Film Photography

First results: developing black-and-white film at home

I’m an experiential learner. I can read about a topic all I want, but until I actually do something with the information it doesn’t stick in my brain.

I had promised myself I’d develop my first roll of film at home before autumn. And then lots of life happened and I kept not getting to it.

My son and I had plans to meet in Martinsville the other day for coffee and conversation. The weather was good so I loaded a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono into my Yashica-12 and brought it along. After coffee we walked the town square and I exposed all 12 frames.

When I got home I had a couple hours to spare. I decided to just plunge in and develop the roll. I mixed up all of my chemicals, most notably diluting Rodinal to 1+25. Then I consulted the Massive Dev Chart, where I made my first mistake: I used Fomapan 100’s developing time, assuming it’s the same stock as Kosmo Foto Mono. The Massive Dev Chart called for four minutes of development, so that’s what I did. Had I looked closer, I would have found a separate entry for Kosmo Foto Mono and a 3½-minute development time.

My second mistake was in not regulating temperature. Ambient temperature was 72 degrees; the development times were geared for 68 degrees. I didn’t realize I’d made this mistake until it was too late, so I just rolled with it to see how it would turn out. What turned out was dense, overdeveloped negatives.

City of Mineral Water

Something else went wrong that I can’t explain: the last four images on the roll, the ones that were closest to the developing reel’s core, were heavily and uniformly fogged. You could see faint images through the fogging, which suggests to me it was a fault in my developing and not a fault in the camera.

Court House Annex

The negatives were so dense that my CanoScan 9000F Mark II scanner couldn’t discern most of the images. It successfully scanned only these three.

City Hall

I brought them into Photoshop, where I reduced exposure by half a stop. Otherwise, these are just how they came off the scanner.

I lamented my challenges briefly when I posted these on Flickr. I got some advice there that Rodinal doesn’t do well with development times less than four minutes anyway, so I might try a 1+50 dilution next time for the longer development time it gives, which would give me latitude to adjust developing time for the ambient temperature. Or I can stand develop in Rodinal, as temperature isn’t so important.

I admire people who can read or hear about how to do a thing, internalize it well, and then do it well the first time. I’ve never been that person. I always have to bumble and stumble my way through until I figure it out. So here’s my first bumble. Next time I’ll stumble, I’m sure. After that I’ll start to get the hang of it.

Here’s hoping I can try again soon. I really like it that I can shoot a roll of film in an afternoon, and have scans ready to share with you by the next morning.

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42 thoughts on “First results: developing black-and-white film at home

  1. Try stand developing with Rodinal. Use 1+100 dilution. Load film as normal. I assume you are using an inversion tank not a rotary one. Add the developer solution to the tank, tap a couple of times on the worktop to dislodge any bubbles, invert once or twice and then leave to stand for 45 minutes to an hour. Empty out the developer and complete processing as normal. The film will develop pretty well irrespective of minor over or under exposure. Basically the developer becomes exhausted where a lot of silver is being dissolved and stops developing there. Worth trying.

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  2. I have to say I’m quite impressed Jim, you may have made mistakes but at least you have a good handle on where you went wrong – and some of those images look good!

    How did you find the whole film loading process? I assume you used a black bag?

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    • I sacrificed a roll of 120 Ektar to practice loading the reels, and did it 10 or so times in the light and then a few in the dark bag, before doing it “for real” with this roll of film. It went fine.

      I shot a roll of expired Verichrome Pan the following weekend and could NOT get the damned thing to take onto the reel. It got so hot in the bag after a while that the emulsion went sticky, and the film stuck to itself. Ruined.

      So, a mixed experience so far.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry it didn’t work out for you so well Jim. But don’t beat yourself up about it. I’ve been developing for years now and I still make mistakes.

    I’m sure people will make loads of great suggestions to help. Some of it may be along the lines of ‘why don’t you use XYZ developer instead’.

    But seeing as Rodinal is the developer you actually have, and that you’re using a medium format, traditional-grained film, you won’t be surprised that I recommend stand development. There’s a guide on my site, and I always find it gives very repeatable and consistent results with the right film.

    A few other things spring to mind:

    1) Development times less than 5 minutes are generally never a great idea as any errors in timing represent a greater proportion of the total time.

    2) Are you sure the Yashica’s shutter is working reasonably well?

    3) As with all types of experimentation, only ever change one variable at a time. So perhaps keep the same film, same camera, but change the development.

    4) Are you sure you mixed the developer in the right proportion? That’s something I’ve got wrong on several occasions, although I’m not suggesting you’re as stupid as I am.

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    • I’ll get to stand development, as it appeals to me, but I want to learn the fundamentals first. I always learn a lot that way. For example, I’ve gotten advice a couple times now to use a dilution that leads to dev times longer than 4 minutes so that I can more readily adjust to temperature and to give myself more margin for error. Also, it is a little challenging to figure out 1+25 Rodinal in 500 ml but I’m pretty sure I calculated right and I do remember pouring Rodinal and water to my calculations.

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  4. Congratulations on taking the plunge! Most of the film data sheets have development times for a range of temperatures. When I started, I made up graphs, estimating the time/temp curves from the given data, planning to use those graphs as a guideline depending on the temperature. However, my workbench (where I do this stuff) is in my basement furnace room. Remarkably stable temperature year-round, 70-72 degrees.
    Keep up the good work, and good luck!

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    • My bathroom will be closer to 72 during the air-conditioned months and closer to 68 during the furnace months, simply given how we set the thermostat all year. So I’ll need to learn to adjust my dev times for the ambient temp, or to cool my developing solution in the warm months.

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  5. P says:

    Hey Jim,

    I think the “fogging” that exists on the end of the roll wound closest to the reel’s core would be better described simply as “uneven development,” not fogging caused chemically or due to a light leak. Look at your roll of film, end to end, in the rebates area (i.e. clearest section/minimally exposed area/what should print as black/least density), and I imagine that what is known as film base plus fog (fb+f) is actually pretty uniform across the entire roll. If so, this probably means that you didn’t fog one end of your film. Instead, I imagine what happened is since your developing time was so short, you ended up with a lot of uneven development. The reason it’s so much worse on the end where the film is more tightly wound around the core is because this area receives the least amount of agitation since it’s at a shorter distance (radius) from the center point of rotation. Thus, even though it turns through the same angle, the distance it moves back and forth (arc length) is substantially less than the film out near the edge of the reel; hence less overall agitation. Combine that with the incredibly short developing time and I think what you see here is the result. Of course, I’m assuming you’re using the agitator and not inverting the tank. If you’re inverting, you can throw everything I just said out the window.

    Personally, I would never use Rodinal any stronger than 1:50. When developing by hand the times are just too short for nearly all films and too many things can go wrong. If I didn’t want to do stand development (which can also lead to uneven development/bromide drag), I’d probably opt for something in the middle — maybe 1:75 — and use a reduced agitation scheme — maybe ten initial inversions (or twists, if you’re using the agitator) in about thirty seconds followed by two inversions every three minutes thereafter. Then, through trial and error I could dial in the best EI and development time to use with each film stock to produce negatives to my liking. I think this is a good approach to use with Rodinal, as it gives you an extended development time (but not excessively long), is less temperature dependent, and still gives you those great compensating effects that people who stand-develop enjoy so much, but with much less risk of uneven development that very short times or stand developing can lead to, due to less uniformity in the distribution of the developer across the emulsion or simply not enough agitation, respectively.

    Or, try Gerald’s stand developing guide if you are not in a hurry and don’t mind waiting an hour (or more) for just the developing stage to finish. His write-up is superb, and he does indeed get phenomenal results.

    But for a first attempt, I think things went pretty well. I’ve been waiting to hear about your first go at it, and even though you only got three usable images this time, I’m sure next time things will go a lot smoother now that you’ve got this experience under your belt and know about some things to watch out for. I look forward to seeing the results of your future developing escapades. Keep with it and soon enough you’ll be a pro.

    Take care!

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    • I did invesions. There was a fast (less than 1/4″) gradation between the fully (over)developed portion of the negative and the fogged portion. I thiiiiiiink the problem was that I used too short a black core on the reel and it leaked light in. I have a longer core that I’ll use next time.

      I hope to try again with another roll of the same film in the same camera this weekend. We will see if time ends up allowing.

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      • P says:

        Yep, if you were doing inversions, then based on what you just detailed, I think you’re exactly right. It certainly sounds like the core you used was too short. That’ll cause it, for sure. I use stainless, and one of the reasons is that there are fewer parts to deal with, or mismatch. But now that you’ve solved this, I think you’re set up well for next time. Best of luck!

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    • Here’s hoping I get the fundamentals down quickly. I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy doing this for its own sake, but I know I’m going to love love love the low cost and fast turnaround.

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  6. I could give you lots of advice, but fear my knowledge is quite out of date. I wouldn’t have suggested using Rodinal at all but rather D76 or HC-110. The other suggestion would be: don’t hurry things. You already learned about checking chemical temperature. I’d have to see the fogging issue, but in addition to uneven development from lack of agitation it could also be film touching itself depending on what type of tank you have. Roll films are notorious for this problem in tank development.

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    • I chose Rodinal because it’s so shelf stable and is one shot (no storage of mixed chems). Easy. I wanted easy to start. After I get the fundamentals down I might branch out into other developers to get a look that pleases me most.

      I’m pretty sure now that the fogging was because I used a core that was too short for the reel.

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  7. George Bulthuis says:

    If you haven’t already, take a look at the site filmdev.org I find myself going to that site more often than the massive development site to be informed on film/developer/times combinations.

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  8. tbm3fan says:

    You are a beginner to B&W developing and should act like one till you gain experience. Had you gone into a photography class to learn photography they would have started you off on D-76 back in the days. I did. Today you could still use D-76 but I would go to HC-110 as it can be made single shot rather than dissolving powder to make a quart. Once you can get consistent only then would I move on to other methods like stand and other chemicals like Rodinal. Walk before you run.

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    • Walking is what I’m trying to do.

      I don’t understand why Rodinal is not walking but HC-110 or D-76 is. I chose it because of shelf stability, its ease in mixing up, and its one-shot nature. All seem like good first-timer choices to me. At the time I chose a developer HC-110 was still a thick syrup and I worried it would be a pain to mix. Now they’ve reformulated HC-110 to be thinner and that makes it a better choice for me and I might try it when I use up my little bottle of Rodinal.

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      • P says:

        Rodinal is an excellent “first time” developer. I’m not sure why so many of your readers think otherwise, or just outright don’t recommend it at all. It hands down is the easiest to mix, the longest lasting, is ridiculously flexible, and can provide outstanding results. So I’m a bit confused by some of the comments.

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      • tbm3fan says:

        Take this for what it is worth. I always stick to the majors for B&W film. That is Kodak, Agfa and Ilford. They are known quantities for decades and I can expect known results. Long ago I shot a lot of Plus-X along with Tri-X. I have always used D-76 at 1:1 with those films, for 53 years, and have yet to find anything better when they are shot at box speed. I have used HC-110 for Tri-X but have noticed the sharpness may be there but the image does have more grain. Difference between solvent and non-solvent developers so study your developers. Don’t forget that big name makers of B&W designed their film to work with D-76 since it has been around since 1920. Note I have heard Diafine is also great for my purposes but damn it is a 2 step developer.

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  9. Pingback: First results: developing black-and-white film at home — Down the Road – Site Title

  10. Heide says:

    I think you did admirably for your first shot at this particular process, Jim! You clearly learned a lot from the experiment — and you also got some one-of-a-kind prints out of the deal. I admire your willingness to try new things, and your commitment to analog photography. (In addition to your actual photography!)

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  11. Hi Jim! Just found your site thru your Thursday Doors posting. Just saying hi… when I was in high school, back in the 70’s, I had a Yashica TL Electro camera and a little darkroom in the basement… kindred spirits, just a half century apart! 😃

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  12. Nice results Jim! I’m no developing expert by any means but I find that you’ll continue to be more confident with the process just by practicing like anything else. Sometimes you even come to embrace the “flaws” etc. Keep it up!!

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