Does the black and white developer you use to develop film matter?
If results vary based on film stock, it makes sense that the type of developer you use would change the way an image looks, right?
Pose an experimental question like this, and I’m all over it.
Shooting and developing film is just as much as science as it is an art. My favorite subjects in school were math and art, which is probably why my right/left brain is drawn towards shooting and developing film at home.
Developer Comparison: Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
For this experiment, I used Kodak HC-110 Developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer.
Kodak HC-110 Developer
If you learned to develop black and white film in school or in a formal class setting – or even here on the SIWF blog – you likely learned to develop with Kodak HC-110 Film Developer (find at Adorama).
There is a reason it’s so common. Kodak HC-110 is inexpensive and versatile, making it a great choice for starting out developing at home.
With no real reason to ever stop using this developer, many film photographers develop their black and white film at home exclusively with Kodak HC-110 Developer.
To make it even more appealing, recently, Kodak updated the consistency of the developer making it even easier to get precise measures. The developer used to be very viscous and a little difficult to measure and mix – but it’s new formula makes it easy peasy.
Ilford has an entire black and white developing kit. And they produce only black and white film, so one would think they would be the power-house for developing black and white film at home.
Ilford has a few black and white developers that range in complexity, specialty, and price.
For the purpose of this experience, I wanted to compare like products. With that said, I opted to try Ilford Ilfosol-3 Film Developer for Black and White Film (find on Amazon).
Let the Experiment Begin…
Since I wanted to compare like to like, I went out with two Holga 120n cameras (yes, I own two – it’s fine, it’s totally fine!).
I shot two common black and white film stocks side by side, Ilford HP5+ (find on Amazon) and Kodak Tri-X 400 (find on Amazon). Both 400 speed films.
I started by putting a roll of Ilford HP5+ in each Holga and shot the same image for the entire roll.
Then, I put Kodak Tri-X 400 in each Holga and did the same.
I then developed each roll separately in fresh developer*:
Ilford HP5+ in Kodak HC-110 Developer;
Ilford HP5+ in Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer;
Kodak Trix 400 in Kodak HC-110 Developer; and
Kodak Trix 400 in Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer.
Phew, say that ten times fast…
*Both developers indicate that you should toss the developer after a single use. However, you can be economic and reuse the developer immediately after (don’t store the used developer) and add 20% time on the developing clock.
Full Disclosure and Developing Details
Any time I use 400 ISO film in my Holga 120, I develop the roll at 800.
So, there is added time to developing, but I’m still comparing like to like for the purpose of this experiment, because I developed all four rolls at 800.
I did not edit these scans at all, and I did not adjust anything while scanning.
My settings to scan were exactly the same for all four rolls. So the differences you see are right down to the developer.
Time and Dilution
The most common dilution for Kodak HC-110 Developer is dilution B: 1 part developer, 31 parts water. For this experiment, that’s the dilution I used.
Ilford HP5+ developed at 800 ISO for a total of 7:30 minutes