Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3: Which B&W Film Developer Should You Use? by Jennifer Stamps

Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3 Film Developer Comparison by Jennifer Stamps on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Jennifer Stamps

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.

Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Ilford HP5+ developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge
Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3 Film Developer Comparison
Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3 Film Developer Comparison
Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3 Film Developer Comparison

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.

Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Kodak Tri-X developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge
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Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer

But what about Ilford?

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).

Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Ilford HP5+ developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge

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.

Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Kodak Tri-X developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge

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.

Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Ilford HP5+ developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge
Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Kodak Tri-X developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge

Scanning

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.

Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Ilford HP5+ developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge
Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Kodak Tri-X developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge

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.

For the Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer, I used 1 part developer and 9 parts water (as per the recommendation on the bottle).

  • Ilford HP5+ developed at 800 ISO for a total of 13:30 minutes
  • Kodak TriX 400 developed at 800 ISO for 10:30 minutes

Note that the Ilford film took more time in the Ilford developer. The Kodak film took more time in the Kodak developer. That’s wild, right?

Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Ilford HP5+ developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge

Cost Per Roll

I mean, we are comparing time, and time is money, right? So I thought it would be interesting to break down the approximate cost in USD.

Kodak HC-110 Developer cost about $35 for 1L.

  • Approximately 3.5 cents per mL
  • Using Dilution B (1+31) you use approximately 15.5 mL per roll of medium format film
  • Making the total cost for developer approximately 55 cents per roll (for one medium format roll)

Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer comes in a smaller bottle and costs a little less, $12 for 500 mL

  • Approximately 2.4 cents per mL
  • Using the (1+9) dilution that the bottle recommends, you use approximately 50 mL of developer per roll per medium format roll
  • Making the total cost for developer approximately $1.20 (for one medium format roll)
Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Kodak Tri-X developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge

The Results

I’m not going to lie – I knew, or made an educated guess, that the results would differ – but I wasn’t sure they’d be super noticeable.

I was worried I’d have to really search deep to find the differences. And while it may not be painfully obvious, it is very clear that there is a difference between the two developers.

At a quick glance, the photos developed in Kodak HC-110 Developer look richer. The blacks look darker, the whites look brighter.

The photos developed in Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer have a less detailed, more dreamy look to them.

With anything related to art, there really isn’t a right or wrong to any of it. It all comes down to preference.

Do you love soft, dreamy photos?

Maybe Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer is the one for you – especially if you’re shooting on plastic cameras.

If you love contrast and a wider variety in your black and white, then Kodak HC-110 Developer might be right for you.

Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Kodak Tri-X developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge
Side-by-side image comparison of Kodak HC-110 black and white film developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 b&w film developer
Kodak Tri-X developed in Kodak HC-110 vs Ilford Ilfosol-3
Click to enlarge

Thank you so much, Jen! Jennifer is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and be sure to check out her other articles, like 5 Film Cameras Under $50 and Develop B&W Film with Coffee! A Caffenol Developing Tutorial.

You can also check out more of Jennifer’s work on her website and Instagram.

Leave your questions below about Kodak HC-110 Developer and Ilford Ilfosol-3 Developer, and you can find Kodak HC-110 developer at Adorama and Ilford Ilfosol-3 developer on Amazon.

Check out all of our film photography tutorials about developing your own film here!

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Jennifer Stamps

Jennifer Stamps is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as Olympus OM-1 35mm Film Camera Review and 5 Film Cameras Under $50.

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Blog Comments

First, thank you very much for the comparison. I do wonder if using two Holga cameras is a fair comparison. Holga’s are notorious for lack of consistency unit to unit. Shutter speeds, light tightness and lens abnormalities/performance vary. I wonder if doing something similar using a Bronica or Hasselblad with two film backs, switching between them for each composition would be more objective. In this way shutter operation, light tightness and lens performance could be eliminated as reasons for any differences.
Full disclosure… I use HC-110 and to agree with your assessment of the final results.
Regards and keep the good work coming.
Mike S.

I agree with Mike… I suspect the entire difference in results could be down to differences between the two Holgas — unless you switched them during testing (“I’ll develop the first batch of film from Holga A in developer I and the film from Holga B in developer II, and then for the second batch I’ll do vice-versa.”) Did you maybe do that and I just missed it in the writeup? (I’m going to stick with Ilfosol 3 simply because I can’t get through a whole bottle of HC110 before it oxidizes, but I’d be curious to know what I’m missing…)

I don’t think that you did justice to Ilfosol 3. It is not formulated to process HP5 at 800 ISO. It is made primarily for Ilford’s slow and meduim speed films (such as FP4, Delta 100 etc.) For a fairer comparision Ilford ‘s Ilfotec LC29 would have been better.

Jen! I love this comparison! I think the question is always “how much does developer matter?” And this shows it matters a lot! Thank you for taking the time to do this test and it makes me want to try Ilford developer to stretch my own horizons!

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