Thursday, May 15, 2008

Developing your first B&W film

Developing your first film may seem a daunting task, but if you follow this simple 'how to' guide the mysteries of the photographic alchemy will soon be striped away.
Question one: What equipment do I need?

Well actually surprisingly little, here is a list with essential items in Italics:

A daylight developing tank with spiral
A thermometer
A liquid measure (1 litre)
A child's medicine syringe (5-10ml)
Stop bath
Wetting Agent
Film weights
Dark Changing Bag

Rap on Equipment Choice
There are many types of developing tank, some prefer steel, some plastic, I'll give you the name of the one I use: – Patterson
I think they make a good product with easy to load spirals, I would recommend buying a tank that holds a 120 rollfilm as even if you don't own a MF camera you can process two 35mm in one go.

Rap on Developer Choice
Just about everyone has their favourite 'brew' but I recommend until you get on your feet a simple just add water, use and discard (one shot) developer, good starter developers include:

Agfa Rodinal
Ilford Ilfosol S
Patterson Aculux

These developers come as liquids ready for dilution and use, once you have developed your film they are disposed of.
This type of developer is in my opinion the easiest for the first timer, as it is a mix it use and dispose.
It will also be helpful to start with the manufactures time and agitation, if you can't find a time for your developer/film combo try the Massive Dev Chart

Tightwad alert
You'll notice above that some items are considered essential (italicised) and others are actually not considered needed to get you there.
Stop bath, although desirable can be substituted with water, wetting agent with normal washing up liquid, weights with wooden clothes pegs, and the dark bag can be dispensed with by using a cupboard or wardrobe at night with the lights out. My first film was loaded in the cupboard under the stairs, with a coat placed at the bottom of the door to cut out the light.

I have all the stuff, what do I do with it?
First do a dry run, practice loading a blank film firstly in daylight, then in your dark area – is advisable to sit in your dark area for 5 mins before loading as it must be completely dark! Your eyes should not see anything, not even your hand in front of your face!

Tip: During re-wind try to leave out your film leader so you can cut off the tongue (save it for tip2) then feed the first 4 inches or so into the reel in daylight-see image below:

Once you feel confident you can load your film into your tank in total darkness. After the film has been loaded the rest of the process is in the light:- Yeah

Prepare your chemicals according to the instructions, use the thermometer to make sure the developer is at the correct temperature normally 20°c, (68F) stop bath and fixer should be approximately the same temperature as the developer.

Pour in the developer slowly making a note of the time (a second hand on a watch is good for this), initial agitation is normally continuous 30 seconds or so depending on developer, then give the tank three sharp taps on your work surface.
It is good practice to keep a tally of the time passed, and remember to keep the agitation consistent and not too vigorous as consistency is key in the world of processing.
Once you have nearly finished development get ready to pour out the chemical about 15 seconds before the final developer time, and pour out slowly.
Next step is to pour in the stop bath, or if you're like me plain water as I only use stop bath if the dev time is less than 5 mins.
After rinse/stop pour out carefully and now pour in the fixer.
Fixing time for most films in fresh solution is quite short say 2-3 mins T-Max type films need a little longer and come out pinkish if under fixed.
If you use 35mm film use the tongue that you cut off prior to loading the film, put it in a small beaker of fix, take the time it takes to clear and double it, that will give you a total fixing time for your film.
Once you have fixed your film pour the liquid back into the container and leave the tank under running water for at least 10 mins, if possible empty the water and agitate to help wash the film.
After washing is complete put in your Photo-flow (normally just a few drops)- if you are really cheap a drop of washing up liquid. This will give you film a nice finish and help avoid 'run marks' during the drying process.Remove your film from the tank carefully and hang it somewhere to dry, a shower is a good place I clip my films with a clothes peg top and bottom so they dry nice and straight.
That's it! you're done, just be sure to cut your films and sleeve them in archival sleeving and store them safely and they should last many years.

© Mark Antony Smith 2008


David said...

As an alternative to the 10 mins of constant washing, I've been following this process, taken from the Ilford information sheets for their films.

For spiral tank use, when a non-hardening fixer has been used, the following method of washing is
recommended. This method of washing is faster, uses less water yet still gives negatives suitable for
long term storage.

After fixing, fill the spiral tank with water at the same temperature, +/– 5ºC (9ºF), as the processing solutions and invert it five times. Drain the water away and refill. Invert the tank ten times.
Once more drain the water away and refill. Finally, invert the tank twenty times and drain the
water away.

Interested in your views on this.

Photo–Smith said...

I think thats fine. I have used the same method myself when I have limited water.
I was told once that film actually washes quite quickly and as long as the water temp is not too cold the inversion method you describe is OK.

Noons said...

great blog, just happened across it.

Do you use a pre-soak prior to developer? I never did but have been experimenting with it and get a lot better gradation and less contrast on high speed film (400) that way.

My theory at the moment is that the pre-soak somehow acts as a "dilute developer" agent and ends up making it less active on the highlights, causing less contrast.

Photo–Smith said...

I don't pre soak as a rule, the only time i do that is to bring up temperature on cold days.
Not sure about your theory either, as when you put in your developer the highlights will start to develop fast even after wetting and as you normally start developer with agitation most of the water residue will mixed with dev.
The best ways to reduce contrast are:

• Over expose and under develop.
With your 400 speed film set your meter at say 200 and reduce your dev time by 20-30% depending on film/light and lots of variables.

• Use a more dilute developer with less agitation.
I use Rodinal at 1:100 with 2 inversions per min on contrasty emulsions like Pan F or Efke 25
Less agitation when done consistently can give long tonal scales.

• Use a 2 bath developer
Some developers like Diafine have 2 baths one developer and one activator the idea is that these have a compensating effect google diafine and find out more.

My method is the dilute Rodinal.
Also If you are getting high contrast on faster films you're probably under-exposing and over developing probably with too much agitation, faster films (as a rule of thumb) have less contrast than slow ones.

Noons said...

Thanks for that, Mark!
You're quite right, it can't be just the pre-soak.
Good tips in that reply, will definitely follow them.
Been playing with the over/under technique and less agitation and that is working just dandy for my purposes!

Now, to find time to do much more...

tudor dima said...

hi !

first off: nice looking blog !

I also think film is not dead (yet, but for our lifespans that's a pretty good precision)

I have an APX25 deep frozen from the days of fore (more exactly 2000, so it might have expired in 2004-5). I have not exposed it yet -- and here comes my question :

do you know how should one expose such a film and also what compensation to apply when developing ?

there used to be a site, but -unlike film- it's dead now ...


I have a gallery
with two friends here