No Scratch Tray Development

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by ken_schroeder, Jun 6, 2003.

  1. I see so many postings regarding the dreaded scratching of sheet film
    during tray development. The primary cause of this is operator error
    and is easily correctable. Assuming one is using 4x5 sheet film:

    Speed kills. I developed 59 sheets of film yesterday. With the last
    batch, I finally hit on a very safe procedure. I set my Gra-Lab
    timer for several minutes and drop a negative into the presoak at
    thirty second intervals. That may seem like a long time. However, I
    drove 5600 miles for these negatives. An extra three minutes is
    miniscule. The added individual time afforded an amazing
    difference. The first time shuffling indicated the films were ready
    for the developer.

    Related to speed, I used to develop as many as 18 sheets at a time.
    Buying a Gravity Works sheet film washer has proven a good governor.
    Twelve sheets is the limit. Actually, eight is a more comfortable

    I use more solution than before. In 8x10 Paterson trays (the ones
    with the very handy grooves on the bottom) I use two quarts of
    liquid. Is this being spendthrift? Not really. The fixer has the
    same capacity. Water is water. I have switched to more dilute
    HC110. I used to use dilution B (one part syrup to thirty one parts
    of water). Yesterday I was using one part syrup to forty-eight parts
    water. I used seven minutes instead of five with the stronger
    solution. As I had several batches to process, I used six quarts of
    water and four ounces of syrup in a Paterson 11x14 tray.

    The "splat" sound of the sheets landing flat on the water surface
    means there are no dive bombers trying to inflict scratches.

    Is tray development the "best" way? That's another question.
    However, to answer that question fairly, I think one really must
    judge from a position of proficiency.
  2. I tray develop and only do 1 to 2 negatives at a time. I have never had a scratch doing it this way. Several months ago I tried to do 4 as per the shuffle method described in AA negative book. 2 of the 4 got scratches, and I went back to the 2 sheet maximum. I know this may be slow to some, but I'm in no hurry.
  3. Ken- One of the slickest ways to process sheet film was told to
    me at a workshop in, oh, 1986 or so. This guy used round
    mixing bowls of appropriate size. Using them, only the corners
    of the film touches anything. The danger of scratches from a
    film's corners still exist, but the tray bottom sure won't scratch
    anything. And since the film doesn't conform to the round bowl,
    it's easy to get your fingers under a sheet to pick it up. I've been
    lucky so far and use trays without a problem, but if I start
    scratching things, I'm switching to this method.
  4. Ken, I've been using a method of sheet film development in trays much like the process you just described for years, with minimal scratching. Wearing a Nitrile glove also helps eliminate finger nail scratching. I find that a longer development time helps eliminate uneven development in the smooth areas, like sky. I am trying for 15 minute times myself.
  5. I technique that I recently learned and have used with great success is to place a 3/4" tube of PVC under one end of all the trays. It is the same idea as using lots of liquid - it keeps the negatives in line at one end of the tray in large pool of bath. Also, I was taught to cycle thru the stack of negatives 4 times/minute. I have since been told, and have also started to use, 2 times thru the stack/ minute and it works just fine.
  6. An extra three minutes is miniscule. The added individual time afforded an amazing difference. The first time shuffling indicated the films were ready for the developer.
    I'm thinking of trying tray development again. When you say "indicated the films were ready," what are you talking about? What's the indication?
  7. Interesting responses! Wally, if one or two sheets at a time works for you--go for it. I suspect most of the sheet film casualties are due to being in a hurry. Gary, the round bowl method certainly sounds safe. However, I don't recall having ever scratched a negative on the bottom of the tray. The culprits are generally the corners of other sheets. Steve, my thinking has been toward longer development times recently. I think you are on target with your fifteen minute time for uniformity. Good point about the fingernails; grooming is important for film developing. Lyle, good point about raising the far end of the trays. I did that for years when I used two flat tables taped together as a wet bench. Fred Picker taught me to do that, and it really helped corral the hegatives. My present darkroom sink drains toward the center. One of my "to do" items is devising a way to raise the far side of my trays. I think less frequent agitation, more dilute developer, and longer times are important in consistency. Hogarth, when shuffling sheets in the presoak a point is reached where the sheets slide with no resistance at all. That's what I call "ready". Judging from the ocasional scrapings on the bottom of my trays over the years, I have found most of the scratching occurs in the presoak or maybe the developer. That's why I think being very fastidious in placing the sheets very slowly in the presoak will go a long way toward eliminating the problems.
  8. Not a direct answer, but a newbie with some initial experience and frustrations. I had suffled 6 5x7 negatives in a tray without any problem. Perhaps I have been lucky. I slide the bottom sheet off with my other fingers separating this sheet from the top ones, and then dropped it on top of the others with the edge touching the end of the tray. I found that this way the corners dont touch each other. Don't know whether my description makes sense. However when I mixed 5x7 and 4x5 sheets together, I found this to be impossible. The negatives were scratched like crazy! Won't mix different sizes again. Another problem. The sheets are to be dropped one at a time, right? But the fingers that dropped the first negatives into the developer were wet by the developer.The wet fingers then made the other sheets stick together. They can be separated when the negatives were all in the developer, but with effort. Can the latter problem be solved with "pre-soak" in water? Thanks. Chong
  9. This may seem a bit off topic, but why develop sheet film in trays? I can see why you might want to develop one, or a few sheets that way, but not more than that.

    I have had good success with the Nikkor tank, and I know that there are other types of tanks that can be used to process 4 X 5, or larger film sizes. It would seem to me that all of the handling that is needed for tray processing is offering too many chances for damage to the film.


    Joe Stephenson
  10. Chong, your shuffling method sounds like mine. I've never mixed formats; that sound disasterous. I generally place an upside down tray to the left of the presoak tray. I unload my sheet film into part of a film box crosswise. The film actually rests on one of the cardboard stiffeners. I place the box onto the upturned tray. With my left hand I pick up one sheet at a time and transfer it to my right hand. I try to keep my right thumb and forefinger dry, but usually they get wet. The important thing is to keep the left hand dry until all the sheets are in the presoak.

    Joe, why use tray development? To quote Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof, "tradition". I was taught that way, and have done so since 1981. Also, tray developing can be a very fast, efficient way to develop a lot of film. Some photographers combine the plus and minus negatives with the normals. I have done as many as eighteen sheets at once. With practice and attention to detail, that number is safely possible. Doing it on a more irregular basis, I am more comfortable with between eight and twelve at a time. I have read reports of irregular development with the Nikor tanks. We have all read warnings about scratched negatives with tray development. Apparently you have enough practice and skill with your tank to have good results. I think tray development can be done at that level, also. My goal in posting this is to encourage others to give tray development a good evaluation. There are several ways to develop 4x5 film. Even those who prefer a non tray method with 4x5 may end up using trays with larger sizes.
  11. Joe, another very good reason to do tray development is so that you can inspect the film starting about 3/4 into your expected development time to see when each sheet is developed to your satisfaction. It is very easy to control plus and minus development this way.

    There are lots of good writeups on the process. Michael A. Smith has one on his website in the article called "Developing By Inspection" in the Writings section. Or you can find it in the May/June 1999 issue of View Camera Magazine.
  12. I like the Nikor tank for 4x5", but for anything larger, trays are the easiest, particularly if you have a lot of sheets to process.
  13. Hello... Am I the only one who uses hangers?
  14. One at a time, emulsion-side up in square trays. Never had a processing fault (streaks, whatever) using this method -- at any development time, from 6.5' on up. It seems more worth the trouble w/ large and ultra-large negatives. I might process two films at a time w/ 5x7. For some professionals, I suppose one-at-a-time is out of the question. That round bowl wrinkle is interesting. Never heard of that before. -jb
  15. The first time I developed 8x10 negs in trays I scratched them and decided then and there shuffling was not the technique for me. Besides, I don't expose many of these big negs, and what's a few extra minutes after so great an investment of time and money. And sometimes you don't get another opportunity to go back and retake the shot you ruined in the darkroom.

    Only later did I become aware of a more serious problem with tray development, but it took me longer to figure out the cause. I was getting uneven development, which was not readily visible on the negative itself but very visible on the prints. Finally I realized that my agitation technique was causing increased development along the edges as the developer rebounded off the sides of the tray.

    My solution was to move up to larger trays. I now use a 12x16 tray to develop 8x10's one at a time or two 5x7's side by side. Equally importantly, instead of tipping or otherwise moving the tray, I move the negative through the developer holding it with my finger tips. No more uneven development.

    Even if scatches and uneven development were not problems, I would prefer working with a single negative (or at most two negatives) at a time, as I try to keep straight the instructions from my field notes for N-plus or N-minus development.
  16. Skip and Ken,

    Thanks for the responses. I agree that tradition plays a large part in photography, especially in large format. I like doing things the traditional way, but do not eschew some newfangled things. Why, I even use an enlarger.


    Joe S.
  17. Conrad, Nope you are not alone. If I have more than 1 or 2 negs I go to hangers. It seems to me that for doing an inspection, picking the film up by a hanger is real safe and easy. Easy wash and dry too.
    You can buy hangers at the photo swaps dirt cheap. How come more of you are not using tanks & hangers?
  18. Conrad, I didn't realize anyone was still using hangers. (Just kidding. I know hangers are a common method. As I recall, Bruce Barnbaum was using them when I met him. That was almost twenty years ago, so that may or may not be current. I still use the Nikor tanks for roll film. Why? My father taught me to use then forty years ago.)

    Nicholas, I can't fault your logic. You have more patience than I do. I agree, one at a time is certainly a good way to keep the negatives and field notes straight.

    Joe, an enlarger. (Moderator, please expell him!!!!) Again, I jest. One of the things I enjoy about traveling to another area is realizing how many things are done differently, and seem just as normal. So much of what we do is by custom. I recently read Eugene Singer's essay on using a combi tank in dip and dunk mode. The idea seems promising for intermittent agitation, as does individual tray processing and hangers. I must confess that my 8x10 prints are really enlarged from 4x5 negatives.

    Jim, I've never developed by inspection. I have been known to under and over develop, but the errors were found inspecting the already developed negatives. Have you found development inspection effective?
  19. Ken; I had learned the inspection method in photo school in the late 60's. I never could see a damn thing that mattered. Bad student. I know that M.A.S. has a lot of followers on this site, so I threw that in. I do like hangers way more than trays. For the guys that are playing around with diluted chemicals and extended times it seems to me to be the only way to go.
    About hangers, I use only Kodak. The 4A for 4x5 and #4 8x10. The Urell style with the swinging arm tends to drop films. It may be that if you had problems with hangers and tanks it was due to cheap hangers.
  20. I don't think that many would accuse me of being an M.A.S. follower, but tray development by inspection has worked well for me, as I am not the most fastidious darkroom worker, and it presents some latitude in timing and temperature. I find it far more intuitive, and sophisticated than time/temp/agitation development. I don't mean to imply that users of t/t/a are less sophisticated people than those who use DBI, just that inspection involves more human sensory analysis, which is complex in nature. Jorge Gasteazoro taught me a brush development technique, that while slow, has proven absolutely reliable, and meditative. I wish that Jorge would consider hosting a Platinum printing workshop in Mexico. "The Platinum pallapa workshop", what do you think Jorge?
  21. M.A.S.? Sorry, guys, I don't have a clue what M.A.S. means. I might be one or following in that path, but it would be nice to know what it is.

    The brush stroke method sounds fascinating. Please describe it for me.
  22. Ken; Sorry for the confusion. M.A.S. as in Michael A. Smith. After all the heat Jay and Jorge gave Mr. Smith over the Azo thread I thought the connection would jump out at you. To Ken and Jay, I guess that I'm clumsy in the dark. I do more damage to film using trays than hangers. This way I handle the film only once when it's dry, slipping it in the hanger. It stays in the hanger until dry again and ready to store in a sleeve. As stated above I have damaged film using swing arm hangers, so I now use only Kodak.
  23. hi jim:

    i used to develop in hangers - i originally learned large format developing large
    format from an olde tyme portrait photographer who shot all 5x7 and processed
    everything in hangers. it worked well for me for a while, i actually had maybe 30
    hangers at one point ... i had some major problems using hangers the last time i used

    i do habs photography and often times have armloads of film to process. with
    hangers i was able to do 12+ films at a time and get really nice results. i usually
    make duplicate exposures so i don't only have one film incase i run into development
    problems ...i was doing a run of film and noticed that i had marks on a bunch of my
    film. some were small circles where they are on the hangers, some were lines &c. i
    hadn't had any problems for 6-7 + years before that, so i guess i had a handful of
    bad hangers. ( i had bought some used ones at one point and i guess they were in
    my "cycle" and my problem is that i wasn't sure which ones they were) well, i called
    kodak and asked them how i should clean the hangers, can't remember what exactly
    they told me, but i did what they said and cleaned all the hangers -- i shot some test
    film to see if i still got marks &c .. the film came out exactly the same, so i switched
    how i processed from hangers to trays and haven't looked back since ...

    i now process in trays - sometimes 4 or 8 + sheets at a time. i use a tray that is the
    next size up from the negative size - do a water bath, then dev - another water then
    fix ... just kind of "shuffle" my film and do the inspection thing. for the last 2 -3
    +years i have been processing 5x7 the same way. i use ansco 130 ( formulary paper
    developer) for all my film. my results are better then they were with xtol ( and i pretty
    much did all the different dilutions &c) and i haven't had a scratch or a bad negative
    yet ...

    i hope my mentioning the funky marks on my film doesn't cause you to have the
    same problem ... ( knock wood!)

    - john

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