Develop b/w film at home 101

There are only a few things you need to develop your black and white film at home. Against popular beliefs, you won’t need a darkroom, only a little bit of space and running water. The whole setup will cost around $100-$150, much less on the used market. In the long run you will save a lot of time & money developing your own film, not to mention full control over the quality of your negatives…

What you need – from left to right
1.) measuring cup (ideally one for each chemistry)
2.) storage bottles
3.) film developer, stop bath and fixer (brand of your choice)
4.) squegee
5.) darkroom thermometer
6.) developing tank & film reel
7.) small graduate
8.) funnel(s)
9.) scissors
10.) film retriever or can opener
11.) changing bag

now, let’s get started – you have exposed your b/w film and take it out of the camera… usually you would take it to the lab and anxiuosly wait a few days to get it from the lab. From now on you will get a hold of your black and white film within less than an hour or so.

First, you’ll want to retrieve the film leader out of of the film canister – old school shooters use can openers, I highly recommend a Hakuba film picker.

In order to load your film on the reel, you will need to cut off the narrow part of the

round the corners with scissors to make sure the film loads safely on the reel

It’s time to break out the changing bag – for the next few minutes, you’ll need the sensitivity of your fingertips only – yepp, basically you’re blind, everything is happening in the bag. Place your roll of film and the developing canister, including the lid, the film reel and the stem into the changing bag.

***film, canister and your hands are in the changing bag***

position the film in the first groove of the reel… I prefer to use the Jobo plastic reels

hold the film with your left thumb and advance with your right thumb, move forward until the whole roll of film is on the reel, rip the film off it’s spool and put the film canister aside (in the changing bag)

position the holder in the reel

place the loaded reel and stem into the developing tank

finally it’s time to get out of the sweaty changing bag – close the developing tank tight and take it out of the bag.

*** we’re out of the changing bag ***

it’s time to get the chemicals up to spec, mix the developer, fixer and stop bath according to the manufacturer’s specifications (the old dogs have ’em prepared already :P). Get the temperature right – 68°F (20°C) is standard. At higher temperatures, more contrast and grain will develop.

1st pour the developer in the tank

Always agitate slowly. For right now, use the manufacturer’s developing time and agitate according to their recommendations. Later on, you might want to experiment with these times. Developing time controls the shadows and agitation controls grain and contrast. Different developers and film combinations give you a different look of your negatives. I prefer Kodak Tri-X as my standard film and develop it in Ilford DD-X @ ISO 400. For ISO 800 and 1600 I either use Ilford Microphen or Diafine, both are speed enhancing developers for push process.

Once the developing is done, you can dispose the developer – many developers are one-shot developers only, so they have to go after use. Some developers -like Diafine- can be used over and over, so that would go back in the bottle.
*repeat the process with the stop bath and the fixer (no pictures here)*

Wash your film under running water for 5-10 minutes, discard the water in the tank often.

an alternative method to save water: fill the tank with fresh water, invert 5 times, discard the water and fill the tank again with fresh water. Turn 10 times and discard, fill again and turn 20 times, one final wash. This process takes less time and saves gallons of water.

Take the reel out of the canister and spool your film off the reel, soak it for a few seconds in water with a drop of dishwashing liquid. Some people use Hypoclear, which does the same thing – both prevent water stains on the negative.

Wipe the water residue off your negative strip with a film squeegee

Hang your film on a line in a dust-free room (the shower is a good place – close the curtain) and let it dry for some time. Use a clip at the bottom as well, to prevent curling of your film.

After the film is dry, cut it in strips of 5 or 6 negatives and store it in archival sleeves. The negatives are ready for printing or scanning.

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19 Replies to “Develop b/w film at home 101”

  1. Hi Markus…
    That guide is very helpful!! Thanks for that.
    I´ll try to handle that after I visited the Voelklinger-Huette on September 1st.
    I hope it goes well then 🙂
    Best wishes & keep up taking your fascinating pictures out of New York’s streetlife!

  2. thank you so much for the help…. it’s been hard to get good info on how to do it step by step! you really know your stuff! thanks!!!

  3. Does the fixer step need to be done in sealed tank? If yes, how can I observe whether the film has turned from milky color to clear?

  4. yes, fixer needs to be done in the closed tank. the fixing process goes by time, I usually fix for 5 to 7 minutes.
    Sometimes I would re-use the fixer and due to exhaustion of the chemicals the time needs to be longer. I check the fixing time before processing with a piece of the film leader. (time ’til clear)

  5. Hi,
    Great thank you for the tutorial…I am intrigued if the same method can be used for developing colour negatives. Please pardon me due to my lack of knowledge about film.

  6. Thanks for your help with your instructions. I always leave my film in the running wash for 20 mins while I clean up everything else. Good idea to save water though in case of a water shortage. After the wash, I always use 2 drops of wetting agent. Is ordinary washing up liquid alright?

  7. have you ever had film develop with black and white stripes going down the whole roll? what could have happened? was it a bad chemical or light leak or what?

  8. Hi Markus, I am a Hartel to and a photographer and my job who I enjoyed must and work on it for years, is street art photos, I did that in Brazil for many years, and now I found another Hartel very similar, I always process my B&W by myself for more than 40 years, even I’m working with digital of course, my passion is my old darkroom, thanks a lot for keeping it alive! Greetings from Gustav.-

  9. Hi,
    I have hundreds of individual b & w negs that aren’t on a roll. There from a 120 film Kodak camera from the 30’s.
    I’ve yet to find info that could help me print these.
    If you could direct me to a place that might help me with this process I would be most greatful.
    Thank you for your time. KB

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