The Massive Dev Chart: the Interview
Back in December 2019, the calm before the storm, Paul had the privilege of sitting down in an actual pub (remember those?) for a chat with Jon Mided of Digitaltruth Photo. Digitaltruth Photo is home of The Massive Dev Chart, every film photographer’s Bible, Holy Grail and all round go-to for their development needs. Amateur or professional, this database will certainly be a valuable resource to you.
Keep reading to find out more about Massive Dev Chart’s history, from a single page website all the way to a smart phone app!
Who is Jon Mided?
Jon Mided is the brains behind Massive Dev Chart. His career has spanned all sorts of areas within the photography industry, from running one of the earliest photography e-commerce businesses, producing his own eco friendly chemicals, and even a bit of music photography.
Now Jon’s work is mainly abstract and for his own enjoyment. But we did find a sneak peak of some of his concert shots!
“… I used to work in a lot of venues in London shooting two, three nights a week into the wee hours, with very limited light, where it was technically extremely difficult to get anything. And I enjoyed that challenge, digital's completely removed that challenge because you can easily shoot this stuff now. So, when digital came along I kind of lost interest, anybody could get a good shot.”
Jon is based in London and one of his primary photography focuses now is the curation of Massive Dev Chart- updating it, monitoring it, fact checking it and keeping it accurate for all of us analogue lovers. Massive Dev Chart is a non profit site, with very minimal advertising, so Jon really does maintain it for the good of the community and as an educational resource. Thanks Jon!
History of The Massive Dev Chart
For a bit of context, Massive Dev Chart is one of the most - if not THE most - used photography resource for film photographers interested in doing their own home development. At Analogue Wonderland, it is one of the top recommended websites that we direct our customers to when they have any questions about specific films or data sheets.
Jon has been running and compiling all this information for over twenty years. Whilst doing our research we even found an article on Shutterbug from 1999, naming digitaltruth.com as their website of the month, describing it as:
“…real proof that digital technology can peacefully coexist within a site that's mostly focused on traditional photographic imaging.” (Farace, 1999)
What’s with the D word?
It is refreshing to see a website in today’s modern world of e-commerce and advertising that is so clean and purely about the data. The concern could be, when you see the contact address as info@digitaltruth, that the website has been bought by some kind of digital agency. It is then reassuring to find that a film photographer is obviously at the heart and centre of it.
So what is Jon referring to with the name Digitaltruth? Is it about the truth that can be found on the internet related to analogue, rather than what it could be about digital photography? If MDC is all about film photography, chemistry, developing, processing all that good stuff, why is the home of it called ‘Digitaltruth Photo’? Jon’s answer was too good not to share verbatim:
“The name obviously is always a question people asked me about. And I can't give you a completely straight answer. I feel like what I should do is be one of these kind of actors who over the years gives completely different answers to the questions. And somebody looks back through all the interviews and says, we have no idea what the truth of this is. it's an abstraction. It's just supposed to be counter intuitive.
It came from the transition from analogue photography to digital, and the notion at the time, that in the earliest days of digital that in some way you can't you can't lie or manipulate as much. I know that seems crazy now because you can manipulate everything so completely. But, in some way, the pixel, you know, is something absolute, and a grain is something amorphous. So, that's my best answer for you.”
The Early Days of Massive Dev Chart
Nowadays it is hard to come by a website that doesn’t blast you with ads and pop ups. This is a way for businesses to make revenue off their website and to fund their server costs. But MDC is very different, it is simple and uncluttered. It does one thing brilliantly and focused entirely on this.
Jon began his Massive Dev Chart venture in the very early days of the internet and it has evolved a lot in that time.
“I was on the web, maybe not during the absolute infancy of it, but pretty much the very earliest days of the web.”
He describes how the web went from text to graphical browsers, and then shortly after you started getting ads on sites. By the late 90s, wherever you visited, you were inundated!
“So, because it goes back so long on the web there wasn't a revenue on the web, and the web was a completely different place. It was pre-ecommerce, there were no businesses on the web… It was very primitive.”
Jon experimented with a few adverts, but they generated so little money that it was hardly worth it for the negative impact they had on the user experience.
There are six sponsors on the first page of Massive Dev Chart, and a few ads on other pages of the site but nothing on the database. This strikes a nice balance so Jon can bring in a little revenue without it interfering with the most important information.
Like many of us, Jon found ads really annoying and decided he wanted to create a user experience that was less intrusive and more enjoyable.
What led to you starting the Massive Dev Chart online?
Given that Jon has gone down the rare path of an ad-lite website this is clearly not a revenue generating venture. Jon discussed how when the internet first began it was pre-ecommerce dominantly used as a tool for sharing information and resources.
Most websites only had two or three pages, and Jon began Massive Dev Chart because he had collated a lot of physical data sheets (before the internet started) from when he was working in student labs, to post times for students that he wanted to share.
He always admired a few other print versions of these kinds of data sheets that existed from the early 70s onwards, for example the Goldfinger manual of photography and other similar publications. They would come in a spring bound kind of manual with different film and developer combinations.
The important element being that it was the users and customers of businesses who contributed the data, not the film manufacturers and this is where the idea for Massive Dev Chart began.
Why use customer data rather than manufacturer information, and how do you manage the quality?
It is not necessarily more reliable, but there is certainly more of it! To this day, big film manufactures like Kodak still only publish times for their own film and developers.
By incorporating data from across the film community and drawing in from other users' experiences, Jon has created a huge catalogue of information for us all that gives us more freedom, creativity and choice when it comes to processing our negatives. There are over 20,000 data points in the database!
“… people in the darkroom, you want to play around a bit, you want to try different things. So having more information, more things to try, anybody can look up a data sheet, the Massive Dev Chart gives you many, many more options that you will find on just, you know, a single data sheet.”
That’s a lot of data!
Over the years that Massive Dev Chart has been established, Jon has collated data creating the world’s largest film development chart. Through a drop down menu or advanced search on the website, you’re able to choose from countless films.
This vast range of research and information means we can create a much more customisable process all the way from shooting, processing and even printing our photographs.
How do you manage all that information?
Jon describes it as “curated content”. A database so big must be challenging to manage and near impossible to verify each datapoint. So, the method to the madness is for the chart to publish the manufacturer’s recommended data first and foremost in every instance and then to supplement it with user submitted data, as it is important to always have a starting point.
Following this, the curatorial approach is that each submitted data is seen by an editor, someone with experience, and ultimately Jon himself before it is added to the chart.
Jon has seen every one of the 20,000 data points in the database before they make it into the Massive Dev Chart. Undoubtedly there will be some errors with that much data, but it is a rare occurrence in the hands of an expert like Jon. In fact he said it is only once or twice a year that customers spot errors, which is highly impressive considering the mammoth task it is to keep on top of so much data. Jon assures us that there is plenty of work that goes on in the background to keep all the information accurate and updated.
How do you protect the data?
A running theme in the Digitaltruth Photo empire seems to be simplicity. Jon talks about his aim of keeping everything as simple as possible- it’s all about the data! He doesn’t use references, partly to protect the copyright of Massive Dev Chart and the work that has gone into collating it over the years. As it is data, anybody can try to mine it; Jon tells us of past experiences where people have tried to suck all the data out of it, he has even had people in China producing fake versions of the app!
Jon has also had online competitors claim to have a bigger collection of film development times than the Massive Dev Chart, however Jon can always tell when the data has been stolen due to the rigorous curation process and the fact that certain pieces of data are highly identifiable to him. Jon got clued up about copywriting and data protection early on, as anyone with a business has to these days.
But in reality, Jon tells us that you can often better protect your data by not patenting or revealing all your sources, as it makes it harder for people to replicate it. Paul described this as Jon’s own secret Coca Cola recipe being his identifiable data.
“So it's the same with photo chemicals as well. If I try to register those formulas, if I try to patent them I have to publish them. Well, then anybody can copy them, once I publish them. So you'll find that most formulas are not patented because you can protect them better by not patenting them because nobody really knows that. Nobody really knows what's in Microphen. You know, most of it, but you don't know 100% of it.”
How has the Massive Dev Chart Evolved?
Massive Dev Chart has grown up with the internet but its core values of being a reliable data source of information for budding photographers has remained throughout the years of Web 2.0, social media explosion and more.
However this doesn’t mean that it’s stood still! There have been some new advances with the development of the smartphone… Digitaltruth Photo has apps! Their apps include, Massive Dev Chart Timer, Darkroom Lab Timer, f-Stop Printing Calculator and the Darkroom Formulas app.
The Massive Dev Chart is the world's largest film development chart with multi-step timer and darkroom support for Apple iPhone iOS and Android devices. The app contains the most complete, accurate and up-to-date development times for black and white films and developers (COLOR film users please see the Darkroom Lab Timer).
The smart and easy-to-use interface lets you adjust film development time automatically by temperature, store lists of your favorite customized film/developer combinations, modify preferred agitation schemes and find the correct volumes of liquid depending on the developer dilution.
The multi-step film development timer helps you to achieve consistent results, while convenient sound and visual notifications remind you to agitate your tank as you listen to your favorite music.
The Massive Dev Chart app is used by thousands of passionate black and white photographers around the world.
The app sounds absolutely brilliant for any keen at-home developers. It gives you access to the whole MDC database, is customisable and even plays sounds when you need to agitate your film, so has the potential to be much more accurate. Jon told us how even he (with his own app!) was very old school and stuck to a traditional timer for a long while, but once he used the app he was converted. And like his website: no ads, no subscription. Just a one time payment, finally!
The grateful film community
Massive Dev Chart has truly stood the test of time from its creation in the 90s. Through the digital age up to now, Jon still holds onto the values that started The Massive Dev Chart
“… a very free kind of liberal space where you could share things…. a free social resource. …I maintain it and I control it. But it's always free.”
And as part of writing this article we asked for some spontaneous feedback from the film community. Unsurprisingly it was pretty universally glowing! Some choice quotes below - click left/right for more:
“I always use the Massive Dev Chart app when developing. I like that it has so many different film and developer combinations. It is customisable if you need to adjust the temperature and therefore the dev timing. The metronome clicking countdown to agitation and when you're agitating means you don't have to keep your eyes on the clock all the time. Great app for beginners and more experienced film developers alike.
This is a scan of a contact print of a 4x5 sheet of HP5+ (shot in my 1940s Graflex Speed Graphic) and developed in Ilford Ilfotec DDX 1:4 dilution for 9 minutes at 20c. Dev times, of course, from the Massive Dev Chart app!"
-Jimmy Hickford @jimmyshootsfilm
“Massive Dev chart is my go to resource for home developing. Being able to look up virtually any combination is great. The app allows me to store my favourite Dev details which is great when I have a particular film stock to develop. It guarantees I will get consistent results.”
-Keith Tomlinson @ktomlinson74
“Well, anytime you look up info like this, you’re putting faith in specs *someone* has posted on the internet and you have to hope it’s not wrong 😌 This chart is extensive and I especially like when you choose your film and developer combo you can read the notes about timing and temperature variations to make your own decisions.
I keep it bookmarked and refer to it all the time. It’s really amazing that this information has been compiled in this way for people to reference. Hooray for the people of the film community creating this to help each other and create such a wonderful archive of information.
I used info from the Chart to help me determine the best way to develop Ilford XP2 film (a C41 film) in Kodak HC-110 for this picture below. It’s actually my absolute favourite film+dev combo and I use it all the time."
-Sara Tarnowski @tarnography
“The Massive Dev Chart is definitely super helpful and a place where I constantly go whenever I want to double check for developing times and mixing solutions… I have to confess that I’m terrible with proportions (1+9 or 1+100 are things that I can’t calculate without a tool like Massive Dev Chart).”
-Marina Llopis @ifwefilm_
The decade that brought us Friends, some very questionable haircuts, and even more questionable film cameras also gifted us with The Massive Dev Chart.
Massive Dev Chart is a moderated, curated resource that allows us to make our own unique, tailor made recipes to suit our individual photography needs and desires.
Jon started Massive Dev Chart online when the internet was pre-commerical, what a world that was! And since then it has grown into a huge and invaluable resource for film enthusiasts.
This article was written by Emma Lloyd from a transcript of the interview plus independent research. She's one of the team at Analogue Wonderland and can be found @ejlloydart!