Exploring Divided Bath DD-23 For Large Format B&W Film Development

June 20, 2017  •  3 Comments

8x10 trays in my film changing tent for film development8x10 trays in my film changing tent for film developmentReceive my Darkroom Diary updates every Saturday at 9AM CT where I share my insider tips and tutorials with film and darkroom photographers. Get sneak peeks inside my darkroom and studio and early access to to my latest fine art prints. [Hint: I give away free fine art prints to my Darkroom Diary readers, so don't miss out.]

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What is D-23 black and white film developer and why do photographers use it?

I will help answer those two questions in this article for you, in hopes that you may find a use for it in your darkroom.

The famous photograph by Ansel Adams "Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine" was exposed on Isopan film and developed in D-23.  "I used my 8x10 Ansco view camera with the 23-inch component of my Cooke Series XV lens with a Wratten No. 15 (G) filter. The film was Isopan, developed in Kodak D-23" - Ansel Adams

As the title of this article suggests, I will be sharing my thoughts as well as my process for using D-23 as a split-bath developer.  When I think about split-bath development, I immediately think variable contrast development and the classic zone system.  

In simple terms, Bath A is where the development agent (Metol) is located and in Bath B is where the alkali resides and the remainder of the development is carried out.  In theory, one can change the contrast of their negative by varying the amount of time in Bath B.  But, is this the case for split-bath D-23? Read the details below to discover how this happens with D-23, and you might be surprised by the information. 

Fresh batch of D-23 developer and some TF-4 archival fixerFresh batch of D-23 developer and some TF-4 archival fixerReceive my Darkroom Diary updates every Saturday at 9AM CT where I share my insider tips and tutorials with film and darkroom photographers. Get sneak peeks inside my darkroom and studio and early access to to my latest fine art prints. [Hint: I give away free fine art prints to my Darkroom Diary readers, so don't miss out.]

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I primarily use D-23 for negatives when I want excellent separation of shadow values and brilliant highlights. I can alter my tray development times to increase contrast and density for my platinum and AZO printing, or I can improve my shadow details by altering my development times in the two different solutions.  

I find D-23 to be a very versatile developer whether you and making straight silver gelatin contact prints or enlargements or you need more contrast and density for alternative printing processes such as platinum and AZO.  It is also very easy to mix from the raw chemicals and it has an excellent shelf life too.  

I have created a short list of why I like D-23: 

  • D-23 has only two ingredients making it very simple to mix in the darkroom and it is highly effective.  It is also very inexpensive to make when compared to buying commercial developers.  
  • D-23 is a fine grain developer with excellent tonal separation, good film speed and it produces very clean negatives.
  • D-23 is incredibly easy to make.  You can mix it fresh from powder every time making it a great choice for any photographer that is not developing on a regular basis.
  • I think D-23 is a good developer to have on hand for large format photographers because it can be tailored to each negative that is developed. 
  • D-23 can be diluted 1:1 making it even cheaper to use. By diluting to 1:1, you can get longer development times which comes in handy when doing development by inspection.  
  • D-23 is a slightly slower developer, which means it has good compensation and less risk of "runaway" highlight values.  I find this useful for my higher contrast scenes and with high-contrast films. 
  • One of the biggest benefits in certain scenarios is my ability to expose my large format sheet film at box speed.  For example, being able to expose HP5+ at EI 400 can be a big advantage in some cases.  

Mixing up some new D-23 split bath developerMixing up some new D-23 split bath developerReceive my Darkroom Diary updates every Saturday at 9AM CT where I share my insider tips and tutorials with film and darkroom photographers. Get sneak peeks inside my darkroom and studio and early access to to my latest fine art prints. [Hint: I give away free fine art prints to my Darkroom Diary readers, so don't miss out.]

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QUICK REFRESHER ON DEVELOPER AGENTS

Black and white film developers typically consist of three main components: developing agent (e.g., Metol), alkaline agent (e.g., borax) and a means to delay oxidation of the developing agent (e.g., sodium sulfite). 

Metol along with phenidone (a newer agent) and hydroquinone are common black and white developing agents. Metol is an organic compound and a colorless salt.  Metol is known to be a good choice for continuous tone and has been widely used in commercial formulas for many years before Kodak discontinued it. Metol is a highly versatile developing agent and a standard that I keep in my darkroom.  

D-23 ECO-FRIENDLY SPLIT-BATH FORMULA

Developer (Solution A)

  • Metol.....7.5g
  • Sodium Sulfite.....100g
  • Water to make 1 liter 

Process to Make Solution A

  • Heat 500ml of distilled water to 52C/125F
  • Dissolve 7.5g of Metol separately in small amount of distilled water
  • Add the dissolved Metol to 500ml of 52C/125F water
  • Dissolve 100g of Sodium Sulfite in small amount of distilled water
  • Add the dissolved Sodium Sulfite to the 500ml of 52C/125F distilled water with Metol 
  • Add distilled water to make 1000ml 

Process to Make Solution B

  • Dissolve 2g of Borax in 1000ml of distilled water heated to 52C/125F 

Note: the amount of Borax in Solution B is a topic of debate.  I tested formulas ranging from 2g to 10g and I settled on 2g for my formula, but I encourage you to investigate and conduct your own tests.  My main motivation for trying DD-23 vs regular D-23 was to control the contrast of my negatives in a couple different scenarios.  In some cases, I wanted higher contrast and density for my AZO/Platinum prints and in other cases, like with Ektascan B/RA X-Ray film, I wanted to reduce the contrast by limiting the highlight values without making the shadow values suffer.   

Chemicals to make B&W Film DeveloperChemicals to make B&W Film DeveloperReceive my Darkroom Diary updates every Saturday at 9AM CT where I share my insider tips and tutorials with film and darkroom photographers. Get sneak peeks inside my darkroom and studio and early access to to my latest fine art prints. [Hint: I give away free fine art prints to my Darkroom Diary readers, so don't miss out.]

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USAGE NOTES

1 liter of developer solutions can process approximately 800 square inches of film before discarding it.  That would equal about 40 sheets of 4x5 film, 20 sheets of 5x7 film, ten sheets of 8x10 film, and five sheets of 11x14 film.  

In other words, you can mix up one liter of developer for your film development session and process a lot of exposures.  I usually only expose a few sheets of film per outing, so I have more than enough developer for my session.  I use fresh developer for each session and discard it afterward, but I have been testing it after being stored in my darkroom for a month or so, and the results are fine. You can cut the formula by 50% to make 500ml if needed.  

PROCESSING OVERVIEW

I have found that Ilford HP5+ and FP4+ develops to my satisfaction with divided D-23.  I frequently use HP5+ sheet film in my 8x10 and 11x14 large format view cameras and FP4+ in my 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10 cameras. I process my films in trays, either in my regular darkroom, on in my film changing tent when I am on the road. 

8x10 trays in my film changing tent for film development8x10 trays in my film changing tent for film developmentReceive my Darkroom Diary updates every Saturday at 9AM CT where I share my insider tips and tutorials with film and darkroom photographers. Get sneak peeks inside my darkroom and studio and early access to to my latest fine art prints. [Hint: I give away free fine art prints to my Darkroom Diary readers, so don't miss out.]

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I have three trays lined up (Solution A - Solution B - TF-4). When I am working in my regular darkroom, I have another tray of distilled water to place the freshly developed negative before moving to the film washer.  If I am on the road, I just wash my films by placing them in trays and letting them soak and periodically agitate for about an hour until they are fully cleared.  

Based on the contrast of my negative being developed, normal, expanded, or contracted, I vary my times in Solution A and you will notice that my time in Solution B remains constant at 3 minutes.  

Below are my personal development times for FP4+ and HP5+:

  • Normal:  10 min in A + 3 min in B
  • N+1: 12 min in A + 3 min in B
  • N+2: 15 min in A + 3 min in B 
  • N-1: 8 min in A + 3 min in B
  • N-2: 6 min in A + 3 min in B

Mixing the chemicals together for a new B&W film developerMixing the chemicals together for a new B&W film developerReceive my Darkroom Diary updates every Saturday at 9AM CT where I share my insider tips and tutorials with film and darkroom photographers. Get sneak peeks inside my darkroom and studio and early access to to my latest fine art prints. [Hint: I give away free fine art prints to my Darkroom Diary readers, so don't miss out.]

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Note: if you are trying to take full advantage of the two-bath compensating effect (control highlights and keep open shadows), then you can explore minimal agitation in Solution B.  This is to help ensure that development only continues in Solution B where it was not exhausted in Solution A (highlights).  

Most divided bath developers have the developer in Part A and the accelerant in Part B.  Because of the amount of sodium sulfite in Solution A; your film is actually being developed without the need for an accelerator.  Now that is pretty amazing.  

Then when you move your sheet film to Solution B (borax), this is where the magical compensating effect happens because the developer agent (Metol) is quickly exhausted in the high values (dense areas), and the lower values (shadows) will continue to develop.  This basically means that you are developing for your high values in Solution A and shadow values in Solution B.  This is why I love black and white large format photography so much.  The ability to control every part of my creative process is simply awesome. 

It is possible to use the development by inspection method on a negative by negative basis, or I just put in the time and found the standard times that work for my style of photography that doesn't require the inspection approach.  

You can develop a single sheet of film or multiple sheets at a time using the shuffle method. 

Your agitation method will impact your development times and negatives, so keep this in mind when establishing your development times.  

Story's Creek Schookhouse at Alley Spring & Mill (5x7 Large Format Negative)Story's Creek Schookhouse at Alley Spring & Mill (5x7 Large Format Negative)Receive my Darkroom Diary updates every Saturday at 9AM CT where I share my insider tips and tutorials with film and darkroom photographers. Get sneak peeks inside my darkroom and studio and early access to to my latest fine art prints. [Hint: I give away free fine art prints to my Darkroom Diary readers, so don't miss out.]

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For normal and expanded development (N and N+), I place a sheet of film in Solution A and continuously agitate for the first 30 seconds and then 5 seconds every 30 seconds for N development and 10 seconds for N+1 until the development time is completed for this step.  I slowly and gently rock my tray for the entire 3 minutes in Solution B.  

The negative to the left is a sheet of 5x7 FP4+ developed for N+1.  The building in the scene is a historic white schoolhouse.  

For contracted development, I place the film in Solution A and agitate for 10 seconds and then 10 seconds per minute until the time is completed for this step.  I then place my film in Solution B and give in just a single rocking motion to ensure the film is below the developing solution.  For N-1, I gently rock the tray for 5 seconds every minute, and for N-2, I don't agitate the film at all beyond the initial entry in the tray.  

After you start developing your negatives and review them, keep in mind the following two variables, and you can really dial in your process for the types of prints that you like to make.  

If you want to increase the overall density and contrast of your negatives, then extend your time in Solution A.  If you need more shadow detail, process your film in your normal Solution B time, then place the film back in Solution A for 15 seconds, and then back in Solution B for another period of time.  Start with times in the range of 1 to 3 minutes and evaluate your negatives.   

After development, I move immediately to TF-4 archival fixer which effectively eliminates the need for a stop bath and hypo-clearing agent and also significantly reduces my washing times.  I can even develop my negatives on the road in my Harrison Dark Tent which makes this a very user friend solution in my regular darkroom or in my mini-darkroom in my van.

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Comments

Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Robert, thanks for the question. The amount of Borax in Solution B is a topic of debate.  I tested formulas ranging from 2g to 10g and I settled on 2g for my formula, but I encourage you to investigate and conduct your own tests.  My main motivation for trying DD-23 vs regular D-23 was to control the contrast of my negatives in a couple different scenarios.  In some cases, I wanted higher contrast and density for my AZO/Platinum prints and in other cases, like with Ektascan B/RA X-Ray film, I wanted to reduce the contrast by limiting the highlight values without making the shadow values suffer.

If you are trying to take full advantage of the two-bath compensating effect (control highlights and keep open shadows), then you can explore minimal agitation in Solution B.  This is to help ensure that development only continues in Solution B where it was not exhausted in Solution A (highlights). Keep me posted on your testing of D-23 and DD-23.
Robert Brockett(non-registered)
Just want to be clear: Solution B is 2 grams of Borax per liter? Can that be correct? That's a much weaker Borax solution than in any other divided developer I've come across. Thanks!
Susan Huber(non-registered)
Thank you for this post! Often I have wait til I get home to see what I did with my lf film. Now, I can use my battered Harrison tent for this on the road! Having a simple developer that can be mixed is easier as I do not develope much...
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