Kodak Tri-X 400
Guesstimated exposure with a scale-focus camera
(probably a backward lens element; notice the edge blurring)
2015 February 3 Film Developing
It's not difficult to develop your own film. Many people are getting into film, and many are wanting to develop their own.
This article will show you how to do black & white film developing. (Maybe in a future article I'll cover C-41 and E-6.) It's good to start with black & white, because generally the process is a bit simpler. It is also a bit more forgiving of slightly-wrong temperatures or concentrations.
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In This Article
The Basic Process
Before you even start, there are several things you'll need. I strongly advise getting the right equipment. There are a couple of areas where you can use household items, but several where you can't.
I suggest getting proper storage containers. Don't use food containers, water bottles, or anything like that for your developer or fixer. I would say it's OK to use food containers for your water and vinegar solutions, but you should get in the habit of using "chems only" containers just in case there is mixing of solutions.
Film Retriever: This will save you a lot of time. Get one here; or a cheaper one here. Otherwise, you have to use a can opener in the darkroom, and there's always the possibility you'll drop the opened film canister and the whole thing will unravel. The film retriever lets you square off the film leader before you go into the darkroom.
Tank: get one of these right away. It is the core requirement for your film developing. This tank lets you do 1-2 rolls of 35mm or one roll of 120 film. Even if you later decide to get a larger tank, you'll find times when you just want to develop one or two rolls.
Measuring: get a set of these. For liquid developers, consider also getting these (optional, though).
Scale: For weighing out dry developers and fixer powders. You'll need to do that if you make smaller batches of stock solution. One of these should do the job.
Fixer: get a pack of this. You might want to get two, because you'll need this stuff no matter which developer you use.
Developer: If you want powdered developer, get this. At the moment, one of my favorite liquid developers is this.
Working Containers: Grab some of these. If you're going to mix up one-gallon batches, get a couple of these.
Use distilled water, if possible. Some people develop OK with tap water, but it all depends on what's in your water.
Tap water is often "hard water", which means it contains calcium bicarbonate. This would alter the pH of your developer, fixer, and stop baths. It can also cause bubbling, which can sometimes affect the quality of your negatives.
If you think of it, buy two or three gallons of distilled water to keep on hand all the time. Let it reach the correct developing temperature (usually 68 to 72 Fahrenheit). Do this by leaving the jug of water in a room of the correct temperature.
To load the film into the tank, there are two options.
Option one: a changing bag. Get one if you know you won't be able to darken the room completely.
Option two: use a completely dark room. You may have to use towels along the bottom of the door. If the room has a window, you'll have to use something like this and probably some other measures. Your darkroom has to have absolutely no light entering it. You should not even be able to see your hand in front of your face when your eyes have adjusted.
Once the film is loaded into your developing tank, and you've put the tank back together properly, you can bring it out into the light. This makes it easier to add and remove the developer (etc).
Never pour your solutions back into the main bottles. You're going to store them in "working containers".
If I'm going to use 300 to 350 mL of solution, I'll generally store those in 500 mL or 1 liter containers. When a solution is done being used, it gets poured back into this working-container (funnel if necessary). Then you can decide if you want to re-use it, replenish it, etc.
The Basic Process
1. Load film in tank (total darkness required)
3. Stop bath (followed by optional rinse)
6. Hang up the film to dry (these are useful)
Make sure you drain the liquid from the tank at each step before you add the liquid for the next step.
The developing tank I recommend is designed so you can pour out liquids without taking off the light-proof funnel top.
Kodak D-76 is a good all-around developer. D-76 is sold as a powder. If you want to mix up batches of less than one gallon, I would suggest using a scale.
Normally, D-76 is used as a stock solution, but you can dilute that stock solution 1+3 and get good results if you adjust the time (at room temp, try 20 minutes for a roll of 400 B&W film). 1+3 means 1 volume of the solution plus 3 volumes of water, for a total of 4 volumes.
A package of D76 is certainly not a bad choice for your first developer; pick up a scale to weigh it here.
Download the developing times for D-76 here.
The package says to use one packet to 3 liters of water. That means if you wanted to use only 300 mL of water, you'd need 1/10th of the packet. Based on a 415g packet of D-76, you would weigh out 41.5 grams of D-76 for that amount of water.
If you wanted to try the 1+3 dilution, you would instead weigh out 10.38 grams of D-76 and dissolve it in 300 mL of water.
Xtol is a Vitamin C-based developer. Great choice if you know your stuff, but I would not recommend it for a beginner. Too easy to mix it wrong and not get any pictures from your negatives. Maybe I'll do a future article on Vitamin C developers.
Acufine is a popular developer, also available in powder form. It's a hydroquinone-based developer, with some sulfite / carbonate / bicarbonate.
Some of these developers I'll probably talk about in more detail in future articles.
Another powdered developer is Ilford ID11, which you should be able to get through this link. ID11 is almost identical to D-76. It can be used to push 400 film to at least 3200. It's not a high-dilution developer as far as I know, but for 400 film you can dilute it at least 1+3 (just like D-76).
DD-X is a liquid developer from Ilfotec (Ilford). The picture at the top of this page was developed in DD-X.
Usually you can get DD-X through this link. I highly recommend this developer; based on my experience, it is fine-grained and produces very nice tonality. It can also be used to push 400 films to 6400, or maybe higher. It can also be diluted to 1+9 at least, which saves some money.
A very popular choice is Kodak HC-110 developer. It pushes well, even up to EI 6400. Also, these liquid concentrate developers can be measured by volume. You can save money by using high dilutions and letting the develop times run longer.
Download the developing times for HC-110 here.
I know from experience that HC-110 works very well at high dilution, all the way to 1 part in 32 (i.e., "1+31") and beyond. (Ansel Adams used it even more dilute than that.) Ilfotec DD-X (also a liquid concentrate developer) can be diluted to at least 1+9, but I've tried that only with stock 400 speed, not pushed. Lately I have been using 1+31 HC-110 to push 400 film to 6400. Developing time was 25 or 26 minutes at 68 to 70 F (will post some scans when I get the chance).
HC-110 and DD-X can both produce fine grain. This is one area where you can do much better than the typical film lab. You may be accustomed to 35mm B&W 400 film being very grainy, but it doesn't have to be.
Once you load the film onto the reel and reassemble the tank, you're ready to add the developer solution. You don't add the powdered developer. It has to be dissolved to the correct amount in water. (See above.) Then, make the dilution from that.
Make sure you pay careful attention to the develop time. Do the required amount of agitation. Then, about ten seconds before the time is up, get ready to pour the developer back into the working container.
If you make D-76 at 1+3 dilution, a roll of 400 film would be 20 minutes at room temp.
With shorter develop times, errors in timing are magnified. If you make a thirty-second error in a four-minute develop, that matters a lot more than a thirty-second error on a 26-minute develop. (Most develop times are at least 6 minutes.) It's not a bad idea to have this book on your reference bookshelf.
I use distilled white vinegar, diluted 1+9. That's one volume of vinegar plus 9 volumes of water. Another way to look at it is 1 volume of vinegar, diluted to make 10 volumes of total liquid.
For one roll of film, I use 350 mL of liquid. That means the stop bath is 35 mL of vinegar, plus enough water added to make 350 mL of stop bath.
In the System 4 tank, you're supposed to be able to use 300 mL for one roll, but I use 350 just to be sure the film is always immersed.
Some people just use water as the stop bath. If you do that, don't use tap water; use distilled water instead. A stop bath should not be alkaline.
Using water as a stop bath works best when your developer is highly dilute. For more concentrated developer solutions, I would use the acidic stop bath. The 1+9 dilution of vinegar works well for the developer recipes that I use. For more concentrated ones, I would even use a 1+5 or maybe even a 1+1 dilution of vinegar.
It's not a bad idea to do a distilled-water rinse after the stop bath, but before you do the fixer step. Your fixer will probably last a bit longer.
Generally, fixer is based on "hypo" (sodium thiosulfate), but some fixers use ammonium thiosulfate. There are usually other things added to optimize it. (Hypo fixers usually have added sodium sulfite.)
If you want the easiest, most consistently-reliable fixer, just get this one. It already contains everything necessary.
If you want to try plain hypo as a fixer, you can get some here. Get sodium sulfite, too, if you want to stabilize the solutions; otherwise, plain hypo solutions have to be used within hours of mixing.
The concentration of fixer is not as critical as the concentration of developer. Even so, I try to be precise with it. This is always a good idea, because if you work out some new favorite developing recipe, it will be repeatable from start to finish.
For one roll of film, I dissolve 35 grams of this fixer in 350 mL of distilled water. If you want to do two rolls at once, just double the amount of water and fixer.
If you want to use the 350 mL batch to do a second roll later, I can tell you right now that the 35 grams of fixer will not be enough. If you think you'll want to re-use that 350 mL of fixer one more time, use at least 40 or 50 grams of fixer, not 35.
Usually I run the fixer step for 7 minutes, but 5 minutes will probably suffice.
Plain hypo fixer is slower; figure on 10-minute fixing times.
You can safely open up the tank after the fixer step,
but this was after the second wash.
WashWhen the fixer has completed (5 to 7 minutes, usually), pour the spent fixer back into the container you use for prepared fixer. I keep a 500 mL plastic container just for this.
If you process a lot of film, save all your used fixer because you can recover the silver from it. Whatever you do, don't mix your spent fixer with your spent developer; keep them separate.
Anyway, it's time to wash the film. The first two washes are done while the film is still in the tank.
First wash: use tap water. (Tap water is OK here.) Swirl thoroughly. Let the tank sit for at least ten minutes.
Second wash: use distilled water. That's because you don't want hard-water scale drying onto your negatives.
At this point, I remove the negatives from the reel and cut them to the desired length.
For a final wash, I run them through some distilled water which contains one tiny speck of dish detergent. The standard has always been Kodak Photo-Flo (usually available here), but you can get by with detergent if you prefer.
Either way, it breaks the surface tension. That means the water spreads out more evenly on the negatives. Then, hang them up to dry.
Developing your own black & white film is really not difficult. It can actually be very enjoyable. You will be able to have more creative possibilities by developing the film yourself, because with the right techniques you can affect the contrast, grain, highlights, and shadows.
Be sure to read the directions on your developer and fixer. Also, don't agitate the film too much while it is being developed, unless you want more grainy photos with higher contrast and less shadow detail.
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