Saturday, April 08, 2017

Using the Stearman Press SP-445 Developing Tank

Part 1

Nearly five years ago I moved house.  The new digs are an improvement in pretty much every way.  But there is one exception - I lost the darkroom facility I had crafted in the basement of the former house.  Admittedly it was s very crude setup, and only accomodated loading and processing film - no printing.  Since I was scanning, that was OK, though I don miss printing.

To compensate after the move I joined the Flower City Arts Center, which has truly great darkroom facilities and bargain rental rates.  But I just didn't use the facilities that much; due to work I was only able to go on Saturdays.  So I didn't renew my membership every year.

So I've made do at home by loading 35mm and 120 film onto reels and into tanks in a dark bag.  As my desire to work more with 4x5 sheet film returned and increased, I still didn't have a way to process at home since I only have deep tanks, which require total darkness.  

Faced with renewing my membership at Flower City and not really using the facilities as much as I needed, I decided to research daylight tanks that might work for me.

In the past I had used a Yankee Adjustable Cut Film Tank, which accommodates up to 12 sheets of film.  In fact, I still have one, but damn if I can find the rack that carries the film! The problem this tank that I always experienced, though, was uneven development, particularly at the edges of the negative.  This was caused by the design not allowing proper flow of chemistry during agitation.  Before I adopted deep tanks as my sheet film processing gear, I solved this problem by not placing the lid on the tank and raising and lowering the rack for agitation.  But that means the tank is no longer "daylight" - so I was back to square one.

Another option is the HP CombiPlan tank, a discontinued daylight tank.  I actually have one that was given to me, but the loading guide is missing so even if I wanted to try it, I can't.  Add all the negative reviews of this overly complicated kit, and I quickly discarded this option.

I had heard of the Stearman SP-445 tank, the result of a Kickstarter campaign, but had mostly forgotten about it until a web search turned up links to the website, YouTube videos and reviews.  At $90USD it's not that expensive, though I had to evaluate whether I wanted to take a chance - $90+ is not chump change for me.

After cogitating for a few weeks, I decided to order it from Freestyle Sales, my go to for a lot of photographic needs. 

(Aside:  I can buy Kodak film from Freestyle cheaper than I can here in Rochester - the film is made here, shipped to Freestyle in LA, then back to me.  You'd think Kodak Alaris would promote the use of film here in Rochester with great pricing, where yes, there is a rich reserve of photographers who not only know and used film, but who actually helped design and manufacture the stuff!  But no.   Grumpy mode off.)

Earlier this week the SP-445 arrived, along with a new darkroom thermometer and a Nikkor 75/4.5 SW via Japan.

Six sheets of film had been exposed and were awaiting processing:  2 sheets of Delta 100 shot as EI tests and 4 sheets of FP4+ needing N+2 and N-2 development.  So I was waiting for the weekend to arrive when I could test out this new kit.

The two sheets of Delta are hanging to dry and I can judge my first test drive a success.  Details will in Part 2 soon.  But overall I am pleased.  I made no disastrous mistakes, but I learned enough to improve my technique.

I still plan to build a proper darkroom which will accommodate processing more than four sheets at a time, which is the limit of the 445 - get it?  4 sheets of 4x5 = 445.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

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