Film Development

I’ve been meaning to write this up for an age… Brian did a great piece on his workflow for everything he shoots. His section on black & white sounds doesn’t sound completely different to what i do, but appears to involve a lot fewer steps. In an attempt to find out if i’m over doing it (wouldn’t be at all surprised…), i’m going to write it all down in horrendous detail.

Step 1. Match up all the film so that it can go in the tank. This is usually pretty easy for me. Usually i’m only doing a few rolls, and tend to stick with the same film when shooting for a specific project. In general it’d be unusual for me to develop more than 6 rolls in a month; often less.

Step 2. Set up all everything in the kitchen. My strategy for not poisoning myself is pretty simple: don’t get chemicals everywhere. In order to do this i use a polystyrene box (blagged from a fruit shop) with a ~5l of roughly 25ºC water in it. This has several advantages: it means that if i drop something in the water it’ll get diluted; the water keeps all the chemicals at a more constant temperature; the weigh of the water in the box stops anything moving around.

Everything consists of:

  • 5 x 1 litre jugs
  • two thermometers (one in the developer, one in the tray)
  • a towel to bang the tank

During the winter i’ll put the chemicals in warm water for as long as it takes to get to a little above 20ºC (usually 23 – 24ºC), and then pour them all out into the jugs. With the water in the tray it’s easy to do several loops of the process without having to warm things up again.

Step 3. Load the film. I use steel reels in a steel tank. This is manly. Plastic reels are easier to work with but not as manly.

Loading 135 reels in a dark bag is painful, and is therefore done on my lap in the toilet.

Loading 120 reels on my lap in the toilet is painful, and is therefore done in a dark bag.

The above is only truly horrendous when doing a mixed tank of 135 and 120. In that case i’ll do the 120 first and then take the dark bag into the toilet to do the 135 in my lap. Being manly does not go as far as learning to do 135 in a dark bag, or 120 in the toilet…

Step 4. Develop the film. I try to keep things simple: put the time on the clock, start pouring, about halfway through the pour start the clock, finish pouring. This usually takes ~30s. Most instructions for developers tell you to agitate for the first minute. Pouring seems as good as agitating to me, so i’ll agitate for 30s after finishing pouring.

Gentle agitation is apparently really important… i’ve not bothered to try doing it violently to see if it really does give more grain, but that’s the good word. To agitate all i do is invert the tank, and then return it to upright. It takes ~5s to do this twice. Nice and slow, nice and smooth. All you’re trying to do is move the developer that is next to film surface and replace it with fresh developer.

15 or 10s before the timer expires start to pour out the developer. It should be all out when the timer expires. This is probably overkill in most cases, but with films like Neopan Presto 400 in Superprodol, the development time is really short (4:15 @ 20ºC) so letting it sit there another 15s might actually be significant. Its probably best to favour developers with long development times, as that gives you more margin for error.

Step 5. Stop. If i’m using a Fuji developer, i’ll stop with a weak solution of Acid. Otherwise just water. Just rinse for a minute. I try to be careful about the temperature of the stop, and keep it within a few degrees of the developer. In theory the film is still pretty delicate at this stage, and it’s best not to shock it.

Step 6. Fix. Have never used anything other than ‘Super Fuji Fix L’. Depending on how old the fix is getting, i’ll leave it in for anything from 4 to 8mins. Giving it a shake every minute.

Having poured the fix out, i’ll usually open the tank and have a peak at the film, just to make sure it has cleared. In theory i could mix up a new batch of fix if it had gone bad. In practice it has never happened. I’m probably dumping good fix periodically, but who wants to live on the edge?

Step 7. Rinse. This seems find of optional… it’s mentioned in the Fuji development guide that its good to rinse the fix off the film before putting it in Quickwash. When i remember, i’ll fill the tank up with water, give it a shake for 30s and then dump it.

Step 8. QuickWash the film. This step is supposed to remove some of the halides left in the film, and make it easier to wash. Have always used Fuji QuickWash (it’s something like 60yen for 2l). Depending on the film that you’re washing it’ll turn from pale blue to dark blue or purple in a few minutes.

Step 9. Wash the film. Fuji films apparently need to be washed for longer than Kodak. In it’s development guide Fuji says 20mins if you don’t use QW, and 10mins if you do. Kodak appears to say 5mins, but it wasn’t clear to me what their version of QW might be called (or if it even exists?)

I leave the film in the tank, under a running tap, such that it fills roughly every minute. When it’s full i dump the water and let it refill.

Step 10. Sponging & Wetting. Wipe both sides of the film with a damp sponge, then pull it through between two sponges. Keep these sponges clean. Really clean! Then dunk the film in a solution of DriWell for 30s. I didn’t know about this step when i first started out, and was ending up with water marks on the film as it dried.

After all that, the film is hung with two or four wooden pegs, left to dry overnight, cut down to file, and finally scanned.

Phew! What an effort. Someone should invent an electronic device that captures photons and turns them into image files… that’d be great.

Credit: the basic process described here was explained to me by Thomas Orand, and refined with input from all sorts of people, including, Sean Wood, Jim O’Connell, Brian Peterson. Lovely chaps. Much obliged!