Traditionally, people developed large format negatives in trays. I’ve never done this, since I lack the room to easily try, but I have heard enough about scratching negatives that I was reluctant to try it. I have a Patterson tank, so I started with the taco method.
Like it sounds, the taco method involves bending the negative in to a taco shape, emulsion inside, and slipping a rubber band hair tie over it to hold it in place. You then place them inside the tank, and go on and develop as you would roll film. Then, once the rise cycle started, you moved the hair tie to allow the water to rise off underneath where it was, and you were done. In theory, it sounds pretty easy. In practice, it wasn’t as reliable as I had hoped. I had hair ties slipping off, and was finding the film curved along the inside of the tank when I opened it. There was an unacceptably high number of failures.
Some research turned up the Mod54 development reel for 4×5. And all those problems were a thing of the past.
Morgan O’Donovan, a photographer who lives in England, invented this reel for use in a Patterson 3 roll System 4 tank. It very cleverly uses a notch system to load and hold the sheets. Each sheet ends up curved around the center spindle with the emulsion toward the center. There is ample room for the chemicals to flow around during agitation, but the sheets are held securely enough they will not come adrift while you’re doing it. With the Mod54, you can develop six sheets of 4×5 at once in a Patterson tank.
The Mod54 comes with a warning that you may have to vary the amount of chemicals you put in to the tank. I found that I didn’t have to, however. In fact, it is just as easy to develop 4×5 with the Mod54 as it is to develop 35mm or medium format. This will save all kinds of time when I step up and shoot more large format.
There is a trick to loading the Mod54. Most people load theirs in a dark bag, as I do. The Mod54 has notches on the top of the reel you can feel in the bag. Line up the notches on the top of the film with them, and it will work perfectly. When loading you should also make sure that every sheet is in its own notch on the side and bottom to make sure there is separation between them. I practiced loading in daylight with some throw-away 4×5 sheets and had perfect success loading in the bag.
The Mod54 is by far the easiest way to daylight develop 4×5. It doesn’t require a specialized tank, nor does it require any modifications to agitation strategy. It’s going to be a huge time saver going forward.
Here’s the video on how to use the Mod54 from Morgan O’Donovan