Development Hardware and Chemistry
Choices, practicalities and preparations

The Development Chemistry

Fortunately, there is still a lot of choice of film development chemistry available to purchase from new. Both classic B&W and C41 colour chemistry kits are readily available. The process I describe in tis series applies to black and white processing only. In an appendix I offer an interesting approach to C-41 development, based on the work of intrepid amateurs on the internet.

From a quality point of view, I believe that the development chemistry plays a minor role in the overall process. I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. In my opinion, your digital scanning method has far more influence over the end result than your choice of developer.

As regards handling, liquids are much easier to deal with than powders. They are easier to measure and easier to keep in one place without spilling.

Thinking about costs, there are two developers that are much more economical than the others. Kodak HC-110 and Ilford Ilfotec HC. These highly concentrated liquid developers are very similar to each other. They are both diluted 1:31 to make a fresh one-use dev solution. With careful storage, a 1L bottle of either will develop over 100 rolls of 35mm film for you.

When choosing your developer, you should also be aware of the community around it. Some developers such as Rodinal have a large following and there is much discussion about them on the internet. Some film and developer combinations, such as Kodak Tri-X and Rodinal are very popular. If you want the potential extra community involvement, then you should consider this and research accordingly.

The Development Hardware

There are various kits to purchase, but let me tell you what you really need. This is the same for black and white as it is for colour. The chemistry and process is different but the hardware is the same. It is quite a lot of stuff. You need the following…

  1. A film developing tank.
  2. A film changing bag.
  3. Three HDPE bottles to store reusable chemistry in. Ideally these should be opaque but don’t spend too much, since you can wrap them in electrical tape.
  4. Three 1 litre measuring jugs. These should be easy to pour accurately with no spillage.
  5. 5 litre bottle of distilled water.
  6. Two 2 or 3 litre plastic pitchers to hold tap water.
  7. Two 2 litre lemonade bottles, emptied, clean an filled with tap water. Leave these to warm up to room temperature and store them somewhere dark. You will use them during development.
  8. An accurate liquid thermometer. Accurate to 0.1oC.
  9. A reliable timer.
  10. A funnel to help you pour out liquid from your developing tank into your HDPE bottles for reuse. You will also use this funnel when first mixing up the reusable chemicals.
  11. A pair of scissors with rounded ends (kids craft scissors are ideal).
  12. A ‘church key’ style bottle opener. This is for emergency use only (I explain later!), you can do without this.
  13. An argon welding gas canister. This is your secret weapon to keep your chemistry fresh. It is a long lasting, cheaper and more readily available alternative to Tetenal Protectan. Make sure to get 100% argon gas and not Argon/CO2 mix. If you are not comfortable using this then just buy the Protectan instead.
  14. A cheap regulator and air hose for the above welding gas. The hose should be long enough to allow you to easily pipe gas into your HDPE bottles.
  15. A 100ml empty brown glass bottle (kids medicine bottle is perfect). This needs to be thoroughly cleaned.
  16. A 10ml needle-less syringe.
  17. Two film negative hanging clips.
  18. A microfibre cloth for drying the negatives. Don’t use this cloth for anything else.
  19. A pair of lint free white cotton gloves. These are for handling the film and resulting negatives.

A note about the argon gas

You will read in various places here that I put argon gas into my bottles to help keep the chemistry fresh. I suggest you do the same. The process is quite simple. With the hose to my ear, I turn the regulator until I can hear the gas coming out. I then put the end of the hose 1 inch or so into the open bottle to allow the gas in. I then wait about 5 seconds before I cap the bottle and turn off the gas. Argon is heavier than air so will sink to the liquid surface and protect the chemical while in storage. Remember to turn off the gas when you are done. Although not toxic (argon makes up approx 1% of the air you breath) it is an asphyxiant and could theoretically suffocate you if you were to inadvertently leave it on in an enclosed space. If you are in any doubt about your ability to turn it off, then do not use it. Use Tetenal Protectan or a air blower spray instead (which are actually a butane mix of some sort). I use the argon welding gas myself because it is cheaper, should last longer and I suspect is more effective too.

Preparing your Development Hardware

More than likely, your HDPE bottles are translucent. The chemistry is not light sensitive itself, but light will degrade everything over time. I do have to store my bottles in a location that has a small amount of light that gets in. I therefore prefer to black out my bottles by wrapping them completely in electrical tape. This is much cheaper than buying special purpose dark bottles.

For black and white processing, make up three waterproof labels ‘STOPBATH’, ‘FIXER’ and ‘WETTING’ and affix these to each of your three 1 litre HDPE bottles. I use a tape-based labeller. Once attached to the bottle, I wrap it once round with clear tape. The reason we don’t need one for the developer is that we don’t reuse it, so it does not need a bottle to be stored in.

For C41 two-bath colour processing you should label your bottles ‘C41 DEVELOPER’, ‘C41 BLIX’ and ‘C41 STABILIZER’. Colour chemistry is NOT compatible with black and white, so do not attempt in any way to mix either the chemicals or the process.

You also need to label your measuring jugs. The three labels should be ‘STOPBATH’, ‘FIXER’ and ‘DEV’. You will use these to hold the chemicals before you pour them into the developing tank. It is much easier to pour from a measuring jug than the bottle without spillage. You don’t really want stopbath and fixer slopping about because you tried to pour from the bottle directly. Note that I do pour the wetting agent in directly from the bottle, since that is a harmless solution, like washing up liquid. That’s why I don’t have a jug for it.

Needless to say, labelling your jugs and bottles is absolutely essential so you don’t confuse them and ruin your films.

previous: Your camera and film

next: Negative Scanning Hardware

James Burton on 03 August 2017