Ilford Simplicity Black & White Film Developing Starter Pack Review

Ilford Simplicity Black & White Film Developing Starter Pack Review

2800 1575 James Tocchio

I was recently given a relatively new product made by Ilford, a one-time-use black-and-white film development chemical kit called the Simplicity Starter Pack. This kit comes with all the chemicals a shooter will need to develop two rolls of 35mm film, or one roll of 120 film. The chemicals are pre-measured, creating a system in which the shooter need only add water to develop their first rolls of film.

There are considerable barriers to entry for photographers looking to develop black-and-white film at home, especially for those new to the hobby. The process can seem complicated and daunting. This kit looks to eliminate some of those barriers. And it does eliminate some, even if it does so in an imperfect way.

What is it?

The Ilford Simplicity Starter Pack is a one-time-use kit for black-and-white film development. Inside the cardboard box are four small, plastic packets, each containing one necessary chemical for processing black-and-white film.

The first packet contains 60ml of film developer (Ilfosol 3), the second contains 30ml of stop-bath (Ilfostop), the third contains 100ml of fixer (Ilford Rapid Fixer), and the final packet holds 25ml of Ilfotol wetting agent. These quantities are deliberately measured so that the user need only pour the contents of each packet into a measuring vessel and then fill the remainder of the vessel up to 600ml. The ratios for each chemical will then be correct to ensure proper development. It should be noted that the last packet, the Ilfotol wetting agent, only requires two capfuls be poured into the final rinse of the development process.

The photographer follows the standard recipe for development (found on Ilford’s website or the Massive Dev Chart), and by the time all four packets are used, he or she has a freshly developed roll of film.

I’ve been developing black-and-white film for years, and I find the process to be simple, if a bit boring (a necessary chore, really). Putting myself in the imaginary headspace of a new shooter, I can see the Simplicity Starter Kit taking all of the guesswork out of the process. I don’t have to worry about developer-to-water ratios, or how much fixer to use. The pouches do the work for me. I empty them into a vessel and then fill the vessel to 600ml with water. I used it to develop a roll of Ilford FP4 and some Kodak T Max 100, and there’s no question that it developed these very well and streamlined the process.

But is it a good idea?

On the surface, the Ilford Simplicity Starter Pack is an interesting idea. It’s a convenient and seemingly low-cost kit for developing film at home that will likely encourage thousands of new shooters to develop their own film and, by extension, shoot more film. That’s good for the industry and the hobby, I suppose.

But when I really think about this product, I start to wonder. After using it myself and talking with the rest of the writers here at the site, I’m not sure it’s such a great idea.

To start, that’s a lot of packaging waste to develop two rolls of 35mm film. Ilford addressed this issue on their YouTube channel, acknowledging that the current packets aren’t the perfect choice for the environment. They’re non-recyclable, and that’s just kind of a bummer (though let’s be honest – both film and digital photography aren’t the most environmentally neutral pursuits).

Putting aside the concerns of chemical disposal and plastic waste, I’m still not sure I see the Simplicity Starter Pack being very useful beyond a few extremely limited situations. Let’s try to think of situations for which this kit is perfectly suited.

For someone who wants to shoot and develop their first black-and-white roll of film at home, I guess the kit makes sense. This hypothetical new shooter is at the camera shop when they decide to try black-and-white home development. They buy a couple rolls of HP5 Plus and a Simplicity Starter Kit, and by the end of the week they’ve shot and developed their first roll of black-and-white film.

Okay, that makes sense. But wait a second – this hypothetical purchase isn’t quite so simple. For that same new shooter to develop their first roll at home, they can’t just buy film and a Simplicity Starter Kit. They also need to buy a light-tight changing bag, a film leader retrieval tool, a Patterson two-reel development tank, a thermometer (if we’re being serious), and at least one 600ml measuring vessel (though Ilford suggests using three separate vessels). All of that gear constitutes much more of an investment than just the hypothetical film and an Ilford Simplicity Starter Kit.

What you’ll actually need to develop film.

Even if this perfect scenario does unfold the way I’ve imagined it, the Simplicity Kit is a product of limited value. After this first one-time purchase, that hypothetical ideal customer is essentially done buying the Simplicity Kit and will almost certainly either buy full-sized bottles of chemicals or never self-develop black-and-white film again.

Could the kit fulfill a need in an academic or classroom setting? I don’t think so. These places will have a stockpile of chemicals. Could it work for a one-day workshop, like, say, if Casual Photophile hosted a “Learn How to Develop Black-and-White Film With James” event? It could, but I think the hosts would rather buy development chemicals in larger quantities to cut down on waste.

Could it work for travelers who perhaps don’t want to travel back home with undeveloped film? I suppose. Shoot two rolls of film and develop on the road with the Simplicity Starter Kit, and avoid x-ray fogging (which has never happened to me through many years of traveling with film, for what it’s worth). But where are these chemicals going to be disposed of when backpacking on a mountain?

Could it work for shooters who only develop black-and-white film once in a while? Would an infrequent shooter like this rather have single-use packets of chemicals rather than large bottles? I guess so, though I question the thinking behind this. Even opened bottles of developer and fixer have a long shelf life – mine perform fine even eight months after opening. And unless we’re pouring the used chemicals down the bathroom sink, we’re still going to be storing open chemicals with the Ilford Simplicity kit (albeit used, rather than new).

And then there’s the issue of cost. At just over $17.00, the kit isn’t very economical (as should be expected). In comparison, a 500ml jug of Ilfosol 3 (the developer used in this kit) costs $9.95. One liter of Ilford Rapid Fixer costs the same $9.95. A jug of stop bath is $7.95. It’s arguable whether we even need a wetting agent (or stop bath for that matter). Fiscally speaking, we get eight times the amount of developing chemicals for five dollars more when we buy normal-sized chemicals.

The Simplicity series also offers pre-measured packets of each individual chemical in five-packs, but here again the economics are hard to justify. $18 gets you a five-pack of 60ml film developer packets. And then you’ll need fixer, stop bath, etc., which rockets the price up further. A full complement of Simplicity five-packs will bring our total cost up to about $55 for 300ml of liquids, where the normal 500ml bottles of the three chemicals will total $27.

That’s a lot more money for supposed convenience, and a lot more non-recyclable plastic waste compared with buying the normal-sized bottles of chemicals (which are recyclable).

Final Thoughts

The best and most useful products all have one thing in common – they fill a need and they solve a problem. I’m not sure the Ilford Simplicity Starter Kit does that, and if it does, it only does so while introducing new problems.

If the Ilford Simplicity Starter Kit gets people interested in shooting film who might otherwise not, that’s great. I love that. I also applaud Ilford for trying things that might help the hobby and industry reach more users. That’s what we need. But I can’t say with confidence that this kit is the right answer.

If you’d like to try the Ilford Simplicity Starter Kit, you can buy it from B&H Photo

James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
20 comments
  • I can see a point and use for pre-measured chemistry, I guess, but this “kit” seems to be, as you discussed, incomplete for the stated purpose.

    If he idea is to get new users to try their own developing, a more complete set up likely would work better. This kit plus something like the Arista Premium Darkroom Kit seem to be a minimum set up but even that isn’t quite everything one will need. Adding a changing bag for the people who don’t have any dark space to load the tank and the cost is getting close to a couple hundred dollars. Skip this kit and purchase more economical chemistry and, for a similar outlay, you can develop quite a few more rolls of film.

  • I’d take a hard pass on this. My first experience with B&W development was with a monobath. To me, that was the ideal introduction to the process. A little more expensive, but not outrageously so, and a much more simplified process.

  • I love Ilford products but I am not sure on this one. I feel like maybe if it were not a set of one shot chemicals? I know that Ilfosol 3 is not my favorite developer either. I think ilfotec ddx is a better one shot dev. Something I think a first time developer would be more interested in is that product cinestill has. Is it called mono bath? I can’t remember but its just one chemical no fixer or stop bath. from what I have read push and pull dev with the cine still product is based on temp kinda like c41. I wish this product was around when I was learning.

  • It sounds to me like this Ilford Simplicity Start Pack is trying to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. This seems like a product that a non-photographer would give as a gift to a photographer friend who they know develops film at home. Maybe that’s the demographic Ilford is trying to reach?

  • Another thing to note is these packages could be easily mistaken for juice pouches or fruit pouches by toddlers so it’s important to keep these out of reach of small children. But I’m pretty sure this is standard practice by us photographers with all chemicals already.

  • Fujifilm made a product called Darkless several years ago that was in a similar spirit. Two bottles of pre-measured chemicals, and a little jar with a crank. You left the film in the cassette and did the whole thing in daylight. I think it was Japanese market only, and long since discontinued. I heard a lot of people, at least their first time around, got pretty bad results. Still though, comes a little closer to the idea of ‘just buy this and get negatives.’ I always wanted to try it!

  • Tom Raymondson May 1, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    I would substitute the terms “anticipatory” or “hopeful”, sometimes even “joyous” (but occasionally “discouraging”) for your “boring” and “necessary”. Anything that encourages someone to try their hand at film development, even if only once, is a good thing. After all, there really are only two types of people – those who develop film and those who don’t.

    • Really great points, honestly. I think I have a bit of an unusual take on developing, scanning, etc., as most of the time I’m operating under deadlines and “have to” get things done. I would probably love photography more than I do if I wasn’t running this site, to be honest. But my job is to help you all love photography more, so that’s fine with me!

  • It’s not meant to be bought by the experienced shooter/developer more so the new shooter, kids starting out in photography, newly enrolled on photography courses. British company still producing film and doing a good job of it but they can’t always get it right.

  • My favorite kit is CAFENOL C. I do not drink instant coffee, I drink only true coffee which is better and cheaper, but instant coffee is a component of CAFENOL C : well made you will have good cheap results.

  • As someone who used this product presumably for its intended purpose… My thoughts:

    I’ve shot 35mm for a number of years and taken them to a local store to be developed. I wanted to find out more about home dev because the guy that runs the store just sticks the roll into their machine and doesn’t know how to turn off all the “auto-correction” features which were probably useful 20 years ago when everyone got their films done (and he’s excessively rude about it!) I shoot very dark, as a result all my photos get “corrected” there and come out equally exposed and look horrific. Anyway, rant over, I wanted to get into home dev and by coincidence a friend got me the paterson dev kit for my birthday.

    I found myself suddenly extremely lost in the myiad of chemicals and processes and often well meaning advice that was wrong.

    The kit helped me understand what chemicals were important on a basic level and what they do.

    Now. That being said, after using the kit once I realised how horrific they were from a cost perspective, did one development myself and then went and bought the same chemicals in larger bottles and have now happily developed around 12 films and have found a process (and stock) varient that works for me. Do I think this product helped? A little, but equally I think an addition to ilfords already excellent education videos explaining the same thing would have had the same effect!

  • While I generally agree with the article on the relatively narrow use cases of the product, I think you over sell the list of items you need. Changing bag? I still don’t own a changing bag. My first 20-30 roll were developed by loading film in my closet with a towel blocking light from coming under the door. Now I have a darkroom, by the closet approach is much easier than the changing bag approach. Film leader retriever? How about a “church key” bottle opener? Most people have something in their kitchen to pop an end off a film canister. The measuring stuff can be handled with stuff in many kitchens. (Yes, don’t pour the chemicals in your kitchen measuring cups, but take a few 1 liter soda bottles, cut the top off, dump the 60ml of developer in, then use kitchen measuring cups to measure out 540ml of water.). You’re still on the hook for developing a tank and reels, and a thermometer.

    • How much MacGyver have you watched? 😉

    • I second this. I don’t have a darkroom or bag, the bathroom works more than well. Here’s an anecdote: I once didn’t bother to wait for my eyes to adjust to the dark and started loading the film. Now, I turned off all lights in my apartment and it was 2 in the morning, so I figured I’m safe. But by the time I was done I saw light cracking at the bottom of the bathroom door and it turned out I forgot to close the kitchen door and a public light source, for some reason, was aimed in my direction. I feared the worst but decided to develop the film anyway. It turned out fine (Kodak T-Max 100 in Xtol). Not sure if it’s a testament to black & white emulsions and how forgiving they can be or if I was just lucky.
      Also, the bottle opener works well except for Kodak’s films. I swear, it’s like they’re welded shut, while other more boutique options in comparison you can flick open like they’re Mentos candy.

  • In 2006, when it seemed inevitable that digital had supplanted film I actually wrote to Ilford suggesting they make a product like this. They thought it was a good idea but clearly they didn’t do it then. I guess it depends on how much film people shoot. If it’s a couple of rolls every three months or so then it’s a good idea, but if you’re doing at least one film a month there are probably more suitable, and cost-effective, products out there.

    I think the argument about having to buy dark bags and a tank are somewhat moot. They’re a capital investment, not an ongoing expense and if you look around you can pick them up cheaply second-hand.

  • I think it is a good idea, especially as a gift to someone interested in film. This way you give them the taste of developing their own film, and then it’s up to them if they want to pursue it. This gift will show them how simple it is. It’s up to them if they want to make it economical.
    And yes, as you are giving this as a gift, you will also be providing a developing tank and all the other stuff. Because you are cool like that.

    And if you are the coolest, you’ll buy a used camera from this great shop I know that makes sure it works:

    https://www.fstopcameras.com/slrcameras/minolta-xg-1-slr-35mm-camera-for-sale

    Toss in a couple of rolls of Arista:

    https://www.fstopcameras.com/film-and-batteries/arista-edu-ultra-black-and-white-35mm-film-24-exp

    Imagine get that from your favourite aunt/uncle!

  • I remember when I started b&w processing, I was living in French Polynesia and there was no way to get b&w films processed. So I had to start doing it by myself. But I couldn’t order liquid chemicals from Australia or NZ, as liquids aren’t allow to be transported by plane. But I found that the best solution was to buy D76 powder and same for the Fixer that can be send by airmail (and it’s really cheap to buy 1l powder packs!). Never used a stop bath and instead of wetting agent final rinse I used some drops of dishwasher rinse product, works perfectly.

    Indeed, for a discovery starter package, why not, but there are now plenty chemicals to start with, to process much more films and thus much cheaper, like the Ars-Imago product range for example: they have a full range of chemicals of their own (FD/FX/Stop/Wetting), their Monobath works better than the one from Cinestill in my opinion, they also have a PE ecological developper, their own Rodinal R09, etc.. . And recently they also launched a C41 processing kit as well… So you really don’t need to spend 17$ for a starter pack when so many other cheap alternatives are on the market

  • this is the crappiest review i ever red about photo chemicals.
    Have you tested it with some B&W films,?how was the sharpness, or the contrast or, or?You could write one good page only about this.
    But you prefer to write about prices and other crap.
    you suck.

    • This review was essentially a review of the developing kit, as none of the chemicals in this Ilford product are new or novel. Thanks for your feedback.

  • Jeez, Louise, I must be the only person on here old enough to have used Kodak Tri-Chem packs, essentially the same thing as this. I started in 1953 (age 10), and the Tri-Chem Pack was easy to afford and keep until use. Within a year ot two, though, I had upgraded to mixing my own chemicals, better tank, etc., and it went from there. I suspect that Ilford is doing what Kodak was doing: trying to get younger people started in the hobby/profession. Kudos to them for doing so.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio