There’s no better way to connect with the very essence of the medium than by shooting black-and-white film, and while the C-41 process B&W films are at times excellent, our curiosity will inevitably get the best of us. Whether we know it or not, eventually all film photographers are going to want to develop their own black-and-white images.
Luckily, developing at home is neither costly, nor difficult. So what stops us from jumping into the world of home processing? I suspect that it’s simple uncertainty. We’re not sure how to do it, and we don’t know where to start.
Well, fear not. Today, CP begins a multi-part feature in which we’ll walk through the entire process of developing a roll of black-and-white film at home. From stocking your supply cabinet to printing your final image, we’ll take you through the entire process one step at a time, ensuring accessibility for all shooters of any experience level.
In this article we’ll show all of the supplies that we’ll need to develop our first roll of B&W film, which products work best, and where to get them. Let’s get to it.
The list of products one will need to successfully develop black-and-white film at home is short. Everything needed can be bought online for under $80, and you can be up and running in less than a week.
Here’s the list :
Naturally, to develop black-and-white film we’ll have needed to shoot some black-and-white film! Favorites include Kodak’s Tri-X, Ilford’s HP5 Plus and the demanding Delta 400 Professional. If you’ve never shot black-and-white film, just pick one and begin experimenting. Buy black-and-white film on eBay or Amazon.
Developing Tank and Spirals
This is the most important item for developing at home. This tank will be either plastic or stainless steel (personal preference- there’s no substantial advantage to either), and serves to suspend the film in the various solutions that will be used in developing the negatives. It should come with a spiral or two upon which the film will be spooled. The film format to be developed is important to note; spirals come in 35mm, 120mm, or adjustable sizes, so we’ll pick the proper size for our needs. Buy developing tanks on eBay or Amazon.
Of equal importance to the process is the changing bag. As most of us aren’t going to create a light-tight room in which to fiddle with our exposed film, it’s important to have a sealable and workable changing bag. This bag creates a light-free environment in which we can thread our exposed film onto the spirals, and place our spirals in the developing tank mentioned above. Get your changing bag on eBay or Amazon.
These beakers are used to measure our process chemicals and for mixing solutions. They can be purchased individually, but it may be easier and more cost effective to buy a set. Important capacities are 50 ml (for measuring), and 250 ml, 300 ml, or 600 ml for the mixing of solutions. Buy a set of plastic beakers on eBay or Amazon.
Plastic Bottles and Plastic Tub
You’ll need some plastic bottles to store your reusable chemicals. In most cases, a liter bottle will do. Do not store chemicals in unmarked bottles, or bottles used for other liquids such as milk bottles, water bottles, etc. We don’t want anyone accidentally drinking developer! A semi-optional accessory, a plastic tub will help us achieve proper temperature of our chemicals (we’ll talk about this in detail next time). Buy a plastic tub on eBay or Amazon.
It’s important that our process chemicals be the proper temperature when developing B&W film, especially so for the developer. We’ll need a good photographic thermometer to measure the temperature of the liquid. Buy a photo thermometer on eBay or Amazon.
Stop Clock / Timer
Just like when exposing film in a camera, the process of developing film is heavily reliant on proper timing. As such, we’ll need a big, robust stop clock. It’s possible to use a phone or a good watch, but with chemicals and water splashing copiously, I’d rather not worry about ruining my cell phone. Buy a stop clock on eBay or Amazon.
Film Cap Remover / Film Leader Retriever
This is a simple, but extremely useful tool for fetching the film from within its canister. Some people use a bottle opener, but I’m a firm believer in using the “proper” tool for the job. Plus, it costs four bucks. Get your film retriever tool on eBay or Amazon.
Film Squeegee and Scissor
Negative Storage Sleeves
We don’t want all our hard work to be for nothing, so let’s not let our negatives get all smudged and scratched just rattling around in a drawer. Buy some sleeves and protect your art. Buy negative storage sleeves on eBay or Amazon.
Finally, we’ll need the appropriate chemicals for the film to be processed. These are non-hazardous, but we’ll still be wearing proper gloves, safety glasses, and an apron. You should too.
The specific chemicals needed may differ from film to film and by manufacturer. The breadth and depth of the available components are too vast to cover in just a couple of paragraphs. For now, know that we’ll need developer, stop bath, fixer, and an optional wetting agent.
You can certainly determine what your film manufacturer of choice recommends for the specific film you’re shooting, but if you’re like us you’re going to be shooting lots of different brands and types of film. In that case, buying a third-party brand of general chemicals works great.
For our purposes, we’re using the stuff sold at our local photo lab. It’s called Sprint Systems and it works great. Development times differ just a bit depending on what type of film we’re developing, but all of the parameters for this and other third-party chemicals can be easily referenced from a number of resource websites, most famously found via digitaltruth.com’s massive dev chart. Just input your chemicals and film and it’ll spit out a development time.
For stop bath and fixer times, just follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the bottle.
And that’s it. If this seems like a lot of stuff to buy, try your luck with an all-in-one kit. These kits tend to be bare-bones and fall within the lower end of the quality spectrum, but they’re good for experimentation and for those on a rigid budget.
Next week we’ll be continuing this feature with Part 2, where we’ll walk through the process of prepping our gear, mixing our chemicals, and developing our negatives! Pretty exciting stuff.
But why are you still sitting there? How are you going to develop film with us if you’ve no film to develop? Get out, load some B&W, and get shooting!