Crown Graphic with 127mm Ektar, Tri-X (320TXP), lit with a handheld flashlight, shot at EI 1000 and developed in Diafine using the MOD54.

Anyone have a 36-septum Grafmatic?

The compact 35mm film camera revolutionized photography and literally put it in the hands of millions of people. Box cameras did well, but Kodak’s plan to regularly change formats (razor blades, anyone?) just didn’t take hold because of the popularity of the 35mm format. And hey, I find it a lot easier myself to load a Paterson or Hewes reel with 35mm film and drop it in a daylight tank and get some shots developed in a half hour or less.

ROCERY, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Crown Graphic, 127mm Ektar, Tri-X, f16, 1/400, developed in Diafine using the MOD54. Click through the image to see the detail (and dust).

Medium format is also relatively straightforward, though I will openly admit that for every perfect roll I (literally) roll, I leave a half-moon or two on another due to my terrible rolling style. I have dropped the f-bomb as many times loading 120 or 22o film onto stainless steel reels as I have driving and biking in NYC streets. That’s one reason I’ve not switched from Paterson plastic tanks and reels completely (and volume—stainless steel tanks are smaller than Paterson tanks so I can’t get as high of dilutions as I need in some cases).


The ingenious and superb MOD54 – a tank insert that greatly simplifies 4×5 sheet film development

But some guy named Morgan O’Donovan stepped right up to the front line of people who revolutionized film photography and made LARGE format development dead easy. His MOD54 device allows you to load 6 sheets of 4×5 sheet film into a Paterson tank in as much time as it takes to load a 35mm film onto a reel. I bow deeply and respectfully and owe the guy a pint big-time. I can now, on a whim, load up my Grafmatic (a six-sheet “cartridge” for sheet film that allows you to shoot quickly) and take some shots walking around with my Crown Graphic, as I did this morning, then go home and develop them without fuss. It’s so easy, in fact, I wish I had a few more Grafmatics to carry around.

Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Crown Graphic, 127mm Ektar, Tri-X, f16, 1/400, developed in Diafine using the MOD54. Click the image to see the detail (and dust).

You see, large format processing has always been a process that requires either room for a darkroom (which I don’t have) or equipment that allows you to develop film in a temporary space. The HP Combi-Plan was my weapon of choice for years. You can develop multiple sheets and it takes up a remarkably small space. It’s a vertical plastic tank with a carriage for holding the film. You slide the film into plastic grooves and then ratchet down a bracket that holds them in place, and it has a light trap in its input and output holes so you can pour in and pour out chemistry with the lights on. But pouring and draining take forever, and there are a lot of parts. Lose one bit and you’re screwed. I’ve kept mine together, remarkably, but I’ve had inconsistent results because of the time it takes to pour chemicals. One workaround is to fill the tank with chemicals in a blacked-out, darkened room and drop the film in with the tank open, then seal it and turn on the lights. Still a lot of mucking about, a challenge seeking a solution. Same thing with vertical tanks and small trays: you have to use them in the dark, obviously, until fixing’s done.

The MOD54 simply works, and it works simply. And the results are consistent: even development. I even accidentally had two sheets touching on the edge (which I thought I had checked for carefully in the dark) but no problem at all. There was enough tension in the sheets to arc them apart enough so they didn’t stick.

To load it, you hold a sheet of film vertically in your hand, with the notched corner in the upper left. Pinch it slightly so it bows out. Insert it into the grooves. Repeat twice on that side; there are two more sets of grooves (easy to see in the photo), then three times on the other side. There are also some notches in the top plate that correspond to the film notches; they’re there to remind you, in the dark, which way to place the film. Or you can just listen to the fellow in the video above, as he invented the thing.

The kit I got came with a 3-reel Paterson tank, which is very clever. I have several two-reel tanks and a 5-reel tank but no 3-reel tank, so getting it all at once was perfect.

Sleepyhead. Crown Graphic, 127mm Ektar, Tri-X, overexposed to EI 1000, developed in Diafine using the MOD54.

I strongly urge all of you who have thought about shooting large format to patiently wait and find a great deal on a Crown Graphic or, if you don’t need to be as mobile, a Kodak Master View (I’ve seen them go  for cheap), go to and pick up a kit, get a working Grafmatic, and start shooting. Pick up some Kodak 320TXP aka Tri-X Professional before they kill it.* It’s my favorite film ever in medium and large format. The shots you see in this post are all with that film, overexposed at EI 1000 and developed in Diafine.

So now I’m going to actually remember how to load a Grafmatic because it’s going to get a lot more use; in the past I’ve used it once every six months and tend to forget which way the septums go.

*I’m guessing it’s already dead and Kodak’s just selling the stock they have left in their salt mines in Rochester.