There are probably thousands of articles on developing your own black and white film at home but when I came to develop my first one I had no idea where to start, I couldn’t find any single resource that told me everything I would need and how to do it. In the end I lazily purchased a Print and Film Developing Kit and some random chemicals based on a few minutes research. My first attempt was a stress filled nightmare but only because I wasn’t prepared for how easy it actually is, and even though I’m now confident that I can get good results those early attempts are hopefully still fresh enough in my mind for me to be able to include all the important details.
What to buy…
1. A developing tank
There are many sizes of these – you want to choose one that fits what you want to do. I have a two reel tank – this comes with two adjustable reels for 35mm/120/127 and will allow me to develop 1 x 35, 2 x 35mm or 1 x 120. I bought this one – http://www.firstcall-photographic.co.uk/products/823/ap-developing-tank-universal. If you think you might one day want to develop 5×4 film you might want to consider a three tank reel as it can be used along with the MOD54 Large Format Film Processor for this purpose.
2. Measuring cylinders
In order to develop your film you are going to need to prepare 4 (or more) lots of chemicals. “Prepare” perhaps makes it sound a lot more complicated than it is – all you have to do is dilute them according to the instructions, but the levels of dilutions differ for the various types of chemicals. So before you start you’re going to need 4 liquids in containers that you can safely pour from, and these containers are all going to need to be able to hold enough liquid to cover your film. My two tank reel needs 590ml to cover 1 x 120 or 650ml for 2 x 35mm so if you go this route you need to make sure all 4 containers can hold 650ml. If you go for a bigger tank you won’t necessarily need to use more liquid as the tank spends most of its time standing the right way up with the film(s) and the liquid at the bottom.
Personally I like to mix my developer in a proper 650ml measuring cylinder that is only ever used for developer – and it has DEVELOPER written in marker on it so that I don’t use it for anything else. The other chemicals I mix in the cheapest plastic mixing jugs that I could find – they were 29p each or similar – and each of these is also labelled:- STOP, FIX, RINSE AID. In order to measure the other chemicals you are going to need at least one other container but I’d go for two – a 100ml one graduated in 5ml intervals and either a 25ml or 50ml graduated in 1ml intervals.
3. Film Clips
You could use clothes pegs or bulldog clips, but I like the proper film clips as they clamp into the film and stop it falling down whilst drying. I didn’t use them the first time and ended up with an entire roll of film on the garage floor. Twice.
4. A thermometer
Film development will generally be done between 18C and 25C so you want something that at least covers those ranges – a standard film thermometer might cover 15-50C. You also need to bear in mind that some developers come in powder form and need to be mixed at a higher temperature, such as Kodak D-76 which needs mixing at 55C, just outside the range of my thermometer. So if you decide on any powdered chemicals, check what temperature they need mixing at.
5. A stirring rod.
Essential for making sure any powder is dissolved, but not really necessary for liquids.
6. Print trays.
Print trays? It might seem ludicrous because we’re not planning on doing any printing, but who knows – maybe you’ll want to do some contact prints later – but a cheap set of 8×10 will come in handy to corral and carry around all that wet stuff like discarded jugs and cylinders.
Now this is the bit where you’ve got to do some thinking – developer choice can be influenced by the type of film you are planning to process first, or the type of film you are planning to process most frequently. I went for a packet of Kodak D-76 first of all because it was the smallest, cheapest developer on offer and I didn’t know if I’d ever develop more than one roll of film. Once I’d chosen the developer I checked the datasheet for the film (which was Ilford DELTA 3200) and checked that a development time was listed for this developer, which it was. So before you choose a developer, check the film’s datasheet, search to see how other people are developing that film, or check the Massive Dev Chart for your film and see other peoples recommendations. For simplicity lets choose a set of chemicals:-
DEVELOPER – Ilford Ilfotech DD-X
Unless you are using an exotic film you’ll be able to find instructions for processing it using DD-X – if not try another liquid developer, such as Rodinal or Ilford Ilfosol 3 (or try powder, but I think that introduces an unnecessary complication for a first attempt at developing).
STOP – Ilford Ilfostop Stop Bath
Any stop bath will do, or even water, but let’s go with a recognised brand for a first attempt – we don’t want any of our steps to fail.
FIX – Ilford Rapid Fixer
I recommended this fixer because a) it’s quick, b) it eliminates the need for a Hypo Clearing Agent, which would add another step to our process. If you decide to use another fixer (which is also referred to as Hypo) check if it needs a Hypo Clearing Agent. So many people document their processing experiences now that it shouldn’t take long to find recommendations.
RINSE AID – Fotospeed RA50 Rinse Aid
I use this – it’s cheap and helps the film dry with no drying marks or streaks.
Next we need to consider quantities to purchase – 500ml, 1L etc. Whilst you might immediately think that if we need 590ml of liquid to cover a roll of 120 film there would be no point buying 500ml of developer (well, I thought that) you’d be wrong, as all these chemicals are concentrates and need diluting (I did mention this above, but I thought you might need reminding).
Dilutions of the above chemicals are as follows (although always double check the instructions on the label before mixing):
DEVELOPER – Ilford Ilfotech DD-X – 1+4
STOP – Ilford Ilfostop Stop Bath – 1+19
FIX – Ilford Rapid Fixer- 1+4
RINSE AID – Fotospeed RA50 Rinse Aid – 1+200
Let’s round up our processing volume to 600ml to make the maths easier – this means we will need
120ml of developer + 480ml of water
30ml of stop + 570ml of water
120ml of fix + 480ml of water
3ml of rinse aid + 597ml of water
So you can already see that a 1L bottle of developer is going to allow us to develop 8 rolls of film but 1L of Ilfostop would be enough for 33 films so we’ll get away with buying a smaller bottle of Ilfostop. Maybe it’s worth just buying the smallest of everything first, but before you do, check the recommended dilutions so that you are aware how much working solution each will make. Also be aware that dilutions will be different for other chemicals/brands.
It is also possible to use chemicals at different strengths – for instance you might see recommendations for using DD-X at 1+4 (1 part DD-X, 4 parts water) or 1+9 (1 part DD-X, 9 parts water). Using a weaker solution will increase development time (and save money) but until you’re familiar with the process I’d stick to the stronger solution.
8. Storage bottles
It is possible to save your fixer and stop. It’s one more hassle on a first run but if you do buy bottles, make sure they are big enough to hold all the liquid you have prepared. Also add a funnel (or funnels) to the list.
9. Changing bag/tent/room.
You are going to need somewhere totally dark to load your film on to the spiral which then goes into the tank.
You can either do this in a cupboard, a darkroom or you can buy a changing bag or tent. I have one of these, and whilst it does look like my arms are undergoing dialysis when I’m using it, it is incredibly handy.
10. Negative storage bags
Search for “kenro negative storage”. The pro lab I use send their film out in what they call “high quality anti-static sleeves” but I find that they suck up dust – these paper ones perform better for me.
What not to buy…
1. Film squeegees – they will encourage you to touch the film. If a rinse aid is used the film will dry nice and clear – keep your hands off it :)
2. Chamois cloth.
I tried this once instead of using film squeegees. Don’t..touch..the..negatives. Rinse aid is good.
3. Film cap remover.
A bottle opener works just as well to open a 35mm film cannister.
4. Film leader retriever.
Are you kidding? Well ok, buy one if you must, but once that cannister is open it’s pretty easy to find the end of it.
5. Stop clock/watch.
There are some great free Darkroom apps now. I use Darkroom Timer on my android phone which allows me to program in the length and description for each step – it takes a great deal of panic out of the whole thing.