Developing black & white film
This is a short guide to developing black and white film. There are plenty of good references online, but I wanted to provide a summary of how I do it. I will describe how to develop the filme without a darkroom; leaving out the part about scanning or developing prints.
I’ll describe the process and include the necessary materials at the end.
1. Putting the film in the developing tank.
- This step has to be performed in the dark, hence the need for a changing bag (in the absence of a dark room). It allows you to put your hands in, along with all the other materials, without letting light in. You will not be able to see what you’re doing in this step. (photo: changing bag)
- Make sure you have everything you need inside the changing bag before you open up the roll (developing tank with the lid and spiral + film). If you’re developing 35mm film you should also include scissors (so you can cut the leading and trailing ends) and a can opener to open the canister. (photo: developing tank)
- Open up your roll of film inside the closed changing bag
- Make sure you have a feel for the leading edge of the spriral and start inserting the film. (photo: close up of the leading edge within the spiral)
- I usually advance the roll within the spiral with my left hand with a forward twist and use my right hand to hold the film in position right after, while reseting the left side of the spiral backwards (it’s easier to do than to describe it).
- After finishing loading the film, put the lid on the developing tank. It takes some practice and it’s easier to start with 120 film (shorter roll).
- Usually I mix all the chemicals first, but if I’m short on time I do it concurrently while the film is developing.
- Developer: I use Ilford DD-X developer because I shoot Ilford films, but the Kodak equivalent would be T-max developer. For 120 film mix 100 mL of developer in 400 mL of water. I use filtered water, but tap water is fine. I mix everything in a 600 mL graduate (500 mL total) and I use a 150 mL graduate to measure the 100 mL of developer to avoid mistakes.
- For 35mm film use 50 mL of developer in 200 mL of water. Please note that the mixing ratios depend on the type of developer being used.
- The mixed developer should be at 68ºF/20ºC, but you can deviate from that temperature as long as you compensate the timing using the guides from the developer maker. [Ilford guide / Kodak guide]
- Stop bath: I use Ilford’s Ilfostop. The stop bath stops the developing process. There are some who don’t use a stop bath, make their own or just use water. I just go with Ilfostop. It requires 25 mL in 475 mL of water for 120 film or 13 mL in 237 mL of water for 35mm.
- Fixer: I use Ilford’s Rapid Fixer. The fixer stabilizes the image (crucial before any light hits the negative after development). The developing tank cannot be opened before ending this step.
- The fixer is the only chemical that can be reused (in b&w development). You can measure it’s effectiveness to help decide how many uses, but I just limit it to 2 or 3 uses within a week. I store it in the fridge (clearly labeled and out of reach).
- Final wash: I wash the film with tap water after the fixer, but I prepare a final wash with a wetting agent. I use Ilford’s Ilfostop and I’ve also used Kodak’s Photoflo - both are equally effective in getting the negatives dry without streaks or spots. I’ve tried using a hair dryer, but it gets more dust in the film. Using a squeegee also has the risk of scratching the film. I get spotless negatives just using the wetting agent.
- Pour the developer mix in the developing tank. The development time depends on the developer and film being used (see the Ilford and Kodak links above). Pushing (developing for a higher ISO than what the film is rated for) or pulling (developing for a lower ISO) the film will also affect the development time. In general you achieve higher contrast by leaving it more time. For example, Ilford HP5 film requires 9 minutes for its rated speed of ISO 400 and 13 minutes if shot at ISO 1600 (using Ilford DD-X developer).
- Shake or invert the developing tank gently every minute for 10 seconds during development. The chemicals in contact with the film lose their effectiveness after a while, hence the need to agitate the solution.
- At the end of the development time be ready to pour out the developer mix (without removing the lid) just as the time is about to expire. According to Ilford, it’s safe to go into the kitchen sink.
- Pour the stop bath in the developing tank. 10 seconds should be enough, but it’s not critical if it takes you more time to get ready for the next step. Pour out the stop bath (it’s safe to go into the kitchen sink).
- Pour the fixer into the developing tank. Agitate each minute (like the development stage) for 3 minutes. At the end pour the fixer in a storage bottle for reuse. Temperature and time (if you go over) are not critical in this step. You can now remove the lid from the developing tank.
- Wash the film. Pour tap water in the tank and drain it - repeat 5 times or more.
- Pour the final wash with the wetting agent and do not agitate or shake. Some people do agitate, but the wetting agent creates a lot of foam.
- After a minute take out the spiral and hang the film to dry using the clips.
- I leave 120 film drying for 4 hours and 35mm film for 3 hours - nothing scientific.
- Changing bag
- Developing tank (most can handle 120 and 35mm film)
- (3) 600 mL graduates (which will also be used for mixing chemicals)
- (1) 150 mL graduate (for measuring the developer and/or fixer)
- (1) 50 mL graduta (for measuring smaller quantities, like the stop bath and wetting agent)
- Storage bottle for the fixer
- Clips for hanging/drying the film negatives
- Film archival storage sheet for the negatives