Developing B&W Film

I wanted to show how easy it is to develop film at home. You do need to pony up a little cash to get a few basics, but once you’ve got ’em, it’s easy and very inexpensive over the long run (translation: cheaper than developing at a commercial place). It looks complicated, and your first time will probably be nervewracking. I know mine was! But after you do your first batch, it gets a lot easier.

Disclaimer: I apologize in advance for crappy pictures. I didn’t realize the camera wasn’t focusing properly on my hands.

Supplies

To start, you need to collect a few items. You can go used on a few items to save money if you like. Or if you can’t find these used, order them from freestylephoto.biz – it’s very affordable compared with B&H Photo or Adorama. There are a few additional accessories, but I’ve found they’re not absolutely necessary.

Supplies – acquired for about $50 total.
  • A changing bag
  • Film can – either steel or plastic (there are different opinions on which is better, but when you’re first starting out, it won’t make a big difference. Pick whichever appeals to you more)
  • Two 35mm reels – either stainless steel or plastic/autoloader
  • Graduated measuring cylinders: 45ml and 600ml (bigger may be needed if you want to make bulk)
  • Measuring pipette (optional – helps measure chemicals more precisely)
  • Thermometer
  • Film clips/holders (optional)
  • Brown Bottles (optional – see below)

You will also need, but probably already have in your house:

  • String – to hang your film from
  • Clips – paper clips, clothesline clips, chip-bag clip…
  • Bottle opener
  • Scissors
  • Thermometer – I use a candy thermometer. What? It works.
  • Empty water bottles
  • Timer – stopwatch, phone, computer, whatever you have

Now, regarding the bottles: if you know you’ll be developing several B&W rolls that are all same brand and ISO in a short time period, of say, a month or so, I do suggest mixing chemicals in bulk. For this, get the brown jugs or dark-colored bottles because they store better in a dark container.

However, because I have a bunch of different B&W film brands (I like experimenting) that require different developer ratio, and I’m ridiculously slow in shooting a roll, I tend to make just enough chemicals for one batch of film (two rolls) at a time. So I use small water bottles instead.

Chemicals needed:

  • Developer
  • Stop
  • Fixer
  • PhotoFlo

Preparing Chemicals (aka the math-y bits)

You’ll need to prep your chemicals before getting started. This is a bit of a pain in the ass if you’re not good at math. But on the upside, once you do the math, you can save the details for the next time.

1. Developer: Go online and find your developer for the ratio that corresponds to your film.
I am using the Kodak HC-110, which was what my camera store happened to have in stock at the time. The film I am developing today, Fomapan, ISO 100, is very uncommon (and cheap at $1.75 a roll, courtesy of Freestylephoto.biz). Kodak’s site doesn’t have the info for this particular film, so I used this chart from digitaltruth.com to figure out what ratio I need and the dev time.

As you can see, to properly develop this film, I need my developer to be Dilution F, and will need to allow the films to sit in this chemical for 12 minutes. 12 minutes is very long – most standard films like T-max or Ilford need only about 4-6 minutes, so if your time is different, don’t worry.

We can find what Dilution F is here on Kodak’s website.

Ratios for HC-100 developer
This indicates I need my developer to be at 1:19 ratio. Kodak has made it easy for people who want to develop in bulk, but I don’t want that much; I need just enough for one batch of film.

My can holds about 460 mL.

Which means I need 23mL of HC-110 and 437mL water. Without a pipette, I can’t be super accurate, so I’m eyeballing it instead. I live dangerously!

Measuring water

2. Stop bath: This does what it sounds like – it “stops” the developer from continuing to work. Basically neutralizes it. The ratio does not vary depending on your film brand & ISO, unlike the developer. So if you’d rather make this in bulk, go for it; you can also re-use this a couple times so if you’ve more than one batch to develop, save it. The ratio for  Kodak Professional Stopbath is 1 part Stop, 63 parts water.

7ml Stop, 453ml water – this stuff is like cough syrup consistency; pour slowly!

Pouring Stop into water

3. Fixer: This “fixes” – as in makes permanent – the images on the film. Kodafix ratio 1:3. 115mL fix, 345 water.

4. KodakFlo: this is technically optional, but I highly recommend it because it helps the film dry without water spots and streaks. The ratio is 1:200; 2mL to 458mL water.

Chemicals all ready to go. I marked each bottles so I wouldn’t mix them up.

Loading film

I highly suggest practicing loading film first with old negatives. If you can’t find any, stop at your local mom n’ pop camera shop and see if they can spare a couple feet of used film – they likely will have some.

Practicing loading film

I’ve used both stainless steel and plastic/autoloader reels. The autoloader is a lot easier to load film on, but jams easily and it can be fiddly to fix it. In contrast, the stainless steel loads nicely, but if your film kinks, it can “skip” to the next spiral and if you don’t notice before starting the developing process, chemicals might not access that section of the film. I personally prefer stainless reels, I can load film on them pretty quickly. If you’ve got a local mom n’ pop camera store with some darkroom supplies, ask if you can practice with both to see which you prefer.

Tip: It helps to practice loading the film without the bag so you can see what’s going on, then practice loading the film without using your eyes, and once you can do it without looking, you’re ready.

Be sure to gather up all the supplies you’ll need for this step; once you close the changing bag, which is light-tight, and open the film canisters, you can’t stop for something you’ve forgotten. You will need: bottle opener, film rolls, reels, developing can and scissors.

  1. Use the bottle opener to open the film roll canisters
  2. Carefully pull out the film roll, try to only touch the edges. Unroll the film so you can cut the plastic tube doohickey off.
  3. Load film onto the reel
  4. Load 2nd film onto the second reel
  5. Put both reels in the can
  6. Put the can’s top on tightly. Double-check that it’s on properly.
  7. Done!

This takes me all of 5 minutes to do.

Developing film

First, you need to check and see what the required temperature for the chemicals. It’s usually 20C/68F but may vary depending on your developer. If your chemicals are warmer or cooler than that, put the bottles in a sink and fill the sink with the water at the desired temperature. Allow about 15 minutes per degree. So if your bottles are off by 2 degrees, wait about 30 minutes.

My place’s ambient temperature is about 68 degrees, so I was able to skip this step because the water was already at room temperature.

  1. Develop: Start by agitating (invert the can repeatedly, not swirling/shaking) the can for 30 seconds, then alternate between agitating 10 seconds, resting 30 seconds, for 12 minutes total, then pour out. Every time you set the can down to let it rest, tap the can sharply on the surface – it helps loosen the bubbles.
Agitating (damn, out of focus). That’s the timer on my little netbook in the background.
  1. Stop: agitate 10 sec, smack the can, rest 30 secs for total of 1 1/2 minutes, pour (or reuse)
  2. Fixer: agitate 5-10 sec, rest 30, for 4-5 minutes total, pour out. After pouring out, you can remove the lid.
  3. Wash: Let 20C/68F water (use the thermometer) run into the can for 10 minutes
  4. Flo: agitate gently 1 min, pour out
  5. Take the film out of the can and check them!

    Checking…
  6. After you’ve ooh’ed and ahh’ed over possibly awesome images, do a fistpump to congratulate yourself, then hang them to dry.

Easy.

Check back here next week for a couple suggestions on how to digitalize them.

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