FAQs: Developing Your Own Film! by Amy Elizabeth

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Written by Amy Elizabeth

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 want more film developing FAQs, you can check out part one here.

FAQs Developing Your Own Film
FAQs Developing Your Own Film
FAQs Developing Your Own Film
Ocean Silhouette on Film - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Q: I want to develop film, but where do I start?

A: This one’s easy; I gotchu covered. I have an article about developing black and white and developing C-41 color film with links to the supplies and resources I found helpful.

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.

Mother and son on film - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film
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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?

I link to my supplies in the articles mentioned above (b&w developing article and color developing article), but let me do the math for you:

Lighthouse on b&w film - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Cost of Developing Black and White Film

For black and white, I get a total cost of $199.24*. This assumes you have to buy EVERYTHING on the list (including scissors and binder clips).

Most of this gets reused indefinitely. Only the chemicals will need replacing.

I use three consumable items when I develop black and white: developer, fixer, and photo-flo (totaling $67.97). In 3.5 years I have gone through not even two bottles of developer, not even two bottles of fixer, and a fraction of a bottle of photo-flo.

Let’s say you pay $20 to get your black and white film developed and scanned. You would have to develop 10 rolls of film to come out even.

And if you decide developing your own film is not for you, you could probably sell off your supplies as a “development kit in a box” to someone in a Facebook group.

*This total includes: beakers, funnel pack, stirrer, tank/reels, syringe, formulary bottle, thermometer, fixer, developer, photo-flo, changing bag, church key, binder clips, and massive dev chart app.

Black and white portrait on film - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Cost of Developing Color Film

If you already have the black and white kit and want to add on items to develop color film (C-41), that would be an additional $63.29**

** For this total, I took the black and white total and added on a brewer’s thermometer, a basin, three formulary bottles, and the C-41 chemical kit.

Let’s say you don’t want to develop black and white film and just want to purchase items for developing C-41, that total would be: $170.63***

***this includes the following: beakers, funnels, developing tank/reels, three formulary bottles, thermometer for checking water temp, brewer’s thermometer to check the temp of the developer, changing bag, church key, binder clips, massive dev chart app, basin, and C-41 chemical kit.

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Q: Is it worth the cost to do it yourself?

A: Honestly, this is a tricky one to answer. As you can see from above, the math works out very well on the development side.

BUT it doesn’t address the scanning portion. You’ll not only have to develop your film, but you’ll also want to scan your negatives if you want a digital copy of the image.

Here are a few scanning options, from most to least expensive:

Porch portrait on black and white film - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Mini-Lab Scanners:

I have a Noritsu LS-600 (find on eBay) I bought a few years back for $1000. If you like shooting 35mm and can find one, I highly recommend them.

The problem is they’re hard to find and more like $2000-3000 now, which is still a fraction of their original $10,000 price tag.

It makes scanning simple and fast, and you have a lot of control over your scans.

The major caveat being that if something broke on it, I’d have no clue how to fix it. (This thought haunts me because I love this machine so much and cannot imagine not having it.)

Newborn portrait on black and white film - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Flatbed Scanners:

But mini-lab scanners aren’t cheap or easy to come by, so what about other options?

I have an Epson V600 I bought years ago and used to use this for my 120 film. But it is slooooooooow, and I couldn’t quite get my colors right.

I know people who rock the flatbed, but it drove me crazy. It seems that the other Epson varieties are much faster and better at color, such as the Epson V800.

You can read more about scanning with the Epson V600 here.

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DSLR Digitizing:

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.

I wrote about my findings and the process of DSLR negative scanning here.

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.

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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.

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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.

Black and white double exposure - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

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.

You can read more about both of these processes in my developing color film article. You can also read more about film soup here.

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.

Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Q: How long do chemicals last after they’re mixed?

A: For black and white chemicals, I have only used Kodak 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.

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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.

Black and white film portrait - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

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?

And if you’re interested in learning how to develop black and white film with coffee, check out this article: Develop B&W Film with Coffee! A Caffenol Developing Tutorial

Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Q: Best way to reduce dust on negatives?

A: When using a flatbed scanner or DSLR, dust is the ENEMY.

As I said, the DSLR digitizing community is growing strong and people are trying to find ways to get rid of dust using software in post, so the future is looking bright.

For now, you need two things: an anti-static cloth and canned air.

Using these on the negatives AND surfaces (light source or flatbed glass) will help immensely. A humid space will also keep dust from flying around.

Overlapping film frames - Developing Film FAQs by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

This concludes Developing FAQ, but if you have more, please reach out!

I hope your question was answered, but more importantly, I hope this made you feel empowered to JUST DO IT.

Developing is not as intimidating as people make it out to be. And scanning can be as simple as using a DSLR camera, macro lens, and light table.

If you want to shoot more personal work but can’t justify the cost, I highly encourage you to jump into developing and scanning. You’ve got this.

Thank you so much, Amy! Amy is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other articles here, including B&W Film Stock Comparison and How Metering and Rating Film Go Hand in Hand!

To see more of Amy’s work, be sure to visit her on her website and Instagram! Amy also shares tips and tutorials for shooting film over on her IGTV channel. Go check it out!

Leave your questions about developing film at home below in the comments!

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Amy Elizabeth

Amy Elizabeth is a family and experimental film photographer and a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as How To Develop Black and White Film at Home and Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR.

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