Film development questions

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rajmohanfotograf, Apr 26, 2017.

  1. Hello CMC members,

    I've seen a lot of fine film images here, most of which were processed by you. I am thinking of dipping my toe into film processing, but am nervous about royally screwing it up - so I'd be grateful if I could seek your advice with regard to a few points:
    1. I'm buying a plastic Paterson tank and a stainless steel tank to try them out and see which suits me better. From my reading, people seem evenly divided between the two. Any advice or recommendations?
    2. There seems to be a bewildering range of chemistry for BW - what do you use, and why? And for a total newbie like myself, what would be a simple regimen to start with? I've read that Diafine is forgiving in terms of temperature, but are there any downsides to it? Are there better/simpler options? I figure that given the steep learning curve at the beginning, my criteria for success in the initial rolls are just to get decently developed negatives without streaks or blobs.
    3. I have a very small workspace - is this a limiting factor?
    4. I suppose that in addition to the reels, I'll need a changing bag and the developing chemicals. Anything else I will need?
    5. Are there any links, articles or books that you've found helpful when starting out with film processing?

    Thanks in advance for any help or recommendations you might be able to offer.
  2. Hello everyone. Raj you are about to embark on a groovy, fun time ! . . .and it is not all that complicated or doom.
    1. Get a 450ml Nikor Stainless steel tank with cap. (1) each 35mm & 120mm reel should keep you happy for some time.
    2. Chemistry: For close to 20 years now I have been using some form of Pyro staining. It is not a difficult developer and has a great number of advantages over non staining chemistry. Formulary sells several types, both wet or dry forms. In a pre-mix form, I would go with the smallest bottle of PyrocatHD in glycol. It will develop 20-30 rolls of 36x film & has a shelf life of infinity minus one (still have a 5 year old bottle that works great). Short of the HD, get a bottle of Rodinol
    3. Work space: again I will put out my Igloo cooler. Compact & will develop/rinse a roll with it's contents. I believe the picture will lead you.
    4. Changing bag YES! Get a good sized one. Chemicals: Beside the developer (your choice) Formulary carries the FP-4 fixer which is alkaline and very quick acting. Other Things: DSCF6463 ce ff.JPG Film drying clips (2), 2 liter Pyrex mixing bowl, small cooking thermometer, medium sized funnel, (4) 5ml cough syrup dispensers (squeeze bulb type). All these are at Walmart if you can not get them else where.
    5. Any beginning developing book will give you the starting data, and of course there's Google !
    Aloha, Bill
    rajmohanfotograf and bertliang like this.
  3. So many places on the "inter-webs" that this can be major league info overload. There is/are a set of posts here on PN on this, which you might want to look at. Just remember as a friend of mine once said, for 35mm, the price you pay at most is 36 exposures. Here's my attempt to make the process as straightforward as I could for some former students: My Business - Developing film
    On the questions:
    1. You can buy both, but perhaps you might be able to go to your local store and see if they can let you try to roll practice film onto reels with both to see what it's like. One thing I've found is that metal reels can be wet with no problem getting film on; plastic ones work best when absolutely dry. There is a Kickstarter with a daylight film loader which could not be simpler, but it's pricey and not yet available in general.
    2. Start with a simple chemistry - so many recommendations here as well. D-76 powder or Ilfosol-3 (liquid) seems to be what alot of people start with; as well, start with one film, eg. Ilford HP5 or Kodak Tri-X to get your workflow down. There is alot of experience with both. You can start with the Massive Development chart (B&W Film Developing Times | The Massive Dev Chart) for times and technique.
    3. Workplace size can be as small as a closet that you can block out extraneous light to load the film, or a table for film changing bag. Otherwise, a source of water (see my listed website above) and a table is what's needed.
    4. Equipment - again, see the webpage. Hopefully that's as comprehensive as you need to start.
    5. As above. As noted, the PN site has a myriad of sources of information. There are some links on my website as well.
    Congrats on considering making the jump. After 45+ years of doing this, there is still nothing better for me than the anticipation of seeing the results of my development of negatives of images I've captured - it's an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment and creativity. PM me if you have questions.
    rajmohanfotograf likes this.
  4. Here are some of my "thoughts" on starting to develop your own B/W film. Perhaps counter to a large group of people, but ideas gleened over 40+ years of DIY photography with every thing from 8x10 to Minox negatives.
    Forget, I repeat, F O R G E T, using the idea of "ratios" with any form of developer chemistry. Why? If you use a "standard" tank (450ml in my case), different ratios induce variable amounts of chemistry into the equation. A 135-36 roll of film requires X amount of developer @ Y time. That is not an "alternative fact". Change either part of the equation & you get different results. That is what those "massive charts" are about. . .variable results. In due time, you will arrive at those "different results", but for now K.I.S.S. is the matra.
    Some time in the mid 90's, I started working with Minox cameras. To achieve good results one needs superb negatives from the 9x11 format DSCF6458 ce ffr-vertx.jpg . During this time X+Y=Z came into my thinking & since then a "fixed" amount of dev. chemistry has always been used. Time is the variable. As of today I use only 3 ml of any chemistry per roll in my 450 ml s.s. tank. I have also found that "time" is relatively constant at 14 minute, +/- temperature compensation.
    So give that 3ml & 14 minutes a test drive with what ever combo you pick. Like I said before, it's gonna be groovy man!! Aloha, Bill
    and rajmohanfotograf like this.
  5. If you want to be able to develop reversible film at some future time and you opt for a plastic tank/reel make sure one flange of the reel is transparent for flashing the film to light. The stainless reels look open enough for that purpose.
    rajmohanfotograf likes this.
  6. Congrats for deciding to take the leap... You will wonder why you didn't earlier!! I use the Paterson w/changing bag approach. I Temperature is only critical in B&W to know, so you can time accordingly. Looking forward to some early feedback and results!! Go for it!!
    rajmohanfotograf likes this.
  7. 1) Plastic vs stainless steel reels and tanks.
    • Plastic reel+tanks are generally easier to learn on.
      • Despite being easy to use, I would get a scrap roll of film to practice with. The first time for anything tends to be difficult.
    • But I'm old school, I learned on stainless steel reel and tanks. Oddly I found the plastic stuff harder to use.
      • Using a stainless steel reel takes time to learn how to roll the fill onto the reel.
      • Get a scrap roll and practice in daylight, so you can see what is going on.
      • Then close your eyes and see if you can roll the fill on.
    • Do NOT attempt for real unless you can reliably do this blindfolded.
    3) Developing film takes very little space. I did it in the kitchen and small bathroom.
    • You do need some counter space to load the film onto the reel. Then to hold the cups of chemicals as you develop.
    • Having a sink and running water is nice to have, but if you need to you can make do with bottles of water and a bucket to pour the used chemicals into.
    4) other stuff
    • Changing bag. Get a LARGE bag. The large bag has more air inside the bag. As you work in the bag your hands will get sweaty. The larger the bag, the less sweaty your hands will get. Or it will take longer to get sweaty than with a small bag. The sweating effect is worse in hotter/humid climates than in cooler/dryer climates.
    • Timer. You will need some sort of timer that is easy to use. A kitchen timer will work fine. I found that timing by watching my watch is not reliable. It was too easy to make a mistake. I would NOT use a timer app on your phone, as you will get chemicals onto your phone, sooner or later.
    • Thermometer. Developing time is based on temperature, so you NEED to know the temperature of the developer.
    • Measuring cups. Or cups that are marked for the amount of chemicals you need to use to fill the tank. You need enough cups for ALL the developing chemicals, so that you can have the chemicals lined up in order, ready to pour into the tank. A 16oz cup is fine for the 2x35mm or 1x120 reel tanks. Plastic tanks need more chemicals, so you need a larger cup.
    • A DUST-FREE place to hang your film to dry.
    • Depending on your chemicals, you may need a plastic bucket to mix the chemicals in, and a funnel to pour the mixed chemical into the storage bottle to use. For liquid chemicals you may need a small measuring cup to measure out the chemicals from the source bottle. The size of the cup depends on the chemical you are mixing. I had and used 8, 16 and 32 oz measuring cups.
    gud luk
    rajmohanfotograf likes this.
  8. Bill, Bert, Charles, Chuck and Gary - thank you very much for the detailed information, suggestions and (most of all!) support!! I feel much better about wading into these uncharted waters.

    Once I digest all of this information, I hope you won't mind if I come up with a few more (likely very basic) questions.

    Thanks again,
  9. Hello Raj

    Good luck with the learning process.

    I found this video helpful when I started back after a 12 year hiatus from developing

    I use HC110 and Rodinal and TF4 fix

    rajmohanfotograf likes this.
  10. The reason for the variety is that there can be such variety.

    Different developers give different contrasts, or sometimes change the exposure index.

    For a first try, D76 is a good choice.

    I also like Diafine, and so do many others, but then again, some don't like it.
    I learned about it from my grandfather when I was 10 years old. (That is,
    about 50 years ago.) Not having to get the temperature and time so close
    is a convenience. Also, it gave somewhat higher EI values to most films
    from 50 years ago. Not so much difference for newer films.

    Still popular is using Tri-X at EI 1600 with Diafine. I used to like
    Panatomic-X at 250 (though a little lower might be better).

    For many films now, it is maybe 1/3 or 2/3 stop increase.

    Another advantage of Diafine is that it lasts close to forever.
    As usual, keep the air out, especially in part A. Mostly, you lose
    a little each time (some soaks into the film, some spills if you
    don't pour carefully.)

    Lately I have been using HC-110 more. It is concentrated enough that you
    can develop over 100 rolls for a 1L bottle, but also it reduces fog when
    using older film.

    Otherwise, have fun! Not so much other reason to do it.
    rajmohanfotograf likes this.
  11. Don and Glen - thank you for providing me with more food for thought!

    I think the first decision for me is the chemistry with which I should start - I'll do a little more reading about all of the suggestions here: Pyrocat HD, Rodinal, D76 (x2), Ilfosol, and Diafine. My current lab uses D76, and the results are pretty good, but I've been seduced by the tonality of some of the images I've seen here that were processed with Pyrocat. I'll do some more research before selecting one.

    Thanks again, everyone :)
  12. 0. Though it may seem intimidating initially, the process of developing b&w film at home is rather simple; you just need to figure out a setup and workflow that works best for you; and you do that by developing a few rolls of film, learning from the experience and making adjustments based on the learning.
    1. If you go for plastic tank and reels, make sure that the reels are dry before you load film in the dark bag; otherwise you'll literally sweat. Paterson plastic reels can be a nightmare for loading 120 film for some or at least in the beginning. There's ample advice on forums on how to make it easy to load 120, but you need to figure out what works for you. So practice with non-critical rolls till you get it working for you.
    2. Plastic tanks seem to keep the temperature of the developer solution within 1-2 C of the starting temperature for 10-15 minutes. When the ambient temperature is very different from developer temperature, this could be an important factor in your decision.
    3. Don't worry too much about temperature. You can get the temperature you want by mixing appropriate amount of refrigerated water with with water at room temperature. Or if room temperature is too low, you can heat the water for some time. Note that adding developer to water increases its temperature a little bit (~2C in my part of the world), so factor this into your temperature calculation.
    4. Whichever developer you choose finally, please stick to it for at least 10 rolls even if your results don't compare well against the great pictures you see made with other developers. If possible stick to one camera, one lens, and normal contrast scenes. I would suggest starting with Rodinal (or HC-110) because of the ease of preparation (you can use a clinical syringe to draw the right amount of syrup) and long shelf life.
    5. Even a slight contamination of chemicals can screw up the results. So take adequate precaution.
    6. Even the best developed negatives can suffer if you a) don't remove them carefully from the reel after washing and b) don't hang them properly to dry. So adequate precaution at each stage will go a long way in making the entire process reliable.
    7. David Vestal's The Craft of Photography is an excellent book full of great insights and tips.
    rajmohanfotograf likes this.
  13. Thank you, Raghu, for the information.
  14. I think it's pretty well covered here.

    Basically, you need running water, a bag filled with dark, a daylight developing tank, and D-76 (I've heard persistent rumors that there are other B&W developers, but I suspect that these are like Bigfoot sightings).

    The trickiest part is loading the tank reel, and unfortunately it's not like bicycle riding-- you have to learn it all over again, and again....
    rajmohanfotograf likes this.
  15. Thanks, JDM. I'll sacrifice a cheap roll for several rounds of practice before loading the reel (!!) thing.

    Thanks to everyone's very helpful comments, I have a roadmap. The only point about which I'm undecided is the developer. It sounds like you all have your favourite(s), at which you arrived no doubt after much experimentation and experience. I'll have to select one based on shelf life, simplicity of use (minimal dissolving/mixing/dilution steps) and forgiveness/latitude with respect to temperature and other small errors on my part. I have some reading to do!

    Lastly, Bill mentioned the Photographers Formulary as a source of supplies. Is this the supplier everyone (in the US) uses? Are there other recommended options?

    Thanks again,
  16. Raj, you've received volumes of good advice here and I'll add nothing more, other than to say that when it comes to developers I have a strong preference for one-shot development, where the solution is discarded after use. Used developer demands good storage, has a limited shelf life and has to be replenished after each use and/or an adjustment made for subsequent development times. A developer like PMK Pyro, a Photographers Formulary product, consists of two stock solutions that have an indefinite shelf life, are mixed together into a working solution at point of use, and are discarded after use. I find this procedure brings excellent consistency to the workflow. Of course, there are many developers that just require diluting for use from a stock solution and are then discarded, and many of these have a reasonable shelf life in their undiluted form.

    I deal mainly with Freestyle Photographic Supplies in California, and they stock a very large range of developers, including the Photographers Formulary products. Their website has a handy description of each product on the item's page. Well worth browsing through their site.
  17. Freestyle is great and a long-enduring film company. Photographers' Formulary has the standards, but also has lots of stuff needed for historical and seldom used processes

    For nostaligia (and if you're shooting film, you're obviously susceptible) are some ancient Freestyle ads:
    1954 & 1984
    "Those were the days, my friend, I thought they'd never end....."​
  18. A thousand ditto's to Rick's advice. I have also used Freestyle since the late 1960's. JD's "sneak ad" is a treat. Note the 54 ad for a Lloyd type 35mm film loader. Todays price is about 10x that ! Aloha, Bill
  19. Yeah, another vote for Freestyle. I get paper, chemicals, and some of my film from them.
  20. It was in the early 1970's that I would buy 100 foot rolls, usually Panatomic-X (at ASA 40) from them for about $5.
    I would then use it with Diafine at about EI 250. (Probably too much, but usually it worked well enough.)

Share This Page