Developing Black and White Film at Home. It’s Easy.

What do you need?

Gear

–       Scissors

–       Developing Tank with Reels

–       Water hose

–       Light-tight Change Bag

–       35mm Film Canister Opener (or Can Opener)

–       Measuring Jug and Graduate

–       Thermometer

–       Timer

–       Squeegee

–       Storage bottles

–       Drying rack

–       Scanner

 

Chemicals

–       Developer

–       Stop Bath

–       Fixer

–       Drying Aid

 

Things I don’t bother with

–       Hypoclear

 

Here is a shopping list of specific gear that you can buy directly from BHphoto. This is what I use… The materials and chemicals are specifically chosen by me as a good balance between effectiveness, cost, and ease of use.

 

Developer : Ilford LC29

Developer reacts with the film to produce the image. It gradually “brings out” the image on the film. The developing stage is the only one which is super time-dependent. If the time is too short or long, the image will come out under or overexposed. The good news is that Black and White negative film is very forgiving if you get the time a little wrong.

Specifically formulated for small home use quantities. Mixes up at a ratio of 1 part developer to 19 parts water. Use as a “one shot” developer – use it once and then dispose of it.

 

Stop Bath : Ilfostop

Stop Bath stops the developing process immediately. Once you tip out the developer, the stop bath goes into the developing tank and halts everything. The Stop Bath time is not critical.

Ilfostop can be used multiple times. Mix it up in the same ration of 1+19 with water as LC29. When the active chemicals in Ilfostop are exhausted and longer effective, the solution will start to turn from yellow to purple.

 

Fixer : Ilford Rapid Fixer

Fixer just makes sure all the stuff that creates the image on the film is “set” or “fixed” in place, and comes after the Ilfostop has been tipped back into a storage container.

Ilford Rapid Fixer is mixed 1 part to 4 parts water. Time is not critical again, so long as your films get 5 minutes with Fixer in the tank. Ilford Rapid Fixer should be re-used multiple times. One litre of concentrate makes up 5 litres of Fixer. One litre of diluted fixer should be good for about 30 – 40 rolls. I keep track of how many rolls a bottle of diluted fixer has done by just marking the bottle with a texta.

 

Drying Aid : Kodak Photoflo

A drying aid helps the film dry without streaks etc. Some people use a bit of detergent. I recommend Kodak Photoflo.

 

Developing Tank and Reels

A developing tank is a light tight, and water tight container in which you put the film, and then pour the chemicals in and out.

I recommend Paterson Tanks. They are very easy to use and easy to find. You can either buy a single, or multi reel tank. I would recommend at least a System 3 tank – you can process 3 x 35mm films or 2 x 120mm films at once. Processing a film takes about 30 minutes, and you can only do one tank at a time, so choose a tank that will suit how many films you are likely to want to process at once

I use mostly System 5 tanks – 5 x 35mm films or 3 x 120mm films. I have a System 8 tank but find it very clumsy to use. It quite awkward to load in the change bag, and is very unstable standing upright whilst developing.

Film needs to be loaded onto reels before being placed into the tank. The best reels on the market are Samigon. Do not buy any other kind. Samigon reels have extremely large guides to make sure your film loads up easily. I personally find it very difficult to load film onto Paterson brand reels. Samigon reels fit perfectly into Paterson tanks.

There is an alternate system of stainless steel reels and tanks. The steel reels in these systems are not interchangeable with plastic reels and vice versa. I have a steel reel and tank and have never been able to load a film. Ever. So I don’t recommend them.

 

Water Hose

The final stage of processing is rinsing. A connecting hose is not 100% necessary, but makes life much, much easier than doing fill, rinse, empty cycles for 10 minutes. A hose connects your cold water tap directly to the tank and drives water into the bottom of the tank for the most effective rinsing method.

 

Changing Bag

Some friends of mine just get into a wardrobe or under the doona to open exposed film canisters and load them up onto reels and into tanks. I prefer using a change bag – a bag that you can put your arms into that prevents light entering. Just chuck in your films, reels, tanks etc into the bag, seal it up, and then reach in and do what you have to do.

The best change bags have a “frame” like a tent. By giving the bag structure, it makes it easier to find and do stuff in the bag. It also reduces how much your hands sweat. Once your hands start to sweat, it is all over, becoming very difficult, very quickly, to load up a film.

 

Film Canister Opener

Yah, you can use a can opener that sorta works and save $15. Or you can buy a purpose built 35mm canister opener that works in 5 seconds first time, every time.

 

Measuring Jug and Graduate

Just get a cheap but accurate jug. Try and match it to your Paterson Tank. Each 35mm film needs about 300mls of developer etc, and 120mm films require about 500mls each. So if you have a System 3 tank holding 3 x 35mm films, you will be mixing up 900mls of developer each time. So buy a 1 litre measuring jug. I use mostly System 5 tanks, and have a 2 litre jug.

A measuring graduate is the smaller, very accurate container. Get one that measures out about 100mls. If you are mixing up LC29 Developer at a 1+19 ratio, you will need to measure out 45mls to mix with 855mls of water. Make sure you measure in increments of 5mls.

 

Thermometer

Any one will do.

 

Timer

Just use your phone. Or even better, buy the Massive Dev Chart app and it will time each step for you on your phone. I use the app on my phone every single time I develop film.

 

Squeegee

Not absolutely necessary, but a proper one is worth the investment. It simply aids removal of excess water at the end of the developing process. Some people use their fingers.

 

Storage Bottles, Drying Rack, etc

Daiso. Go to Daiso. They have so many bits and pieces for home developing. I particularly like their clothes drying racks designed for small apartments for drying films. They also have some great clamps and pegs that work perfectly to weight the bottom of the film whilst drying to keep the steady, and prevent curling.

 

Scanner

Unless you are going to do your own traditional wet prints in a darkroom, you will need a scanner. An Epson V700 or V750 flatbed scanner probably gives the best bang for buck. Not all scanners can handle film – so make sure you check this prior to purchasing. I have not used a lot of different scanners. Check out the reviews on Amazon.com to start with…

 

Righto, I Have All the Stuff – What Do I Do With It?

First, here is a summary to get everything in context.

  1. Load film onto reels and into developing tank. Pre-soak 120mm films for five minutes in water and pour out.
  2. Pour developer into tank for 6.30mins. Agitate tank continuously for the first minute. Agitate for ten seconds at the start of every following minute.
  3. Pour out developer, pour in stop bath. Agitate continuously for one minute.
  4. Pour out stop bath, pour in fixer. Agitate continuously for one minute, then for ten seconds every minute for a total of five minutes.
  5. Pour out fixer, rinse film for 10 minutes.
  6. Put a couple of drops of Photoflo in the tank and fill with water. Agitate until frothy.
  7. Remove film from reel, squeegee with fingers or proper tool. Hang to dry.
  8. Scan film!

 

Detailed Step by Step.

 

1. Load film onto reels and into developing tank.

Make sure everything is dry. The reels, tank, change bag, your hands. Everything. Moisture is your enemy – it makes film sticky and hard to load. Grab everything and place it in your change bag. If you forget something, it is a massive hassle to start again, so use a checklist when you are starting.

How many films are you going to develop? Make sure you have the right number of reels in the change bag.

– Scissors.

–  Canister opener / bottle opener.

–  Developing tank, centre column for the tank, tank lid.

If you are developing a lot of 120mm film – say 5 rolls, it makes sense to have a waste baggie for all the paper that will come off the rolls. The paper can become quite a tactile distraction in the bag, and get in the way.

Zip up the bag carefully, and pop your arms in. The further you can get your arms into the bag the easier it will be. Make sure you scratch whatever needs scratching before you put your arms in the bag. You cannot remove your arms until the films are fully loaded and the tank locked up and light tight.

Look up videos online to see how to load up a reel. It is pretty easy. Most of the videos will feature Paterson reels, but rest assured that the Samigon reels work the same way in winding on and changing between 35mm and 120mm format.

OK – first time I recommend you load the reel in daylight. Your hands will learn the skills much better if you do it first time whilst watching.

For 35mm, open the canister at the “flat end”, then poke the other “pointy” end to get the film out. Handle the film with your bare hands as little as possible. Hold the film by the edges as much as you can, but so long as your hands are clean, I have never ended up with fingerprints etc on my films. Some wear cotton gloves. I find that I need the touch of bare hands in a change bag.

There is a leader tab at the start of the film. Snip this off with the scissors. Feed the film into the reel. I like to push / pull it almost half way around the reel, past the little ball bearing holders. Then just wind it on (watch a video!). Keep guiding it into the feeder spot with your fingers on the edges.

When you get to the end of the roll, just snip off the end again with the scissors, being careful to not cut the wrong thing!

120mm film is a little more tricky. I definitely recommend sacrificing a roll to get the hang of it. As you tear away the sticky tab and unwind the film, the backing paper will come away. Keep unwinding until you hit the end of the roll, where there will be a tab of sticky tape connecting the film to the backing paper. Carefully peel this off and then cut the last 5mm or so off film to remove the film tab. Feed it onto the reel the same way. 120mm film can be a lot more fiddly though, and this is where the larger tabs on the Samigon reels are worth every cent.

Inside the developing tank is a removable centre column. Slide your reel onto this, making sure you push it all the way down. If you don’t, the developer may not cover it properly. Yes, it has happened to me. Load all the reels onto the column the same way. Before you put the reels into the tank, just tip it upside down or have a feel around to make sure no rubbish from your films have ended up in there. Put the reels in, and twist the lid on. That’s it. You can open the bag now.

 

2. Developing Stage

If you are developing 120mm films, the first step is to fill the tank with water and leave it for 5 minutes. There is a protective emulsion layer on 120mm film which needs to be dissolved off the film prior to developing. After five minutes, pour out the water – it will be quite coloured by the emulsion that has come off the film. No need to do this on 35mm film.

Work out how much developer you need.

For every roll of 35mm you will need 300mls of developing solution. Using Ilford LC29 : 15mls of developer + 285mls of water.

For every roll of 120mm go with 500mls of developing solution. Ilford LC29 : 25mls of developer + 475mls of water.

The solution should be roughly 20 degrees Celsius. I find that 19 – 21 is OK. To achieve this, firstly run the tap for a minute or so to get a consistent temperature. Fill your measuring jug to about 200mls, chuck in the developer, and take the temp. I use the thermometer as a stirrer. A lot of the time it will be pretty close. Just add a bit of hot water or ice water from the fridge until you get there as you fill towards 300mls total. Probably worth having a couple of dry runs without developer. It’s not hard once you get going.

Pour the developer in as quickly as you can, without being silly. If you are using a standard iso 400 speed film such as Ilford HP5 or Kodak Trix 400, the total developing time is six and a half minutes. Timing should start as you start pouring. Agitate for the first minute continuously. Agitate again for ten seconds at the start of each minute that follows. At the end of the six and half minutes pour the developer out.

Using Paterson tanks is a good choice as the agitation method is simply inserting the “twisting handle” into the centre colum and rotating the reels left and right. I usually alternate with two twists in each direction. The idea is not to go crazy, but just keep the solution moving around.

Some techniques recommend agitating the tank by inverting and turning it. I just find this a massive hassle and have not seen any difference in results doing it this way vs the spinning agitation of the Paterson tanks. Inverting the tank always seems to end up with some solution leaking. Doesn’t need it.

Don’t be too vigorous with agitation. Just move the developer around.

If you are developing on a budget, just use any kind of timer. If you are cashed up, buy the app from the Massive Dev Chart guys.

 

Working stuff out for yourself?

Go to the Massive Dev Chart online. It is the app in the picture.

http://www.digitaltruth.com/devchart.php

Enter the film and developer, and the dev chart will tell you

–       the right ratio for mixing developer with water

–       the best temperature for your developer

–       how long to develop

Some peeps like to reduce the concentration of their developer, which affects the time. Just use the quickest developing time guide.

The site also has a volume mixing calculator which is really handy – you just pop in the ratio and how much you need of finished solution. I stuffed a few up early on, and always use it now.

The App has all this info, but adds a step by step timer to guide you through the development process. For each film and developer combo, the timer tells you how long, when to agitate, how long to agitate, how long to stop bath – EVERYTHING. Just buy it already.

 

3. Stop Bath Stage.

Shake the last drops of developer out, and pour in the stop bath – Ilfostop. Use the same amount as you did with the developer. I always add a little extra, just to be sure. Agitate for one minute. Ilford say it only needs ten seconds, but what they hey? There is no down side to some extra time. I just like to make 100% sure the developing process has fully stopped.

Keep the tank light tight still at this stage. Pour the Stop Bath back into your storage container. A funnel can come in handy here.

So long as you don’t live in the tropics, room temp should be fine for the Ilfostop. There is a school of thought that it should be 20 degrees, but meh. Doesn’t really make much of a difference as far as I can tell.

Preparing Ilfostop is easy. Just mix up about a litre. Same ratio as the developer – so for a 1000mls : 50mls of Ilfostop with 950mls of water. It should be yellowish in colour, and turns purple when it is exhausted.

 

4. Fixer Stage

Wow, next stage is easy too. Just fill your tank with fixer. If you are super fussy, you can fill it to the same amount as the developer, but I just keep pouring until the tank is full.

The total time for Ilford Rapid Fixer is 5 minutes. Agitate for the first minute, then for ten seconds at the start of each subsequent minute. Pour the Rapid Fixer back into the storage container at completion.

To make a litre of Rapid Fixer, you need 200mls of fixer and 800mls of water. A litre should be good for at least 30 – 40 rolls. I mark the rolls down on the bottle as I go to keep count.

 

5. Rinse Stage

The film can now be exposed to light without impact.

The best way to rinse is to buy a water hose from Paterson for your tank. This connects to your tap, and pushes water to the bottom of the tank which then flows upwards and out of the tank in a constant flow. I just stand the tank in a bath, and turn the water on to a lowish flow. Let it run for about ten minutes.

If you don’t have a hose, then you need to constantly rinse the film in the tank by filling the tank, agitating for a bit, and then tipping out the water. Probably need to fill and tip out the water ten times or more over ten minutes.

Some people use Hypoclear at this stage. I don’t bother. Doesn’t seem to make a difference.

 

6. Final Wash and Squeegee

Open up the top of the tank. Empty any water. Put a few drops of Photoflo in the tank, and fill with water. Agitate the reels until the water is frothy. Pull out a reel. Split the reel into two halves and grab the film from an end where there is no image. Squeegee the film with your fingers or the tool. I have never actually squeegeed with my fingers, but I am assured this works by people who do it.

Do not rinse the film with water or rinse the tool with water. Photoflo is designed to help prevent watermarks in drying. Have a tea towel nearby to dry your squeegee or fingers on rather than rinsing with water. I also prefer 35mm rolls of 24 exposures to 36 exposures as they are much easier to handle. The extra 12 frames make the film a bit long for my short arms. You can buy 24exp films for bigger iso400 films.

I usually find 3 goes gets most of the photoflo solution off the film.

Hang the film to dry in a spot that is not too dusty. I used to dry film in the shower after some hard core recommendations. Now, I just dry them in an inside room and make sure I don’t do the vacuuming or anything else that stirs up dust. The negatives will be OK to scan in 3 – 4 hours, less in a very warm environment.

 

Shopping List – Vanbar.com.au for Aussie based photogs.

 

Chemicals

Ilford LC29 Developer

http://www.vanbar.com.au/catalogue/product.php?id=66950

Ilfostop

http://www.vanbar.com.au/catalogue/product.php?id=66860

Ilford Rapid Fixer

http://www.vanbar.com.au/catalogue/product.php?id=49732

Kodak Photoflo

http://www.vanbar.com.au/catalogue/product.php?id=50127

 

Gear

Paterson Tank – System 5 (does not come with reels)

http://www.vanbar.com.au/catalogue/product.php?id=50127

Samigon Reels (not available at Vanbar)

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/122989-REG/Samigon_ESA325_Multi_Format_Autofeed_Reel.html

Changing Bag

http://www.vanbar.com.au/catalogue/product.php?id=12976

Structured Changing Bag (like a tent – not available at Vanbar)

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/41880-REG/Photoflex_AC_CROO1_Film_Changing_Room_25.html

Film Canister Opening Tool

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/100728-REG/Dot_Line_DL_6060_DLC_Film_Cassette_Opener.html

Squeegee

http://www.vanbar.com.au/catalogue/product.php?id=12978

Water Hose for Paterson Developing Tank

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/40389-REG/Paterson_PTP201_Film_Washer_Hose_for.html

 

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