You’ve got a film camera; you’re shooting loads and costs are starting to mount up. I know that story. I’ve been there myself. I understand how you feel, because I felt that way when I was paying £20 for b/w dev, prints and scan per roll. I found that developing and scanning my own negatives not only cut out way more than half the cost – it taught me more about photography to boot.
To process your own black and white films is not difficult. Everything you need to process your own film can be done in your in home. You will need four things:
- A developing tank. This is the drum where the film loaded will be affected by different chemicals. It is light proof. You need a reel inside to wind the film onto.
- Chemistry. I use three chemicals. Developer, stop and fix. You can buy them online or in some photographic shops. I usually get mine online. I use Ilford ID-11 that you make up from two powders and just add water. Ilfostop stop bath and Ilford Rapid Fixer, which are fluids. I’ve also started using Agfa Rodinol, which is cheaper, and easier to use (as it is a fluid) so maybe that’d be a better one to start with.
- A thermometer. You need to keep the chemicals as close to 20 degrees Celsius as you can. I once accidentally developed a roll of film at about 14 degrees and nothing came out. Correct temperature is important.
- Instructions for timing. I usually find this the hardest part of the process since it requires you to think a bit and do some research. Ilford have all their film development times on their website. You need to work out what dilution each of the chemicals needs (some state this on the chemical bottles) and also how long each chemical should be in the tank for. Do all this before you do anything else. You should have the entire process worked out on paper before you uncap a single bottle.
In complete darkness. Load your film into the developing tank. You need to be somewhere light-proofed. I do this in my bathroom (which has no windows) and shove a towel at the bottom of the door. You’ll probably need to use a bottle opener or can opener to get the top off the 35mm cassette. If you’re developing 120 then tear off the paper backing, you don’t want that in the tank. Thread the end of the film into the reel and twist back and forth until all the film is loaded. It took me two hours to do this the first time. Stick the loaded reel in the tank and screw on the lid. It is now light-tight and you can leave your ‘darkroom’.
Some suggest using a dummy roll to test how loading a reel works. Personally I almost always prefer doing things the hard way. If you have dud rolls of film lying round I recommend practicing.
Fill your sink with warm water. It helps if it’s over 20 degrees because as the temperature of the chemicals in the tanks rise, the temperature of the water bath will drop. If you want to juggle this part quickly you can use a kettle of boiling water to top up the water bath until you have the correct temperature.
Place the correct quantity of dev, stop and fix into marked jugs or bottles and dilute them as required. If you don’t mark the different chemicals you might mix them up. I use jugs and write “D”, “S” and “F” on the handles to mark each different chemical. Place the jugs into the water bath and check the temperature of each chemical. Keep your thermometer clean between chemicals. When the chemicals hit 20 you’re hot to trot.
Pour in the developer. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Most developing requires you invert the tank once a minute or agitate every x number of seconds. Pour your developer back into your jug (you can use it for your next film). Add your stop bath. I use 1 part Ilfostop to 19 parts water for 1 minute. Pour your stop back into your jug (you can use it for your next film too) Then fix your negatives. I use one part Ilford Rapid Fixer to four parts water for 5 minutes. Again you can re-use your fixer if you like. Wash the film in running water for 5-10 minutes. Different chemistries may require different timings.
Use your fingers like scissors to squeeze off the excess water. I then hang my films up with clothes pegs to dry. I usually wait about 5 hours before I touch them again. Then they’re ready for scanning. I don’t cut my negative since I find them easier to store rolled up.
Here are some shots from my first two rolls I developed:
Here are some shots form my last two rolls I developed:
I think I’ve improved. Remember that this chemistry is designed to be quick and easy to learn. Photolabs are usually a low paying job, which means staff turnover is high. The procedure needs to be easy to learn and fast to master. A full suite of tank and chemicals should cost you about £40 if you can bag a second hand tank on the cheap. Last piece of advice: don’t use an important film. Use one you can afford to have not turn out. Not your friends 21st or graduation photos or anything.
Have fun and good luck!