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Thursday, December 8

Retarded development...

It was hard for me to believe but we recently passed our first year in our "new" house and I still hadn't developed a film in all that time. In total, I shot about four rolls of 35mm and a couple of 120 but couldn't get motivated enough to see how they might have turned out.

Eventually, I got so fed up that I decided to get the finger out and develop a few 35mm rolls. I thought I'd kick off with two rolls of Tmax 400 and one of Eastman Double-X, the latter a film that was sent to me by boutique analogue dealers Nick and Trick for review. It was good to see that the films needed the same time in D76 1+1 so out came one of the big dev tanks and in went the three rolls.

Never having developed a film before at the new kitchen sink, I had to search for the various bits and pieces necessary for processing, eventually amassing the complete works of dev, fix, measuring cylinders, thermometer, tank, etc in a plastic box. The process went well despite regular interruptions by family members making cups of tea, noodles, and so on. And yet, for no obvious reason, I didn't have a good feeling.

As the film was sitting in the wetting agent, it occurred to me that I didn't have anywhere to hang the three rolls. Not being able to find any string, I ended up suspending them on a double layer of thread attached to a hook at one end of the darkroom and a screw at the other. Not exactly elegant but needs must.

I took the rolls out, hung them up and then noticed that, although the Eastman film looked fine, the Tmax was lacking some density. I've been on a diet for a month or two and have lost about 20 lbs but I'm still a "heavyweight". Nevertheless, I was sucker-punched by the bantam weight D76 which, I remembered too late, can be out on its feet if asked to do too much work, ie. develop too many rolls at once.

Yes, the highlights were definitely on the weak side. They looked a bit like the type of negs that would "scan well" - in other words, they were under-developed, by around 20% I'd say. I fished the D76 packet out of the bin and checked the dev time for Tmax 400 - it was 12 1/2 minutes - before recalling that that time applied to the old, original Tmax 400. Kodak, for whatever reason, couldn't be bothered updating the packaging. I'd given the three rolls just 9 1/2 minutes, working off the Massive Dev Chart App on my iPad. It was then I realised I'd forgotten to make an allowance for the three rolls-in-a-tank. I think Kodak says that there should be 250ml of stock dev per film. At 1+1, I'd used just 500ml in the litre of developer.

That's my first excuse out of the way. Now here comes the second. I normally scan negatives on an old Epson flatbed but it's out of commission for the time being so I used an all-in-one printer, scanner, fax machine that Cath has. I just couldn't get very sharp neg scans from it at all. So the pictures on this post have been hit by a double whammy of severe contrast adjustments which accentuated grain pretty drastically and over-sharpening. Not the best combination really.

I think the negs will print OK but they'll need grade 5 or thereabouts. But that's what you get hard grades for, isn't it? The Eastman negs look nice if a little under-developed but I'll comment on them in another post once I've had a chance to eyeball them under the enlarger.

And onto the photos themselves. You'll maybe notice a wee theme running through them - they share a similar sort of composition. It's a fall-back of mine, I'm afraid: a converging road, S-bend, or similar leading the eye into the photo. I was disappointed with these pics, to be honest, as they don't break any new ground for me but just plough over a field that has been tilled and replanted to the stage of near exhaustion. I was quite excited looking through the viewfinder at the taking stage but the negs didn't live up to my expectations - and not just where their technical quality is concerned.

Continuing the crappy boxing metaphor from earlier, I'm putting it town to ring rustiness. At least, though, I'm back in the saddle (one metaphor not enough then? - Ed) as far as taking photographs goes. I've been out a couple of times this month, most recently to the Queen Mother's birthplace at Glamis. I had the Rollei SL66 gear and a Contax SLR 35mm outfit in the boot of the car.

I'd taken a few shots in a spooky old graveyard - see the Gothic iPhone pics below - but decided to use the Contax 137 MA for a gathering gloom shot of the village as the street lights came on and the sky darkened a little. Everything was lined up nicely - and then the batteries packed in! I reached into the bag for the spare set but they weren't there. I must have used them for some other purpose. Oh well. Step forward the SL66.

If I can take you back to the graveyard for a minute, Cath and I burst out laughing at one stage at the eeriness of it all. You need to picture the Hammer Films-like scene: it's a fairly old church (1792 but there's been one on the same spot since the 8th century), there are lots of very old gravestones, probably dating back to the 1500s or earlier, it was approaching dusk and, as you can see from the iPhone pics, ivy grows everywhere. I was lining up a shot on the 40mm wide angle on the Rollei when a dog howled in the middle distance. I raised a Roger Moore-like eyebrow, Cath chuckled and the next second the church bell sounded. Flipping 'eck! Where's me garlic?


DavidM said...

Well done.
Some nice shots, despite your dissatisfaction. I particularly like the misty fence.
I'm afraid I don't understand your dilution problems at all. If you used the right quantity of developer for 1x3 films, it would make no difference at all that there were three films in the tank. If you had developed each film individually in fresh developer, you'd have used more-or-less the same amount of active agent in the end, surely?
[Pure speculation: can the development by-products of one kind of film inhibit the development of a different kind?]
Looking at the images here, I can't see any strong highlights at all, so maybe it's what Kodak call "subject-failure" rather than dev-failure. Since when did fog have highlights? You may find that they're not quite so different when you get them in the enlarger.

Bruce Robbins said...

Not sure I understand the development thing either, David! As far as I remember, and I haven't used much D76 for about 20 years, you need 250ml of stock per film. If developing one film at 1+1 then you need a minimum of 500ml - 250ml stock and 250ml water. I developed three films in a multi reel tank but used just 1l at 1+1. That's enough to cover the reels but only has 500ml of stock in total and not the 750ml required. The effect is similar to over-dilution. Whether it's a result of a weak developer or the build up of bromide from the three films I don't.

There's no doubt the two Tmax 400 films are under-developed rather than just grey and misty. It would have been easy to have brightened the highlights in Photoshop but I'm using Lightroom and that was as peppy as I could make them. The Double X seems to have faired better. Maybe it acts like the cuckoo in the nest? If I'm wrong re the cause then I'm not sure what else it might be. Everything was carefully timed and measured. The D76 was well within date - a bad batch? I'll develop the next film on its own and see what happens.

DcAnalogue said...

We waited so long but was worth it....
I like the pictures and the atmosphere of your shots. ;-)

DougH said...

Been living in Florida for too long [flat, boring landscapes with no undulating hills nor stones]; so really appreciate the long view down the stone wall [last image]. Wonder what the scene would feel like if taken from between stone wall and fence?

Bruce Robbins said...


I'll let you know once I've lost another 20 lbs. :)

Kodachromeguy said...

Bruce, I love the grainy frames. Are they from the Eastman Double X? Is it available in 120 size?

Let me suggest a modest-priced Plustek 35mm scanner. It comes with Silverfast software. I have a 7600i model and am very pleased.

Your first frame has some odd highlighting along the ground and behind the bushes. I assume this might be from your scanner or from too much sharpening?

Cheers from Mississippi.

John Carter said...

I think it was Winston Churchill during WWII that said,'The dangerous "ifs" accumulate.' Well, if it is any help, I've done similar.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Yeah, don't put yourself down Bruce - they are really nice and atmosphery photographs, so welcome back old bean!

I think you are right though - isn't it the case that 1 unit of stock equates to enough for 1 sheet of 8x10 or 4 of 5x4 or 1 x 120 or 1 x 35mm? Like you I haven't used D76 in decades (1984 was the last time for me) so I obviously can't remember, but I would say you didn't use enough.

The Double X is a fine looking film - where did you get it?