4b. In the Dark - Developing Equipment
Developing Equipment: The time honoured method of developing sheet film is to use developing trays. While tried and tested, that method can have some disadvantages: like the need to undertake the whole process in the dark (hence requiring a darkroom); increased possibility of scratches when developing more than one sheet at a time; and the possibility of uneven development. For these reasons, I've never used trays. Rather, I started my large format endeavours using a tube to develop all my sheet film. This tube was part of a "starter kit" for developing small cibachrome (now
ilfochrome) prints. It measures about 15cm long and includes a light tight removable end cap/solution reservoir at one
end, and a light tight drain hole at the other. After loading the exposed film into it in a changing bag the rest of the steps can be carried out in daylight. I found it worked admirably for developing
5 x 4 negatives - provided you ensured you had enough developer to fully process each sheet of film. This was particularly relevant at the dilute solutions I prefer to use. The biggest disadvantage was the time required to process a large number of sheets of film.
Occasionally the chemicals did not fully penetrate to the back of the film (where it pushes against the
tube wall), meaning the developed and fixed negative appears to have a dark stain when it was first
taken out of the tube. This stain is just the anti-halation dye on the film back and with both APX100 and FP4+ comes out in the wash. No problem.
With repeated use, the end cap (held on by friction) started getting loose - and even came off once or twice during the development process ruining the film. Similarly, the light-seal in the drain at the other end of the tube started to fail letting light in and causing fogging of the film during development. I engineered "work-around" solutions for both problems but they prompted me to seek alternative equipment for developing my film.
After a bit of research and monitoring ebay, I acquired a Jobo 2551 tank and two 2509N reels. This is really just a larger version of the one sheet tube, except that the reels allow a number of sheets to be processed at the same time. Each reel allows me to develop 4 sheets at once (in theory, with two reels I can do 12 sheets - six per reel - but I think I read somewhere that Jobo didn't recommend this for maximising quality). Obviously, the main advantage of the Jobo compared with the single-sheet tube is that less time is required to develop a larger number of sheets. The disadvantges are: (1) the reels are a bit more fiddly to load - and generally need to be loaded in a darkroom rather than just in a changing bag, and (2) a greater volume of chemicals is required. Of course, processing four or eight sheets at once also means that if I mess up a session I mess up 4 sheets, not just one...
After loading the tube or tank the rest of the development process can be carried out in daylight.
I float the loaded tube/tank in a tray of water at 20 degrees celsius, pour the developing chemicals in and out at the allotted times, and agitate by rolling the tube by hand while it sits in the water bath. I just roll the tube back and forth in the tray. In the case of the Jobo tank, I built a "roller-base" out of some scrap wood and four plastic wheels - it looks like an upside down skateboard. Total cost about $5.
After the final fixing stage I pierce one corner of the film with a Paterson film clip and then wash it by hanging it in a Nova 16x20 vertical slot print washer. It then hangs to drip-dry.
As noted earlier
Agfa Rodinal is the developer of choice. As already discussed, development time varies according to factors
such as the contrast range of the subject and the "look" I am trying to achieve in the final
print (zone system again).