All-powder b&w film processing

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by tom_halfhill, Jan 14, 2022.

  1. These days many people use digital cameras primarily and shoot film occasionally. For those who develop our own b&w film, the liquid solutions may expire before we use them up. Powdered chemicals usually keep longer than liquids. Many years ago (1930s, '40s), Kodak sold small one-shot tubes of powdered film developer and fixer for snapshooters who mixed them with water immediately before use. Can we devise a similar method today?

    Using a pH-neutral fixer, we could eliminate the acid stop bath (acetic or citric) and a hypo-clearing agent. The only liquid chemical to stock would be the final-step wetting agent, a small bottle that keeps practically forever.

    Questions: Which powdered film developer, and which powdered fixer?

    Both powders must be easy to measure in quantities small enough for one-shot developing one or two rolls of b&w film. Measuring such small amounts often isn't recommended for formulas having many ingredients because it's possible that their balance will vary beyond specifications. This drawback favors formulas having few ingredients.

    The simplest film developer is Kodak Formula D-23, which I think dates from the 1920s. It's simply metol and sodium sulphite. Although used today mainly by large-format photographers, until the 1970s it was popular with 35mm and medium-format users. Newer developers are probably better for modern films, but D-23 may be good enough for occasional film shooters. The difference is probably negligible. Anyone who demands maximum quality is likely shooting digital, anyway.

    For the fixer, is there a commercially available powder like Photographers' Formulary TG-5 Archival Fix, which is a pH-neutral rapid fixer available only in liquid form?

    Someone has probably already devised an all-powder workflow. Suggestions welcome.
  2. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

  3. $17 to develop two 35mm or one 120 rolls? Crazy. And too much wasteful plastic packaging. I'm looking for an economical DIY solution.
  4. D-76/ID-11 and Ilfofix are both sold as powders, and there's no need for a stop-bath or hypo-clearing bath; plain water will substitute for both.

    The issue is that you can't just take a bit of developer or fixer powder and assume that it's an homogenous mix of the constituent chemicals. Not even with a simple formula like D-23. Plus powdered developing agents like metol will oxidise unless kept in an airtight container. Phenidone, not so much.

    Even if mixed thoroughly at some point, different chemicals will settle and separate out over time due to their different crystal structures, densities and powder sizes. So unless you're prepared to weigh out small batches of raw ingredients each time you want to process a film, the idea is a non-starter. Not with the current state of the market, where nobody is going to produce little one-shot packets at an economical price.

    Additionally, I don't see what's wrong with liquid concentrates for intermittent use. Fixer keeps a very long while in solution, as do concentrated developers like T-max or (yuck!) Rodinal.

    You can also use liquid rapid fixer concentrate as a one-shot dilution. You just need to extend the fixing time to about the same as for a standard (slow) fixer and dilute the concentrate 2 or 3 times more than standard.
    AJG and Jochen like this.
  5. Kodak used to make the Tri-chem pack with three little packets for developer, stop, and fix.
    Each would make 8 oz, though I believe would do more than one roll.
    The developer would change with time.

    They also sold a box of little developer packs.

    HC-110 comes liquid, but lasts close enough to forever as concentrate,
    and mixes one shot for 35mm with dilution B.

    For 120, it is two shot, with two rolls in 16oz. Maybe one shot with
    a different dilution, but usually I can find two rolls.

    Mixed Diafine lasts close to forever, with normal precautions.

    Mixed non-rapid fixer lasts a long time mixed.
    That is, you should be able to store it and use it up to capacity.
    I have found that rapid fixer doesn't last so long, I believe due to pH change.
    After some time, and way before capacity, it plates silver onto the inside of the bottle.
  6. AJG


    I've had good luck with HC 110 and Ilford Rapid Fix (without hardener). I dilute HC 110 from the concentrate each time and the Ilford fixer has lasted a long time. I test the fixer each time with a scrap of film to determine if it is still good and so far it still is, a year or so after mixing with a dozen rolls or so developed. Rodeo Joe is right about the distribution of chemicals in powder, and besides, who wants to mix up developer at 100 or 125 F and then cool it down for use at 68?
  7. I've still got a big dry powder D-76 packet to use up, but I plan to go to liquid afterwards.
    Here's what it used to be like:
    Modern Photography 1946-07​
    and you could just stick it in your "vest pocket"!
  8. So now I have to buy a vest to process? My "solution" is just to keep a few raw chemicals on hand, and a scale. I mix as needed, which could be as small as a pint or so.
  9. I'll just add Rodinal (a liquid) for film to the good advice above. Mix what you want from 1+25 to 1+100. The open bottle lasts for quite awhile.
  10. Neofin Blue "one shot" liquid is not all that expensive. The new formula, Art. Nr. 100127, has six small bottles and the official number of films per bottle is two films, but you'll get three by adding 20% more developing time. That's 18 films for A$34.95 = $1.94/film (about US$1.46/film, not counting shipping cost). I've read where Neofin Blue is good for both slow and fast films.
  11. A 1L bottle of HC-110 costs about USD30 and does about 120 rolls, for about USD0.25/roll.

    When I actually get around to doing it, and even thought I have been doing it over 50 years,
    I still find it fun, and so don't count the value of my time. If you do count the value of your time,
    then you might get a different answer.

    Usually a big syringe gets 7.5ml out of the bottle for easy and quick one shot.
  12. Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions. I have many years' experience with both Kodak HC-110 and T-Max film developers, and I agree their undiluted liquid concentrates keep well, especially when refrigerated. (In the 1980s I switched from HC-110 to T-Max because I found the latter delivers film speeds closer to box speed.)

    Rapid fixer keeps less well, in my experience, but maybe some waste is tolerable.

    Rodeo Joe echoes my original concern that a powdered formula can't be reliably subdivided without risking unbalanced ingredients. Regarding D-23, however, the subdivision would be unnecessary if the two ingredients (metol and sodium sulphite) aren't measured and mixed until one or two rolls of film need processing. But measuring such small amounts might be tricky, because a tiny error in a small amount is more significant than a tiny error in a large amount. And AJG makes a good point that D-23 needs mixing at high temperature before cooling to the working temperature.

    Rodinal ... thanks, but not for me. Not for high-speed 35mm or 120 films. Too grainy.

    Edwal FG7 was another long-lasting concentrate I used for a while, but apparently it's no longer available.

    Rodeo Joe also says an acid stop bath and hypo clearing agent are unnecessary for film. One of my college instructors said the same. By long habit, however, I've always used a stop bath and hypo clearing agent before washing. My oldest self-developed films from the 1970s remain pristine. (At my age now, maybe it doesn't matter if the negatives fade!) Stop bath can be mixed on the spot with citric-acid powder, which keeps well. Hypo clear can be mixed from sodium sulphite and sodium bisulphite powders. Eliminating both steps would definitely simplify the workflow.

    An ideal solution would be a community darkroom or a few neighborly film shooters who could share the chemicals before they expire. I don't know any like-minded shutterbugs in my proximity but will make inquiries.

    Interestingly, no one questioned why I want to shoot film occasionally despite having several digital cameras. It's hard to explain, but I miss the thrill of pulling wet film off a stainless-steel reel to see my pictures for the first time. The instant gratification of chimping an LCD isn't quite the same. Also, I have a few nice old film cameras sitting around.
  13. I have not found using hypo clearing bath useful with rapid fixer.
    The wash times are so short, though I usually exceed them.

    Well, Ilford rapid fixer doesn't have hardener. Kodak rapid fixer has it in a separate bottle, but so far I don't use it.
    Without hardener they wash much faster than with hardener. Also, RC paper fixes and washes very fast.

    For fiber based paper, it is probably a good idea.

    Diafine, my always favorite developer, though lately I also use HC-110 and TMax, requests no stop bath.
    For one, extra development time doesn't affect the results, and second, as I understand it, part B has a lot
    of carbonate. Even little kids know what happens when you mix carbonate and acid.

    If you need it, there is sodium diacetate, the solid version of acetic acid. Otherwise, the acid is liquid to 100%.
    (You also find it in salt and vinegar potato chips, which also can't use liquid.) That is what Kodak uses
    in the Tri-chem pak.

    Stop bath is good for keeping fixer good longer. I suspect that the problems with rapid fixer aging
    are pH changes from developer. Some day I will get a pH meter to test it.

    But yes, I started darkroom work when I was 9, and there is something special about taking
    film off the reel, and also watching the image appear in developing prints.
  14. After getting married and having a daughter I got out of the photography hobby all together. I just recently opened up my darkroom again and processed a few prints and a couple rolls.

    I'm a huge advocate of HC-110 especially for how well it keeps in concentrate. To save a few bucks I'm trying the Legacy Pro L110 substitute and have so far been pretty thrilled, and for the cost, if I waste some, I'm not heartbroken.
  15. I can beat that!
    I have negatives from the early 1960s that are perfectly preserved, and I have never used hypo clearing agent, and very rarely a stop bath.

    Those negatives that haven't fared too well are those 'quick tests' that didn't get a full 30 minute final wash and those that somehow got badly stored. The lack of hypo-clearing and stop-bath use seems totally irrelevant.
  16. My parents were pros for over 50 years. We never used stop bath or clearing agent for film processing, just water... and I've got 4x5 negatives from the FORTIES that are still in great shape.

    That said, my father's motto was: "An amateur knows how to follow the rules... A professional knows how to break the rules."
    rodeo_joe|1 likes this.
  17. Since I started using rapid fixer, I haven't used hypo clearing bath.

    More specifically, rapid fixer without hardener. It diffuses out faster
    than regular fixer, partly because of the no hardener. I have not tried
    the Ilford rinse method, though. Probably 10 minutes, which is the long
    end of the recommended rinse times.

    Stop bath is good for extending the life of fixer, but not much for
    extending the lift of film.
  18. The point of hypo-clear is to reduce the wash time. If you're washing film for 30 minutes, then you're right, no hypo-clear is needed for archival processing. But I've always used hypo-clear followed by a 5-minute wash. My earliest films from the 1970s are still pristine.

    In addition to reducing wash time, hypo-clear saves water and reduces the chance that suspended particles will embed in the soft emulsion. These are real concerns for some people. My first darkroom used well water, which contains more minerals than city water. It was so gritty that I installed a filter on the faucet to remove most of it. Even city water may be gritty if the pipes are old. My shorter wash time also saved wear and tear on the well pump.
  19. I am still using Rodinal that I hoarded when Agfa announced discontinued. HC-110 also is London lived.
  20. IIRC, Hypo clear is quite a strong solution of sodium sulphites - so what prevents those salts being left behind in the emulsion after only a brief rinse?

    Most domestic water supplies contain micro-dirt that sticks to negatives, no matter how short the wash, so I'll second the advice to use a filter. Mine was a small tap attachment with a reverse-flushable sachet-type filter inside a watertight cavity. No idea what was in the cloth sachet, but it did the job.

    WRT water saving: Over the years I used a variety of devices that allowed a small trickle of water to flush over the film spirals. Or for prints a syphon device that automatically fills and empties a tray. Probably still quite wasteful of water though, so lately I've taken up a 'greener' strategy of using several changes of water over a 30 minute wash.

    Just using a developing tankful of water for each change of water; I use warm (20 C) water initially to increase its dissolving ability, gradually letting the water cool with each change and with an increasing time between changes. This only uses about 2 litres of water in total for a small single 35mm stainless tank.

    Not a technique for the impatient, but very water efficient and environmentally-friendly. It gets rid of the stubborn purple T-max dye, so I assume that any trace of fixer is also removed. However, I probably won't be around for another 60 years to report back on the longevity of the negs! :(
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2022

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