At the time I’m writing this article, we, and much of the world, are quartered in our homes. Some of us are looking for things to do with our time (like developing your own film!) and some of us are looking for more time in our days to get things done.
No matter which camp you’re in, be gentle with yourself. Being creative during a time of stress is more difficult than we recognize. Now is your time to survive, so don’t be surprised or disappointed if you’re not thriving.
With many labs being closed, there has been a marked uptick in people on the internet talking about developing their own film at home.
And with that comes lots of questions. Here are some of those frequently asked questions and answers for developing film at home.
If you’re like me, you want a visual AND written instructions to read and reread AND links to all the supplies. That’s what these articles have.
Note: if you find these articles helpful, please shoot me a message on Instagram, because they MAKE MY DAY. I also love answering further questions you have (as evidenced by this article), so also feel free to reach out if you’re wanting clarification.
Q: How much does it cost to get started developing black and white film? Color film?
A: I love this question. Before delving into developing my own black and white film, I wanted to work out the math (Math nerd alert! I majored in math and constantly lament the fact that we Americans don’t call it “maths.”)
Specifically, I wanted to know how many rolls I’d have to develop to come out even with the cost of sending them to a lab. Like, if I hated developing my own film, how many rolls would I be forced to develop to make it at least a wash?
Then, I tried my hand at DSLR “scanning”/digitizing, and found out about Negative Lab Pro for color correcting. I am a huge fan of this method. It’s fast and easy and doesn’t require a lot of gear you probably don’t already have.
The DSLR digitizing community is a rapidly growing one, and more contraptions are being produced to hold negatives, set up cameras, and even Negative Lab Pro is getting updated and finely tuned.
I think this is only going to significantly improve over the next few years and make film more accessible for enthusiasts.
So, Is DSLR Scanning Worth It?
It still takes time to set up, scan, and there is a learning curve for the digitizing process and using the software, so you have to weigh out if you’re willing to be a little patient with it.
If you’re a film lover and just want to cut down on costs for personal work/projects, I’d say give it a go.
This process isn’t quite yet streamlined enough for professional work to be worth it. The thought of using a DSLR and software on an entire family or senior session sounds really daunting to me, because I know it would take quite a bit of time.
Q: Best method for consistent water temperature for C-41 Developing without a sous vide?
A: A sous vide is a cooking device used to keep liquid at a consistent temperature. It’s super helpful for keeping your developing temperatures consistent and optimal, but certainly not necessary.
I didn’t own a sous vide for a long time and dealt with C41 just fine.
I would take my developer and blix solutions and place them into a basin, running hot water over the bottles until they were at 102 degrees.
You kind of learn how long this takes after doing it a few times, so you don’t need to always be constantly checking the temperature once you form a rhythm.
The developer needs to be at 102, but the blix solution has more temperature latitude. So once my developer reached 102, I would take it and the blix bottles out of the basin and start developing.
Since you use the developer right away, you know it’ll be at 102, and the blix can cool a little and be just fine.
I do nothing with my tank during the developing process. The whole “perfect temperature” thing isn’t as scary as I thought people made it out to be.
Benefits of a Sous Vide
Eventually, I did buy a sous vide just to be even lazier. It doesn’t give me more accurate results than the basin method, but it allows me to set my chemicals in the bath and leave them until I am ready to develop.
So I can put the bottles in with the sous vide and if it takes 15 extra minutes to get my kids in bed than I expected, no problem, because the sous vide is just keeping everything at a constant temp.
Note: Since I refrigerate my chemicals, I fill the basin up with HOT water and turn the sous vide to 106. This gets everything in the bottles to a nice 102 rather quickly and keeps it there.
Q: Does developing expired film have any effect on the chemicals?
A: I have developed plenty of expired film, and it seems to have no effect on chemicals. I also develop expired film right along with fresh film and nothing gets ruined.
The only types of film I develop separately are cross-processed film and film soup. Cross-processing doesn’t even necessarily ruin your chemicals, but I like to keep it separate.
Here’s the rhythm I’ve created for my developing chemicals:
I have two sets of bottles for chemicals. I mix up a fresh set and develop 15-18 rolls with it.
Then, I mix up a new fresh set of chemicals and use the old set for things like film soup or cross-processing.
This is a nice rotation where I always have “junky” chemicals for experimenting and new chemicals for regular film.
Q: How long do chemicals last after they’re mixed?
A: For black and white chemicals, I have only used HC-110b to develop. This is a one and done developer, meaning you use it once and then throw it away.
The fixer I use until I forget how old it is 😂 In all honesty, it’s probably used for around 24 rolls of black and white.
Once it seems like it’s older than I remember, I will just fix my film for an extra minute and then mix up new fixer when I remember to do it.
I store my fixer on a shelf in the basement, so I don’t do anything special with it.
For C-41 chemicals, as stated above, I use my kit for around 15-18 rolls of non-experimental developing.
I know time and use are enemies of chemicals, and I think storing chemicals in the fridge helps with the time factor. I have used the same chemicals for literally months and have had great results.
My personal rule of thumb is to use chemicals for 18 rolls, but I might only use them for 15 rolls if they’re 3 months old. Then, I rotate them and use them as my “old set.” I’ll continue to use the old set for things like cross-processing and film soup.
Q: Any way to develop color film with alternative materials? Like developing b&w film with coffee?
A: Not that I know of, but I’m including this to see if someone else knows of a way. I think it would be so fun to come up with an alternative way to develop C41! Any chemists out there?