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01 March 2010

Developing film, @home.

It's about damn time I got around to developing my own B&W. Having originally planned for B&W development last year in my dorm/apartment/shithole, the year overdue is really unnecessary. I'm just going to share some experiences here, a little advice, and some frustrations. some of the resources I utilized while preparing for this will be listed down at the bottom of the page.

For my developer I went with D-76, not really for any particular reason other than that it was easy to mix up the stock solution and that Action Camera didn't have X-tol, which I had decided on earlier based on developing times available on the Massive Dev Chart. Mostly that it would develop pushed Neopan reasonably quickly and wouldn't enhance the grain like Rodinal would. D-76 doesn't give the huge grain but it does take me about 18 minutes of development time with a stock solution just to develop Neopan 1600 pushed to 3200. Which is really why I wasn't excited about it, but it turned out fine in the end. I most likely won't be going back to D-76, simply because I'm not excited about the times and at this point, I'm just looking to experiment with developers to see what I like. Most likely I'll be going with HC110, Xtol, or something like Diafine. Maybe Ilfosol but I'm not counting on it.

Anyway, on to the process. I mixed the D76 powder with hot distilled water (left a gallon jug of it in a hot bath for an hour). Kodak recommends 40 degrees Celsius or higher for mixing. I reckon I was below that but the developer turned out fine, or at least as fine as I can tell through a black jug. Fixer (Kodak's) was also mixed in the same way, one whole gallon of heated distilled water. HOT water is a definite key here (I hated high school chemistry. never paid attention). As the fixer didn't fully dissolve in the lukewarm water, I had to agitate it quite a bit. I was lucky I only bought one black chemical jug in this regard, as I would have had no idea that the fixer wasn't fully blended. I left the fixer mixed in the distilled water jug, and the developer was in the black chemical jug.

A note about plastic jugs not meant for chemicals: make sure you put something under them, like a garbage bags, because they aren't meant for anything but their contents and may leak excessively over time. I put 2 heavy duty garbage bags down in the shallow bucket I use for all my developing equipment.

Kodak recommends letting the mixed chemicals cool for 24 hours before use, but I was in a rush, so I filled the tub up with COLD water this time, stuck the jugs in em and left to go get some drinks. I came back, checked on the temparature occasionally, and pulled the jugs when they got to 21 degrees celsius. I use celsius even though I'm in the USA, mostly because it's easier to read an exact C temperature on my thermometer than it is to read F. also, you can get lots of cheap digital thermometers on the FleaBay, but they're all from Hong Kong and in Celsius. I bought one for $2 shipped, but I've yet to check on its accuracy compared to the $5 glass thermometer I bought from Adolph Gasser Photography, which I probably will end up trusting much more.

While I was waiting for the chems to cool down, I started to get my film onto the reels. I bought a used Paterson tank on eBay w/2 plastic reels. Everyone will recommend you use plastic reels over stainless, at least as a beginner. I will second that. However, Neopan 1600 is by far the most difficult film to get on any reel of any type, at least in my experience so far. the emulsion is flimsy, has a tendency to get stuck 3/4 of the way onto the reel, to come off the reel and make you start all over again, and to be a general pain in the fucking ass. My first time it took me about ten minutes to get it on a reel. it's only gotten worse from there for some reason.

Anyhow, you'll need a light tight room to get the film on your reels. I use my bathroom. it has no windows, the door into my bedroom seals fairly well, the window in my bedroom is covered by a thick curtain, and I can keep lots of light out of my room by turning off the lights outside of it. This all becomes about ten times more difficult in the day, as my bedroom can get pretty bright in relation to a dark room, so I do all of my developing after the sun goes down. You'll need scissors (I use kid sized safety ones. you're cutting in the dark, no need to lose any blood over some film), a can opener (the kind that's pointy, the round ones are more difficult to get the film canister open with in my opinion), and your reel. pop the top off the reel, pull the film out (if you can stick it back out the hole it normally comes out of, it makes shit a lot easier. that way you won't have over a meter of film dangling all over the place). cut the leader off, then feed the film onto the reel. you can go balls to the wall fast, or you can take it slow. either way, you need to get the film onto your reel. if you've got neopan, say a prayer before you try this.

if your film gets stuck, just pull it out and start over. I don't worry about touching the negatives. I've never had any ill effects from it, but YMMV. if it keeps getting stuck, unravel the whole reel, cut off the tail end, and try to get it on backwards. This helped me once or twice, but isn't totally consistent. if all else fails, wipe your hands clean, pinch the film between your fingers, and try to thread it on manually. this generally works. go slow, and with short lengths at a time. eventually, it'll all get on there. once your film is on the reel, in your tank and with the lid on, you can turn on the light again. I love putting film on reels with my roommate in that bathroom. The Grudge traumatized her.

I also found out that there are multiple kinds of plastic reels. This kind, from Adorama, are probably the easiest. if you can go with that, then by all means, full steam ahead, captain.

Alright, so the film's on the reel, chems are at the right temperature, and everything is ready to go. pour your developer into the tank and start the timer. I use FNDmobile, an ipod/iphone app from bambooapps. it's awesome, I've talked about it before, and it's much easier than trying to time yourself. you can get yourself a timer, or you can get the app if you've got an ipod touch/iphone. I agitate for the first 30 seconds, then do 2 inversions at every 30second mark. You want the agitation random, not uniform. Swirling is not acceptable, so go with inversions or something similar. Tap the tank on the counter or something hard to dislodge any bubbles. this is more or less pretty important. once the developing timer is done, you need to pour out the developer and pour in the stop bath. I don't use stop bath. I use purified water, it's one less thing I have to buy, and that's good. I pour it in, do ten inversions, pour it out, and then repeat that process 3 more times, with new water each time (duh).

Fixing is easy. it's exactly like the development step, more or less. pour it in and start the timer. I agitate with two inversions every minute. seems to work fine. originally I used a 7.5 min fix time as a compromise for the "5-10 minute" recommendation on the fixer bag (so specific kodak, you're awesome!). Turns out, Neopan 1600 clears in about 3.5 minutes, so twice that is 7. Not bad for a random guess. I fix for anywhere between 7 and 9 minutes, depending on chemical temparature. more time for colder chems. After the fix, I repeat my stop bath process, except it is a 3-bath process and in the third bath, I add between 3 and 5mL of photo-flo. 5ml for 2 rolls is my general rule of thumb. it's probably excessive, but photo-flo is so cheap that even if I'm overusing it I don't care. Once the last rinse is done, open the top and hang up the film. I used film hangers on shoe string attached to my shower hanger rack. ghetto, but usable.

if you don't want to waste time getting your chemicals up to temparature, here is a little cheat sheet, courtesy of Ilford. I wish bamboo would incorporate this into its app, it's all just linear funtions so it wouldn't be too difficult to implement. hopefully. I don't know about the Massive Dev Chart app because I'm not paying five extra bucks for minimal extra functionality. if anyone who has it wants to chime in, please do and I will pass on the information as best as I can. my chems are pretty stable at 18 degrees Celsius, so I've standardized at that temperature. I've been using a stock solution of the D-76 because I don't care about keeping it or the fixer for too long. I'd rather run out than have it turn on me. some people put there chemicals in [clean] empty wine bottles (the dark green kind), filled to the top and corked to prevent oxidization. I may be doing this with the next round of developer I make. always keep your chemicals in a dry, room temperature area that is out of the reach of kids, animals, etc, and that you can access easily. all of my stuff is in a plastic bin, lined with a garbage can to prevent leakage, and is CLEARLY LABELED. be smart and you won't have any accidents.

also, please do remember that developing black and white film is not the exact science that C41 and E6 are. there is wiggle room and you will not see adverse results resulting from slight deviations. experiment as you see fit, and have fun. results are below, and links below that.

Nikon F100 + Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED + Fuji Neopan 1600 @ 3200 + D-76

Acceptable grain, nice contrast, and this lens is still KILLER. any imperfections in this image are from my scanner or my own photographic ineptitude.

Nikon F100 + Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED + Kodak TMax 100 + D-76

Again, this lens is AWESOME. I love its sharpness and the TMax is an extremely fine-grained film with excellent contrast and resolution. What happened here was a rookie mistake. I was high from my success at developing my first few rolls and forgot to measure enough chemicals to put in the tank. this image could have been great in my opinion, but now it's just okay. DO NOT DO THIS. always make sure you've got enough developer and fixer in your measuring cylinder before you develop. ALWAYS err on the side of caution when it comes to this stuff. my TMax negs turned out purple. the scanner didn't pick it up at all, and they were sleeved immediately after drying and scanning. chloe left hers out on the table in the sun and the purple coloring disappeared. strange, but irrelevant.

Some resources I found helpful:
Action Camera SF: bought developer, fixer, photo-flo, gallon jug, and some misc equipment here. small selection of developers, but all of the popular stuff and LOTS of miscellaneous developing gear. toners, E6 kits, etc. really nice local place a few blocks from me, and the owner's super helpful. found me dev times for neopan pushed in D76 that the massive dev chart didn't have. also, they have a deal with Borrowlenses.com, and you can pick up rental stuff in-store. pretty slick, though I haven't used it yet.

Adolph Gasser's Photographic Equipment: Film hanging clips, thermometer, measuring cylinder, and neg holders. huge selection of used equipment, film, digital, a repair department, everything. motion picture gear upstairs, and can probably order anything you want.

I Shoot Film: This particular discussion in the I Shoot Film Flickr group is very in depth and has plenty of tips and hints on how to do this for cheaper than it usually is. very insightful when starting out. a definite must-read for a first timer.

This thread on photo.net as well as this one were a gold mine of information regarding the peculiarities of Kodak's D-76 and fixer. good stuff if you like being a know-it-all.

As always, some of the best information about certain films and developers come from the manufacturers themselves. so google your particular film or chemical and read up on the data sheets. Everyone provides them and you can learn a lot about the behaviors of what you're working with. Knowledge is power and the more you know about your tools the better at your craft you will be. No exceptions. as always, I'll leave here with a new photo.

Nikon F100 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 + Fuji Neopan 1600 @3200 + D-76

adios, kids.


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