How To Develop Black and White Film
I present a simple method for black & white film processing. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to develop black and white film. There are thousands, if not millions, of pages dedicated to developing film on the internet describing the intricacies of the craft. These pages might be interesting to experienced film developers but only add to the confusion of first time developers. Follow this simple guide to get on the road to be an accomplished film developer.
What you need (with recomendations)
- Developer (D76)
- Stop Bath (Water or Ilfostop)
- Fixer (ADOFIX P II)
- Wetting Agent (Kodak Photo-Flo )
- Developing Tank (Paterson Tank*)
- Changing Bag or Darkroom
- Thermometer (Cooking Thermometer)
- 3 Storage Bottles (1ltr plastic)
- Measuring Jug (1ltr plastic)
- 600mm Graduate (Paterson)
- Film Opener(for 35mm)
- Scissors (for 35mm)
* There are two Paterson Tanks - Paterson 35mm for single 35mm film or Paterson Universal for 2 x 35mm, 127 or 120/620 films.
Health and safety
Photographic chemicals are not hazardous when used correctly. Gloves, eye protection and an apron are recommended when mixing chemicals. Always follow the specific health and safety recommendations for each chemical used. Dispose of film developing chemicals responsibly.
Prepare Stock Chemicals
The stock solutions should be prepared at least a few hours before you use them. This allows time for the solids to completely dissolve.
D76 developer can be obtained as a powder in a sachet. Mix as instructions to make up 1 ltr of stock solution. This stock solution can be used neat or diluted 1 part developer to 1 part water (1+1). For consistant results, the advice is to use developer once then throw it away.
Plain water can be used as a stop bath but there are certain advantages in using a chemical stop bath. If you are going to use a chemical stop bath, make up a litre of stock solution. The main advatages are that it will stop development quickly and it protects the fixer from contamination. However, many people continue to successfully use water as a stop bath and the disagreements continue on the web. Chemical stop bath can be reused many times.
Adofix II can be obtained as a powder in a sachet. Mix as instructions to make up 1 ltr of stock solution. This solution can be re-used many times.
Only a few drops of this are used at a time. It lasts ages.
Load → Develop → Stop → Fix → Wash → Dry
Loading film into tank
This needs to be done in complete darkness. If you have a dark room that's perfect. If you don't have a completely dark space available, you can use a changing bag. A changing bag is a lightproof bag with double cuffs to put your arms in. The double cuffs prevent light getting in while you work in the bag.
The film is loaded onto a spiral. Read the instructions that come with your tank carefully and if possible, use some old exposed film to practice loading the spiral in the light. For 120/127 film simply remove the film from the backing paper before loading it onto the spiral. If you are using 35mm film you will need an opener for the film canister and some scissors to cut the leader straight before loading.
To load the reel, make sure you can feel both notches on the outer edge of the spiral, and that they are aligned. Slide the end of the film under the two notches and pull it gently until it is about a quarter of the way around the reel. Now turn both sides of the reel in an alternate back and forth motion, which will move the film along as you go. You may need to release the curled film a bit so that it can enter the spiral reel. If it won't seem to load, try loading from the other end of the film. It's very tricky so make sure you're in a relaxed mood before you start and are not in any rush.
Once you have loaded the spiral reel, it's plain sailing. Slide the loaded reel right to the bottom of the centre spindal and put it in the tank with the flange downwards. Put the cone lid on and turn it until it locks in place. Your developing tank is now light-tight and it's safe to turn the lights on or take the tank out of the changing bag.
Measure out your Chemicals
You will need 290ml of developer, stop and fix per 35mm film. If you are developing two 35mm film at once using two spirals, then you will need 600ml. You will need 370ml of each for 127 and 500ml of each for 120 film. The stock solution of the stop and fix are normally used but the developer can be diluted to give different characteristics for the final image. As a novice, I would suggest either using the stock developer or diluting it 1 part developer to 1 part water (1+1).
If you've got three jugs you can mix up your developer, stop bath and fixer in advance so they are all ready to go as you need them. When processing black and white film the standard temperature is 20°C. If you find it is warmer or cooler than it should be once mixed up just sit your jug in warm water to heat it up or cold water to cool it down. It's most important to get the developer to the right temperature but it's not so important for the stop and fix but they should be within a degree or so of 20°C.
The Development Process
Every film and developer combination has a specific developing time so make sure you know how long your combination will need. The Massive Dev Chart is going to be very useful here. If you cannot use the developer specifically recommended for the film, then this chart will give you some alternatives. The chart gives development times for different developers at different dilutions. Be careful. You will notice that various ISO values are given for each film. Films are only rated at one ISO (box speed) so the other values give the options for pushing and pulling - ignore these. Ensure you use the correct box speed and the correct developer dilution.
For Example:- Search for Ilford FP4+ developed in D76. Look for ISO 125 which is the box speed of the film. If you use the Stock solution the development time is 8.5 (8½) minutes at 20°C. If you use a dilution of 1+1 then the development time is 11 minutes at 20°C.
Developer: Set a timer to the time suggested in the Massive Development Chart and start it going. Slowly pour the developer into the central funnel of the processing tank. Fit the top to the development tank. Be careful to check that the top is secure by pressing all around the rim (twice if necessary). Throughout development, you will need to agitate the tank. This makes sure the film gets evenly developed. Agitate by turning the tank upside down, then back up again. Do this for the duration of the first minute. Once the minute is up bang the bottom of the tank down onto a hard surface. This will dislodge any air bubbles that have built up on the film. Continue agitating for the first 10-15 seconds of each minute until the full development time has passed. After each agitation, bang the bottom of the tank onto a hard surface. This is the standard agitation, but some developers may have instructions for other methods.
As the development time nears the end get ready to pour out your developer. D76 is a reusable developer and can be put into an airtight plastic bottle to be used again. Unfortunately you have to increase the development time by 10% each time you use it. Because of this, many people use it as one-shot. If you have diluted your D76 then it is one-shot and should be disgarded.
Stop Bath: Now pour in your stop bath as quickly as possible after emptying the developer. As suggested earlier, you can just use water to stop the development process. Chemical stop bath is said to be more efficient but less environmentally friendly. Agitate the stop for a minute and if using a chemical stop, pour it back into a storage bottle. The stop can be reused many times so don't waste it. If using water, agitate for a little longer and disgard.
Fix: Pour in your fix and again agitate for the first minute. Fixing will take up to 5 minutes. Continue agitating for the first 10-15 seconds of each minute until the full fix time has passed. When you take out the film for a look after fixing, check that the film is clear and not milky. If it is milky, put it back in the fixer and give it another few minutes until it is clear. The fix can also be used again so pour it out into a bottle once the film is fully fixed. If the film is taking longer than 5 minutes to clear, disgard the fixer when fixing complete.
Wash: The film now needs to be washed. Leave the tank under running water for 10-20 minutes. If you can't leave the tank under running water then use the following method to wash the film. Fill the tank with water to within 10mm from the top. Put on the top and invert 5 times. Pour out the water. Fill again and invert 10 times. Pour out the water. Fill again and invert 20 times. Pour out the water. You film is now sufficiently washed. Now fill the tank with water and put a couple of drops of wetting agent in. Agitate once or twice and leave to soak for a minute.
Hang to Dry: Hang the film in a dust free area and where drips won't damage the flooring (eg. shower). Wipe the excess water from the film . Use your fingers, chamois leather or squeegees to wipe the excess water from the film. Use a clip at the top and one at the bottom to help prevent curly film once it's dry. Drying could take 2-3 hours.
Check out my instructions on How to Develop Colour Film.