This is the second post in my series ‘learning large format’ photography. As a beginner to large format I thought I would record my experiences. My first post discussed my reasons for getting into larger formats and my choice of kit. This post will describe the decisions I took in getting to my first sheet film image.

Loading the film holder

The first step was to load HP5 Plus into Toyo 4×5 film holders. First I practised with a sacrificed piece of sheet film in the light and then placed my box of film and film holder into my changing bag.

The operation was fairly straight-forward. I had a slight problem closing the bottom gate on one side but realising that I had probably not fed the film all the way into the holder, I carefully took the film out and re-inserted it to make sure it was sitting right. This worked as I felt the bottom gate close properly and the slide travel down unimpeded.

Loading the Patterson Orbital Processor

Before opting for the Orbital, I had considered a number of other negative processing options including the Jobo and tray processing. I had not heard of the Orbital, which was designed to process colour prints, but my darkroom mentor Andrew Sanderson suggested that I try one.

Paterson Orbital Processor

So I found one on Ebay. A number of things that I liked about the idea of one: firstly it’s very convenient to be able to process negatives without having to go to a darkroom. Secondly the processor can handle 4×5, 5×7 and 10×8. And thirdly, it’s cheap and simple.

Loading it in a small changing bag proved quite difficult as there was not enough room for the orbital and the film holder to sit side by side.

So I will need to get a larger changing bag.

Developing the Negative

A few things needed to be thought through.

Firstly I had read that the film can lie flat to the floor of the tray and therefore impede the flow of development chemicals under the film. A number of adaptations to the tray have been suggested over the years. The neatest is to add sticky silicone buffers to hold the film off the base. So this is what I did. I bought the buffers on-line for £1.50.

Adding small buffers to the Paterson Orbital

The second thing to work out is the volume of chemicals to add and the agitation method.

I played with the agitation using water. My orbital came with a rounded base piece but I found that using it made the water swoosh round in an uncontrolled way and at times it went over the side of the tray.

So I opted for manual rocking agitation, changing direction every 4 rocks. So, left to right, then up to down, then corner to corner then other corner to corner etc.

The greater volume of liquid that I added the more easily the experimental piece of film rode above the retaining pegs. So I will get some taller plastic screws with a decent head to use instead of the pegs that came with the processor.

Too little volume of water required a more vigorous and frequent agitation to cover the negatives. I tried 65 mls, 100 mls, 150 mls, 200 mls and 250 mls. I settled for 200 mls of chemical and a gentle rocking motion, lifting the side of the processor by about 1 inch.

I decided to use Rodinal. I found that for sheet film the time for Rodinal at 1:25 is 4 minutes. This short time is OK if the consistency of your agitation is spot-on but I reckoned that it was too short for processing this way for the first time. So I opted for a dilution of 1:36 which gave me 7:30 minutes, enough time for any agitation issues to be ironed out.

However the 7:30 time is for periodic agitation. I thought that with such little chemical I would need to continuously agitate to keep the negatives covered. However my spot-meter measurement of the scene that I photographed suggested n+1 or n+2 development so I figured that rather than increasing the development time by 20% to 40% I would develop the negatives for normal time but with continuous agitation.

I developed the HP5 in the normal way that I would for smaller formats except that I did a 2 minute pre-soak. I normally only pre-soak when using Pyrocat. I’m not sure about the merits of pre-soaking. The arguments on this go back and forth. I figured that pre-soaking would make the film go more limp and therefore it would lie flatter in the tray and not be so tempted to float on the chemical bath. But I have not tested this. Also the pre-soak gets rid of the anti-halation layer which might not happen so readily in this type of processor.

Test picture

Here is the negative scanned into Epson v 850. The results look ok. I captured the reflections that I saw and I kept the highlights within bounds.

Stairs to my study – reflections – 4 by 5 HP5 film test in Rodinal 1:36

The next post will see me taking the view camera into the field.