SP-8x10 Daylight Processing Tray Initial Review by Tim Layton
In this article today, I am sharing my initial review of the SP-8x10 Daylight Process Tray.
I develop multiple sheets of large format film almost every week whether I am in my darkroom or on the road. At the time of this article, I have developed over 40 sheets of 8x10 and 4x10 large format sheet film and 8 8x10 dry plates in the SP-8x10.
The SP-8x10 can be used for any size large format sheet film or silver gelatin dry plates up to 8x10.
Bottom line up front, I absolutely love the SP-8x10 and use it multiple times per week to develop my large format sheet film and dry plates. I highly recommend it to any large format photographer that is looking for a cost effective and trustworthy way to develop sheet film and silver gelatin dry plates.
I will share my initial thoughts with you in this article and after I develop more film, I will follow back up with another article to share a longer term review.
I have always loved developing large format film and dry plates in trays versus rotary systems because the method is simple, effective, and proven.
Until the SP-8x10 was available, there wasn't a large format daylight tray development option other than using standard darkroom trays which requires total darkness for the entire development process and a lot more chemicals.
I have been using Paterson Orbital Trays for several years now that were designed for developing RA-4 color prints because I needed a daylight method for developing large format sheet film and dry plates. I simply have too much going on in my darkroom at any given time to be shut down in total darkroom for a single task.
For the average large format photographer, the need to develop a lot of film is infrequent at best and paying for an expensive rotary processing system like a Jobo, simply is out of the question.
If you have a mass volume of sheets to develop at once and you can justify thousands of dollars for a rotary system, then this can be a good method as well. It just isn't practical or cost effective for 99% of large format photographers and this is why the SP-8x10 is such a good option.
The SP-8x10 is a versatile and cost effective solution for developing any size of sheet film or plates up to 8x10. The system comes with dividers for the most common sized films to include 4x5, 4x10, 5x7, and 8x10. Those formats will cover the vast majority of contemporary large format photographers.
I use a variety of vintage cameras that use odd sizes compared to today's standard film sizes like 3 1/4 x 5 1/2 and 4 1/4 x 6 1/2 and others. The SP-8x10 will be a good solution for developing these films and plates too.
You will need a dark tent/bag or dark room to initially transfer the film to the SP-8x10 tray from your holders. Since a large format photographer already has a solution to load their film holders, a method for transferring the film from the holders to the tray is already solved.
MY DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
I use all of my processing chemicals (water, developer, stop, fixer) at 20C/68F.
I have a warmer bath to keep all the development chemicals at the right temperature.
Once I place the solution into the tray, I don't use any additional method for maintaining temperature. I keep all of my solutions in the warming bath until about 15 seconds before I need them.
I use 200ml of solution for every step in my process at 20C/68F which is a deviation from the recommended 500ml. I have found that 200ml provided a perfect development and this uses considerably less chemicals.
I start with a pre-wash for 2 minutes with distilled water.
Then, I develop my film or plates for the proper times established by my formal testing process. I also mix my developer with distilled water.
I use a very simple and continuous agitation method by gently lifting the front of the tray up, sitting it back down and repeating that for the entire development time. This is a gentle and simple movement.
I like to use TF-5 so I don't need a stop bath or hypo clear after fixing, so I go straight from development to fixing with TF-5. This is a huge time savings for me.
Then I do a one minute wash in the tray with regular tap water after the TF-5 before placing my film or plates in my archival film washer.
I then place the washed film in a tray of distilled water with a few drops of Photo-Flo 200 for about one minute and then hang to dry.
It literally could not be easier.
PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS & TIPS
When I received my first SP-8x10 tray I did glance at the directions to make sure I loaded the tabs in the top part of the tray in the right position. I suggest you do the same, but pay attention to the directions.
I should have read the directions a little bit closer because I loaded one tab in the wrong direction and I put a small scratch on my first test film.
To be clear, it was 100% my fault and I should have reviewed the directions more closely. I share my mistake with you so you won't do the same thing.
In the photo next to this text, I have the tabs installed for developing 8x10 film. You only need the center tabs for developing 5x7 or 4x5 films.
In the illustration to the left, the tabs are a little easier to see because of the colors.
The directions suggest 500ml of chemistry and I did not find this to be the case. I tested with 200ml vs. 500ml and all of my films developed absolutely perfect. This is a huge savings in chemistry over time and makes the SP-8x10 an even better value in my opinion.
Based on my personal experience, I highly recommend the SP-8x10 for large format photographers because I know it works perfectly and will literally pay for itself with the savings in chemicals over time.
I make very large silver gelatin prints and contact prints too, so if there were any issues with my negatives developed in the SP-8x10, it would be immediately recognized and obvious to me.
In the illustration to the left, you will see the center divider. This is only needed for developing 4x5 film or 4x10 film.
In the case of 4x5 film, you would also add the center tabs in the lid as shown in the illustration above.
For 4x10 film, you would not need the tabs in the lid.
Also, you will see the baffles at the front of the tray where you fill and empty your solutions. The baffles are clearly marked and so you won't get them confused when installing them.
I have several of the SP-8x10 trays because I wash the tray after each use and then let it air dry with a fan blowing on it. After it is dry, I reassemble it and place it on my shelf until it is ready for use next time. While the current tray is drying, I am developing more film in the new tray.
I personally have 5 trays because I typically shoot 4 to 6 sheets of 8x10 film per outing and both Tim Jr and I developing film at the same time. We are usually developing with two trays at the same time staggering the times by one minute.
I am thankful that we have organizations like Stearman Press that continue to design and create new tools and solutions for analog photographers in our digital world.
If you decide to get an SP-8x10, send me a note and let me know how it works out for you as well.
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