My Film Development Methods

At about 9:30am I started with the 120 film that I let build up over the past 3 weeks.
(15 rolls were from two separate shooting occasions.)

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About 7 or so hours later all 22 rolls were hanging up to dry in my spare room:

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SO– just how does 1 person process this much film with only two steel tanks in one day?
Let me tell you how I get things done.

Things you’ll need:
- Exposed film.
- Film developing tanks. Plastic is fine, I just happen to have two similar steel ones which let me do two rolls of 120 film in each tank. Thus, in one session I can process 4 rolls of 120 film. They will also each hold 4 rolls of 35mm film- so 8 at a time.
- Film development chemistry. I have long used Kodak’s HC-110.
- Fixer. I use a powder mix from Fujifilm that makes 3.8 Liters of fixer.
- A Wetting / Drying agent. I use Driwel by Fujifilm. One bottle is about 200 yen and lasts quite a while.
- A Mixing Pitcher. It would probably be better to have one per major chemical mixture, but I have not had any discernible problems so far.
- A thermometer. As long as things are within a degree or two of 20C, everything is ok.

OTHER HELPFUL THINGS:

- A free day from work.

- Several solid hours of free time

- A total lack of spousal or parental responsibilities.

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My Two Tank Method:

1. First, I load the film in Tank 1. Next, I load up Tank 2.

2. Next, I fill both tanks with water for a pre-soak, and agitate them.

3. Tank 1 gets poured out, and I fill it with water one more time. While it is rinsing, I am mixing my development chemistry (3/4oz of HC-110 into 1000ml of water. Yes, I know those are two different measuring systems- but it works for me). I then pour that second rinse out of Tank 1 and pour in the chemistry. I give it 10 minutes of development (agitating ever minute or so for a few seconds).

4. While Tank 1 is in development, I prepare the development chemistry for Tank 2.

5. Once the timer goes off to let me know Tank 1 is done, I pour out the HC-110 mix and rinse it 3 times, leaving the water in after the 3rd fill-up. Then Tank 1 is set to the side.

6. With Tank 1 out of the way, I then pour out the original pre-soak for Tank 2, rinse once, then pour in the chemistry and set the timer for 10 minutes.

7. While Tank 2 is in development, I wash out the mixing pitcher well, and pour in my fixer, which I then pour into Tank 1 after I empty out the last of the pre-fix rinse. Once the fixer is set I agitate along with the same timing I use for Tank 2 while it is in the development stage.

IMPORTANT: When using two very similar looking tanks, be careful not to mix them up in your mind. For me, has a different lid than the other so I always make sure to designate that particular one as Tank 1.

8. For a few minutes Tank 1 and Tank 2 both have chemistry in them even though they are at different steps in the process. Since you can’t over fix film (Tank 1), the only time you need to worry about is Tank 2′s since development has a set time to go by. After the timer goes off, I pour out the HC-110 from Tank 2, rinse it 3 times, and then fill it with fixer. Now both tanks are in the fixing process. Once Tank 2 has fixer in it, I reset the timer for another 10 minutes and agitate accordingly.

9. This means by the time Tank 2 is ready to come out of the fix, Tank 1 has been under for about 15 minutes. Better safe than sorry. I return the fixer from Tank 1 to the brown 4 liter Fixer bottle, and begin the wash.

10. For Tank 1′s wash I set the timer for 7 minutes. Tank 2 still is still fixing. After 7 minutes I pour out the wash and pour in the Driwel. That takes about 30 seconds, and after pouring out the Driwel, I hang the Tank 1 negatives up to dry in my spare room.

11. And Tank 2? If you are adding up the times I use, it’s been fixing for over 17 minutes by now. First I return the fixer to the brown bottle, and put it in the wash for another 7 minutes. While Tank 2 is washing, I wash and dry Tank 1 and it’s reels. Then once the timer beeps I do the Driwel process and hang the negs.

12. This all takes about 45 minutes.

The main thing that used to hold me back from getting a lot of film done in one day was that it took too long for the reels to dry. Residue from the previous round of processing was messing up the edges of my negatives, and sometimes intruded into the frames themselves. However- I solved this by first drying them with a clean towel, and then set them to dry under the stove fan atop a tower built of darkroom chemistry trays. This way the reels can be ready to go for another round in about 10 minutes:

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After that, I simply repeat steps 1 – 11 as many times as needed.

Further plans:

Thursday Evening = Putting everything into negative sleeves and doing a basic edit with a light box and a black marker (to write promising frame numbers at the bottom of the neg sheet)

Friday Evening = Mixing up 8 liters of Fujifilm Papitol paper developer and making contact sheets for the recently done negatives.

Saturday (after work)= re-editing using the contact sheets and writing up a To Print list.
It is organized like this: #67-579: 2 – 8 – 18 The “67″ is for “6×7″. Pretty fancy.

Sunday = Using the rest of the Papitol to make (on average) 30 decent fiber based work prints.

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Any questions or suggestions?
If you have a blog and do your own film, why not make a similar post to share?

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UPDATE: Answers to questions people asked:

Q: How come you don’t use a stop bath?

A: It was a step that we never had when I was a student, and since there have been no problems so far, I’ve just kept doing it this way. Since I fix twice as long as needed, it probably works out ok.

Q: How many times do reuse your fixer?

A: I usually use the same fix for about 30 rolls of film. You can get fixer-tester chemicals but I just check it by pouring a little into a pitcher and then drop some film tip edges (cut from 35mm film) in to see if it goes clear within a few minutes. If I’m really not sure, I just dump it and make a fresh batch.

Q: How come you use just 2 reel tanks? You can get 3 or 4 120-reel tanks can’t you?

A: I really wish I had larger tanks and more reels! But one in the photo above was from a garage sale in Nebraska, and the other I bought new at Yodobashi Camera in Tokyo. There does not seem to be any tanks larger than these in stores anymore. At least this way if I mess up I’m only out 2 rolls of 120 film instead of 4. But the idea of being able to halve the time it takes to process film is tempting…

Q: Do you agitate when rinsing, or just fill and empty 3 times?

A: Usually I’ll agitate a little before pouring out the water each time.

Q: Have a question though, do you know whether chemicals are harmful to the drainage system long term? I’m just referring to the ones you can get here, I use superprodol and d-76, and the rapid fixer by ilford?

A: Good questions. Do you mean like with eating away through metal pipes, or the broader concern of chemicals getting into groundwater? As for the pipes, I have no idea… As for environmental degradation, I don’t know what would be the proper way to get rid of fixer, or at least have not looked into it the way I should.

Q: your above method/tools: are they for black and white only or can u do colour too?

A: The info above is for simple black and white film development- however, I think that there are kits now that let you do color film at home. I think there are some folks on Flickr who are doing this now with a special kit from Fujifilm. Anyone have any details?

32 thoughts on “My Film Development Methods

  1. hey john, long time follower first time commentor (commenter? commentator?). i love it when you have posts like this, the technical stuff. i process film in school right now but i’ve been wanting to start doing it at home like you do. everybody says it’s easy but people never say why, and right now all my chemicals come pre-mixed by elves that run the darkroom, so i’m still trying to figure out how i’d be able to do it myself. this post is very illuminating though. just two questions though:

    how come you don’t use a stop bath? they really drilled it into us that some sort of stopbath was needed, and we just use some diluted vinegar. does the post-developer water bath do that? and:

    how many times do reuse your fixer? it probably saves some money to just pour it back into the jug, but how many times can you use it before it starts to go bad/not work anymore?

    anywho, great blog man, your work is really inspiring.

    ps- you should come down to singapore some time, i’ll show you around. i’m a bit of a gaijin here myself, except i’m asian.

  2. ah, i really do envy you. i’m at the one of the worst moments of my life, creatively speaking.

    in badly need of a darkroom + everything that comes along with it. tQ for cheering up my day!

  3. Thanks for posting that, it was great to see someone else’s technique. Two questions: 1) How come you use just 2 reel tanks? You can get 3 or 4 120-reel tanks can’t you? 2) Do you agitate when rinsing, or just fill and empty 3 times? Thanks.

  4. nice post. Inspired me to make a post like this one day.
    Is that the kitchen sink? :P

    I’ve always been intrigued in your process, since you posted that hanging curtain of 120 film.

    I think i need to get another tank though..one that holds 4 rolls of 35mm..

    Have a question though, do you know whether chemicals are harmful to the drainage system long term? I’m just referring to the ones you can get here, I use superprodol and d-76, and the rapid fixer by ilford?

  5. probably bit of a thick question this, but the last time I developed anything myself was over 10 years ago in college so my memory off this sort of thing is patchy – your above method/tools: are they for black and white only or can u do colour too?! I’ve been inspired to get back into shooting some film so if I can get a home developing lab going that would be a big motivator!

  6. My Jobo 2500 type tank can take 5 135 reels or 3 in 120 mode. Reel type 2502 is designed to take 2 rolls of 120 at once so you can do six at a time. Note that it is a tank made for rotary processing, but I have been using it for inversion. In that case though note that it needs 3 liters of chemistry to fill up to the top (great if you want to use high dilutions, but can be a problem otherwise and consumes lots of water). When doing rotary it only needs 700ml though.

  7. In a word: AMAZING!
    My maximum rate of developement is 3 Acros120 at a time (I use divided D23 as a standard)

  8. in answer to the question regarding how safe chemicals are for dumping down the drown — fixer and developer are innocuous materials – about on par with common bleach. However, this applies to single user facilities – not schools where gallons of exhausted fixer accumulate each day or week – schools generally have agreements with disposal companies for just such a thing.

    Great write up. I use the Ilford method for washing – a quick look via Google will bring it up — it save water and I get sparkly clean negs every time after rinsing in distilled water and a drop or two of Edwal’s LFN — magical stuff.

  9. If I understood your method correctly, the film in Tank 2 will be in presoak for at least 10 minutes longer than the other film. Doesn’t that effect the development?
    I suppose not, otherwise you would have noticed it long ago. Hmmm….

  10. Yeah, I haven’t noticed anything as of yet. I used to never presoak 35mm film but do now out of habit from my 120 development methods.

  11. I was told that a proper stop path (acetic acid) isn’t really necessary for film since it’s essentially plastic emulsion (for prints it is since chemicals sink into the paper.)

    As for fixer, I’ve heard an interesting suggestion. Pour old fixer into a (large) container with steel wool at the bottom. Leave it and the silver in the fixer will dry and stick to the steel wool, the remaining liquid will evaporate. I could have sworn I heard that some Japanese companies will dispose of the silver for you …

  12. Interesting !
    i make too my chemistery at home, but i’ve a question:
    - don’t you have big dust problem ??? bcz i see you dry your films in “dry” area (classic room it seems).
    personnaly i do it only in bathroom or WCtoilet, where there is not a lot of dust (and doing that i still have to cleen with photoshop bcz my house is so full of dust than if it’s not on my film, it’s on the window of my scanner)

  13. Have you tried using rapid fixer (ammonium thiosulphate based), e.g. Ilford Rapid Fixer, would be faster to fix & wash than powder. Also, metal reels: presumably could just put them IN the stove to dry real fast if necessary?
    I teach introductory B&W darkroom (amongst other things) and one thing I have learnt is that B&W film processing is forgiving of many variations, intended and otherwise.
    Love TCS as well.

  14. Hi John,great post really inspiring. I am planning on developing at home too very soon.
    Would you mind sharing (photographing if you have the time) your archive system, like how you store negatives, prints, contactsheets, and so on?
    that would be awesome,
    great work,
    love your blog,
    greetings
    Lukas

  15. Great post, and nice to see more people continuing to use film, move to film and most of all take on the development of it… the rewards of working in a more hands-on way with your images are manifold.

    Re: Disposal of Photo Chemicals – for the most part, modern photographic chemicals are biodegradable in an aerobic (as in liquid waste tumbles through the pipes introducing oxygen into the liquid) municipal sewage system. Fixers are a little different because of the silver content. The ideal solution for most home or small darkrooms is to collect expired Fix in a good sized (25L) plastic water container with a spout. Then if available in your town, make arrangements with a local lab that is still developing film and has a silver recovery and filtration system in place. Take your expired Fix there and add it to their system. They will get the benefit of some added silver which they usually sell annually, and you get the benefit of knowing that you are managing your chemicals in an environmentally responsible way.

  16. I do c-41 color in small tanks just like black and white with a tetenol press kit from b&h. just bring the developer and blix bottles to 102 F and follow the times and agitation instructions. Very easy

  17. Hi, I meant to ask you if you developed your own film when I met you at the Totem Pole Gallery in October (I’m the chap from London with the Rolleiflex).

    Anyway, I created a website for people to share their film developing “recipes” and link the results to photos on Flickr.
    It’s at http://filmdev.org/

    Feel free to add your recipes to it (assuming you post your film photos to Flickr).

    Thanks.

  18. Dust has little to do with printability of negatives- that said the Dri-well wetting agent I mentioned keeps the negatives clean and after loading a negative into the carrier for printing I hit it with a few blasts from a blower bulb it goes into the enlarger head. Dust has never really been an issue with my methods.

  19. TRY THIS :
    Development of standard B&W films (50 to 400 ISO) – standard exposure – with Kodak HC110

    Shake well the HC110 prior to use. Prepare a solution at 1+50 (20ml of HC110 for 1litre of water)

    >1st batch : 100 ml of solution + 900 ml water = 1 litre
    Temperature : 16°C
    Time : 7 mn
    Constant agitation
    >2nd batch : 330 ml of solution + 660 ml water = 1 litre
    Temperature : 16°C
    Time : 7 mn
    Constant agitation
    >3rd batch : 18 ml of pure HC110 + 980 ml water = 1 litre (1+55)
    Temperature : 16°C à 17°C
    Time : 7 mn
    Agitation : constant during first 3 minutes, then every 30 seconds (for more contrast simply extend constant agitation).

    One EV maximum gain when the 3rd batch time duration is extended to 10 minutes and 30 seconds.

    Rinse and fix normally.

  20. An old pro trick for drying the reels, which are the hardest to fully dry, is to use about 1.5 meter length of string looped through the reel centers then either in a bathroom or outside spin the reels at arms length by the string, they are bone dry in around a minute and ready to use right away.

  21. A word about dust – no advice here just an observation for those that scan their negs and may never have had an opportunity to traditionally print with an enlarger. Dust on negs is less of a problem when printing with a diffuser enlarger. Even a condenser enlarger is less problematic than scanning. The light source for scanning is much more direct and closer to the negatives compared to diffused enlarger light, or the distance from the condensers to the neg. I can’t tell you the scientific reason and it may seem counter intuitive, but that has always been my experience.

  22. I’m just amazed at the through-put you achieve. I use plastic reels and they take a bit longer to dry. Waiting for the gear to dry is my time limiting step. I usually only do one run a day. also i dont stagger them like you do, i process twi tanks in parallel. easier to know where i am then.

    I have a metal tank too but I just can’t get the knack of loading metal reels. I have ruined a couple of films trying so stick with pattersons now.

    Thanks for the article.

  23. Do you try to keep your chemicals at a 20C/68F? Or do you not keep track of temperature at all? This information would be most helpful.

  24. Hi John, was wondering if you use the enlarger for making the contact sheets? I have read about a method that uses only a normal lamp… could you pls explain your method? :)

    thanks!
    e

  25. I do indeed use the enlarger- I raise the head of the unit up and adjust the bellows so that I get a wide patch of light for the neg sheet and paper. I usually set it at f5.6 or so at 5 seconds. I have a large batch of negs to contact print here soon- maybe that could be a future post. Nice to know there is interest in it.

    I’ve never used a normal lamp but I suppose it could be done. I’d worry about an even-ness to the light though.

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