Category Archives: Processing

Drying Marks BEGONE!

One thing which has been the bane of my existence since the first roll of film I developed at home is the dreaded drying marks. Those irritating little streaks on the base side of the film.

Hanging to dry

I don’t, oddly enough, have trouble with drying marks on my prints.

I’d tried everything. Lots of photoflo. Tiny amounts of it, just a drop. Squeegee/no squeegee. Sometimes I would be streak free and home clear, but more often than not, there they would be.

They do wipe off easily in my case. But I’d still prefer not to have to deal with them.

I don’t recall where I read this. Maybe FADU or APUG. But someone suggested distilled water for the final rinse, with just a drop of photo flo. I usually have that around anyway as I use it for mixing my stock solutions and diluted developer working solutions.

Whaddya know but it worked! Half a dozen rolls finished up this way, sitting in distilled plus a drop of the wash aid for a few minutes, and not a single drying mark among the lot of them! No squeegee either, which reduces the chances of damage. Win win, as they say.

So if you’re fighting this problem and are at a loss for how to fix it, this might just be the answer!

Next trick will be to see if I can get away with just plain distilled water and no photo flo at all. I’ll be sure to post how it goes.

Exploring film base consistency

Err, what?

When making contact sheets, you want to keep things consistent. Film base exposes to just shy of black on the paper and highlights fall wherever they will at grade 2. That informs you whether you blocked up shadows or not, and what might be a reasonable contrast grade to use for a fine print.

Yes, but…what?

The film base (or more accurately, base plus fog) represents the absolute lightest shade on the film. No exposed part of the film can be lighter, and consequently no part of the print can be darker than the film base.

So film base plus fog is important in making contact sheets. I really, really don’t want to have to run a test strip every time I make a contact sheet. This is not the “fun” part of darkroom work any more than making digital contact sheets was fun. It’s a necessary step, that’s all, and having to run a test strip every time just makes it even less fun (I have nothing against test strips, I enjoy that part of the printing decision-making process, picking my area of interest and wrestling the tones into place. It’s a challenge, unique to every negative and paper combination. Contact sheet test strips, on the other hand, are not a challenge. Expose expose expose expose develop which strip is most black? No artistic interpretation required. At all.)

Anyway, my point: if I can keep things as consistent as possible where the film is concerned, I can keep my contact sheets consistent without having to test constantly to find the right time. One exposure to rule them all, and in the darkroom, bind them.

I love both Tri-X and Ilford HP5+. Visually, it has always seemed that while my HP5+ has very consistent base tone, my Tri-X can get a bit…variable. My process isn’t that wobbly. Really. Now I don’t have a fancy densitometer, but I do have a film scanner and Vuescan (which has an exposure lock feature intended to set exposure off the film base).

Ghetto Densitometer

Using VueScan to measure base+fog on a strip of film. Note the selection area and the “RGB Exposure” lock settings on the left side. All 5 rolls of HP5+ were within a couple of hundredths of this one. Tri-X varied more but not enough to warrant testing every time.

So I used what I had, like the resourceful little maker I am.

I found that the 5 rolls of HP5+ I tested were incredibly similar. This is despite their being developed at various temperatures in the 70-74F region, with times I was still trying to decide on. They were all fixed in Kodak Hardening fixer (not recommended BTW with HP5+ unless you enjoy reverse cupping, I guess Ilford recommend non-hardening fix for a reason!)

The Tri-X, by comparison, had much more variation, though still within a narrow enough range that I’d be OK using the same exposure time.

Care and storage of Kodak D76 stock solution

Before I start, a little warning: fresh D76 stock is a clear fluid which looks exactly like water. Mixed indicator stop bath could easily pass for orange juice at first glance. Fixer doesn’t look like anything bad either (the smell ought to be sufficient deterrent, though). DO NOT store chemicals anywhere they might be mistaken for something to drink. DO NOT store them anywhere children or pets might get into them. DO label chemical bottles carefully as to their contents (this isn’t just for safety, it’ll save you from ruining film by getting the bottles mixed up). This should of course be obvious and common sense, but we live in a very stupid world where bags of peanuts have to carry a “warning! contains nuts” and hot coffee has to warn you that it is, indeed, hot, so consider the above a legally-binding disclaimer! Or to put it another way if you or your loved ones accidentally drink your photo chemicals, it’s YOUR OWN BLOODY STUPID FAULT, capisce? We now return to our regular scheduled programming…

After a couple of years using a Rodinal variant as my black and white film developer, I decided to give good old D76 a try. However this introduces an issue I’ve not had to worry about with R09: careful storage.

R09/Rodinal concentrate is reputed to keep almost indefinitely, even in a partially full container (a very nearly empty container may be a problem, I’ve lost a roll to what may well have been exhausted developer and I know at least one other black and white film shooter with a similar experience; that’s a whole other topic though). By contrast, mixed D76 stock solution has a definite shelf life and exposure to air will cause it to go off.

Now if I was re-using/replenishing the stock solution that would be no problem. I’d keep it in a well-sealed 1 gallon container. But developer re-use is another variable introduced into the mix and more importantly it’s a variable which can’t be measured or controlled, merely guessed at based on the number of rolls of film that have been through the soup. Instead, I’ve opted for the 1:1 dilution and one-shot use option, so when it’s time to develop a roll I’ll mix at least 8oz (240ml) of D76 stock with an equal amount of water, discarding the mix when I’m done. This raises the question of how best to store the stock solution.

I started out with four 1 quart wide-mouth plastic bottles which originally held Powerade/Gatorade, a type of bottle I’ve been using for a while to store mixed stop and fixer. To that I added a couple of bags of glass marbles. As I used developer from the bottle I added marbles in to bring the fluid level to the neck again, keeping only the smallest bubble of air in the top. It did not take long to realize that with enough developer removed it was impossible to get the fluid level to the top. I soon found out just how quickly D76 will go bad, in this case it had turned yellow within a week! Also, it gets to be a real pain to measure out the stock solution while fighting with marbles that also want to escape from the bottle. That’s the sort of repellent problem which makes me want to just put the developing gear away and watch TV until my senses have been numbed and my brain oozes out of my ears. So, I had a re-think.

There are concertina style bottles available for this type of chemical storage. I’m sure they’re very good, but they run several dollars per bottle not counting shipping. I wanted to see if I could find something more readily available.

To use D76 at 1:1 dilution with water, you need a minimum of 8 ounces of stock solution per roll of 35mm/36 exposure or 120 film, otherwise the development time must be increased. That’s OK, I generally develop one roll at a time anyway. So I figured the best thing to do was split part of the mixed D76 into smaller bottles, each one suitable for one roll of film, and went hunting for some 8oz bottles which would fit the bill.

What I found, indeed the only thing I found, was the 6-pack of Mott’s Apple Juice which comes in nice sturdy 8oz bottles. $3.50 at Kroger. Perfect.

So now, I mix my gallon of stock solution from the powder and split 3 quarts of it into my existing 1 quart plastic bottles which are clearly marked with their content and mixing date. The remaining quart is split out across four 8oz bottles, similarly marked.

I develop at room temperature, adjusting development time to compensate, so all I need to do is grab 8oz of D76 and 8oz of water at room temperature and mix them together. The small bottles are either completely full or completely empty so exposure to air is not a problem.

After 4 rolls, the 8oz bottles are all empty and I transfer the contents of a 1qt bottle into them, so my 1qt bottles also are either full or empty, nothing in between. In fact, since I have an extra couple of bottles, I can transfer out a quart of the developer into smaller bottles as soon as I have 4 of them available for use.

After 16 rolls, I’ll mix another batch from the 1 gallon powder mix and start over.

Now, there’s a wrinkle I haven’t brought up yet. My minimum 16oz (480ml) of 1:1 mixed developer is more than enough to cover a single 35mm reel in my 2 reel Arista Premium developing tank. However, I need 590ml to cover a single roll of 120 in this tank, which I round up to 600ml (20oz) for ease of measuring. In practice, I can mix my 8oz of developer with 12oz of water for a 1:1.5 dilution and get results I personally can’t tell the difference with. A densitomiter reading would, I’m sure, show a difference, but I can’t tell just by looking at or scanning the negatives compared to those done at 1:1. I’ll be curious to see if it affects printing any, but I can’t imagine it would.

Ilford HP5+, part 2

In part 1 I noted that my HP5+ negatives were rather thin. The next roll I developed for 13 minutes at 68F in Rodinal 1+50 and the results were much closer to what I’m used to with Tri-X and Acros. Still a little low in contrast compared to them, so the next one was souped for 14 minutes.

This is the first time I’ve had to really dial in a film, Tri-X and Acros development times were about spot-on first time I tried them. I’m pleased to have been able to diagnose the problem too, maybe I am learning something after all?

Otherwise I am definitely happy with the results. On a light table with a 10x lupe I’m unable to notice much of any difference between HP5+ and Tri-X shot in the same camera and developed the same way. Similar grain, similar sharpness. Same thing when scanned. I have no complaints so far. Still curious to see what, if any, difference I’d see with enlargements made in a darkroom.

On the basis of something mentioned over at TOP recently about getting better results by pulling one stop and under developing (thereby increasing shadow density while controlling highlights), plus the “I think it’s undercooked a stop” experience of my first two rolls, I’m shooting my last roll of HP5+ at EI 200 and will be developing it for 11 minutes.

On a related note I now have 7 rolls of Ilford’s mid-speed FP4+ in the fridge awaiting their turn. My starting point there will be EI 64 and whatever Ilford’s official time for Rodinal 1+50 is.

Ilford HP5+ part 1

My first two rolls of Ilford‘s HP5+ film have been shot and developed.

The film was shot at box speed (400) metered using the ever reliable Gossen Luna Pro F. I developed in Rodinal 1+50 dilution for 11 minutes at 68F. This is the official time recommended by Ilford and also listed in the Massive Dev Chart.

First of all, I’m pretty certain that the development time was too short. Almost all of the negatives came out quite thin. I know my metering was correct, especially so for the incident metered shots which were very consistent in their difference from what I consider normal. I’m reasonably sure that the Yashica’s shutter speeds are in spec, or certainly not out by a stop or more. I haven’t had any trouble with previous rolls of Tri-X, Acros and Ektar run through it. I used all the shutter speeds throughout the roll and counted out some exposures in the 2-4 second range with the shutter set to bulb. Just can’t see all the speeds suddenly being out of whack by the same amount and my counting to be off by the same amount.

Also the edge markings on the film seem to be rather thin-looking.

So next roll I develop I’ll try something else. Possibly 13 minutes with normal agitation (30 seconds at start, 3 inversions every minute).

I also got a reasonable answer on my “which reciprocity adjustments to use” question: the Ilford official adjustments resulted in an overly dense negative, even with everything else on the roll looking thin. The shorter time garnered from testing yielded a negative with tones a lot closer to the other shots on the two rolls. I’m going to stick with those times and throw the datasheet’s recommendations under the bus.

I did notice that the lights in my night shots seem to be very dense despite the underdevelopment. Perhaps this film would respond well to a reduced agitation approach. Perhaps I’m used to Fuji Acros 100’s ridiculous ability to hold onto highlights.

What else? I like what I see so far in terms of detail and grain (supposedly Rodinal and HP5+ are not a match made in heaven, but I’m not seeing any big problem. Then again I’m not pathologically averse to grain either). I’ll be picking up another few rolls of this and refining my development.