X-ray film and Large Format Photography

Various opinions were flung around on how bad X-ray film is, how narrow tones are or high contrast it is. How prone this film to scratches or how sharpness is not there because emulsion is on both sides.

Lets take this in steps, and I will walk you through my thoughts.

X-ray film portrait

Why shoot X-ray film at all?

X-ray film is, by far, the cheapest and most affordable way to shoot large format at the moment (especially if you progressing towards Ultra-Large formats). Also it is quite insensitive to typical red light. Which makes it possible to develop by inspection and to get interesting skin tones (and sky tones) that are not available to you without extra filtering on regular films.

Green or Blue film?

Well. Never tried blue film, sorry. But I have seen some nice results online from blue film. On a side note – when you develop green one, base is still blue. Just a fun fact to mention 🙂

Single or Double-Sided?

Single sided film is pricier and used for mammograms (i think). Double sided is cheapest option. Drawback that many experienced with it is too high of a contrast, so many folks do strip second side, after development (simple bleach on the paper towel does the trick). I have tried both ways and don’t like stripping for two reasons – I am not patient enough to do this carefully. Secondly I never had contrast issues, to be honest (see below notes on development), also some other folks love that increased contrast for the alternative printing (palladium). I did plenty of wet prints with regular fiber paper and some resin coated ones and lith prints as well as regular ones come out just fine for me.


There is no anti-hallation layer (so you might actually love it for the back-lit romantic shots!), there are two sides. Your shots MIGHT be a bit less sharp than what you used to with films from Ilford or Fuji. I personally never had issue with sharpness in portraits or landscapes, in fact I like when portrait has smoother lines. May be it is also attributed to developer?

Shooting: loading film

X-ray film considerably more prone to scratches. But if you careful enough it will not scratch as you put in in film holder. 8×10 will be less snug than regular film and double sided film will not have any notches to know which way emulsion is facing. But its double sided! So it doesn’t matter :). Some people load it with red safelight on, for better control. I just do it in darkness. But never in tent, to avoid hands getting sweaty (thinner emulsion, no protective layer – if your hands are wet you can leave nasty marks). I used to do it in gloves too, but stopped.

Shooting: Sensitivity

I always measure my Green Kodak X-ray at 100. Outside or inside, flash or daylight. There seems to be a bit less of a drag when your light is crossing over to red zones (X-ray film is not fully sensitive in red spectrum), but I never truly seen it go completely half-speed or anything like that. X-ray film, at least Kodak one, seems to have surprisingly wide latitude, allowing you to do errors. Metering technique is whole other subject, and I will leave it to other post. But I will emphasize that I do not use Zone System for metering, so my mileage might vary from yours, if you adhere to it.

I have shot various lenses with it, modern and not so much, and I have never seen much of special difference between multi-coated and non-coated lenses on rendition with X-ray.


Critical moment. Some people manage to do trays , using smooth bottom trays and so on. I never got it to point where it would be acceptable, plus I honestly dislike to do this whole standing and waiting, as my development times are generally longer than 3 minutes.

So here is my way of processing :

1) load rotary tank (Jobo with inserts) and put it in processer on regular film rotary mode. Volume I for 2-3 sheets is 270ml
2) pre-soak with tap water (around 70-75F, I never fully measure temperature, just trying to not have it icecold) for 4 minutes, while prepare developer (R09, I use Adonal) 1:100-125 (lower concentration if I feel there were way overexposed shots, just a voice of trial/error here, but it might give too much grain) with same tap water.
3) pour out presoaked water – it might have funky golden colour. Then 12 minutes of development (yes, 12)
4) pour out developer. Depending on exposures (as it seems), it will be either almost clean or black-ish). Do rotary washing (same 270ml per wash) 6 times, letting it go about 4 cycles first time, about 2 cycles after this.
5) pour in fixer. 5 minutes or processing. I use Kodak hardening fixer, on account of emulsion being soft as it is. 270ml will last me typically 3-5 developments (reusing)
6) pour out fixer, save it or just throw away. 7 washings with same 270ml per wash, 3-4 rotary cycles per one, after last one I will open tube, drop in bit of dish soap (anything that is safe for babies will do, i use Downy), and then let it rotate two cycles.
7) open, carefully, get film out (i use glove on one hand here, typically i pre-wet it, so i dont damage emulsion), put hanging clips on, stick film in dryer. On hot air it will be ready to do printing or scanning in about 30 minutes.

I use exact same way to process Ilford films, so there is no change in process as far as doing things.

Rotary processing also seems be key to tame contrast quite a bit, so – consider it. Only tricky bit is that with double sided film you cant use tanks where film lays flat on inner edge of tube – but Unicolor drums got nice special ribs and also there are inserts you can make yourself or buy online to help with it.

2 thoughts on “X-ray film and Large Format Photography

  1. Excellent and useful information. Can you say more about the tube and insert for ULF film?

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