Developing 4×5 large format film

…is a pain in the ass.  Mostly because it’s like starting all over again after I’ve been shooting 35mm film for a decade.  There are so many new things that I’m learning and while my results have gotten better with time I don’t know everything yet.  For instance while most of my images look pretty good these days there is always the odd sheet that’s just off, like this one:

I suspect that this film holder is a bit light-leaky but besides that I don’t know what’s up with it.  I developed 10 sheets in one batch and it’s the 2 sheets I shot on top of Pike’s Peak that look pretty fugly.

The Yankee Agitank is an old model bought used but B&H is selling these brand-new.  I confess I only used it once and it was such a hassle plus the results left much to be desired.  It was the first time I developed large format film so there were plenty of variables to take into account, still I don’t think I will use this tank again.  Here’s a failure below, but there weren’t many successes:

The Rink-Roselieve tank works reasonably well but there are always a few problems either due to me loading a sheet or two of film incorrectly, or some other problem that I haven’t identified yet.  I found that it does help to pre-wash the film beforehand, but even then there will be a random spot on a sheet that doesn’t develop, like below at the bottom of the picture:

Besides spots like that on the edge of a frame I’m pretty happy with the images, though I wonder if one side of the image is getting more development time than the other, just looking at a lot of my images (in this case the left-hand side).

The Stearman Press SP-445 (a Colorado company!) gives pretty much perfect results but is a pain in the ass to get sealed.  For one thing the O-ring doesn’t seem to keep the lid closed so I used a piece of tape to keep the top lid from falling off.  That is a minor inconvenience compared to the drain and vent hole lids, whose twist-off caps are so hard to work with my (I suppose) arthritic hands that I need to use a few wet paper towels for grip and it takes me 60-90 seconds to get the caps off to switch chemistry.  This time needs to be taken into account when timing the development especially, and hopefully agitating for the first time a full minute after adding the developer won’t harm the images much.  It only holds 4 sheets of film at a time and takes ~450ml chemistry which is nice, because I don’t necessarily want to shoot 10-12 sheets of film the same way, that’s locking me into quite a lot.  The Stearman’s smaller capacity allows me to be able to switch films quicker, push/pull more often depending on my needs, and despite my griping the results have never been less than stellar.  Here’s from my first attempt:

The only thing I haven’t tried yet (and I was looking at buying last semester) is the 6-sheet Mod54 holder that fits inside Paterson universal tanks.  I think I would like it, but sadly the months of January and February are ones where there is no extra money for buying anything, and those ended up being the last I was able to use the darkroom.  I’m hoping my instructor will let me in for the Spring semester but of course we just don’t know right now.


1 thought on “Developing 4×5 large format film

  1. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, August 15, 2020 – Chuck The Writer

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