I’m a self confessed photography empire builder. What started out as a shared space model, me making use of common areas for photography purposes cleverly transitioned into a permanent settlement model. I’ve ever so slowly taken over a bathroom and a small side room, much to the anxiety of my wife, to establish a working darkroom and an all purpose room suited to everything from contact printing to the storage and tedious mixing of chemicals. This on top of the studio/office space I’d long ago established. These days, I see my situation as one of a darkroom and lab with a house conveniently attached to it and some friendly people residing within it. You see, a major part of photography for me is working the entire process. Whether it be making my own glass plate negatives for Dry Plate photography or simply developing my own color and B&W film. I love it all. Shooting 35mm, 120 and 4×5 is just the best of all worlds and I have my equipment and processes nailed.
Enter, the 5×7! I stumbled upon this camera and a couple amazing lenses and felt like I just had to have it. I was thrilled. However, as I began to think through how I’d work 5×7 processing into my current set up I quickly descended from thrilled to confounded to moderately depressed. I explored all variety of approaches to developing my own 5×7 sheet film from tray development and dipping tanks to sending it out; the last option being a desperate consideration rationalized one late evening under the influence of a couple beers and tequila. There’s just no friggin way I’m mailing off my film to anyone!
No doubt about it, I loved the camera and the lenses and what I envisioned I could do with them. I could not believe how stuck I’d become trying to sort something out. I quested through eBay and all the forums over a couple weeks. I spent a ton of time! I priced out IR/NightVision goggles as I seriously considered tray development. I considered going the antiquities route and building up a dipping tank set up. I found, reviewed and built a bookmarks folder dedicated to every mail order developing enterprise I could locate. Desperate is what desperate does! In the end, I was frustrated and sort of let it go trying to convince myself I’d reserve the 5×7 for glass plates. Trying to work the camera into my life had become a second career and I was exhausted from it.
One day while looking through YouTube vids on 5×7 photography I happened upon a “one off” single video entitled B&W Kings. Here was this guy unpacking a box from China revealing a stainless steel tank for 4×5 and 5×7 sheet film development. I was riveted! I dropped everything and flew to their website.
While the site suffered greatly due to strained, yet at times humorous, translation I was over the moon about what I saw. Amongst many other products, these guys did in fact make a stainless steel development tank for both 4×5 and 5×7. As I read through the site and looked at the pictures I quickly determined that this was no ordinary tank; no ordinary system. Nothing looked like anything I’d ever come across before. Unfortunately the single video I’d found was just an unpacking video. It was left to my imagination fueled by the cryptic directions on the website as to how this thing might really operate in use.
To be honest, I was just a bit leery about ordering through the website. It was a clunky site filled with poorly translated information about a company and its products located half way around the world, the combination of which did not inspire full confidence. I started a hardcore web search for anything and everything related to this company. I found a very brief, very recent exchange in a forum and a guy had purchased one via eBay. He had not put it to use yet. The hunt was on. I jumped directly to eBay and indeed, there it was. I was relieved. That said, I about fell out of my chair when I saw the price of $200. I believe I let out a “you gotta be f#$*% kidding me” scaring the cat who’d until that point been pleasantly sleeping at my feet and prompting a “you alright” from inside the house attached to my workspace. I sat there wondering what on earth could justify the price.
I sat on that price for a couple days when in a late night fit of “whatever-ness!” I just hit buy. I instantly felt the trembles of buyers remorse. On top of it all, the anticipated delivery dates indicated I could expect it sometime in Feb! That was over two months away for the record. Now, I do lean on the “gotta have it, gotta have it now…” side of the fence once I’ve made a decision and Feb seemed an intolerably long way away. Well, the deed was done and I resigned myself to the wait. The only solace I had was, assuming the device actually worked, I’d solved the problem. The 500lbs gorilla that’d been on my back since I purchased the 5×7 was now reduced to a modest sized barking sideshow monkey.
Much to my surprise, a package from China was waiting for me when our family returned from Texas having spent the holidays with my sister. This was a full two months earlier than projected and when all was said and done, a transaction time of less than 3 weeks from purchase to delivery! Oh happy, happy, joy, joy….I snatched that package from my wife’s hands leaving her perplexed and stunned, and I darted off to the privacy of my photography stronghold. I was overjoyed.
Oh, well, there is one slight confession I should make which will add a bit to understanding my sheer exuberant delight at the arrival of the package. You see, I’d also ordered sheet film for the 5×7, along with some miscellaneous items. Of course, they all arrived within a day or two. Impatience ruling, I decided to run a test on the lenses and to give developing via the “taco method” a try. The net result of that was a perfection in failure like I’d never seen. In fact, the perfection of that failure verged on the sublime and I spent some amount of time admiring it. It was so perfect a failure that I walked away not upset but strangely satisfied. Needless to say I hit the pause button and never returned to that approach.
The first thing I noticed was the package itself. Well done! It was seriously packaged and the materials were quality. This package was delivery-guy-proof. With surgical precision, I began opening the box. At each step I was consistently impressed with the packing. Yes, I know I’m probably making a big deal out of this, but you have to understand, I once received an old used camera which the sender had just dropped in a box wrapping it once with a single sheet of newspaper. I’ve had every variation on that theme as well. So, I’ve come to expect the worst when it comes to packaging. B&W Kings exceeded all expectations. This was a very very good sign. Every single component was individually bubble wrapped and boxed!
The contents include the stainless steel tank, a stainless steel gasket and cap, stainless steel top and the steel film rack with roller wheels on the bottom (more on that later). Additionally, they provide a really nice cotton storage bag, which I’ll never use but have hung up as artwork in my studio, and a business card stapled to a set of instructions. What you immediately are struck by is the the quality. The materials, the build, the entire set up is of exceptional quality.
Assembly is quite simple. The film rack is placed in the tank. It has a solid little single finger handle to aid in placement and removal. The top is then placed on the tank. It slides on with precision. Note, it also comes off without the need of a “jaws of life” or crane unlike many other stainless steel products I shall not name. I cannot count the number of fingernails I’ve shredded struggling to unseal a damp stainless lid from it’s base.
Upon this, you place the metal gasket and the cap. That’s it. Martini anyone? That said, when it comes to B&W King’s developing tank, it’s definitely stirred NOT shaken.
I plan on a follow-up covering first use, however I will provide a quick overview about how this is supposed to work. The film cage has a set of four rollers on its bottom. The top has a paddle which inserts into the film cage when you put it onto the tank. Looking into the opening on the top you’ll note there’s a vertical piece of metal which runs across the diameter of the opening. This is engaged by the metal buttons on the inside of the cap. When fully assembled, you rotate the cap and it rotates the cage easily moving your film through the developer, wash or fixer. It’s really an ingenious design. My fully assembled dry runs yielded smooth and rock solid performance. I cannot wait to test it out.
In closing, I again want to emphasize the quality product which B&W King have produced. You will not be disappointed here. Rather than any signs of shoddy craftsmanship, it’s quite the opposite and I’m just not that used to seeing something this well made these days. You’ll have to read between the lines when it comes to the website and the instructions they provide however, honestly they’re both sufficient and it’s not going to require a rocket science degree to put into use. Note, they also make models for other film formats.