In spite of the name I chose for this site, “Chemical Cameras”, the truth is that I shot film for quite a while without ever getting so much as a whiff of chemicals. I would just insert the chemical film in a chemical camera, take photos, and then give the film to a lab where they do their magic, and some time later I would get to see the results.
But I finally decided to take the chemical plunge and try my hand at home developing. I got a used stainless steel LPL tank and reels and a few other odds and ends at Fujiya Camera and got the actual chemicals, some graduated cylinders and beakers and a few other items at Yodobashi Camera and just went for it. Part of my hesitancy up until now has been from my own misunderstanding of what’s required. I always thought I would need to partition off a section of my home somewhere as a dark room. What I learned was that a dark bag is all that is needed to develop film. I already had one of those so my problem was solved!
Currently I’m only doing black and white film as it is a lot simpler than color. I’m shooting both 35mm and medium format, mostly hand held and with a pretty spontaneous approach. I find that ISO400 film works the best for handheld shooting and it is giving me the chance to actually use my film cameras more than in the past.
Some day I will probably take a stab at color processing as well; and eventually I might even get the bug to do some home printing on photographic paper, which definitely would require a darkroom and a big, bulky enlarger. Of course that won’t happen any time soon, because I’m not even close to having the available space.
For now I’m happy to just do the developing. After that I switch to digital processing, scanning the negatives, editing the images, and printing on an inkjet printer.
My first run was with Fuji products.
- Developer: Super Prodol
- Stop: Fuji A Acid
- Fixer: Super Fujifix-L
- Wash: Fuji QW
- Dry: Fuji Driwel
Eventually I picked up some Kodak TMax developer because I was told that TMax film required it. But after a little research on the internet and some tests with various films and developers I’ve discovered that the TMax thing is just a sales ploy. SPD works just fine with TMax film so I won’t be spending the extra money for Kodak chemicals again. I also picked up some Kodak fixer but haven’t tried it out yet.
I spent six months in Colorado from September of 2012. I left all my developing equipment in Tokyo so one of the first things I did after getting to Colorado was go looking for developing equipment. I hit the jackpot at a local Colorado Springs store called Camera Works. All the chemicals are from the Kodak Professional line. I’m not sure of the maker of the stainless steel tank but it has a black plastic lid and cap. I’ve developed several rolls of 120 and scanned them on an Epson V-600 that came for Christmas.
- Developer: D-76
- Stop: Kodak Professional Indicator Stop Bath
- Fixer: Kodak Professional Fixer
- Wash: Kodak Professional Hypo Clearing Agent
- Dry: Kodak Professional Photo-Flo 200
The Epson V-600 scanner is an incredible value. It cost less than $200 and does an excellent job with my B&W negatives. Certainly comparable to the much more expensive Epson GT-X970 I have in Tokyo. After developing 16 rolls of film with Kodak D-76 I concluded that I like Fuji SPD developer a lot more than Kodak D-76. I noticed a couple of problems with D-76. First, with a gentle and slow agitation scheme similar to SPD, I get uneven exposure where the outer edges of the film are more exposed and the center area is darker. More vigorous agitation does seem to eliminate or reduce this problem but then another problem emerges. The more vigorous agitation results in more grain. It isn’t enough to really be a problem, but it is clear that SPD gives more even development and less grain. I’ve never seen it for sale here in the U.S. but once I get back to Tokyo I’ll gladly go back to it.
Ilford Ilfosol 3
Unhappy with D-76, I gave this developer a try and found that while fairly similar to D-76, my initial conclusions were that it doesn’t have as much trouble with uneven development but if anything the grain is more prominent.
This is the developer favored by Ansel Adams many decades ago. It comes in a syrup like concentrate and is said to have an extremely long shelf life. I have been pretty happy with the results but some of that may have to do with adjustments to my agitation. Basically I’ve gone back to what I did with SPD.
After trying all of the developers mentioned above I have concluded that agitation schemes probably have more effect on the results than choice of chemicals. Insufficient agitation seems to lead to uneven development. But excessively vigorous agitation results in pronounced grain. So I have worked on using relatively gentle but frequent agitation to get the balance right. My default is continuous agitation for the first 60 seconds, at a pace of about 4 complete inversions per 10 seconds. Then I do 10 seconds of agitation at the same pace each following minute. After each period of agitation I tap the bottom and side of the tank several times. Sometimes half way through the minute I do a little bit of gentle rotational agitation without lifting the tank.
Loading film onto reels
So here is the deal on loading film onto reels for developing. Doing it in a dark bag takes some practice. But after a few months I’ve found that when it comes to 120 film the stainless steel reels are pretty easy to load. I rarely have any trouble. But try as I might, loading 35mm film onto stainless steel reels has proven to be extremely difficult for me. So I finally broke down and bought an AP plastic reel and tank for 35mm film. It’s similar in design to the Patterson system, which means that once you get the film started on the reel it’s almost a no-brainer. Even on the first try it went pretty smoothly so I think I made the right choice. I’m still using the stainless steel reels for 120 film but plan on sticking with the AP system for 35mm.
I’m back in Japan and have returned to using SPD developer and there is no question; it’s my clear favorite! I still haven’t tried Fuji Microfine, but I’m really happy with SPD. It is so easy to use, requiring only straight tap water at room temperature to dissolve, and the results are consistently good!
The Next Chapter
The last paragraph was written in the spring of 2013. Now it is fall of 2016 and I’m back in Colorado. So I got myself another bottle of HC-110 and jumped right back into the world of Kodak developer, with all of the crud that just never seems to be a problem with Fuji developer. Oh well, the scenery around here is too nice to be complaining!
Please visit my Chemical Photos page to see the ever expanding gallery of results.