Darkroom Report

Recently, I tried something new - I developed my own black & white 35mm films. This is an old thing to do indeed, but certainly isn’t for true artists :)

As for the general instructions and the how-to, I first watched several videos and I found this to be the best one, and I also look at the packaging of my Kodak T-Max developer as a general guideline. As for the more specific instructions and helps, I exchanged a few e-mails with Gordon Lewis of Shutterfinger. Gordon gave me tremendous help before I did my processing; he helped me recommending the developer to use, which liquid is not essential, which liquid can be reused, what does 1+4 and 1+9 dilution meant, where to hang my film dry, etc. I came across Shutterfinger blog whilst searching for Ricoh GRD IV review, but ended up browsing around the blog more than I was planning to. You might also want to check it out.

I also was looking at darkroom tutorials by John Sypal here. He’s doing a bulk amount of processing which is not very relevant for a novice like me, but something I should think about doing in the near future. John also wrote quite a bit of tutorials on darkroom printing, which I haven’t planned to do yet.

Whilst I was shopping for the chemicals, the store person, whom I ended up found in Tumblr too, recommended me an iPhone app called Massive Dev Chart, which was sold for $9.50 or so in the App store. That seems quite expensive, but when you look at the capabilities of this app, you’ll immediately forget that price and will tell yourself that you’re glad you’ve bought the app. It allows you to see the difference in developing time when mixing different dilutions, it shows you which film can be developed with which developer, it guides you if you want to push-process films that’s not listed by the manufacturer (e.g. push-process Fuji Neopan 400 using Kodak T-Max developer). It even tells you when to agitate your tank (the timer wiggles).

So enough introduction for now, and we’ll move on to the real report now.

The most difficult part I have encountered so far, is the unloading of film to the reels. Mostly because we are doing this in the dark room, and you’ll have to rely mostly on your proprioception (touch) and feel everything with your finger: where is the tip of the film, where is the clip on the reel for it, and most importantly, you have to be careful not to get stuck. If this happens, take the film out as needed and continue from where the film stuck. This happened a lot to me the first time I did this, and many parts of the film got stuck and I kept going because I feel suffocated in the dark bathroom. The films ended up touching each other (not perfectly parallel as they should be), and ended up looking like this.

The developer didn’t got through those parts, so they remain undeveloped when it came out. Yes, the one in videos looked really easy, but not for someone who just started. However, Gordon assured me that it would eventually become natural, I just have to practice with dummy films. So that’s what I did whilst watching YouTube or reading a book.

As for the whole developer -> stop bath -> fixer -> washing process - they are not very difficult at all, as long as you pay attention to your timer. Rest assured that they are easier than baking any cake. Below is the picture of the very first film I developed (Kodak T-Max 100).

In the second round, I’m developing two Fuji Neopan 400s in one go. This time, I was a lot more calm and confident through the whole process, and ended up with a lot less mistakes during the film-to-reel gymnastics. This is what I’ve done so far, and I do my scanning at home too, using the Plustek 7600i.