One of the first articles I ever wrote for 35mmc was about my first 3 rolls of black and white film, developed at home. Almost a whole year later, I decided to try c-41 development and so I thought I would tell you about this first experience.
Equipment, chemistry and film
Let’s start by talking about what I was using for the next step in my developing journey. In my experience I have found that you will hear an awful lot about the merits and pitfalls of different black and white developers but you actually rarely hear too much about their colour counterparts – so I had to do a little digging.
What I came to realise was that in this weird time we find ourselves in, there aren’t many options in stock – at least there wasn’t in the UK at the time I was looking to purchase. I ended up purchasing the only one that I had heard of and that was actually in stock. I purchased the Bellini Foto kit. This comes as 4 bottles of liquid chemicals which you mix with water (except the bleach) at standard developing temperature which is 39 degrees.
I also treated myself, with the pocket money that I make from my photography projects, to a cinestill water bath… temperature… heater… thingy. I know the debates are rife as to whether you need one or not but I did decide to try and make my life a little easier with one.
For the water bath I used an old paint bucket from my husband’s shed which comfortably takes the 4 bottles of mixed chemistry at the same time.
In order to be conscious of the environment, I didn’t start developing until I had saved up enough rolls of film to use the developer to exhaustion within its shelf life so I now had a choice to make, which roll would be my first ever?
I opted to develop a roll of expired film. I realise that this is not very scientific of me as it would be hard to troubleshoot errors and work out whether they were down to the expired film or the developing but I wanted to go with a roll that I wasn’t overly worried about losing if I did do it all wrong. I was expecting the negatives to be fogged because of the age but overall I decided that it would be fine for a trial run. The film stock in particular was a 120 roll of Agfa Optima 200 which I had shot through my Mamiya C330f.
It wouldn’t be a good learning experience if I hadn’t made a few errors along the way and so I wanted to list some of them out here:
- I did not bring the film up to temperature before pouring in the developer. This is something listed on the instructions for the kit but I actually didn’t do this with any of the films I developed and I’m not sure if it made all that much difference?
- I did not wash between the chemical stages (I must have missed that instruction) instead washing at the end of the process.
- In this particular kit the developer bottle contains all you need to make up 1l of dilute chemistry, the bleach bottle does not need diluting, the fixer bottle contains all you need to make up 1l of chemistry BUT the stabiliser is enough to make up to 10l of diluted chemistry. I did not notice this so my stabiliser ended up being massively under-diluted but again, this does not seem to have affected the actual results – it’s just environmentally wasteful!
- Oh yes, and at the beginning of the whole process I couldn’t even work out how to turn my temperature gauge on and didn’t know where I had put the instructions!
I actually recorded the whole thing whilst on a video chat with my best friend so if you wanted to see the bloopers reel you can in this little video here:
What I have learnt
There is a massive stigma around c-41 developing, that it is so much harder than black and white but it really isn’t. I had also heard that you needed to be so incredibly precise with temperatures and things but that has not been my experience. I suspect that more than once my chemicals, although in a water bath that was up to temperature, may not have been all the way up to 38 degrees, my timings were slightly off, I didn’t preheat the film, etc…. And yet I got wonderful results that I’m really happy with.
The other thing, which I had never realised before, is that it is, in some ways, more convenient than black and white because you develop all film, regardless of ISO for the same amount of time. In my tank this meant that I could develop two rolls of 35mm at the same time even if one was 100 ISO and the other 400. It is so rare for me to have 2 rolls of film in black and white that can be developed together so it does save me time both in the developing and in the calculating how long to develop for.
I have been doing some experimenting with my colour developing and have some ideas that I want to try out which I will talk about in future articles. Let me know what you think of my results and also let me know which chemistry you prefer and why!
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