some people say they have better luck with stainless steel tanks.

    On the other hand developing 4X5 sheet film is easier than 120mm and 35mm. All you need is four trays that can handle the size of the film and you are in business. Or you can buy a tank that is very easy to load if you don't want to work in the dark.
  7. I've only been developing B&W for about 9 months now, I use Jobo plastic reels and haven't had any trouble with 120 until just this past week with one of my new reels. It's like the flanges are too wide on this reel and the film easily pops out towards the center of the reel as I'm loading. None of my other reels do this.
  8. Randy, labs tend toward overdevelopment. I suspect they believe most people who don't develop their own b&w film also tend not to know how to expose their film and lean toward underexposure. So, in effect, they're assuming that all b&w film needs to be push processed. Then they deliver indifferent prints, seldom matched to the contrast needed for the individual frame.

    It is possible to get good results from a custom lab. Be prepared to pay for the expertise. Here are links to a few reputable resources. The specialize mainly in fine art b&w printing. I have no personal experience with any of them, and am aware of them only through their reputations: (Alexis was a longtime valuable contributor to the b&w forums, tho' he has been inactive here for some time.) (Jay has been recommended by others whose opinions I respect.) (Ditto, another occasional contributor with a solid reputation.) (Don't know anything about 'em but they're affiliated in some way with Jay Gaffney.)

    BTW, Harry, it depends on the reels. I've found it almost impossible to improperly load 120 onto good Nikor or Hewes reels. Similarly, a clean, dry Paterson or similar quality plastic reel is pretty much a no-brainer. Difficult to improperly load either, and my hands tend to be a bit shaky the past few years. As long as the raceways/film flanges are clean and dry and the ball-bearings move freely, there should be no ... (ahem) ... reel problems.

    Learning to load film, 35mm or MF, is simply a matter of sacrificing a roll of each to be used in daylight for practice. Watch while loading. Then practice loading without watching. When I haven't loaded film onto a reel for awhile. I'll practice, doing it several times while watching TV or otherwise not paying attention to the loading process. Doesn't take long to get the hang of it. And no matter how experienced you are, poorly designed reels will fight you.
  9. I've only ever send out E-6 and K-14 (and a long time ago C-41) so I didn't know that - thanks for the info. It seems quite pointless that they would do that, but I suppose they have their reasons (sounds like sloppy technique, but who knows...)

    Given that, I would like to change my previous suggestions - just run them yourself - if you follow the suggested times for development you'll get better results than that lab. It's a snap to learn - just follow Lex's suggestion of loading a roll in the light and you'll be fine. If you feel ambitious, read up on the expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights method. It will give you negatives that are easier to print, but I can't comment on the scanning aspect. Once you develop a roll, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

    For what it's worth, I find 120 so much easier than 35mm to load on a reel that I shudder at the though of having to do it again. Sheets are a snap in trays or hangers, but some films tend toward softness when wet and scratches can be a problem. Kodak and Ilford films seem to be completely fine on this issue, it's the others that I've had problems with in the past.

    - Randy
  10. A trick I learned with 120 is to cut a piece of the film box the width of the film and pre-load this on to a plastic reel, don't push it all the way into the ball bearings though.
    Now, in the dark I just slide the 120 film along this card until it catches then remove the card. This makes it easy to feed the film into the guides.

    I also have a Kinderman stainless reel, but since the above technique is so easy I hardly ever use the steel reel.
  11. Loading 120 film is not that difficult with the right reel. I have one reel with tiny little wings to hold the film and then one reel that has very large wings on it - this supports the 120. Even with very, very curly films, like EFKE25 and Rollei Retro 400 it makes loading things quite easy.

    Remember that it seems like Kodak and the other big companies have put a great deal of time into flattening technology in their films with special bases etc. so that you should never be intimidated by any product of theirs as they simply don't curl that much. The same goes with non-standard film paper and say, Ilford's. Ilford paper I've found lays totally flat without an easel while I have to secure EFKE paper with 10 lb weights on either side and duct tape in order to get anything close to sharp.

    You should be fine, but make sure you run a few test rolls thru as you're liable to screw up somewhere. If only you lived in Korea like me, you can get custom processing done for less than 2 bucks a roll.
  12. What do you gain? Aside from the satisfaction of having done a good job yourself, there can be substantial cost savings. You will also have a measure of control over the quality of your negatives that you won't get from a lab. B&W chemistry is cheap, more so if you start with dry powder mixes, and the equipment you need is minimal. A couple of tanks with reels, a good thermometer, some mixing vessels and storage bottles, and a dark bag if you don't have a light tight room. The mixing vessels can be had anywhere household and janitorial supplies are sold. I use a mop bucket and a plastic slotted spoon for mixing gallon sizes of developers. If you look around, you can find drink pitchers that hold up to 4L. Graduated measuring cups with metric and english markings are more than good enough. Cast off plastic soda pop bottles are the best all around storage bottles I've used to date, and I've used them all. There are a few exceptions when you'd want to use glass, but you won't encounter them with the commonly used chemicals. All these things can be had for very little or no money.

    Don't go cheap on tanks and reels. That would be a big mistake because you will not be a happy camper. Plastic or stainless steel, the choice is yours. Each has advantages and disadvantages, so it's up to you to decide which features will be best for your work load. Good quality plastic tanks and reels for roll film can be very inexpensive, unless you use the JOBO products. JOBO is relatively more expensive, but has the advantage of offering tank and reel systems that you can use with 4x5 sheet film and roll film. I use the HP CombiPlan tank for my sheet film and it is good enough for my purposes. I've never used the JOBO tanks and reels so I can't say anything about them one way or the other. For rollfilm only, the Paterson Super System 4 units are perfectly fine. I use them all the time and couldn't be happier. If you opt for stainless steel, then spring for the extra bucks and get Hewes reels. They are simply the best available new equipment you can find today. Stay away from used stainless reels and tanks unless you can examine them before you buy. They may have been abused, bent out of shape, and may be difficult or impossible to make right.

    Of course, you can expect to screw up in the beginning. Don't let that get you down. This stuff is not hard, nor is it rocket science. Practice a bit and before long you'll be getting exactly what you need. Stick with a good lab for high quality scanning and printing. Dedicated medium format film scanners start at around $1500US new last time I looked. Flatbed scanners won't do justice to you large format sheets. High quality inkjet printer are also expensive, and rarely do they do a very good job with B&W.
  13. While processing B&W is not difficult the devil is, as they say, in the details. Most of us had the luxury of learning by making mistakes unless we had someone experienced to guide us through the process. The details I refer to are things like learning to load reels, choosing an appropriate film and developer, temperature control and consistent agitation resulting in even development. How you expose can be effected by your choice of developer and development times are effected by your chosen output (condenser vs diffusion enlarging/scanning). A simple thing like drying film can result in clean spot free output or a spotting nightmare. If your project can wait while you work through the details I say go for it. A suggestion: initially expose duplicate rolls/sheets allowing a reputable lab to process one set while you work with the other. You will quickly determine if you are on the right track. Wile you don't say if the project is personal or for a paying client that puts you on a schedule, those kinds of circumstances would guide my approach.
  14. As a beginner (new to MF, LF, and film) I can tell you that 120 rolls are easy in an SS tank. Just make sure that you get quality SS reels. I almost gave up on developing B&W myself in the beginning because I had bout the Adorama brand reels which are cheap Chinese knock-offs. Once I bought Hewes reels, it was a cakewalk. I watched a YouTube vid (Brennan I think) on how to load reels and I was off and running. And for a newbie, that's something to say.


    phil temple
  16. Randy,

    You say you've done some B&W, but have you ever developed your own B&W film before? If you are on a project with a paying customer, or if you are capturing a once-in-a-lifetime event, I would say that unless you have developed B&W film before and are comfortable with the process, trying to learn it with two different formats now is not the best idea. Since you plan on scanning these negatives anyway, you will be able to adjust the contrast however you'd like digitally before you make the final print, so if I were you, I would take it to a custom lab that still cares about B&W development.

    Having said that, if you have developed your own B&W film before, and you are comfortable with the process, then you are quite likely to save a lot of money by doing it yourself, and you will have more control over the process. 3 to 4 rolls of 120 per week would be very easy to process, as would 10 sheets of 4x5 a week, if you are comfortable with B&W film development; it would take me about three hours to develop all of that.
  17. I find loading 120 to be very easy except from the the first bit on the roll. When it catches the rest is a childs play. 135 can be more dificult towards the en if it tends to jam. Filmcurl is no worse in 120 as in 135 IMHO. With a Paterson Orbital processor it is very easy to develop the film only drawback is it will only take four sheets.
    Kind regards
  18. With regard to loading 120 on top reels, have a look at this thread:-

    It's a little more tricky than loading 35mm reels but sacrifice a roll to practise with. It's worth doing it yourself so that you have control over the processing.

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