Negatives with sunstroke
June 27, 2009 4:07 PM   Subscribe

DarkroomFilter: At what part of the developing process am I screwing up my negatives?

I've recently set up a home developing setup to make 120 negatives in black and white. I've worked in the darkroom before, although only with 35mm. I've been shooting with an old hobby camera -- a Bilora Bella 66.

So far I've developed four rolls, and they all come out the same way: badly overexposed (too bad to scan properly), with weird marks on the film. I pulled two stops on the most recent roll and it looks a little better contrast-wise, but still has the scarring at the top.

This is all 100 speed film (the first three rolls were TMAX, the last was Ilford Delta). The camera has very few settings, so I shot them all at the fastest exposure -- 1/100s at f/18. Sunny weather. Ilfosol developer and fixer. I've tried plastic and metal reels. No flash.

I've never had this problem before. My old 35mm negatives all have pleasant solid blacks that develop into pleasant solid whites, and are unmutilated. Is it the camera? Is there a secret to loading 120 film? Or am I forgetting some rookie rule of the darkroom?
posted by zvs to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
Have you tried getting a roll developed by a professional film house? It might help with isolating the problem.
posted by barfmann at 4:26 PM on June 27, 2009

Those negs are either under exposed or under developed. Get a light meter and use strict time, temperature when developing.
posted by JohnR at 5:51 PM on June 27, 2009

Best answer: I don't actually have experience processing 120 film, but my Mr. rintj and I have lots of 35 mm darkroom experience. He is wondering if the too high contrast is too warm a developer or too long. I know you said you had tried two different rolls, but it looks like either a light leak, or a buckling issue, although it doesn't look like classic buckling. I vote for some kind of light leakage, plus too high a temperature in developing.

Try some time/temperature experiments and check your light safety in the rolling. (How fun for you to have that great camera and a darkroom! I am so jealous!)
posted by rintj at 8:13 PM on June 27, 2009

Best answer: Things that could have gone wrong, based on what you showed us and on the assumption that you do know what you're doing in the darkroom:
  • Sticky shutter on the camera, leading to overexposure.
  • Flare on the negs - you have blacks in the car doors but everything not in a shadow is almost blown out.
  • Hard water messing with your dev times.
  • Dev too hot
There is some serious buckling on that roll, are you forcing it onto the spool? Film should wind onto the spools smoothly, if you hit a snag even it out with your fingers on the roll from the edges.

Honestly, if you're just starting to dev film, I would recommend you stay away from the T-grain films, TMax and Delta. they're a lot more sensitive to mistakes in developing, giving you flat negs if you're off. Try some Kodak Tri-X or Ilford FP4 instead. Variety is the spice of life, but it's a trainwreck when you're developing film. You want to absolutely minimize the number of variables: one film, one developer, one light meter, one method of development/agitation, one temperature and when you're having a problem, change only one of the last two things.

Go get a roll developed at a lab - that'll help you figure out if the camera is the problem and provide a benchmark. Only then can you work on your developing skills. Getting a good b&w image takes a lot of factors coming together. If any of them don't, you're not going to get the results you want.
posted by jedrek at 1:29 AM on June 28, 2009

My money here is on over strong dev or over hot dev. The marks look like the film has buckled in the reel.
posted by hardcode at 3:33 AM on June 28, 2009

Best answer: You have a light leak somewhere. It could be anything from a camera problem, to failure to make sure there's no slack in the rolls of film when you're loading or unloading the camera, to a faulty developing tank.

When I was shooting roll film and had to load and unload film backs or bodies on a sunny day, I always did so in a way that kept the film in the shade. If you're changing rolls in the direct sunlight, especially if the film isn't wound tightly on the spool, that could be your problem.

Given the age of your camera, I still vote for it causing the problem. The next time you shoot a roll, load up in subdued light, and tape up the camera's film chamber with black tape. If the camera has a ruby window which acts as a frame counter, keep a piece of opaque tape over it too except when youre actually winding the film.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:46 AM on June 28, 2009

The picture of your negatives makes them appear "thin". Read this. Experiment with increasing exposure or increasing developement time, separately.
posted by JohnR at 5:51 AM on June 28, 2009

Sometimes old cameras don't necessarily give you proper exposures. Do a test roll with the same scene and different exposures, keeping track of the exposures. Develop as you would normally and then find the best exposure. Is it one stop different than the metered exposure? There is your correction factor. Use it for all future shots.
posted by JJ86 at 7:57 AM on June 28, 2009

Best answer: The camera has very few settings, so I shot them all at the fastest exposure -- 1/100s at f/18.

The shot of the SUV appears to be exposed well (at least, the bottom half of the image). German shutters are pretty reliable and you're only like a third of a stop from Sunny-16. You could have a light leak or it could be a bad development procedure (wrong temps, agitation, old chemicals... could be a lot of things). My vote is the latter, because the weird marks aren't consistent frame-to-frame and they appear to extend across the entire piece of film.

You need to eliminate some variables to find out where the problem is, so I'd second jedrek's idea send a roll to a lab to make sure the problem isn't the camera.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:13 PM on June 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, these are some useful tips. I can't easily adjust the camera's exposure -- there's only three aperture settings, and the only shutter speeds are 1/100 and Bulb. I also forgot to mention I've been loading and unloading in a changing bag to eliminate that possible vector of problems, and keeping the red window covered with its metal plate 99% of the time. I'm not really forcing the film onto the reel at all -- it loads very smoothly on plastic.

I'm actually pretty used to TMax and its cohorts -- I've done quite a bit of dev with them, and in fact never developed anything else...

While I have been strictly adhering to time and temperature, my darkroom is pretty warm. I'll try pulling the temperature down. And taping up the camera. And, if I can't fix it, taking it to a lab (blech)... thanks!
posted by zvs at 3:12 PM on June 28, 2009

I've gotten weird lines on negatives before through overzealous agitation during the processing. The time it happened, the lines were vertical, so not exactly what you've got here, but your agitation style is another factor to consider.
posted by msbrauer at 8:34 PM on June 28, 2009

Response by poster: Follow-up: it was the camera!

I did a control reel where I executed each step the same as before, but while I was loading the film in the changing back, I wrapped several layers of electrical tape around the seams of the camera box. Developed it: problem solved. No marks along the edges at all. Still a little overexposed, but I'm going to chalk that up to very sunny days and a too-warm darkroom. Thanks for all the help!
posted by zvs at 6:18 PM on July 9, 2009

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