inspecting negatives
Tutorials & Guides

How to Get Started Developing Black & White Film for £25 (or Less) – by Sroyon Mukherjee

September 7, 2020

If you’re thinking of dipping your toe into black-and-white film development but feel put off because it seems too expensive or too complicated, this post is for you. If you’re worried about cost, you can take heart from the “£25 or less”. If you’re not sure what to buy and feel overwhelmed by all the options you see online, jump to the TL;DR version of this post, and skip the rest if you like.

If you think developing is not for you, relax – I’m not out win converts! It does take time and effort, and you may well prefer to focus your energies elsewhere. All I’m saying is that if you’re shooting film, cost shouldn’t be a reason to not develop at home. Not only is home-developing cheaper than sending film to a lab, it’s also cheaper than most home-developing tutorials might suggest.

Introduction

Why I develop

Personally, I think developing is a lot of fun. I like knowing how things work, and I’m a bit of a control freak (only a bit). I’m also impatient (“So why do you shoot film?” I hear you ask), so I like being able to see the results soon after finishing a roll. If I get good results, it’s very satisfying. If I mess up, I can blame myself, which is better than seething with impotent rage against an indifferent professional lab.

Why I wrote this piece

A few months back, I wrote a series on darkroom printing technique, here on 35mmc. Part 1 turned out to be the most popular, although funnily enough, it wasn’t really about technique at all; it was a guide to setting up a darkroom in a limited space and on a tight budget – for £100 or less, to be precise.

I also develop black-and-white film at home, and my frugal approach extends to developing. It took me longer to write about developing, partly because I find it less exciting than darkroom printing (then again, can anything compare with printing?!)

On the other hand, there are more amateur photographers who develop than print. On various Facebook groups I’m in, I often see people asking what they need to buy for home developing. I have answered this question so many times that I thought that if nothing else, it would be helpful if I could just send them a link to this post.

For a beginner, setting up to develop can feel a bit overwhelming (I know I felt overwhelmed when I started out). What chemicals do I need? Which developer is the best? Darkroom or dark bag? Steel reels or plastic? There are too many options, which is a great thing in general, but can be confusing at first. And there are too many tutorials, often with conflicting advice. So – fully alive to the irony of trying to solve the “too many tutorials” problem by adding yet another one – here’s my guide to simple, inexpensive home development.

Two disclaimers

First, the “£25 or less” in the post title covers fixed costs of developing 35mm and medium-format black-and-white film. By “fixed costs”, I mean hardware as opposed to chemistry. But I’ve also included a chemistry checklist because I’m helpful like that, and as you’ll see below, the cost of chemistry for developing 25 rolls of 35mm film is just £1.05 per roll – and you’ll have some chemistry left over.

Second, this is a guide to buying equipment and chemistry, not a guide to the developing process itself. Which is to say, I won’t go through the actual steps involved – how to mix chemistry, load the tank, agitate and so on – since these are already covered on hundreds of other websites. But if you have any specific questions, just leave a comment and I’ll answer if I can.

The simple version

dev tank and chemistry

What follows is the simplest, shortest version of my black-and-white development checklist. Now I’m not saying that this is the best list. Someone else could come with a very different list which would be equally good – for them, it might even work better. There will always be someone who prefers some other developer, or a different kind of thermometer.

In this section, however, the idea is to keep it simple and specific. Therefore, I’m deliberately not setting out all available options and their various pros and cons. If you want to take a deep dive – and there’s nothing wrong with that – the internet is your friend. In the next section, if you’re interested, I’ve explained my reasons for some of the choices. But if you want the short version, I suggest you buy the following.

Hardware (fixed cost)

The website links and prices are for the UK, as that’s where I bought my stuff. But everything on the list is relatively common, so you should be able to source them (or close equivalents) in most other places too.

  1. AP Film Developing Tank for 35mm: £12.98 (or £17.99 for 120 film or 2 rolls of 35mm)
  2. Digital kitchen thermometer: £1.95
  3. Funnel: £1
  4. 2x 1 litre measuring jugs: £0.35 each

What, that’s it?! Yes, that’s it. Total cost: £16.63 (or £21.64 if you’re developing medium-format).

If you don’t have a darkroom, you will also need a dark bag (£20.99). But literally everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve been able to find or make a darkroom space. In fact, Holly recently wrote how she has a dark bag, but still prefers a coat cupboard. Of course for film developing, the darkroom must be truly dark, i.e. no safelight either (unless you’re working with orthochromatic film). Windowless bathrooms or closets are perfect, but windows can be lightproofed if needed with thick curtains, newspaper or bin bags. The space doesn’t have to be a big one. As long as it accommodates you with a bit of elbow room to spare, that’s all you need.

dark bag

Using a dark bag to load the dev tank

More hardware (no cost)

household items

Everything else I need, I had at home – and you probably do too. So these are free.

  1. Empty wine bottles or plastic drinking-water bottles to store chemicals
  2. Plastic spoon or any long plastic thing as a stirrer
  3. Bottle-opener to pry open the film cartridge
  4. Scissors to snip off the film leader
  5. Smartphone to serve as timer
  6. A pair of paper clips to hang-dry negatives (add a small weight to the lower one to reduce curling)
using paper clips for drying negatives

Using paper clips for drying negatives

Chemistry (variable cost)

Chemistry can be even more confusing than hardware. Researching the options, or brewing your own, can be fun, but we’re keeping it simple for now. So here’s my list.

  1. Kodak D-76 1 litre: £5
  2. Ilford Ilfostop 500ml: £6.50
  3. Ilford Rapid Fixer: £9.76
  4. Dishwash as a wetting-agent substitute (free)

With this set – total cost: £21.26 – you can develop 6 rolls of 35mm film (1 litre of D-76 stock diluted with 1 litre of water produces 2 litres – enough for 6 rolls of 35mm film). That’s £3.54 per roll for the first 6 rolls, but we’re just getting started. In the long run, it gets even cheaper. If you shoot 25 rolls of film in a year, the cost of chemistry is just £1.05 per roll (you’ll want a 3.8 litre pack of D-76 (£10), but the stop bath and fixer will last you more than 25 rolls).

mixing chemistry

Explaining my choices

The focus of this post is to get up and running as simply and inexpensively as possible, and not fall prey to the paradox of choice. This is why I made a short list, with very specific recommendations. In many cases, other alternatives might work equally well. Nevertheless, rather than asking you to trust me blindly, I thought I’d briefly explain why I ended up with this list, and why it works for me.

Developing tank

Some photographers prefer plastic tanks, and some prefer steel. I’ve never actually used a steel tank, but from forum discussions I’ve gathered that (a) this can be a contentious issue, and (b) plastic and steel both have pros and cons. I went for plastic simply because it’s cheaper.

Among plastic tanks, the two most common seem to be AP (which I use) and Paterson. I chose AP because (you’re starting to see a pattern here) it’s cheaper. I’m comfortable recommending an AP plastic tank, based on the fact that I’ve been using mine for two years and developed dozens of 35mm and 120 rolls without any problems. There was one roll which I scratched quite badly while loading, but that was my own fault.

loading the developing reel

John Szarkowski once said, “The hard part isn’t the decisive moment or anything like that – it’s getting the film on the reel.” But it becomes a lot easier if you leave the film leader out when rewinding. This way, you can load the first inch or so of film in daylight as shown above (that part of the film was already exposed to light when loading the camera). Then switch to a darkroom or dark bag to load the rest of the film.

Cheap measuring devices

A £1.95 kitchen thermometer and a 35p plastic jug from Asda may not be the stuff that family heirlooms are made of, but mine have served me well for two years now. They also may not be accurate to 0.1°C or 10ml, but we’re not exactly home-brewing penicillin; we’re only developing black-and-white film which, by the way, is quite forgiving of minor discrepancies. Glass jugs look cooler than plastic ones, but they can be slippery when wet.

cheap thermometer and jug

Save money on developing and buy books instead

Squeegee

I originally bought a squeegee, but I no longer use it. The rubber can degrade with time or trap grit, which then scratches the negative. To remove excess water, I lightly hold the film between my index and middle fingers and simply run them down the film. This method is also recommended in Way Beyond Monochrome by Lambrecht and Woodhouse, who add that it is “better than any rubber squeegee, wiper, chamois leather, cellulose sponge or other contraptions proclaimed to be safe.” And of course, it’s free.

Storing chemicals

For longer shelf life, the main thing is to prevent chemicals from being exposed to light, air or extreme temperatures. This is especially true for the developer (stop bath and fixer are more tolerant). Photography stores sell various specialised containers – most are opaque and some have “accordion walls” which can be compressed to remove excess air. Instead, I just reuse ordinary plastic bottles.

plastic bottles for storage

These are obviously not opaque, but I store them in a cupboard, which takes care of the light problem. To prevent oxidation, I’ve collected various sizes, and by picking bottles according to the volume of chemical I need to store, I can fill them right up to the brim. If needed, before capping the bottle, I squeeze it to remove excess air (you don’t need a fancy accordion bottle for this). As an added precaution, sometimes I’ll also exhale into it (without touching the lip, of course). CO2 is heavier than oxygen, and settles to form a protective inert layer above the liquid.

Developer

The narcissism of small differences

This is the big one. Whole books can be written – and have been written – on the subject. It’s easy to get lost in terminology and the mind-boggling array of choice: liquid versus powder, high-acutance versus fine grain, monobath versus two-bath, and all the rest. Ilford alone currently markets 10 different film developers (there’s a stat for you, next time someone says “Film is dead”).

This can be a fun rabbit-hole to go down, but having tried a few different developers, I’ve picked one I like – Kodak D-76 – and stuck with it. As photojournalist Bob Schwalberg once said, “One developing agent is best, two is okay, three is very suspect, and four the guy is definitely a jerk.” I wouldn’t go as far as that; if you’d like to try all the developers on the market, go for it. But if you want to get up and running, D-76 is as good as any.

Furthermore – and this may be heresy to some – I am frankly not even sure if I could distinguish between different developers in a blind test. The differences are there, but they’re often more subtle than forum discussions might lead you to think – discussions which often have a whiff of the narcissism of small differences. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this amazing but little-known Norwegian website: here is my favourite film, Ilford HP5, in various developers. Same scene, lighting conditions, camera, lens and scanner – now that’s what I call a scientific comparison!

Love letter to D-76

I recommended Kodak D-76 (or the Ilford equivalent, ID-11). I like D-76 for a number of reasons. First, it’s versatile and dependable. As Steve Anchell says in The Darkroom Cookbook, D-76 has become “the standard by which to judge all other developers. It was not that D-76 was the best developer ever formulated. It was more that a standard was needed and D-76 had the best all-around compromise of sharpness to grain with a full tonal range from black to white.” Enough said!

Copenhagen Climate March

Fuji Acros 100 at box speed in D-76: great tonality and sharpness

Second, it’s widely available and extremely popular. Popularity means that development data are available for a wide range of films. Shooting 30-year-old expired Soviet film, two stops below its native ISO? Chances are, someone somewhere has developed it in D-76 and posted about it on a forum. D-76, by the way, is functionally identical to Ilford ID-11, which is also very popular. So if you can find ID-11 data, that works for D-76 too.

Third – and here we return to a familiar theme – it’s cheap. Many websites recommend that beginners start with Ilfosol (a liquid developer), later “graduating” to powder developers. I too followed this advice, but in hindsight I would just start with D-76. There’s nothing wrong with Ilfosol, but D-76 is almost equally easy to mix (see next point), lasts indefinitely in powder form, and is slightly cheaper. 500 ml of Ilfosol currently costs £10.74 (16 rolls of 35mm film at 64p per roll). A 3.8 litre pack of D-76 currently costs £12.98 (25 rolls of 35mm film at 52p per roll). Most, if not all other commercially-available developers are more expensive.

Fælledparken, Copenhagen

Photo from the very first roll I developed at home, Ilford FP4+ in Ilfosol. There’s nothing wrong with Ilfosol.

Fourth, it’s easy to mix. Just pour the contents of the whole pack into warm water, stir to dissolve, and voilà, you have your stock solution. For developing, I generally dilute it with water in a 1:1 ratio and use it “one-shot”. You can also use the stock itself, or dilute 1:3. Each has pros and cons.

Fifth, D-76 has relatively fine grain, which I happen to like. It’s subjective. If you like Rodinal for coarse grain, or Ilford Perceptol for ultra-fine grain, we can still be friends.

Korean eatery in London

Kodak Tri-X 400 at box speed in D-76. Tri-X is, of course, famous for its grain, but in D-76 it doesn’t
jump out at you, which is how I like it.

Anyway, these are my personal reasons for liking D-76; you could probably draw up a similar list of merits for any other developer of your choice. So if your friend, or a photographer you admire, recommended something else, that’s fine too.

Stop bath

Some people recommend plain water or white vinegar instead of fixer. Both of these will do the job, but a commercial stop bath has certain advantages. It stops developer action immediately, reduces fixer contamination, and saves water because you can reuse it many times (the purple indicator tells you when it’s exhausted). Now I am all for saving money (as is probably clear by now!) but stop bath really is ridiculously cheap. The 500ml bottle of Ilfostop (£6.50) which I recommended, diluted 1:19, will last over 300 rolls. At approx. 2p per roll, I say it’s worth it.

Fixer

As far as I can tell, the commonly available fixers, whether powder or liquid, are all essentially identical. Most are “rapid fixers”, which I like. However, I recently got caught out when I bought some Fomafix P. It’s not a rapid fixer, so it takes 10 minutes instead of the usual 3 minutes. I’m hoping to finish it soon and return to life in the fast lane.

rapid fixer and non-rapid fixer

Rapid fixer (left) and non-rapid fixer (right)

Dishwash

Dishwash is used at the washing stage, to prevent water-droplet marks on the negative. You can buy special chemicals for this, like Kodak Photo-Flo. I’ve always used dishwash and never had any problems. On the other hand, Photo-Flo is cheap and you only need a few drops at a time, so if you want to buy some, it doesn’t add much to the cost.

Mistakes

If you got this far, perhaps you’re new to developing, so it’s only fair to warn you that the road ahead is not wholly free of bumps. Sooner or later, you’ll open the dev tank by mistake, or pour fixer before developer, or… let’s just say that developing is easy, but mistakes have been known to happen. That’s easy to forget, not least because people mostly share their successes on social media and not their failures. Holly’s article, which I mentioned earlier, is an exception, and in the same spirit I thought I’d share some of my own mistakes as a warning to the unwary.

My very first home-developed roll was a great success, but one of the photos had a dark patch on it. I guess the film must have somehow stuck to itself inside the dev tank, and the chemistry couldn’t reach it. The rest of the roll was fine, and I’ve never had this problem since then. Have you experienced something similar?

negative with a dark patch

So far, I’ve had only two catastrophic failures. One time, my friend and I were trying to process black-and-white transparencies, which is a different process from processing negatives. It was our first attempt at reversal processing, and unwisely, we were doing it in the kitchen while there was a party going on in our living-room. Thus distracted, we poured fixer before the secondary developing step. We realised our mistake and poured it out immediately, but the film came out almost entirely blank. That roll had some good images; I am still sad about it. The lesson, I guess, is not to try new processes while hosting a party and drinking beer.

My other failure was also down to operator error. I was struggling to load a roll onto the developing reel. This sometimes happens, but I must have been in a bad mood, because instead of taking a few deep breaths and making a fresh start, I tried to force the issue. As a result, the film got deep scratches all the way through.

scratched negative

Having said all that, failures are relatively rare. When it works, which it mostly does, it’s a pure delight. You finish processing, hold your breath in anticipation as you open the tank, unroll the negatives from the reel and bask in the joy of perfectly-developed pictures.

Conclusion

So that’s my simple, low-cost developing checklist, and miscellaneous thoughts. I’m thinking of writing a couple more posts on black-and-white developing, so if there’s any particular topic you’d like me to cover, please let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do. You can also check out my Instagram for more photography and darkroom-related content. Thanks for reading, and I hope you found it useful!

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    MIchael J
    September 7, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    What a great post! Thanks, Sroyon. Also belated thanks for the printing Part 1, which sent me right down the rabbit hole a few months ago. I think your style of writing/ assembling these articles is perfectly economical on technical detail and long on enthusiasm.
    I’ve done this all in a very similar manner, and can add a few points. I bought the Paterson big-box-of-fun that came with film clips and graduates and a Paterson thermometer as well as the black-and-red tank. This obviously cost a lot more, but this was during early-stage heavy-duty lockdown and I wasn’t sure of the availability of anything in the pound shop. Or even the poundshop itself. Mixing ID-11 stock in a graduate needs two plastic forks stuck together with duct tape. You can also open 35mm cans with your fingernails- not that I don’t have a bottle opener handy, especially when processing film of an evening. I would factor in a box of nitrile gloves as well- I’ve reached the conclusion that despite the dev chemicals being a bit nasty, I’m not doing big volumes of work and when highly dilute it’s less alarming, but decent gloves aren’t a huge outlay.
    I wish I’d bought the chemicals separately to start with- I think that’s the only thing I’d change. I got (again) a pack of ‘everything you need’ from Tetenal. I have enough stop bath to pass on to my heirs, which is nice, but I didn’t get on with the ‘Paranol S’ Rodinal analogue that was bundled in. It gave ridiculously contrasty negatives which were hard to tame in the enlarger, and ID-11 is much better. Although I’m going to try and semi-stand some film in the Paranol at some point.
    This stuff is SO much fun…

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 7, 2020 at 5:17 pm

      “enough stop bath to pass on to my heirs” 😂😂😂

      Thanks for your comment, and I am glad you enjoyed this post and the printing ones too! The kits which Paterson and Ilford sell are more expensive as you say, but they do make it easier for a beginner by taking a lot of the research, shopping around and decision-making out of the equation. Which I guess is what I am trying to do here too 😃 Actually, even if you spend a bit more on hardware, in five years’ time the additional cost per roll will be negligible. The main thing is to get started!

      Agreed about gloves, good you mentioned that! Some people get itchy skin from contact with the chemistry.

      Stand or semi-stand in a Rodinal-equivalent is also on my list of things to try, if only because it’s so iconic!

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    September 7, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Loved the article.
    You are remiss, however, in pointing out a very dangerous flaw in using a changing bag (dark bag.) Your companion may take the time to mercilessly tickle you or exact some sort of “torture” while your arms are in the bag. I detected a bit of a devilish smirk on the face of your friend in the photo you posted. I’d keep an eye on her!
    Seriously, the most important factor in developing film is not cost savings, it’s to control the process and produce negs that work for you.
    -Dan Castelli
    flickr.com/photos/dcastelli9574

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 7, 2020 at 5:24 pm

      Hahaha they are my friends, she had prior darkroom experience, he didn’t. So she was watching his struggles with bemusement, and perhaps planning mischief as you say! I will show them your comment, they’ll be, shall we say… tickled.

      Yes I agree, I like being able to control the process, and that’s what I was getting at when I said I’m a bit of a control freak. But people’s motivations also vary, and besides there are lots of articles advocating home development for control and for other reasons, so I wanted to focus on cost and simplicity 🙂 Not even “cost as a reason for developing”, but more like “if you’re thinking about developing, this is how cheap it can be.”

  • Reply
    Neil
    September 7, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    This is really useful thanks. One question, once you move mixed your fixer and stop bath solution what’s their shelf life?

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 7, 2020 at 6:41 pm

      Thanks! Shelf life and capacity depends on the chemical/brand, so probably best to check the manufacturer’s datasheets. As far as capacity goes, Ilford says 1 litre of diluted Ilfostop (1+19) is good for 15 rolls of 36-exp 35mm film (PDF link). But in practice I find it lasts longer. I basically use it until it turns purple, then I throw it out and mix some more. 1 litre of diluted Rapid Fixer (1+4) is supposed to last 24 rolls (PDF link). With fixer I don’t take any chances; I make little check-marks on the bottle with a permanent marker to keep track of how many rolls I’ve fixed. (EDIT: I forgot to mention, you can do a “clip test” to check if fixer is fresh; see Terry B’s comment below.) The datasheets also tell you how long they last in concentrate and solution form (this is why I love Ilford) – just do a Ctrl+F for “life”. Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    Philip Lambert
    September 7, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    What do you do with the negatives? Scan them and print via Pixma? Buy an old-fashioned enlarger and print in a dark-room for hours? Photograph the negatives with a digital camera?

    I really enjoyed your article.

    Phil

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 7, 2020 at 7:47 pm

      Thank you, Philip! I “scan” the negs with a DSLR (the film photos in this post were all digitised this way). If there are any photos I particularly like, I try and make darkroom prints. I actually wrote a five-part series on darkroom printing, you can see it on my author page.

  • Reply
    Terry B
    September 7, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    Sroyon, excellent article for those contemplating doing their own development.
    Whilst I’m not putting this forward as an alternative today, as the chemicals I used during 42 years of d&p are mostly no longer available. But I do agree about D76/ID11. I found it an extremely versatilve developer, especially shooting MF and LF Tri-X.
    I never used a stop bath. Now readers will find much discussion over its advantages but I simply washed the film in two or three changes of water as I used acid fixers which almost stop development in its tracks. I appreciate that there are arguments for and against acid fixers, so it it perhaps a good idea to check out more modern films with the manufacturers.
    Now about re-using fixer, there is a very simple trick to test if the solution is still active enough to fix film. Keep the ends of the film and use these for testing. Simple dunk them in the fixer from time to time and see how long the emulsion takes to clear. This is a more secure test than going by the colour of the fixer.

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 8, 2020 at 4:34 am

      Thanks Terry, and yes, that’s how I test fixer too 🙂 The colour test I mentioned is for Ilfostop, which has a pH indicator dye.

  • Reply
    Kevin
    September 7, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    Nice article. Well thought out and well written. I have read quite a few similar articles lately and I might take the plunge quite soon. But one topic rarely discussed is the disposal of the chemicals and any side effects from using them. Can expired chemicals just be dumped in the sink? Is there any problem with skin contact for any length of time? Any information sources you could point to would be very helpful.

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 8, 2020 at 4:57 am

      Thanks Kevin, I didn’t cover that here because I wanted to keep it focused on what to buy, but health and safety was actually on my list of things to discuss in a future article. Ilford has a webpage which should answer most of your questions, and the sidebar has links to datasheets for more technical info. Kodak has a similar webpage too.

  • Reply
    CHRISTOF RAMPITSCH
    September 7, 2020 at 10:50 pm

    Love that you use Thums Up bottles! I haven’t had a Thums Up for 20 years 🙁

    Chris

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 8, 2020 at 4:58 am

      Haha, I was wondering if anyone would recognise the bottles! If you’re in London, you can get Thums Up at Dishoom.

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    September 7, 2020 at 11:35 pm

    Another great article SROYON. When will your book be published?
    I absolutely agree that D76 is an excellent developer giving a great tonal range with reasonably fine grain. I used it a great deal.
    I personally prefer stainless steel developing spirals. There is less tendency for the film to stick and they are very easily dried for reuse.
    Very good results can be obtained using a mono bath developer. Temperature and developing time are not at all critical. Mono bath gives very consistent results although it’s not possible to push the film for different contrast and speed. Mono bath is a good simple way to get started. I used to use it a great deal on assignments in locations away from a darkroom, where speed was essential. I used an Agfa daylight loading tank and after developing in mono bath and quick wash, I would rinse the film in 50 / 50 water and isopropyl alcohol and a drop of wetting agent, then squeegee and dry for a minute or 2 using a hair dryer. Isopropyl alcohol removes the water and does not leave a residue. I still have some of those negatives from almost 50 years ago and they have not faded.
    I don’t know if daylight loading tanks are still available, but I still have my Agfa daylight tank, as well as a couple of stainless tanks.
    If you don’t have a changing bag or a room that can be darkened, to load your film, just dive under the blankets in your bed at night, with the lights turned off.
    I never kept my chemicals after a developing session as they do oxidise, and most consistent results are obtained with fresh chemicals.

    But if you do store chemicals in wine bottles make absolutely sure to cross out the wine label with a felt tip so there won’t be a nasty accident, if you happen to have a party in progress during a film developing session.

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 8, 2020 at 5:14 am

      Thank you Graham! Monobath is an interesting shout – I haven’t tried it myself, but Rob MacKillop wrote a post on this site about a positive experience with monobath.

      I have never used the Agfa Rondinax, but I understand used copies are still available, and last year Ars Imago came out with its modern-day equivalent, the Lab-Box, which also takes 120 film.

      This is actually a good illustration of why there’s no book in sight – in one short comment, you mention three things which I haven’t tried: steel spirals, monobath and daylight loading tanks. I’m just a hobbyist, and there are too many options out there. I wouldn’t recommend something I haven’t personally tried, but it would take ages to try them all!

    • Reply
      Terry B
      September 8, 2020 at 11:23 am

      Graham, ah the old diving under the blankets trick! Doesn’t cost anything, too, so fits in with Sroyon’s point of his article. However, trying it in summer was decidedly uncomfortable and did, on occasion, lead to difficulties in loading plastic reels. Perspiration and breath increased the humidity enormously and and I found this could, at times, impede the film loading. As a youngster, this was the no-cost method for me, but it quickly became a changing bag.
      Given their cost today, a daylight tank is a considered purchase, and needs to justify its cost compared to the comparatively simple conventional tank, and which with a little practise and understanding (ensuring completely dry reels) isn’t difficult to load.
      Their rarity today does make them somewhat expensive, but if one is prepared to wait they do occasionally come up for sale. I did this awhile back and acquired a Jobo T2400. Unlike your Rondinax, this looks like the more conventional tanks, but as with the Rondinax, it takes a little preparation to load a film. The T2400 (35mm only) also permits developing partially exposed films. I don’t know if others can, but with the T2400 one simply counts the number of revolutions of the winding tube, two per frame, and then cut the film as normal at the desired point. The cassette can then be ejected with film still protruding from the velvet light trap to be reused. This could be very useful for carrying out a quick test of a camera without using the full film.
      Should anyone come across a T2400 without instructions, they will be needed (!) don’t let this put you off. Jobo still has a high quality pdf on its site.

  • Reply
    ERIC
    September 8, 2020 at 5:37 am

    SRoyon 😉
    one more great useful article and like every time very pedagogic: bravo
    I really love to read your articles because there IS a great spirit of sharing and helping others, and they are totally easy to apply.
    So: THANK YOU VERY MUCH ONE MORE TIME.

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 8, 2020 at 5:58 am

      Thank you Eric! I’m grateful to Hamish for giving me a platform which reaches many readers 🙂

      • Reply
        eric
        September 8, 2020 at 8:31 am

        A great website 😉
        I check several times a day … 😉

  • Reply
    Ken Rowin
    September 8, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Another great article! I agree about the use of plastic reels; I never was able to master the metal reels without lots of those nasty blotches where film stuck together. One problem with changing bags is the buildup of humidity within the bag. Here in the NE USA in the summer it gets quite humid which is even worse inside of the changing bag. This causes everything to stick together and making it very hard to wind the film on the reels. A closet with a door, especially in the evening with dimmed lights works better. Good luck to all in their film developing journey.

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 8, 2020 at 11:23 am

      Thank you Ken! Interestingly someone else, two comments above, was just saying they prefer steel. Nicely illustrates what I was saying, haha – some of this is so subjective and dependent on personal circumstances and ways of working, that it’s hard for someone else to recommend one over the other. Good luck to you too – we all need it!

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    September 8, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    Hi Sroyon,
    There are plenty of useful articles on this web site but yours stands out as the very best I have ever read. Not only was it informative and an interesting read but it has enthused me into starting developing again, after a very long gap.

    You mention there are loads of tutorials delving further into the process of developing. Care to mention a couple that you feel are worth looking at?

    Many thanks
    Dave

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 8, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      Hi Dave, thank you for the high praise! Embarrassingly, I have actually forgotten which tutorials I found most useful when I started out. Most likely my main sources were books, but I can’t remember which books… However I just skimmed Ilford’s guide along with their guide to loading the spiral, and they seem pretty solid. My only comments would be:
      (a) I don’t necessarily agree with their recommendation of liquid concentrate chemistry for beginners; as I said in the post, I think powder is equally easy, and has some other advantages.
      (b) If your camera lets you rewind the film leaving a bit of the leader sticking out, I think the loading method I briefly described in the post is far easier than uncapping the canister. Do the trickiest part in the light and the easy part in the dark.
      (c) Ilford recommends 4 agitations in the first 10 seconds of every minute, but I agitate continuously for the first 30 seconds, i.e. 0:00-0:30 (so 12 inversions), and then 4 agitations in the first 10 seconds of every minute, i.e. 1:00-1:10, 2:00-2:10, etc. Everyone seems to have their own method though, it’s not a big deal. If your negatives are overdeveloped, just reduce the agitation or the developing time.
      (d) For the final washing stage, I use the second method recommended by Ilford, i.e. three changes of water with 5, 10 and 20 agitations. Then I do an additional 10 agitations with 2-3 drops of diswash, so that it dries without marks. Btw the water used for washing has only minute traces of chemistry, so it can be poured down the sink and need not go to chemical disposal. But instead of simply discarding it, I pour it into a bucket and use it later to flush the toilet. TMI perhaps, but I think conserving water is important!
      (e) For drying, as I say in the post, I use my fingers.
      Hope that helps, let me know if anything is unclear!

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    September 8, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    That’s very helpful and much appreciated.

  • Reply
    Brian nicholls
    September 8, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    Compelling article Sroyon and I’m sold on the idea. I used to develop and print black and white in the late sixties for pleasure and profit but, what with wedded bliss, family and career aspirations I ceased in the early seventies. I’m taking you up on the idea in the new year but, will be digitising the negs via my Epson scanner rather than print. Thanks for your inspiration and motivation. Best Wishes.

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 9, 2020 at 12:11 am

      Thank you, Brian, and good luck! I “scan” all my negatives too (I put scan in quotes because I use a digital camera), and only wet-print a few 🙂

  • Reply
    Holly
    September 8, 2020 at 8:05 pm

    Thank you for the links to my article 🙂
    Also I absolutely love all the quotes you have in there, absolutely brilliant!

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 9, 2020 at 1:16 am

      Well thank you for putting your article out there, it happened to nicely illustrate a couple of points I wanted to make!

  • Reply
    Peter Ryan
    September 9, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    Great article, I tried a couple of times many many years ago and I’m getting ready to try again I think,just need to sort out a scanning method.im going to look for your other posts.
    By the way i quite like the scratched shot!

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 9, 2020 at 10:41 pm

      Thank you! I can’t honestly say that the scratches make it better to my eyes, but after the initial disappointment I’ve sort of made my peace with it 🙂 Re scanning, the main decision (or perhaps you’ve made the decision already) is whether to use a scanner or a digital camera. You can check out the film scanning tag on this website. Good luck!

  • Reply
    TXP220
    September 12, 2020 at 8:01 am

    Great article explaining the basics and getting people started.

    I’m a professional photographer with over 30 years professional experience with BW darkrooms, so I wanted to add a few notes for you:

    1. Not sure about the pictures illustrating the article, but for safety sakes, try and keep away from storing chem in bottles used for food and drink. Especially the guy pouring the yellow looking liquid in the white wine bottle! Scraping the labels off can help a bit, but otherwise caution needed.

    2. In the same pic, there was a bottle that looked like an olive oil bottle? Avoid at all costs any containers that have had anything “greasy”, such as oils. creams, shampoo conditioner etc. This may cause contamination especially if used for Dev, and cause what looks like “holes” in processed negs. Generally if you are after good bottles for reusing, go for sparking plain mineral bottles, plastic fine, but if you get your hands on the fancier glass ones (Pellegrino etc), perfect! Or else, photolabs (the few remaining) usually happy to give you their old chem bottles. Stay on the right side of the chem, if poss, as in re-use Dev bottles for Dev side (Alkaline) and Fix bottles for FIX/Stop side ( Acid). Needless to say, wash and rinse well prior to use!

    3. D76 is a fantastic Dev, been using it regularly since starting out in 1985…. If you after economy and good looking negs, try D23 recipe, very easy to mix up. Only 2 ingredients, Metol and Sodium Sulfite. (7.5g Metol + 100g Sodium Sulfite into 1 lit stock, can dilute further). I’m sure you can find more expansive info out there, but keeping it short.

    4. Instead of metal clips, wooden clothes pegs are great, cheap and don’t rust.

    All the best with your BW adventures and happy processing!

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 12, 2020 at 8:18 am

      Ha, I assumed that people will have the sense to exercise caution, label chemicals, and not end up drinking developer or seasoning salad with stop bath 🙂 I wash bottles carefully with several rinses of soapy water, and I’ve never had problems, but in the checklist, you’ll see that I recommended drinking-water or wine bottles because they’re easier to clean. Perhaps I should have put more emphasis on labelling and cleaning, but I left it to common-sense, but just in case, your comment will be a useful reminder.
      D23 is good and cheap, but for someone who is just starting out, I personally would not recommend mixing their own developer. But could be fun to try a few months later.
      I sometimes use clothes pegs too, but personally I prefer paper clips because they grip the whole width of the film and seem to be slightly better at reducing curl. And I have them in my stationery drawer anyway. But clothes pegs can be a good option if someone doesn’t have paper clips at home already.
      Thanks for your comments!

  • Reply
    Winmacher
    September 13, 2020 at 12:45 am

    Great article, and very timely for me. I want to shoot a few rolls of B&W file and it has been several years since last time in the darkroom. Xtol is another versatile developer. It’s environmentally friendly so I feel a little less guilty dumping it down the drain. There are fixers too that are healthier and safer to work with.

    Developing black and white film is not all that hard. I love your low cost approach. People who are excited to try developing should just do it. Keep safety in the back of your mind, no splashes or drops, for example, but just do it. Maybe you make a mistake on your first roll? So then on to roll number two.

    Regards – Sam

    • Reply
      Sroyon
      September 13, 2020 at 2:51 am

      Thanks, and good luck with your shooting and developing!

  • Reply
    Daniel Lobo
    September 15, 2020 at 10:35 am

    Great post, thank you!

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