Surviving My First Development Experience


(Eh, sorry for the lack of photos in this entry; I should have some scanned for the next one, on black and white development.)

The last time I was in a chemistry class, the teacher created an experiment that was designed to blow up halfway through the period. We weren’t a full class, so when someone sat in the front next to the experiment, he suggested a different seat for them. I moved up to get a better look at the board, not having been to the eye doctor in a bit, and the teacher looked where I was sitting, but just kept lecturing. This sets the tone for my lack of love of chemistry.

I understand valence bonds and noble gases and enough to know the humour in the BBC series Look Around You. But when it comes to mixing chemicals and getting experiments right, I don’t exactly have the track record.

But with film back and important in my life, and a friend giving me every bit of darkroom equipment she owned, I had to give it a shot. Everyone has said to me that I have to start with black and white, and only once I’m comfortable I can move to colour. I like colour. Colour is important to me.

I started with colour.

I don’t have a darkroom setup (though my sauna could double as one), so I’m using a darkbag to get the film on the reel and in the tank. Two different people suggested to me I use a stainless steel setup, and there were two in the box my friend gave me. I practiced and practiced and simply could not get this down right. The practice roll of film was always bunched up; it would have been a mess when developed.

I bought a Yankee Clipper II plastic tank, as it seems to be the only easily available reel that will handle 110 film (not to mention 35 and 120). This reel and tank setup is not perfectly made, but it seemed to do the job. More importantly, loading the film on the reel was a breeze. Really, it was such a relief to be able to do this part in the dark with no problem. I took the plunge because the good folks at Fuji didn’t seem to bother attaching the inner part of my roll of film in my Spinner 360.

So, reel loaded, tank ready, now for chemicals. Colour processing chemicals aren’t all that easy to get, it seems. I’m a bit loyal to Kodak in that regard, but I’ve found that getting everything I need is a bit tough. Most of it is out there, but not all. Instead, I found Tetenal is still producing the original Jobo C-41 press kit. This little chemistry set is designed for journalists to be able to simply and quickly develop film wherever they find themselves. I’m a journalist. I should be able to figure it out, right? And for $20, it’s not so bad if I mess up.

Other equipment besides the Yankee and Tetenal stuff: three 32oz Datatainer plastic containers, three 8oz plastic cups (these happen to be old ones from Kodak), one extra plastic cup with measures on it for water, one deep tray that can hold hot water, one thermometer, one funnel.

Mixing the chemicals was really no big deal, and the only trick was getting the water to the right temperature for mixing. That just takes a bit of practice and access to a tea kettle, I guess. Getting the temperature right for processing was a bit more difficult. The pre-soak water and the developer both need to be at 102 degrees Fahrenheit. The blix (bleach and fixer in one step) needs to be between 95-105, as does the rinsing water. The stabilizer just has to be room temperature. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the developer, blix, and pre-soak water up above 95 degrees. Finally I had to really apply the heat to the tea kettle and just get the timing right.

It took me the better part of 45 minutes to get the temperature right, but once I did, the whole process went very quickly. One 8oz cup has the stabilizer in it on the counter, while the water, developer, and blix cups were sitting in the tub of hot water. I used the thermometer in the developer, as the pre-soak water before it would be in briefly. First the pre-soak water for a minute, then the developer. The developer stays in for three and a half minutes, with agitation for the first ten seconds and then every thirty seconds after that. Then the blix, six and a half minutes with the same instructions as the developer. What’s nice after that point is that, once you pour the blix back into its plastic cup, you can take the top of the tank off for rinsing. Light makes no difference at this point.

With a minute and a half left in the blix, I started the tap on my sink, holding the thermometer under it, getting the temperature in the 95-105 range. Then it was three minutes of filling and emptying, followed by a minute of the stabilizer. The stabilizer went back into its cup, and then it was drying time!

Before removing the film from the reel, I used the funnel to pour the chemicals back into their respective containers, rinsing the funnel between each. I only had time to do one roll that evening, but I have about eight more I need to do… have to keep the chemicals in good shape.

Believe me: if I can do this, you can do this. Just have the right space, get the right equipment (and at the right price, if you can), and experience the same joy I did: unrolling the reel and realizing that some of these pictures look like they’ll be quite good! I had spent part of the day out on the shore, exploring the ice and ice caves of what is a favourite kayaking spot in the summer.

I haven’t scanned them yet, but I’ll update this entry or create a new one with the results. Give self-sufficiency a shot!

written by kevinhodur on 2013-01-28


  1. sebavi
    sebavi ·

    Great! I'm currently looking to get my hands on some equipment so that I can start developing! I'm a bit rusty and was unsure about starting with color, guess I'll do it anyway! :D

  2. asharnanae
    asharnanae ·

    In some ways, colour development is both easier and harder that B&W. As long as you can measure liquids and temperatures with a generally good amount of accuracy, then its not really too difficult.

    For colour I use a Digibase C41 chemicals, which has four chems because it uses separate bleach and fix. Now, at work we have 45'C water coming out of the tap, which means with a nice deep tub I can heat up the chem bottles quickly, and it means that it only takes 2-3 mins per chem in development. Very easy. At home I use I fish tank heater set at 38'C, and this lengthens the water heating time and development times, But still easy really.

    I have both a yankee tank for 110 and a Paterson universal tank for the 35mm and 120, which I find a lot easier to use than the yankee, but then, I learnt on the paterson, so I guess it depends on what your used to. As to the stainless steel reels, I hate them, i much prefer the quick loading systems most new tanks use.

    I definitely think that most people would find developing relatively easy once they try it. Nice to see more and more people giving it a go :)

  3. kevinhodur
    kevinhodur ·

    I think a Paterson tank is in my future. The Yankee was definitely easier compared to the stainless reels I had, but the movement on the Yankee still wasn't all that smooth. It will do the job quite well for 110, but it could get a bit old with 35mm. I didn't think about a fish tank heater! Thanks for that!