Have you wanted to develop your own film but were scared away by the thought that it was too difficult. Well, I'm here to say that developing your own film, especially black & white film, is easy and fun!
I started using/developing film in the Fall of 2012 and really enjoy the process. I was a little intimidated with the process but after spending some time researching the process and a little practice I have been getting consistently good results. Believe me, if I can do it you can do it, it's not nearly as hard as it seems. This is part one of a three part series in helping you go from having never developed a roll of film "noob" to semi-experienced "home darkroom pro" who can share your film images with the world. Here's a breakdown of the parts:
1.This first part will cover the equipment (camera, film,developing tanks, etc.) and chemicals you'll need to get ready to develop your own film.
2. Part two will be a detailed walk-through of the film developing process with tips and suggestions that I've learned along the way.
3. Part three will be a quick review of how to scan your developed negatives into your computer so you can share them with the world.
OK, on to the fun!
Get A Film Camera
Before you can develop your own film you first need a film camera. See Episode 3 for tips on purchasing your 1st film camera. I would recommend getting a 35mm slr. There are a lot of film cameras available so finding one isn't hard but you will want to do your research before purchasing.
Once you have your film camera...
Get Some Black & White Film
There is still a decent selection of black and white film, both in 35mm and 120 size. In the 18 months I've been shooting film I've come across a few that have become favorites of mine. Film is a very personal thing and every film has different qualities so what I like may not be what you end up liking. Here are some worthwhile films to consider when starting out. They are all good film and seem to develop well with a variety of developers:
1. Fuji Neopan Acros 100-($6.25/36 exposure roll) at Adorama
2.Kodak T-Max-($4.79/24 exposures, $4.95/36 exposures) at Amazon
3. Ilford FP4-($4.39/36 exposures) at Adorama
3. Ilford Delta 100-($4.50/24 exposures, $6.25/36 exposures) at Adorama
4. Kentmere 100-($2.95/24 exposures) at Adorama- a decent cheap film that I often use in my little Olympus point-n-shoot film camera. Get a roll or two of this to practice with before trying to develop a "real" roll of film with once-in-a-lifetime shots on it.
1.Ilford HP-5 Plus 400-($4.25/24 exposures, $6.25/36 exposures) at Amazon
2. Ilford Delta 400-($4.50/24 exposures, $6.29/36 exposures) at Adorama
3.Kodak T-Max 400-($5 for both 24 & 36 exposures) at Adorama
Time To Develop The Film-Equipment You Need
Once you have your camera and have shot a roll or two of B&W film you need to have some basic equipment/supplies in order to develop the film. I have listed the equipment I use, in the order I use it, in order to develop the film. I use a combination of Amazon and Adorama for nearly all of my photography supplies/equipment so the links listed below are from each site, depending on which one had the better price/shipping terms, etc. as best as I could. There are plenty of other photography supply options, just do a search and you'll come up with a lot of options.
Film Changing Bag (27x30)-($23.95) from Amazon-You will need a very dark place to transfer the film from the roll that you took out of the camera to the developing tank. A tabletop changing bag is a great way to accomplish this task.
Film Canister Opener-($14.95) from Adorama-If you're developing 35mm you'll need something to open the canister so you can load it on the reel. I hear this works great but I make do with a traditional bottle opener which is also very important for opening a bottle of tasty Craft Beer to enjoy while developing your film! :-)
Scissors-(FREE-hopefully you have some of these around the house!)-You'll need something to trim the film (and cut the end off of the 35mm roll) before loading it on the spool. I use a pair of regular kitchen scissors that have a blunt tip (better safe than sorry while working blind in a changing bag).
Paterson Universal tank and 2 reels-#115-($30.59) from Amazon-This is where you will put the film and chemicals. It has a plastic reel that you load the film on (inside the dark changing bag) and once the film is on the reel you put it in the tank and screw the top on. You can then do the rest of the development process in daylight because the tank is lightproof but allows chemical/water to be added.
Plastic Beaker Set - 5 Sizes - 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1000ml-($6.99) from Amazon-Developing film requires accurate measurements. To do this you will need some graduated containers. At this price you might even consider getting two sets of these so you can have some extra containers.
Chemical Stirring Paddle-($3.49) from Adorama
Norpro 243 3-Piece Plastic Funnel Set-($5.00) from Amazon
Plastic Transfer Pipettes 3ml, Gradulated, Pack of 100-($5.99) from Amazon-these will help you measure small quantities of liquid, like the Kodak Photo Flo listed below.
Chemical Storage Containers-($3.49 to $5.95 each) from Adorama
Developer-The developer is key to the whole process. There are many different developers, each with their own unique qualities, that people use. Once you get more experienced (and adventurous) you can experiment but for now you probably want one that is flexible and easy to use. I started out with Ilford Ilfosol-3-($8.50) from Adorama-it's a liquid developer that makes 1-2 gallons depending on dilution. After I ran out of that I bought some Kodak HC-110 but sadly it is not being made anymore so my next developer will probably be some Kodak D-76-($5.79) from Adorama-D-76 is a powdered developer that makes up to 1 gallon and gets lots of rave reviews for its simplicity and effectiveness.
Ilford Ilfostop-($6.50/500ml bottle)-Once you are done with the developer you need to stop the process so you don't over develop. That's where the "Stop Bath" comes in. Some people just rinse the film in water but I prefer to use an actual chemical. Just about any stop will work.
Ilford Rapid Fix-($6.95/500ml bottle)
Kodak Photo Flo-A drop or two of this in the final rinse will help water sheet off of the film as its drying.-($8.00) at Adorama
Hanger w/Binder Clips (take an extra hanger from your closet and a couple of large binder clips from your desk-FREE)
Scissors to carefully cut the negatives-(hopefully you have a pair of these-FREE)
Negative archive sheets-(various sizes & prices) on Amazon
What's The Total Cost
After you get everything, the total cost for a couple rolls of film, the equipment and assorted chemicals should be around $150-$175, depending on where you get the equipment. That will be enough to get you through about 10-15 rolls of 35mm black and white film. After that you will need to re-stock the chemicals. The tank, beakers, changing bag, etc. will last a very long time. Near as I can quickly calculate, my approximate cost per roll of film to develop (including the roll of film) is about $6-$7, depending on the film. That works out to about 20-30 cents/frame, which isn't too bad considering the fun you'll have :-)
Stay tuned for part two which will cover the actual step-by-step process I use along with some tips and suggestions I have discovered along the way.