John Steinberg. 4×5 TRI-X, by Tom Rice-Smyth


We all have to start somewhere.

I know, I know, everyone wants to skip the boring basics and get on with making prints like:

But everyone starts at the same place and gets to where they are through consistent good practice. Oh and a lot of practice. I still remember waking up one morning some 40 years ago and saying to my wife at the time, with absolute excitement ‘I know what zone 4 toast looks like!!’ It didn’t go down well at 7:00 am.

To start I would recommend everyone begin using 35mm. The equipment is inexpensive and everything you learn from it is applicable to every other format. Thus making your transition to larger format (if you decide to) less daunting and “sort of” trouble free. I say sort of half joking as there is always hurdles to overcome that are unique to larger formats.

What you will need:

Equipment for processing film

  • Reels to roll the film (my preference is for stainless steel not plastic)
  • Tanks to develop the reels of film
  • Film washer
  • Enough clips, one for each end of the film and a safe place to hang them
  • Either a completely dark room or a light bag to roll the film into the reels and put them into the tanks
  • Suitable thermometer


  • Developer (Kodak D-76)
  • Stop bath
  • Fixer
  • Hypo clear agent
  • Kodak Photo-flo (wetting agent)


I have used this word a few times now and it’s probably the most important methodology in film processing. You have to be consistent every single time with everything. Otherwise you will chase your tail in a circle of frustration. I should know I chased my tail for years trying to figure out what went wrong!

Why stainless steel reels and tanks

  • Yes, I know, they are harder to get the hang of than plastic but and this is very important they can be cleaned of chemistry so much easier than plastic and they come up to temperature much faster and more consistently.
  • They can also be washed, dried and re-used much quicker than plastic reels and tanks
  • Due to their conductivity they are more consistent when it comes to temperature control

I realise this is rather short and you probably already know this stuff, but I want to start from the very beginning. I think if you can afford it you should start over with stainless steel for the reasons I have outlined above.

So check back again in a couple of days and I will publish the next installment.

All the best

Part 02