I’ve had my most successful go yet at developing black-and-white film at home.

I had trouble getting the Kodak T-Max 100 onto the reel, though. I tried six times before it took. The first five times it took up okay but at about two-thirds spooled it crumpled and jumped off the track. The stuff feels thicker than the Acros and Kosmo Foto films I’ve developed previously, films that went onto the reel like they were born to be there. The T-Max felt almost as thick as the expired Verichrome Pan I could never manage to get on the reel. It, too, kept crumpling and jumping the track.

I vocally compared the film to the male offspring of a female dog and tried again. It crumpled and jumped the track again, but in frustration I forced the film flat and back onto the track, which crumpled it further but let me keep on. From there I ratcheted the reel very slowly, and finally all of the film was wound on.

Naturally, those crumples showed up as dark curved lines on the developed negatives, which translated to light curved lines on the scans. With Photoshop’s healing tool I was able to fix them well enough.

I used Rodinal at its 1+50 dilution and used the spinner to agitate the film. Because the weather is cooler now my bathroom, and therefore all of my solutions, were a perfect 20° C so I didn’t have to adjust developing time for temperature. I also made sure the reel was pushed to the bottom of the core, and therefore the tank.

To my eye the negatives are a little thin. I fiddled with exposure and contrast in Photoshop to counteract it. I also misfocused a couple shots. I’m usually spot on with my Yashica-12, but not this time. Finally, and I’m not sure why, my scanner simply would not bring in the entire frame of the frog statuettes. The ScanGear software detects the frame’s edges for you, and when it gets it wrong you have no recourse. I muttered under my breath, cropped the scan square, and moved on.

Here are ten of the 12 photos in order from first to last. The other two turned out so well that I’ll share them as Single Frame posts next week.

On our lane
Parked cars
Second Presbyterian
Heavy door
The Ruins

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.


41 responses to “Greater success developing black-and-white film at home”

  1. traveller858 Avatar

    Wow – so these are the bad ones!!!!! Seriously?? In that case I can’t wait to see the other two.
    I do admire your perseverance with loading the film though.
    Very enjoyable post.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m happy with most of these, actually. The first two are only ok and the one of the benches with the church arches in the background isn’t everything I hoped it would be, but otherwise these all turned out. I just got two very nice shots on the roll that I’m saving for their own posts!

  2. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    Its always fun to spot a Tempest and realize that it isn’t yet another GTO.

    Also nice to see that the developing project is working out.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes! 1967 Tempest Custom, My neighbor tells me it had the Pontiac 326 V8 in it originally, but it got very tired after 50 years and so he dropped in a 350 crate engine. He let me take it out for a spin a couple weeks ago which was great fun.

  3. Bob G. Avatar
    Bob G.

    Sounds like you’re using the plastic ratcheting film reels… they’re not particularly consistent, even under dry conditions. I would suggest using the classic Nikkor metal or similar reels and learn to pinch and roll feed.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s a raging debate, isn’t it, plastic vs metal reels? I’ve always heard the metal reels were more challenging to learn on and to load in general.

      1. Ben Cotton Avatar

        It’s been a few years, but when I was on the yearbook staff in junior high, I spent a lot of time in the darkroom. I could never get the hang of the metal or plastic reels, so I ended up using the “lasagna strips” (there’s a word for them, I’m sure, but I don’t know that I ever knew it) instead.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’m not familiar with those! I’m doing this in my bathroom, and loading the film onto the reel in a dark bag, so I have to work with tools like these.

        2. P Avatar

          You’re probably talking about the old film aprons.

  4. Brendan Norris Avatar
    Brendan Norris

    Well done Jim , loading can be a pain, I hand feed the 120 film onto the spool as I find the rachet can jam occasionally. I wear nitrile gloves so the film is void of sweat and finger prints. Lovely exposures

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      How do you do that, just keep pushing it along? I’m willing to try that. Good idea about the gloves. I’ve been barehanded, although I always wash them well first.

  5. Martin Bruntnell Avatar
    Martin Bruntnell

    Try warming the reels, I put mine on the radiator or use my good ladies hairdryer.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I can try blow-drying my reels. I happen to own my own hair dryer! I used to wear my hair very long and needed it to dry before I left the house.

  6. Bob G. Avatar
    Bob G.

    Loading film onto metal reels does not require pushing the film. Once the beginning of the film roll is secure in the center clip of the reel, one just turns the reel in one hand slowly and carefully while checking the flatness of the film with the other, and it’s place in the metal spiral as it’s spooled. I use cloth gloves, but nitrile gloves would keep the moisture from the hands, too. Keep everything clean and dry.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh, I see. Seems like a good system.

  7. jrileystewart Avatar

    Thx, Jim.

    The only roll film I use routinely is 120. I found that if I backcurl the starting end of the roll by pulling it over the edge of the table before trying to insert into the carrier, the film goes on much easier and no crimping (unless it’s a full moon, then all bets are off).

    Also, I gave up using rodinal years ago due to excessive grain on very large prints… but your images at 1:50 look really nice. My current developer is an Xtol analog, really the precursor to Xtol, which is from Pat Gainer: really simple, fast, and great quality negs: 2.5 grams sodium carbonate in water, add 1.5 gr ascorbic acid (Vit C), 1.25ml of a prepared phenidone solution and you’re ready to rock and roll. 5 mins tops to prepare and pennies per roll. Not as simple as rodinal, tho :)

    The other thing about rodinal, never throw it away until the bottle is empty. I had some stored for years in my hot/cold attic and when I went to use it again, it was just as effective as the day I bought it. The stuff can’t be destroyed.

    J. Riley Stewart Leesburg, VA https://gallery.jrileystewart.com

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wonder how I can manage backcurling the film given my dark-bag loading. I’ll see if I can figure that out. In this case the film took up okay but 2/3 of the way through kept jumping the track. So aggravating.

      Because I seldom print my work, instead displaying online at no more than 1024px on the long side, I think Rodinal is going to work fine for me. Especially with T-grain films like T-Max. Even at full scan size the grain is managed.

      Rodinal’s long shelf life is the primary reason I chose it. The other reason is its one-shot nature. Perhaps one day I’ll experiment with other developers but while I’m getting my legs it’s Rodinal for me.

  8. Mike Connealy Avatar

    It’s always a little surprising to me that Rodinal and TMAX turn out to work so well together, especially with the 120 format.
    I have always had better luck with film loading using a steel tank for 120 and plastic for 35mm.
    I learned film processing using a daylight loading Agfa Rondinax. If I could find a good one for a reasonable price I might try that again. Meanwhile I recently picked up a Kodak Day-Load tank which works similarly to the Rondinax. It seems in good shape, but no amount of care in using it avoided crumpled film. Pretty much confirms what I see on line about the device and about the only real failure I have seen with Kodak equipment.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m intrigued by the new Lab-Box daylight tank. If they weren’t so expensive I’d already have one.

      I have four more rolls of T-Max so I’ll keep trying with them. Could be I just fumbled this first roll somehow causing it to crumple, and once crumpled every time I got to that point in loading it jumped and crumpled again. Maybe future rolls will be trouble free. If they’re not, then perhaps I need to choose a film that works with my reels. Like I said, the Kosmo Foto and Acros rolls went onto that reel smooth as silk.

      1. P Avatar

        Ironically, the
        film stocks with a thicker base are a lot easier to use with steel reels. I always assumed that would be the case across the board with plastic as well, but perhaps not. That’s interesting.

  9. Gerald Greenwood Avatar

    Things are getting better and better!

    I might as well add my advice too!

    I’ve always used plastic reels and never had any problems, other than….
    …the first few times when I was getting used to loading film.
    I always give my reels a little scrub with a nail brush after using them. I read somewhere that a build-up of chemicals can cause problems in getting the film on. That could well be rubbish, but it does make sense to clean them.
    But of course, they have to be thoroughly dry before you use them. However, I can confirm that a hairdryer will warp and melt your reels!
    I don’t use a bag as I’m fortunate to have a bathroom without windows, and can draw the curtains in the adjacent room and put a towel under the door. I guess this is an option not open to you? Loading without a bag is much easier.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My bathroom is windowless, and I can stuff a towel under the crack at the bottom of the door, but light leaks all the way around the door. One option would be to process film only at night but with my wife sleeping 10 feet away that might not go over well. Because yeah, it would be lots easier to just shut the bathroom door, turn out the light, and load the film on the vanity.

      I have also heard that it’s a good idea to clean the reels from time to time.

      I have a couple other reels and I think I need to switch to one of them and see if the problem persists.

      1. Gerald Greenwood Avatar

        Well I guess you don’t need to process the film at night, only spool it and put it in the tank, where it can sit happily until you develop it.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          That’s brilliant! I should have thought of that.

  10. 200erskine Avatar

    I couldn’t resist searching for the “lasagna” option, because who doesn’t love lasagna. It does sound interesting

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nice. Thanks for your excellent google-fu.

  11. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Looks like you are getting the hang of it Jim! Is it at all fun for you yet? Since the 1970s, I have always washed my Paterson reels and tanks between processing sessions. Since film developing is usually a weekends only pursuit, the equipment had plenty of time to completely dry. I am not sure if it’s true or not, but someone told me long ago that keeping those reels nice and clean prevents some of the film jamming issues.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I still can’t call this fun. It gets significantly less frustrating each time though. I’ll be happy when I get to fully non-frustrating.

      I’m washing my reels too. The whole works really.

  12. P Avatar

    Very nice, Jim. Regarding the negatives looking a little thin, they may or may not be. For whatever reason, T-MAX films tend to look a bit thin, even when properly developed, but shadow detail is still there. I think Kodak themselves even stated this was the case back in the day, but I could be wrong.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hm. I had to do more in Photoshop than I would normally like to bring out the best in these scans. It wasn’t a crazy amount of work but when I’ve had this film professionally done I’ve not had to do as much Photoshop work. But that’s a nit. I’m happy with these images!

      1. P Avatar

        I tried to find a place where Kodak had officially mentioned that correctly developed T-MAX negatives appear to be a little thin visually compared to traditional stocks, but was unable to locate anything. I did, however, find some people in old forums mentioning that this was to be expected and at least one of these people claimed to have been told by a Kodak employee that this was typical. So I guess at least unofficially it was probably recognized that the appearance of properly developed T-MAX negatives is a bit thinner than other emulsions. It might take a little trial and error to figure out exactly what’s best, but as long as good shadow detail is present, contrast is about normal, and not too much work in post is required, then I wouldn’t worry too much if things look a tad less dense than what you’re used to with other film stocks, especially since at least at one time it seems it was generally accepted that this was normal for T-MAX. Again, very nice looking images, Jim. I can’t wait for the next roll.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’ve shot this film before and had it professionally processed and scanned and didn’t have to do the same amount of Photoshoppery to bring them to life. It’s comforting to know that this film has a rep for being thin, but I’m not sure that it explains all of the results I got. I have four more rolls of this stuff to shoot and develop yet, so we shall see!

  13. Peggy Avatar

    I feel the frustration. When your hands are in the bag and it just won’t go on and you can’t take the hands out, you start to sweat, and sweaty hands don’t help. Worst film I tried was the first Street candy, so thin and 36exp. I ended up cutting it and doing it in halves. Also after a while soak the plastic reels in sterident to clean them. I did it once and it made the next roll easier to load.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What a great idea about the denture-cleaning tabs. I may try that.

  14. 35mm Film Shootist Avatar

    I like your first church door image.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! It’s such a great door. I’ve photographed it a lot. Here’s another favorite photo I’ve made of it.


  15. suniceboldstrong Avatar

    Black and white film at home
    So interesting

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s not hard to do once you master the steps.

      1. suniceboldstrong Avatar

        Okay 👌.. Bro

  16. nataliesmartfilmphotography Avatar

    Well done. These are great 😃

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you! Getting better every roll.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.