Agfa Optima 200 expired film
Learning Journeys

My First Attempt at Colour Developing – a Learning Journey Update from Holly Gilman

August 13, 2021

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.

Agfa Optima 200 expired film

Agfa Optima 200 expired film

Blunders

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!
Agfa Optima 200 expired film

Agfa Optima 200 expired film

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.

Agfa Optima 200 expired film

Agfa Optima 200 expired film

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!

Agfa Optima 200 expired film

Agfa Optima 200 expired film

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Terry B
    August 13, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    Holly, you gave me a chuckle when I read your “blunders” section. I had an image of the eponymous “Essex Girl” thinking to herself “I know, I think I’ll develop a colour film”, whilst chatting to your best friend.😂

    Despite your somewhat haphazard approach to your first attempt, I suspect the film hasn’t done you any favours as to my eyes there is an overall magenta cast and contrast is lacking. Aging colour neg films can produce an unpredictable colour response as the CMY layers don’t respond in a linear fashion, so I am looking forward to your next instalment with fresh film. Also, it will be interesting to see if any cross contamination of the chemicals by your not washing the film between stages (assuming that this is not recommended) will have any impact on your results.

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:38 pm

      Did you watch the video? I’m not sure how Essex I come across haha. I will be doing updates at some point so you’ll be able to see some fresh film although I must admit that I can’t think of any “straight” film I’ve processed – we’ve got more expired film, some lomo purple, some yodica…. I’ll have a dig through to see if there is a good comparable roll!

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    August 13, 2021 at 1:29 pm

    I’m very impressed (and slightly jealous) of your results.
    I feel I’ve been rather ‘trepid’ (opposite of intrepid) in not doing this myself before now.
    You mention getting enough films together, but how many 120/135 rolls do you get out of a kit? Are there time limits for storage?
    Love the plant stem photos…

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:36 pm

      Hi Bob, so there is some debate over it. On the package the film manufacturer tells you to develop ASAP after exposure for the best results. There are people who recommend storing in the fridge after exposure if you will be waiting to develop. But personally I stored these up over about 6 months and they were just sat in my darkroom which is no more temperature controlled than any other room in my house and they were fine.
      With the chemicals, I’m not sure what the shelf life of the made up chemicals is but I knew that I wanted to process within 2 weeks to be safe (I tend to leave my black and white chems longer than that and they are fine but I wasn’t sure about colour chems).
      No. of rolls of film to one batch of chems… I’m wracking my brains because I’ve just done E6 and that number is all that’s in my mind! I think it was 12 rolls of film for colour negative with that brand.

  • Reply
    Rich
    August 13, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    That’s not a blooper, it’s using your Artistic License! 😂 Good work!

    –Rich

  • Reply
    Donald
    August 13, 2021 at 5:00 pm

    Hi Holly – very enjoyable article. I’ve found that the Cinestill Simplified C41 is best. It comes as powders to make two baths – developer and blix. You don’t need stabiliser (you can just use the same Fotoflo or whatever you like that you use for B+W developer). No plastic bottles and I’ve found that although the kit says it will develop 16 rolls it actually does far more than that. I got 29 out of the last batch!

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:30 pm

      Wow, thank you – I know which kit I’ll be trying next!

  • Reply
    Khürt Williams
    August 13, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    I have not devloped film (35mm) since the late 1980’s. All of the issues you have are one of the reasons I send my images out to a lab.

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:30 pm

      hahaha, yes if you don’t enjoy it, you don’t enjoy it. Can’t say fairer than that. Personally I love trying it out 🙂

  • Reply
    Louis Sousa
    August 13, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    I tend to shy away from it because the blix is noxious. One must have good ventilation while using these chemicals. They are also quite a bit more “messy”, especially if one uses manual inversions. I tend to use the spinner on the Paterson tank instead. Because of the temperature of the chemicals, the seal on the Paterson tank in manual inversions does not hold well, and the blix leaks. I had good results with a very simple rotary processor. I think a screw on tank rather than a press on top one is a better option for color chemicals. Thank you for the article and video. Louis.

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:29 pm

      In this case I used separate bleach and fix but I completely agree, this is much more toxic than black and white. I seem to be very fortunate that my tank has a good seal. Many people have mentioned that they struggle with leaking but I didn’t have any problems!

  • Reply
    Alan Withington
    August 14, 2021 at 8:26 am

    Hi Holly, thanks for an enjoyable read. I love the results with expired film… better than a lot of what I have received from commercial labs over the years. I don’t do my own developing but your article about your learning curve is encouraging me to try it for myself. Thanks again Alan

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Alan, thank you so much! I did have these scanned by the lab as I haven’t had the time to learn to convert colour negs myself. It was really much easier than I had expected!

  • Reply
    Stephen Badolato
    August 14, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    Really dig those colors. Have to start digging around for Agfa film. As for developing color at home, I’ve only heard that it’s difficult, but it’s good to know that it’s manageable. Not sure if I’m ready to try, maybe someday.

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:26 pm

      Absolutely manageable! I’m going to try some other chemicals next time to see if it’s any different but I’ve certainly had my confidence boosted that I can do this haha

  • Reply
    Rock
    August 14, 2021 at 11:55 pm

    I’m encouraged to try it myself, one day I will. Thanks for the article. Aren’t the old (muted) colours of Agfa lovely

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:25 pm

      Thank you, glad to be a bit of a catalyst for you. It’s really not much of a step up from black and white and I’m going to do some experimentation with temperature to see if I like the results at a cooler temperature to avoid the need for the temperature control.

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    August 15, 2021 at 4:00 am

    Really nice results- I watched the video and enjoyed it.
    What hardware and software do you use for scans?
    Best regards
    Kurt Ingham

    • Reply
      Holly Gilman
      August 23, 2021 at 8:24 pm

      Thank you so much!
      I use a cheap lightbox from amazon, pixlatr and my DSLR – I was lucky in that I already owned a macro lens. For software I use photoshop. But this is all for black and white, I currently send my colour work to a lab to scan as I just don’t have the time to figure out the conversions and my copy of photoshop is too old for neg lab pro!

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