As the days go by and more and more people are getting interested in film. However, it seems that the demand for film and film-related equipment and services are seeming to be way higher than the supply. While places like The Darkroom maintain rather cheap prices here in the states, I have been reading that developing and scanning services are much, much cheaper overseas, and that we are paying quite a premium here in the US.
With prices averaging somewhere along the lines of $15 a roll for developing and scanning (relying heavily on format and scan quality/resolution), plus postage — shooting film gets pretty expensive pretty fast. With these expenses, it seems that people are looking for a more economical way to shoot film by developing it themselves.
When I started my after school photography club about five or so years ago, there weren’t as many written resources available on the web in regards to developing your own film, which made the topic somewhat desirable to write about and document. You can find plenty of Youtube videos (1, 2, 3) and beautifully written and documented processes as well (1, 2, 3). So what I am doing here, is no way original, but for the sake of completing a goal and education in general, I will add my process to the pool of information.
As a forewarning, before the internet yells at me, I would like to preface this process with the fact that it is my process. It’s not perfect, but for me, it definitely works and I continue to be happy with the results, improving what I need to as time goes on.
Note: This tutorial skips the process of making chemical solutions. Please make your solutions according to bottle instructions before moving forward.
Anyway, on to the tutorial!
Here are the materials I use:
- Adorama Large Changing Bag
- Bottle/Can Opener
- Paterson Super System 4 Development Tank
- Kodak D-76 Developer
- Kodak Indicator Stop Bath
- Ilford Rapid Fixer
- Light Safe Bottles for Chemicals
- Thermometer (I personally use a digital one)
- Beaker Set
- Plastic Bin (big enough to fit the bottles)
- Film Development Chart
- A Roll of Exposed Film
- Rags for drying and clean up
So, just a few justifications and explanations on the materials I use before we get started:
I tend to favor the plastic reels and development tanks simply because that’s what I started on. Not only that, but I started developing my own film when I started my after-school film photography club. I didn’t have a darkroom at that time (only a science lab), and the plastic reels are much easier to load in the daylight changing bags. I’m sure you could load film on a steel reel in the bag, but I have found that borderline impossible. Even after trying the stainless steel reels in a darkroom, I still couldn’t get the hang of it. So, I have stayed with the plastic reels personally. It seems that once you choose between the stainless and the plastic tanks, your choice seems to stick with you as it will most likely be more comfortable with more time utilizing that method.
One more note on the plastic reels. There are a few different versions of this type and my students have found one much easier to load than the other. Currently, I use the Paterson tank, but with the Adorama reel inside. At first, I was using the reel that came with the Paterson Tank, but I have found that the Adorama tanks have a better reel due to one small design change — a longer gateway to load the film. This slight difference is a better entry way for the film to begin loading.
The Adorama reel is much better for developing 120 film (I’ll provide a sample from my first encounter with 120 film on the Paterson reel), and my students always find it much easier to load 35mm. So much so, that the more experienced students frequently give the new students these reels so they don’t have so much trouble on their first developments.
When I first started developing on my own, I needed as much volume as possible for as cheap as possible. For that reason, I had always used the Arista Premium liquid developer from Freestyle Photo. Not only was it cost effective, but it was much easier to make a solution. As time has passed, I have sort of developed a liking to Kodak D-76 Developer and Ilford Rapid Fixer. Just personal preference at this point, I guess.
Step 1: Understanding Black and White Film Development and Time & Temperature Relationship
Now before you start to develop black and white film on your own, you must know that the nature of the film and the process is quite different than the standardized process of E6 and C41. Some black and white films are C41 process, too, so just be aware of that. When developing C41 and E6, all film types are developed for the same amount of time under the same constant temperature. When it comes to black and white, depending on the film stock and developer used, as well as the temperature of the developer, your development times will be different. So please be aware of this moving forward. There are a few resources available to help you with these variables.
The resource that I prefer now is an iOS application (pretty sure it’s available on Android as well) entitled Massive Dev Chart Timer. While the name of the app isn’t exactly catchy, it’s definitely robust and gets the job done. You can select virtually any type of black and white film and developer and it will automatically calculate the development time for you. Makes things really convenient. You can always add custom times to your liking and preferences as well.
The nice thing about this app is that it doesn’t interrupt or pause your music or podcast while using it like some other apps I have used to develop (looking at you, Develop!). But, if you don’t want to shell out the $9 for the app above, there are others out there that can be obtained for free. You could also utilize the development table on the Freestyle Photo website as well and just use your phone’s built-in timer. It served me well before I decided to take the plunge and buy Mass Dev Chart.
Okay, so now with all of your materials in hand, chemicals mixed, and film loaded on the reel, you should be ready to get started.
Step 2: Preparing the Chemicals
Depending on where you store your chemicals, room temperature may be fine, but be careful if your chemicals are more than 7-ish degrees warmer or colder than the ideal 70-72°F. That’s not a real rule, but I have read that these drastic time or temperature changes can have a negative effect on the film itself. Personally, I have had previous success with quite a bit of latitude (more than 10°F difference) with time & temperature changes, especially with Ilford HP5 since that’s what I shoot most.
Warm your chemicals up a bit if they are a bit too cold or let them chill a bit if too warm to get them in that 72°F neighborhood.
Step 3: Checking & Verifying Development Times
Again, depending on the film stock, developer, and temperature of the developer, you’re time to develop your film will vary. Check the Massive Dev application or check the Freestyle Photo chart. Of course, your personal tastes and preferences may change your development times in the future as well.
Step 4: Preparing the Film
When you have the chemicals, mixed, and ready at a desired temperature, you’re ready to move your film from canister to development tank. You simply throw all necessary materials in the light proof bag: scissors, film, can opener, and developing tank pieces. This process is not easy for beginners, but trust me, if my middle school students can do it, then so can you. It just takes practice. Simply use an exposed roll to practice reeling the film outside of the bag. Like I said, if you want an easier, more pleasurable experience, especially for 120 development, go with the AP/Adorama reel design. The Adorama reel has a better guide to get the film past the ball bearing and started on the reel. Again, I prefer to use these reels with the Paterson tanks because the Paterson tanks are easier to move liquid to and from.
But like anything else in this process, it comes down to user preference. Use what you feel most comfortable with. Both reels will accept 36-exposure rolls of 35mm film. However, you need to buy the taller tank if you want to develop a single roll of 120. These taller ones allow you to develop two reels of 35mm. Plenty of multiple-reel tank options are available. Just be careful because once you get to a certain size, the reels aren’t included.
So with all that being said, throw all the materials in the bag. Use the can opener to pry the bottom of the film cartridge off. Slide the film out of the cartridge. While holding the edges of the film only, unravel it off the inner core. When you get to the end, find the scissors and snip the end of the film off the core. Take that same end that you cut, insert it into the reel entry and ratchet the film on. Granted, this sounds so easy, but it can be just as annoying when things don’t go your way and your hands are sweating with frustration in that hot, humid bag. It happened to me with the first 120 roll I attempted.
After the film is on the reel, insert the tank core through the reel, place it in the tank, insert the saucer, lock in the agitator, and place the lid on top.
Step 5: Chemicals!
To start off, some people prefer to do a pre-rinse, but I don’t bother. I’m not so sure as to whether there is any real benefit to this, but I haven’t researched this at any length (if there is, please let me know). I was told you didn’t have to, and I like to keep things as short and simple as possible. So I’m going to skip right to the next step, which is my first step, the developer.
Again depending on your film, developer, and temperature, your times will vary. However, the agitation process is always the same. Some people prefer to invert the tank (like me) while other like to twist the actual agitator in the tank, and others like to do stand-developing.
Pour the developer in the tank, enough to come up to the indentation ring inside the saucer that keeps the tank light tight. Put the lid on.
Start the timer and begin inverting the tank upside down and back to right side up in a sort of figure 8 fashion, feeling the developer move from one end to the other. Continue to do this for the duration of the first minute.
When the first minute comes to an end, tap the bottom once or twice to release any air bubbles or pockets that may be on the film and let the tank rest on the countertop.
Let it rest for one minute, then pick it back up and invert and revert for 10 seconds. Repeat this rest-one-minute and invert-revert-10-seconds process until the developing time comes to its end.
When time comes to an end, dump the developer down the drain.
5.2: Stop Bath
Pour the stop bath in the tank. Close the lid. Agitate by inverting and reverting for one full minute. Some people might think a minute is overkill, but remember that the stop bath stops the action of the developer on the film, so it doesn’t hurt to be safe.
Unlid the tank. Pour the stop bath back in its container as it can be reused for quite a few rolls of film and developing sessions.
Again, pour the fixer into the tank. Shut the lid tight. I like to fix for a total of 4 minutes. Follow the same agitation pattern as the developer: invert/revert for the first full minute, rest for one minute, invert/revert for 10 seconds. Then repeat the rest-one-minute and invert/revert-ten-seconds part for the remainder of time.
Like the stop bath, you can reuse the fixer, so feel free to pour it back into your container.
5.4: Take a Peek!
This is the moment of truth! You’re not quite done yet, but once the fixer is finished, feel free to disassemble your tank and see if there are images on the end of your roll without taking the film off the reel. If so, then congrats and move on to the next steps!
5.5: PhotoFlo / Hypoclear
I have had trouble with squeegee streaks in the past, so a recently added step is this one. I highly recommend it for even, streak-free drying
PhotoFlo is a wetting agent used to minimize water marks or streaks during film development/drying. It also has a crazy ratio, so make sure you have already made a solution before pouring this in.
Tip: Some people simply use a few drops of Dawn dish soap with some water instead of PhotoFlo. It has the same effect on your film and it might be easier for you to obtain.
Pour in the PhotoFlo and simply let it sit for 1 or 2 minutes. No lid needed. Pour it down the drain.
5.6: Final Rinse
If you have patience, then you can simply run some water into the tank and let it overflow out for about 10 or so minutes. I pout the saucer back in so the water flows out the sides and allows the water to sort of cycle through the tank and out.
If you don’t have patience, then fill the tank with water and dump somewhere between ten to twenty times.
I have seen that some people rinse and then PhotoFlo, to get the best quality of life for their stored negatives.
Step 6: Drying
Take the film off the reel. Attach a binder clip at each end of the film. Hang on a push pin for a couple hours until completely dry. I know it’s hard to fight temptation, but the wait is worth it! I have tried scanning wet film, and it doesn’t work, especially through automated scanners like a Pakon 135.
Here’s a couple sample images from the rolls I developed using this process:
If there is anything you feel I got terribly wrong, missed, or would like me to add, feel free to get in touch and send me an email.