Film Photography

The home processing adventure will soon begin

I now have everything I need to process my own black-and-white film.

I want to thank reader Peter for giving me a solid push by gifting me his processing tanks and changing bag. He has processed his own film since the 1950s but set that activity aside not long ago. He told me he was happy to pass some of his gear along to me. (I ordered everything else from Freestyle and Amazon.) Peter also gave me a ton of advice from his long experience about how to do this.

I corresponded with Peter, as well as with readers Pate and Mike, about which developer to use. The array of developers is bewildering. Each has different storage requirements and means of mixing and diluting to the right concentration. Each yields different results.

Based on their advice I saw that I wanted to simplify things as much as I could. That led me to one-shot developers, meaning I’d mix up enough for one roll, use it, and then throw it away. I also wanted a developer that keeps for years and years, as I won’t shoot in high volumes. That made Rodinal, also known as R09, my choice. It’s a classic developer, patented in 1891. It’s also a high-acutance developer, which means it will deliver strong sharpness with the tradeoff of enhanced grain. That high-grain look doesn’t please everyone. It might not even please me. But because of ease and long storage it’s where I’m going to start.

I hear the grain is best managed with slower films, under 400 ISO, so I’ll shoot primarily ISO 100-ish films, at least at first. I’ll start in medium format. Currently chilling in the garage fridge are three rolls of Kosmo Foto Mono (which is Fomapan 100 in disguise), one roll of Ilford Pan-F Plus 50, and as a special added bonus three rolls of Kodak Verichrome Pan, expired since the 1980s.

Yashica-D

I’ll start shooting with my Yashica-D (review here), as it is probably the medium-format camera I know best. I adore this camera and really look forward to using it.

I’d also like to use my old folders more, like my Kodak Monitor (review here) and my Certo Super Sport Dolly (review here). I also bought an Argus Argoflex Forty in January that I’d love to use. It and the Monitor take 620 film. One of my rolls of Verichrome Pan is in 620. I also have a bunch of 620 spools. Using my changing bag, with some practice, I’ll be able to respool fresh 120 film onto those spools and put those 620 cameras to good use.

But first things first: Fresh film, the Yashica-D, and practicing my home development. I hope to have first results to share in the next few weeks.

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60 thoughts on “The home processing adventure will soon begin

  1. I am so not a photographer, but this sounds just so cool! I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you. I have seen so many old movies and TV shows with the guy in the darkroom with the red light bulb, using tongs to pick wet photos out of a tray of chemicals and hanging them to dry. Now I know one of those guys.

    • You still don’t know one of those guys. The darkroom and red bulb and wet photos is printing, which I’m not doing. I’m going to develop my own film in my bathroom with the light on! I need total darkness only to load film into the developing tank, and I’m using a “dark bag” for that — a triple-lined black bag with holes to stick my arms in.

    • I’ve dragged my feet on this for years because I don’t enjoy tedious, manual things. But I want to shoot my medium-format gear more, and want a cost-effective way to do it. So here I am, at last!

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    I’m excited! I had a custom darkroom in my studios for years, and just recently priced all the chemicals out at Freestyle (wow, was I surprised at the cost now!). I was also surprised that B&H will not ship Kodak Rapid fix with hardener, nor indicator stop bath! Freestyle still will! Just started pricing this out again because “old style” processing and proofing is getting impossible to buy, at least without “scans”, or very likely you’ll get scratched negs back from poor handling! It’s tough to find “real” processing professionals that have an attention to detail anymore (and who actually wear white cotton gloves when handling your negs, and know how to make a prefect contact).

    Step 1 / Tip 1. Mix all chemistry in distilled water…always…! They sell 2.5 gallon distilled water jugs at the grocery store. I changed studios twice, and places where I had my darkroom three times, and every time I changed, I had significant differences on the processing energy of the developer based on the water out of the tap! I called Kodak, and they said I had to mix every thing with distilled! They said that the local water companies put different stuff in the water to get it to the specs they need it to be, and the parts per million vary based on the day they do it, and your distance from the water plant! You could have knocked me over with a feather! Once I changed to distilled, everything was density perfect…always! You have to mix D-76 warm, and I even bought my own little teapot just to heat distilled water for chem mixing only!

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Jim, e-mail me if you want some more suggestions after you get started! I saw that you’re going to be using a Rodinal derivative and I’m pretty interested in hearing how that works out! As a 50+ year processor, I probably would not have made the same recommendation. People used to write books in the 60’s and 70’s about the madness of getting repeatable results in Rodinal. We used to joke you had to agitate x amount of time on one foot, then the other! I once mixed Rodinal and used it in about 5 minutes, and the next time I mixed it, I had to take a phone call, and used 30 minutes after I mixed it and got entirely different results! Maybe they changed the formulation, it used to come in a tiny glass bottle with a rubber stopped inside and a cap over that!

        • Choosing a developer was the hardest decision. I wanted to start simple. I was originally going to use a monobath as it doesn’t get much simpler, but was talked off that ledge by several other people experienced in such things. It came down to this for me: I wanted a one-shot developer for ease, and I wanted one that didn’t degrade rapidly in storage as I will probably use the stuff slowly. That led me right to Rodinal. Just because I’m starting there doesn’t mean I will stay there. I might not like it. If not then I’ll try something else.

        • P says:

          Hi Andy,

          As with a lot of highly dilute one-shot developers, they have to be used very nearly immediately after being mixed, or they begin to lose their activity. Some lose it faster than others, but nearly all dilute developer solutions begin to degrade rather quickly once mixed, especially if they’re in an open container (oxygen is their worst enemy). So it doesn’t surprise me that you got different results with the stuff that had been sitting for thirty minutes versus the mix that only sat for five. I’d fully expect that. With one-shot solutions, that is a pretty significant time difference. I’m glad you brought this up, however, because it’s definitely something Jim will want to keep in mind as he gets started. But as long as Jim is consistent with his method of developing, then his results should be consistent as well. Rodinal is tried and true. That’s why it’s still around roughly 130 years later. It’s been on the shelves of camera shops longer than any other developer available today. I’m also glad you brought up using distilled water. I second your recommendation to use it for mixing the developer and fix. However, Jim, your hard water will actually be helpful when it comes to effectively washing the fix out of your film. Though you may want to do a final quick soak of your film in distilled water and a few drops of Photo-Flo (or another wetting agent) before hanging it to dry. Otherwise, your hard water may leave a bunch of water spots on your film, and that can be extremely irritating. You definitely brought up some good information here, Andy, that can save anyone who reads it a lot of frustration.

  3. Hi Jim, sounds like a lot of fun. I have been after my dad for a little while now, to help him clean up his dark room. I spent a lot of time in there as a youngster learning the trade. Lately I have been getting the itch to be processing and printing again.
    Will you be scanning the 120? If so what scanner will you be using?

  4. jon campo says:

    Jim, I am going to try it also. I have been practicing loading a junk film while watching TV. I scoured flea markets and online auctions to amass the supplies. Plenty of experience processing 35mm in high school and college but never 120, but it seems very similar. I will be using Rodinal for all reasons you mentioned. To start out I ordered a kit of chemicals from Freestyle, I haven’t found a source that will ship rodinal yet. I recommend watching the video on processing color at home at The Film Photography Project, it’s short and hilarious. Good luck!

    • Interesting that you couldn’t find a source to ship Rodinal as Freestyle shipped it to me (as R09) no problem. I’ll check out the video!

      • jon campo says:

        Jim, it was out of stock when I ordered, I’ll try again. Shipping from the coast to here is really expensive, I might just wait until my next trip to NYC. I’m very loyal to B+H.

        • P says:

          Hey Jon,

          If I’m not mistaken, I think Adorama will still ship it. But their shipping costs tend to be a bit high, in my opinion, at least based on my location. That may not be the case if you’re closer to them though, and based on your comments I’m assuming you are. Search for “Adox Adonal ” at Adorama. That’s Rodinal, just sold under a different name. Hopefully that’ll help you out.

          Take care!

  5. Well done Jim, for dipping your toe in the waters! I love the idea of doing the whole process yourself, from clicking the shutter button to holding a final print in your hands (I know you’re not doing this bit – yet), it must be hugely rewarding. But I know I wouldn’t have the patience, not by a long shot!

    I’ll be very interested to see the results.

    I’m also very curious to see how it affects how you shoot. Will having a less expensive method of processing film mean you’re less discerning with shots because it’s less expensive per shot? Or will it go the other way, and because of the extra time and effort you’re putting in personally, will you want to ensure every shot is the absolute best it can be? Look forward to more.

    • I do enjoy a new experience, and letting the experience inform other choices. I don’t know for sure how processing and scanning my own film will affect my photography yet. I expect to shoot more MF in b/w, but that’s all I can predict now. I don’t expect to shoot less color 35mm, esp now that I work so close to a camera store with a C41 lab. As a matter of fact I will drop two rolls of Agfa Vista 200 there today!

      I’m not known for my patience with tedious, manual things. That may well limit how much I do this.

  6. Johnny says:

    Jim, stand by for the sheer joy and sense of accomplishment when you peel off the roll of negs from the spool and hold it up to the light to see the results from your first home developed roll. Magic! As others have probably mentioned, best to have a practice spooling onto the reel an old roll, first in the light then in the bag before the real thing. And make sure not to leave any bits of the paper backing/tabs in the container. Be prepared to take your time in the bag as it can be fiddly. I usually have a nurse on standby to mop my brow! Good luck.

    • We’ll see how much joy I experience. I processed some film back in high school, in the early 80s, and it was just a tedious job. But nearly 40 years have passed; have I changed? Who knows. I know what motivates me: cost-effective photography.

      I’m going to burn a roll of 120 Tri-X that’s been in the fridge for years to practice loading the spool. I have my entire catalog of swear words at the ready!

  7. Please let us know your results. I have finally accumulated all the “stuff” I need to start film developing here at the Ranch. I went for HC-110 which was a mistake (I think). I am in the dark as to how to dilute it for a one-shot throw away developer. The Kodak manual I have doesn’t really get down to the nitty-gritty on the dilution from the stock solution to the one-shot dilution. That’s OK, I’ll muddle through.

    • Rich, I’ll bet a search on “HC-110 one shot” will return some decent advice. I’ll bet you’re not the first to be interested in this! I’ll share my results as they emerge.

    • Good luck Jim. Whilst the actual process of developing may not be exciting in itself, it’s extremely satisfying.

      You probably don’t need any more advice, but with your choice of film, camera, and developer, I would suggest stand development.

      Rodinal @ 1+99
      20 degrees
      Agitate for first 30 seconds
      One gentle inversion at 30 minutes, and give the tank a few hard whacks to get rid of any bubbles
      No need to bother with Stop at this small dilution… Just rinse out a couple of times before adding the fixer.

      I’ve been using this process for several decades on traditional grained medium format films (of which foma / kosmo is one)

      Benefits :
      Less grain that you’d get with rodinal in the normal 1-25 or 1-50 dilution.
      Compensates a little bit for errors in exposure, particularly useful for old cameras that may not have very accurate shutters.

      I note the previous comment about using distilled water. I have extremely hard water and it seemed to give me problems. I actually now use bottled water from the supermarket which works excellently. This is obviously cheaper and easier to source than distilled water (although I do dip the film in distilled water with photoflo at the end).

      Anyway, just my two cents, but this process has given me extremely consistent results over many years.

      All the best.

      • Gerald, thanks for the excellent tips! I’m going to start with traditional development so I have a good baseline but will try your stand method. I like easy and your method looks easy. Here distilled water is available in gallon jugs in any supermarket for a dollar, so it’s very easy to come by.

  8. Use Kodak’s DK-50! :D No, just kidding. I’m just pleased to see that film photography is still alive. Sorry to say I gave away all that stuff – including books on how to do it – last year, but somewhere someone is getting the use of it that I no longer do. My memory isn’t reliable anymore, but HC-110 A/B and Rodinol are very good developers – providing you have the info to use them. Can be an expensive experiment otherwise. If D-76 is still around you can use that; it’s pretty forgiving of errors. And somewhere there are books on the raw ingredients.

      • It’s a “general purpose” developer that will handle most films with reasonable contrast and grain. BTW shooting Tri-X at its original ASA(ISO) rating of 320 generally yields better results than the slightly “pushed” 400 rating.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      Ha Ha Marc, I used to use DK-50a with 8X10 Sheet Film! 1974! Ditto D-76, as I was trying to bring up above, Rodinal is way, way too “tweaky” for a beginner. I can recommend HC-110 /B, but recommend you mix it to the stock solution and then mix it to the dilution “B” when you’re ready to go. Kodak used to make HC-110 so that you could just put an ounce out of the bottle into 31 ounces of water to make “B” (don’t know if they still do that), but most times the developer was too “hot” doing that. I can certainly recommend that you will get “strong” negs in HC-110! You’re never going to open the can and say: “..hmmm, negs are a little light…”!

      Full strength D-76 is infallible, but not for someone wanting to “pour-and-go”. I standardized on D-76 (or ID-11) at my studio, with replenisher. I never got the shadow detail and strength I wanted using D-76 1:1 or 1:3, but full strength with replenisher? I could get 100’s of rolls and sheets a month with repeatable results!

      You should have never gotten rid of your books, Marc! I ran across my Kodak lab guide the other day, and had hand written so many variations in it, all over it, and in the margins, it looked like a Uni-Bomber manifesto!

      • Unfortunately the loss of equipment was unavoidable. I take comfort in the thought that someone is getting use of it now, rather than it just sitting in storage for more years.

  9. tbm3fan says:

    As has now been mentioned there is HC-110 for single use and long term life span. Mike also linked the Massive Development site for all the solution ratios. I learned with D-76 and still use it along with HC-110 and Rodinal.

  10. terry says:

    I’m thinking of switching to Rodinal for the same reason. I need something with a long life span. I have used Ilfosol 3 and I like it but it goes bad before I use it all. I am new to developing film and one thing I didn’t consider beforehand is used chemical disposal. I ended up storing it in gallon jugs and taking it to the city’s hazardous waste facility. Looking forward to your results with Rodinal.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      Terry…I used to run a few big studios with adjacent labs, dealt with Kodak to provide documentation to the city I lived in about the chemistry were were going to dump down the drain…believe it or not, everything was “dump-able” with zero affect on the sewer water, and we were doing a lot of processing! We used to use a silver reclamation system, but there was so little silver left in film, the fix passed specs anyway! Specs might have changed since 2000 tho (the last time I checked)….

  11. Roger Meade says:

    Jim- I am probably about the same age as your darkroom gear gifter. I shot a lot of Kodak Plus-X and developed most of it in one shot FR X-19, which came in one oz. bottles, three to a pack from your local camera shop. Mixed 15-1 it was convenient and a good fit with Plus-X. You could get two rolls out of it if you used it right away and extended the time for the second roll. My first run at home development was with a kit with a tank for roll film and some chemicals, another FR product, as a Christmas gift. Good luck. Have fun!

    • Andy Umbo says:

      Roger, I almost started crying when I read your entry! As a grade-schooler back in the mid 60’s, I got started using FR (I believe X-100?), it was liquid and easy to use. I’ve looked back at those negatives over the years and been impressed enough with them to occasionally try and see if I can find the original formula for that stuff! What ever happened to FR? I found some ancient darkroom book from the 50’s , about an inch thick, that has the formula for some FR chemicals in it, always thought I’d get the raw stuff from Photographers Formulary and try mixing some of the stuff up!

      BTW, Photographer’s Formulary D-76 alternative: TD-16, is supposed to be “the bomb”. That’s my next try…..

    • I tried to look up FR X-19 and found nothing on the Net! A dusty corner of the world that even the Internet doesn’t reach. I did find the FR development tank however.

  12. Oliver says:

    Hey Jim, I find it awesome that you’re dipping your toe in that great river of home developing. Careful, that way lies madness…next stop you end up printing…then colour processing…then alternative processes’…then… :)
    As for advice I read in the comments, I’m guessing the’re as many ways to develop film as there are photographers, though admittedly you do need to the basic idea. Best of luck, it’s fun!!

  13. Nancy Stewart says:

    When I worked as a senior in high school half a day at a work uniform clothing factory, it was in the catalog department. There were three of us and we did the set up, reducing or enlarging various pictures with an ancient old wooden contraption photo thing, and laying out the pages that we then burned in an equaly old arc machine on to a metal plate that went into the old printing presses that they used. So I spent a lot of time in that dark room with the red light. and I will never forget the smell of that developer !!!

  14. P says:

    Jim,

    In addition to other very good resources that have already been linked to here (namely the HC-110 resource page at the Covington Innovations site, which has tons of useful information extending well beyond just HC-110 processing, and the Massive Dev Chart), Ed Buffaloe’s website is a treasure trove of useful information, including information on Rodinal and its history, recommended developing times, agitation methods, and a plethora of other topics. Here is a link to the “Articles” page on his website. If you do a page search for whatever you’re looking for (e.g. “Rodinal” or “times”) you’ll easily locate links to those topics.

    https://unblinkingeye.com/Articles/articles.html

    I’m looking forward to seeing your first results of home developing since the 1980’s. Best of luck.

    Take care!

    • Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!! That Massive Dev Chart is absolutely a must have for anyone doing film developing. It answered all my questions regarding HC-110 dilutions. I was so impressed enough that I got the app for my phone! Good job!!!

      • P says:

        Hi Rich!

        I’m glad you found the Massive Dev Chart helpful. Indeed it is a wonderful resource. But I can’t take credit for its creation, or even providing the link to it here. Mike Connealy beat me to it! All I did was reiterate that it’s a great resource, along with the others mentioned.

        Best of luck developing with HC-110. Like Rodinal, it’s a tried and true developer that has been around a long time. I’m sure you’ll have no issues getting great results with it!

  15. Richard Armstrong says:

    Jim, will be interested in hearing about how it all go’s. Your enthusiasm has me itching to dig out my tanks and get into processing again. I haven’t processed my own since 1980. The last time I was in a darkroom was in 2001 teaching my Daughter how to process her film for a high school photography course so it’s been awhile, once mastered it’s a skill you never loose and the excitement is always there. Have fun. – Richard

  16. Andy Umbo says:

    One last word from me on HC-110. I have embarked on a project to review and decide what to do with the 50 years of negs and transparencies I’ve saved, and ran across a catch of 4X5 city scenes I shot with a Toyo view camera, all over Milwaukee in the early 70’s! On close inspection, I was pretty impressed with the quality of the processing on all the negs, especially since I was a 19 year old! They were all done in HC-110, and all were “sparkley”!

  17. richardhunter001 says:

    For sheer convenience, cost effectiveness and longevity, Rodinal is hard to beat, I always have a bottle handy, however give Bellini Hydrofen a go. It is a remake of Rodinal Speziale (a fine grain version of Rodinal). It’s a fairly new product and gives a look similar to Xtol on the several rolls I have tried. Mixes and stores as easily as normal Rodinal. Not sure if it is over that side of the pond yet, but google Nik and Trick photography (a film specialists here in the UK) they have it for sale and can ship worldwide.

      • P says:

        Jim,

        If you’re really interested in this, then here in the US, “Rodinal Special” is available as “R09 Spezial.” Freestyle sells it. Bellini products pretty much don’t exist outside of Italy, the UK, and a few other parts of Europe.

        It should be noted that despite the name, this product has nothing to do with Rodinal whatsoever. It’s a PQ (phenidone-hydroquinone) developer, and is totally unrelated. In fact, it used to just be called Studionol, which was far less confusing and misleading. I’m sure some marketing “genius” is responsible for the name change. As such, the shelf life of it is nowhere near Rodinal, although it is better than a lot of options.

        If you’re truly interested in ease of use, I don’t think this is the sort of developer you want to play around with. It’s meant to be diluted 1+15 to make a working solution, and this working solution is intended to be re-used over the course of a few months before mixing fresh chemistry, with time added to the solution to compensate for loss of activity as it ages. Furthermore, with most films its developing times are absurdly short. Even at 20C (68F), a lot of common emulsions have times between 3.5 to 4 minutes. Frankly, that’s way too short to be able to get consistent and even results if using small tanks. Attempting to develop at even slightly higher temperatures, like 70-71F, would be a nightmare. Even though it’s not really recommended by the manufacturers (originally Agfa), some people have used it at 1+31 to increase the developing times, but you’re always running the risk of premature exhaustion and thus badly underdeveloped negatives if you do that.

        I don’t doubt that this is a good developer, and I’ve seen great results with it, but given there are other easier to use fine-grain developers out there, that are also cheaper, I’d say those options are your better bet.

        Best of luck and take care!

        • Thanks for the backgrounder on this. Wow, is home developing ever a rabbit hole. I have a tendency to go down rabbit holes. Must resist.

        • P says:

          Sure thing, Jim. I know you’re trying to keep things simple and economical. So I’m just trying to point out a few things that you may not want to deal with regarding some of the other developer recommendations that have been made here by others. I’m not questioning the quality of these other developers or the abilities of the people using them. But I have found that generally speaking, film photographers who are heavy into developing their own film fit into a couple of categories. They either have done it for so many years (or decades) that they don’t think about all the minutiae that has to be considered because it’s just become second nature to them, or they truly enjoy the chemistry behind it all and experimenting with everything known to man. Oftentimes the recommendations of these types, while given with the best intentions, can be frustrating as they tend to think other people developing film have the same reasons and thus mindset about developing film as they do.

          Personally, I think you made the right choice with Rodinal. D-76 used to be the developer to start with, and it’s a great general purpose developer, but it requires mixing powder chemicals and honestly its shelf life is rather poor (about six months, at most). The only way it’s really economical is if you’re planning to develop a lot of film over the course of just a few months. Otherwise, you mix it up, develop a couple of rolls, and then the next time you need it the developer is totally dead. That’s money wasted and very frustrating.

          Film developing and the near infinite developer options and methodologies is indeed a huge rabbit hole.

          I can’t wait to see your results once you get going!

        • I really, really want to settle on one set of chemicals, with one major method and maaaaaybe with some variations (like stand developing). I’m willing to choose films that play well with my chems/methods. Because I really just want the photographs, not to play forever with all the possibilities of development.

        • P says:

          Yeah, I definitely understand that. And Rodinal, as long as you don’t find the grain obtrusive with the film stocks you’re shooting, is a phenomenal option in line with what you’re wanting. You can use it with standard agitation at 1:25 or 1:50. You can use it for full stand or semi-stand developing at 1:100 (or higher). You can use it at dilutions between 1:50 and 1:100 (1:75, for instance) with a reduced agitation scheme to kind of give you the best of both worlds. You can pretty much use it any way you want or need to. It’s super simple to mix, lasts a very long time, and is incredibly flexible, so whatever method fits you the best, it’ll accommodate. I think you’re going to be pleased. I’m anxious to hear about how things go and see the results of your first efforts when you get around to processing a roll. The internet is a great resource with regards to all the information available about film developing, but in some ways the sheer volume of this information has complicated matters. Trying to wade through it all is like drinking from a fire hose.

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