My friends had weird looks on their faces when they found out I was using film again. And, I got even weirder looks when I told them I’m processing my own film. They must have thought I’m some kind of masochist. “Why do you do it?” they asked. I simply answered, like most would have, “it’s because I can,” and simply because It takes the best lab in town three days to get my film processed.
So, after extensive research on the web and based on actual experience, I hope I can weed out the more technical details and yet show that the steps needed in film processing can be pretty simple. But before I go on detailing the stuff that we’ll need and the preparation that comes with it, let me first give you an overview of my setup:
First, I don’t have a darkroom and I don’t need it since I don’t do printing on paper. Instead, I scan my negatives using a film scanner and I would just do some minor adjustments like contrast bumping or removal of any artifacts, and post them into the web (cheap) or have it printed professionally by the lab (expensive).
Since scanners can be quite expensive, this workflow may not be for you if you don’t have one yet. I did buy my scanner specifically for this purpose. But if you have a friend who has one, i’m sure s/he won’t hesitate to lend you the scanner if you bring some beer over. :)
Second, I do use a changing/dark bag that allows me to put the roll of film into the light-tight developing tank. Once the film is secure inside the tank, the rest of the steps (wet works)
can be done in normal light.
Processing or developing one’s own film may be complicated at first thought, but I do hope I can convince you that it’s really not. In fact, it can be quite fun simply knowing you can do it yourself (you should take a photo of your smile once you see the images that has formed into the negative), and in the comfort of your own home, in just around 20-30 minutes! And that already includes smoking, having coffee, and cleaning your sink when you’re done!
The Shopping List
|Where to get from/Where I got mine||Cost|
|Large Changing/Dark Bag||Darkroom Supply/Avenue Store (Hidalgo, Quiapo)||PHP900|
|Developing Tank (Paterson Super System 4)||Darkroom Supply/B&H Photo (www.bhphoto.com)||USD27|
|Kodak D-76 (Developer)||Darkroom Supply/MegaColours (Hidalgo, Quiapo)||PHP300|
|Kodafix (Fixer)||Darkroom Supply/MegaColours||PHP300|
|8 x 500ml Plastic Gatorade Bottles (Unbreakable)||Convenience Store/7-11|
|2 x Accordion Type Containers||Darkroom Supply/Avenue Store||PHP150 ea|
|2 x 500ml Graduates (Ecko will do. Pyrex is an overkill)||Dept Store Kitchen Section/Landmark)||PHP40 ea|
|Funnel (for pouring in chemicals into the storage bottles)||Dept Store Kitchen Section/Landmark)||PHP50|
|Long Stirring Spoon||Dept Store Kitchen Section/Landmark)||PHP50|
|Several Pairs of Clips||Book Store/NBS||PHP20|
|Lab Thermometer||Book Store/NBS||PHP100|
|Used 6L Water Container (to be used as mixing bowl)|
|Analog Clock||You should have this already|
|Water Heater||You should have this already|
|Masking Tape||You should have this already|
Darkroom Chemistry Basics
People will usually say that you need at least 4 sets of chemicals (developer, stop bath, fixer, and wash solutions) to home-develop your film. However, I find that it’s enough to just work with two: the developer (which reveals the latent image) and the fixer (which washes out the unexposed parts of the film). For the stop-bath, i only use water. For the film wash, I find that it’s enough to just use water and a drop of liquid detergent like Joy.
Before we can use the developer (Kodak D-76 in this case), this has to be diluted in water to form a stock solution. This solution is then diluted further before actual development to form a working solution. A 415g packet of D-76, which is in powder form, usually yields a 3.8L stock solution when intially diluted. However, I’ve learned based on experience that it’s okay to put in 200mL more water to make it a flat 4L stock solution which in turn will yield a total of 8L of working solution when further diluted 1:1 with water. And with my Paterson tank which requires a 500mL working solution (that’s 250mL stock + 250mL water) for a roll of 120 (medium format) film, that would translate to about 16 rolls! (Sorry, that was a mouthful, I know.)
Similarly, a bottle of Kodafix, which yields 3.8L can also be padded with 200mL more water to produce 4L of fixer solution which I choose to store into individual 500mL bottles. Unlike the developer, this solution does not need to be diluted further, and it can be reused several times! In fact, I’ve tried using a 500mL bottle of fixer 4 times over and I haven’t seen a degradation in quality. Whether it can be reused beyond that is something I have yet to try.
And that, with the cost of these chemicals in mind, is already a lot of savings compared to having the lab do things for you.
Preparing the Developer and Fixer Soups.
So, to start off, fill up the used water container with about 4L of tap water. Take note of the water level and mark this up with a strip of masking tape. Then, empty the container and cut the tapered part off, but be careful to leave enough allowance above the masking tape to allow easy pouring out later on. This is now our mixing bowl for both the developer and the fixer, and the reason why we chose a transparent container is for us to easily see that the chemicals (especially the D-76 which is in powder form) are indeed dissolved.
For D-76 to dissolve into water, the temperature of the water need to be at least 50-55 degrees celsius. With a bit of experimentation, I found that 2L of boiling water plus 500mL of water will get us the desired temperature. If you only have a 1L water heater, it’s okay as long as you work quickly. Pour in the first liter, then boil the next right away. It shouldnt take no more than 10 minutes to boil each liter. After doing so, you may then add the remaining 500mL. Please ensure that you’re only using distilled water when brewing both the developer and fixer solutions.
Pour in the D-76 powder carefully from its packet. As a precaution, please ensure that the air is not moving much, i.e., if there’s a fan present, DO NOT point it towards you while you’re pouring. That powder should get into the water right away, and not airborne. You don’t want it on anyone’s lungs or skin!
Mixing. With the help of the long-stemmed mixing spoon, stir the solution gently. When you see that the powder has dissolved and mixed well with the water, you may stop doing so. You can now light your first cigarette while waiting for the solution to cool down a bit.
Cooling. The airconditioning of my small studio spills into the bathroom where I do my mixing, and this is usually sufficient to lower the temp. If you’re in more of a hurry, you can dip a bag of ice into the solution, but ensure that this bag has no leaks. We don’t want the melted ice to be in your solution. Others will suggest that the temp of the solution is around room temperature before storing, but i find that If you can touch the side of the mixing bowl comfortably with your fingers, it’s generally safe to pour the solution out into the accordion bottles.
And when you do, ensure that there is no or minimal air left between the level of the solution and the bottle cap, because this solution will oxidize quickly even when in storage. You will also find that, as you use your chemicals for development, the accordion bottle will only allow itself to be squeezed so much. When this happens, use marbles to raise the water level a bit further. This solution, when taken care of can probably last for about 4 months in the tropics.
Other people will say that this solution needs to be at rest for around 24 hours before using. If you’re impatient like me, you’ll find that a couple of hours is usually enough.
While others may suggest that a separate bowl be used for mixing the fixer, I find it sufficient enough to just wash this same bowl with warm water and soap, then have it air-dried (not wiped) before using it again. Ensure that the masking tape is still intact though.
Mixing the Fixer solution is more simple as you’ll find out. Once the bowl is dry, you may now start pouring in 2L of distilled water (room temp) into the bowl. Pour in the bottle of KodaFix, then add more water until you reach the 4L mark. Stir carefully for about 10 minutes then start pouring into the individuall 500mL Gatorade bottles.
And right about now would be the best time to go out and shoot a test roll. So grab a cheap ISO 100 roll and start shooting outdoors!
Here’s Where The Reel (pun forcefully intended) Fun Starts.
Development tanks comes in many forms and I will not even try to detail what the differences are. I chose Paterson because of its ease of use and straightforwaredness. Its reels employ an autoload system which allows one to load film easily, especially from within a Dark/Changing Bag. And for beginners, it may be the fastest way to go about it. In fact, it’s easy to be spoiled by its intuitiveness, you may find yourself using this system for a long time. Just take good care of it and this tank will serve you for long.
Paterson tanks come with instructions on how to load film into it and is pretty easy to follow along. Of course, it helps to practice with an unused roll of film. Try looking up onto the ceiling while practicing. And once you’ve gotten the hang of it, try it inside the dark bag. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it in less than 20 minutes.
Assuming you’ve now mastered loading the film inside the dark bag, it’s now time to use a real exposed roll of film. Once you’ve loaded the film into the reel and placed the light-tight lid on, the rest is just like a walk in the park.
- Chemicals Preparations.
First, we need to make a 500mL working solution which is composed of 250mL of distilled water and 250mL of the stock D-76 solution. Here’s how I usually do it: I put one graduate onto the bathroom floor (to ensure that the graduate is level) and put in 250mL of distilled water slowly. Then I add in stock D-76 until it reaches the 500mL mark. Simple huh? I would have done it on the sink if it had enough level surface area so I figured the next best place to tolerate some spills is the floor. Please do be careful when handling these chemicals, though. Ensure that these chemicals don’t get in contact with your toothpaste, your toothbrush and anything else in your sink area. So ensure that, during agitation, that the liquid-proof lid is sealed once in a while.
There is no need to stir this working solution as this would be pretty shaken up inside the development tank. Do a quick temperature check of your working solution then consult the Massive Dev Chart for B&W Film. So, assuming the temperature is at 25 degrees, and that we’re using an ISO 100 film like Shanghai GP3, we will then be needing roughly 5-6 minutes of development time.
Second, after carefully but quickly pouring this solution through the light-tight lid (which happens to be a funnel too!) of the development tank and putting in the liquid-proof lid, take note of the position of the minute and second hands of your clock, and start inverting the tank 4-5 times, and tapping the bottom of the tank against the sink top to dislodge any bubbles that may have formed. At the start of the next minute, do this inversion/agitation/tapping again. And at the end of the 5th agitation which is roughly 5 minutes after you first poured the solution, take off the liquid-proof lid and pour out the solution into the sink. This solution is not to be used again.
- The “Stop Bath.”
Right after, start pouring in 500mL of tap water and agitate regularly for about 15 seconds. Empty the water and do this again for two more times. This should wash/rinse away any excess developer and prepare us for fixing.
Open up a 500mL bottle of Gatorade where you stored your fixer in and pour it onto the development tank the same way you did with the developer, carefully taking note as well of the minute and second hands. This time, we need to agitate by inversion 5 times every 30 seconds for 5 minutes, also tapping the bottom of the tank against the sink top as we did above. After this process, you may pour the fixer back into the Gatorade bottle with the help of the funnel. As I mentioned above, I’ve safely reused this solution for 3 more times. But to be more sure, try to cut off a tip of film from a roll and dunk it in. If the film clears up in 3 minutes or under, this fixer is still useable. [insert environment-friendly disposal instructions here]
By this time, it’s pretty much safe to take the light-tight lid off and rinse with about 1.5mL of tap water. This removes any excess fixer and prevents the film from deteriorating. After doing so, while the reel is still in the tank, pour in another 500mL of tap and put in a drop of Joy Dishwashing liquid. Start lifting and dipping the reel gently for about 5 times. By this time, subtle bubbles may form in the water. And when they do, you may lift the reel off the tank and start unlocking it to release the film. The soap will prevent watermarks from forming while the film is drying.
Carefully unroll the film from the reel and attach clips to both ends. While doing so, you will notice that images have already formed in the negative, so don’t get too excited for you might drop it! And with the soaped water still in the tank, slowly dip parts of the film into it in a sort of reverse pulley motion for about 3 cycles. After which, while holding one end of the roll, you may now squeegee the film with your other hand’s index and middle finger.
- Drying and Clean-up.
Find a dust-free spot in your home to hang it for drying and start patting yourself in the back. You’ve just processed your first roll of film! So while waiting for the film to dry, don’t forget to wash the tank, the reel, the lids, including the thermometer and the funnel, and ensure that the sink itself is clean. And in about 30-45 minutes of air-drying, this roll of film will then be ready for scanning!
I hope you find this as a good starting point for home-processing. There are other stuff to be considered, though, which I deliberately left out to make things as simple and thoughtless as possible. For example, there are a lot of choices when it comes to the brands and types of chemicals. Each has different characteristics you might want to consider when going advanced. As you can see, I only discussed the Kodak ones here because it’s the most accessible in the Philippines. Another thing you need to consider is the chemicals’ temperatures: either you warm them up to a good temp (by putting the respective containers in a basin with warmer water) or increase your processing time accordingly. For proper timing, you will always find the Massive Dev Chart very useful.
Also, the amounts of working solutions used differ on the size of the film (e.g., 35mm uses less than medium format) so your mileage will surely vary. Of course, if you wanna go all geeky, go ahead and google and you’ll find tons of information on this topic.