Light Railway, England. Ilford's XP2 Super looks more
like a conventional black and white film than Kodak's
chromogenics, and behaves rather more conventionally, though
it still requires a fairly hard grade of paper for many
images. Don't worry. It's the nature of chromogenic
films. Ilford's Multigrade Warmtone at Grade 3. (Voigtländer
Bessa-T, 50mm f/1.5 Nokton, B+W light yellow filter.)
Begin with a hard look at your developing tank. Plastic reels are easier
to load (as long as they are bone dry), but stainless reels are easier
to keep clean. Whichever you use, try the other. Load a scrap film. With
my "benign essential tremor" (shaky hands), I find it virtually
impossible to load a stainless reel: plastic is easier for me. But it
might not be for you.
If you've been using old reels, you may be amazed at how much quicker
and easier it is to load clean, new plastic reels or stainless reels that
aren't bent. I also find that plastic reels last a lot longer (without
getting rough, scratchy, and hard to load) if I transfer the processed
films to stainless reels for the final rinse: there is apparently something
in wetting solutions that gets to plastic reels after a while. New tanks
and reels are expensive, but if you look after them, they last for years.
Look at how you measure your chemicals, too. Cloudy, stained, semiopaque
measures are much harder to use accurately than clear ones. Also, what
sizes do you have? To mix 600ml of developer, 1+7, you need 75ml of developer
and 525ml of water. The easy way to do this is to measure the 75ml in
a small graduate (100ml or 150ml), then tip it into a 600ml graduate and
top up to 600ml.
I am firmly wedded to the wet darkroom, I make almost all
of my contact prints electronically. I scan them in their
Print File sleeves, which means losing a little sharpness
but gaining a lot of speed and exposing the negatives to
the minimum of handling. Because my scanner cannot handle
the whole sheet at once, I scan the first four rows of negs,
then the last three rows, and then stitch them together.
Not only is it faster and easier than "wet"
contacts, but I can also lighten any dark frames and darken
any light frames.
Maybe you're still wedded
to fluid ounces. Believe it or not, metric can be easier. Most new graduates
have metric markings as well as avoirdupois. Use these to give yourself
a feeling for the metric units. If you measure out 8 oz, check to see
how that translates into milliliters (225ml). If you can learn to internalize
these measurements it makes life much easier when you have to deal with
metric packaging. The above example--600ml of 1+7--is a nightmare
But equally, if you always use metric, remember that a lot of tanks are
still in ounces. My small stainless tanks are 8 oz and 16 oz. This makes
1+7 easier than metric. Be ready to use either system, if it makes life
easier or quicker.
I use clear Paterson graduates from 150-1200ml, and I even have separate
graduates for the different chemicals, clearly marked "Developer,"
"Fixer," and so forth (with Dymo labels). This costs more
than using just the one graduate, but it also reduces the chances of cross-contamination
to virtually nothing (making life easier again).
What about thermometers? Mercury thermometers are accurate and reliable,
but hard to come by and hard to read. I keep one that I bought at a camera
fair, and calibrate my other thermometers against it. Digital and dial
thermometers are convenient and easy to read, but some are horribly inaccurate,
and all may drift as they age. But as long as you check them frequently
against a reference thermometer, they are fine.
If the mercury thermometer is not perfectly accurate it doesn't
matter. It's consistent, and because all my other thermometers are
checked against it, they are consistent, too.
Next, timers. Sure, you can use your watch or the kitchen clock. But a
purpose-made stop clock is easier to see, more reliable, and doesn't
require calculations such as, "Well, it's 3 minutes past now,
and I need to give it 81/2 minutes, so that's 111/2 minutes past."
A good, new stop clock isn't cheap but it should last for a decade
Portugal. When testing a new developer, it is a good idea
to use a film you are familiar with. Ilford's HP5
Plus is one of my standard films. This image came from a
roll which was developed in then-new Paterson FX-50. I love
the tonality. Printed on Ilford's Multigrade Warmtone.
(Voigtländer Bessa-T, 50mm f/2.5 Color-Skopar, B+W
light yellow filter.)
Notes For Consistency
Do you keep notes of how you develop your films? I note the developer;
the dilution; the temperature in; and the temperature out. The last can
be revealing! I also note whether I used the Jobo CPE-2 (a wonderful time-saver
if you have a lot of film to develop) or a hand tank, and in the latter
case, the agitation.
A typical lab notebook entry in the film notebook will therefore be "Ilford
HP5 Plus--Ilford DD-X 1+4--20.4Þ in--10 minutes--20.8Þ
out--hand tank--agitation 10 sec/minute." I also date
the process run, and mark that on the negative sleeves, along with a film
number. Thus, 03-10-09-03 is film No. 3 from the 9th of October, 2003.
This allows me to check the development data if a negative prints unusually
well or unusually bad.
Keeping Film Safe
Store the films in transparent archival sleeves, so you can make contact
prints and reference scans through the sleeve. I have used Print File
for years. If you really want to make sure that your negatives stay clean
and unmarked, get some white cotton or antistatic gloves from a lab supply
house. Store the sleeves in archival boxes or folders to keep the dust
So far, I have only talked about equipment. What about chemicals? First
and foremost, don't let your developer go stale. Decant liquid concentrates
or stock solutions into smaller bottles with no airspace. Brown glass
bottles are best, as they are completely impermeable.
For example, I have just opened a liter of Ilford Ilfotec DD-X. I immediately
decanted part of it into two 300ml bottles, filled to the brim. These
will keep for a year or more. Remember to label the bottles!
Liquid chemicals are easier and more convenient than powders, and there's
no risk of breathing dust when you mix them. They are more expensive,
but as I have already said, we are looking at making life easier, not
at saving money.
Fixer will go on fixing long after it is overloaded with silver salts--which
will destroy your film in the long run. Stick to the manufacturer's
Distilled or de-mineralized water will also make your life easier. A final
rinse with distilled water and wetting solution helps prevent drying marks
on your film.
Drying cabinets are expensive and bulky, but if you can spare the space,
you can sometimes find secondhand ones quite cheaply. You are still looking
at $200+ but I'd say they are worth that, easily.
An excellent and easy alternative, though, is to dry films diagonally
in a door frame (or between two battens fixed to the wall). Pick a room
that will not have traffic in and out. Before hanging the film find a
paper clip, a rubber band, and two drawing pins. Bend the paper clip into
an "S" shape and fasten the rubber band to it. Pin the top
end of the film to the door frame (or batten) then put the paper clip
in the rebate at the other end and pin the rubber band to the other side
of the door frame (or the other batten) so that the film is stretched
There are many pleasures to be found in black and white film photography.
Making it easy to develop film, and getting consistent results, will only
add to your enjoyment.
Eastman Kodak Company (film)
fax: (585) 724-0670
Ilford Imaging USA Inc.
(800) 631-2522 and
fax: (201) 265-3443
(antistatic wisks, cloths, and gloves)
(800) 624-3204 and
fax: (941) 955-5992
Paterson Photographic Inc.
(graduates, dev. tanks, and reels)
fax: (770) 949-5917
Print File, Inc.
fax: (407) 886-0008