Topic – Develop B/W at Home. It’s This Easy!

Ignore the tabloid-like heading for a minute and lets see how to develop B/W-film at home. Literally in the kitchen sink. For next to nothing.

When I first thought of doing this I was worried about the longevity of the solutions and also exactly what chemicals were involved and what to get. To date I have tried two routes and both of them can be recommended.

My first developer was a classic Rodinal (or rather its modern incarnation Fomadon R09). Correctly administered it gives excellent results but it is known to being rather “coarse” and give a grainy result. Specially so, if used with faster than 100 ASA film. I still use it, particularly with Fomadon 100 or Fomadon Creative (200 ASA). Grain is inevitable in any film but distinct grain may not fit all, or all subjects. I quite like it sometimes. R09 is known for its indefinite storage and lasts years (some say tens of them) in its bottle. If you only develop very rarely R09 is for you!

A finer (grain wise) developer is Kodak’s HC-110. And this is what I use for the bulk of my B/W developing needs. It adds no grain (or very little anyway) and is suitable for practically all films, be it 100 or 400 ASA. The HC-110 stores very well and will not destroy if left in its can for several years, 3-4 years is a number I have come across. A good thing, as I only develop a couple of tens of films per year.

Apart from the chemicals one needs a developer tank. I use a Paterson System 4. Mine takes two 135-mm film spools or one 120 spool. Sometimes I think a bigger tank would be nice. (The System 4 has bigger tanks too).

So, the process: In short there are four steps, Develop, Wash, Fix and Wash. That’s it!

A worked example, here with Fortepan 400 film, has some more steps, but is not more difficult really. With experience it can be done in shorter time but this is the “better safe than sorry”-approach and it works every time. This is what I do:

1/ I start off with filling the sink with tempered water, aiming for 20 degrees C. This is the water I use for the entire process.


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Mostly for colour (C-41 process) I got this thermometer a Taylor 9842. It is quick and seems to be very precise. For B/W any old thermometer will work but for colour the temperature ideally needs to be 38C (+/- 0.15 C…).

2/  Then I bring out the HC-110 concentrate and a measuring beaker. The Kodak HC-110 is currently available as a thick yellow syrupy concentrate. There are tales on the net about a european version with another concentration but that was apparently cut from production in the early 2000’s.

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With a syringe I measure 10 ml of the concentrate and empty the yellow syrup in the beaker, add a decilitre of the tempered water and swirl it all until it is well mixed. When the liquid is homogenous I add more water until the 600 ml mark. This is for developing 120 film. If I want to develop 35 mm film then the amounts are 5 ml and 300 ml respectively for one film.

Developers oxidize sooner or later (well, perhaps with the exception of R09) so it is a good practice to fill the bottle with glass balls from a toy shop to replace the consumed volume of developer . This way most air is evacuated. Another way to do this is to spray some cigarrette lighter gas into the bottle before capping. I use glass balls for now.

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3/ The developer diluted 1:60 ready to be used.devbw (1)

4/ Next comes the loading of film on to the spool. I have only used plastic spools. The spool can also be used for 135-film by twisting the left and right halves and pushing them together. When new it is quite hard but it can be done!

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Before going down the cellar stairs and entering complete darkness I prepare the spool by remembering in which direction the film should be thread. Also I poke at the small locking metal balls so they are loose. If they somehow get stuck it will be very difficult to get the film loaded.

Some people claim it is difficult to get the film onto the spool. I have only occasionally found it hard. In complete darkness it is a matter of letting this step take its time and not to get stressed. Some films are easy and some are more tricky to thread. Generally black-and-white film have a thicker film base and are easier to handle. Colour films are always thinner and flimsier. When the film is threaded it is a matter of twisting the left and right halves of the spool to and fro to get the film loaded.

The spool has capacity for one 220-type film and with some care two 120-type films can be loaded but beware: they must not overlap where they meet.

5/ With the film loaded it’s time for the developer to do its voodoo. First, it is time for an often recommended, though not absolutely necessary, pre-wetting of the film in tempered water. This ensures that the film and developing tank have both the same temperature and also that the developer will get an even go at the film with less risk for air bubbles etc. I usually let it pre-wet for 5 minutes. Some twisting and turning during the pre-wet phase ensures that air-bubbles do not form onto the film.

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6/ Pour out the water with its nice colour:)devbw (9)

7/ Pour in the developer. As it takes some 15-20 seconds to fill the tank I start the timer when it is full. The actual development time differs from film to film (and strictly also on the exposure but don’t bother about that now). The Massive Dev Chart gives recommendations for a lot of film-developer combinations. A useful time with this dilution and film, Fortepan 400, is about 18 minutes. Fuji Neopan Acros 100 is a mere 10 minutes.

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Tumble the tank slowly and constantly for the first minute. Then make a full rotation each minute. This is called “agitation”.

8/ While the minutes go by I take the time to fill an envelope with date, film, developer, concentration and times used (here 5 mins pre-wet, 17 mins developer).  After drying I store the film in this envelope. (It is quite surprising how well you get to measure 60 seconds by heart after a while!)

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9/ After the 17 minutes the developing phase is over and I pour the developer back into the beaker. It can be reused until the next day. After that it deteriorates and must not be used.devbw (15)

For now the remainders of the developer must be washed out with tempered water. A few minute’s wash is sufficient.

10/ The second chemical is the fixer. Any fixer will do, here I use Tetenal Superfix Plus diluted 1+9. Fixing time is usually 5-10 minutes. One can determine how long time is needed by cutting off a small piece of film and soak it in some fixer. After a few minutes the film will begin to clear, double that time and use it if you want. One cannot “over-fix” so fixing for 10 minutes will always work (until the fixer is exhausted that is, many, many rolls later).devbw (18)

11/ The fixer is poured back into its container. It does not like air so it is a good idea to use a compressible flask as the one above. Or topping off with lighter gas will also do.

12/ Now its time for the final rinse.  All remains of the fixer must be removed. I use the water in the sink for this. Some sources claim it should be rinsed for up to 30 minutes.

13/ Not shown in pictures, I usually dip the film a couple of times in battery water. This is to wash away even the smallest dust particles that may have attached to the film. A small drop of soap (really little, a 1/4th of a drop will do) in this final water will ensure there will be no drying marks on the film. For this I pour a few decilitres of battery water onto a plate, add the tiny soap, then slide the film through a few times. I never reuse this water.

14/ The result hangs to dry.

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The gelatin with the photographic emulsion hardens after a while. Let this step take several hours or the film will scratch easily. I am not sure there actually is a hardening process as such, but over night it is more scratch resistant anyway. At this stage the film can attract small particles of dust. Those are hell! A tip is to hang the film in the shower after showering for a few minutes (you, not the film:). Dust particles bind to the water droplets in the humidity of the air instead of the film.

Sometimes the film curls more or less pronounced. I find it depends on film type but also ambient temperature and humidity (season). At times, when the curls have been worse, I have soaked the film in water again and hanged it somewhere else.

This film used here, Fortepan 400, curled quite a lot when dry. Ilford FP4+ is almost perfectly flat. Fuji Neopan 100 is also one of the flatter too.

At the bottom of the picture one can also see my “developer box”. A plastic box of this kind is an easy way to keep the chemicals clean and in one place. The box also has a lid to keep off dust, the cats, cat’s hairs and the odd cat’s vomit.

15/ It is hard not to have a look at the results even while the film is wet:

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