PROCESS YOUR OWN FILM
Home Processing of Black & White and E-6 Film
My original interest in photography stemmed from the darkroom, more than the art of making the capture. I was about 13 years old and went with my cousin to the darkroom of the Jr. High School where he taught. I saw those big 1 gallon brown glass jars filled with chemicals and the atmosphere of the darkroom lit only by a faint amber colored bulb.

For me... that was all it took to get hooked.
I began shooting 620 film with my parents Brownie, bought a GAF plastic developing tank and a Kodak Tri-Chem-Pack and was ready to try processing what I had shot. I so wish I still had those negatives, or even recall what it was I shot and eventually developed & printed.

During a summer break from school, I shoveled sand for a neighbor one day and made enough money to get lumber so I could build a darkroom in the garage. From that point on, Photography pretty much consumed my life. I would spend every possible hour of the day on weekends developing and printing. In fact, the hobby of photography could be associated with the reason why I didn't get into as much trouble that I could have when I was a teenager.

I took an interest in developing color film a few years later and built an second room to my darkroom. One for black & white and one for color. With a condenser enlarger for the B&W and a nice Color Dichroic enlarger for the other room.

Can't Find A Camera Store?
With the evolution of the photography industry going digital, it has made finding old traditional camera stores a thing of the past. But thankfully we now have eBay to fulfill all those hard to find items.

When I first decided I wanted to get a vintage film camera and shoot some film to develop, I shopped the many auctions on eBay to gather up just about everything I needed and more. Beginning with a Nikkormat FTn and a brick of Tri-X film, I slowly acquired all I would basically need to process film at least.

I have a super awesome Epson 7880 printer, I wasn't really interested in analog printing again, primarily since I don't have that equipment or a room to make a darkroom out of.

Over the course of many months I began to gather together the gear needed to comfortably process B&W Film without a dedicated darkroom. With some of the first items being a vintage Nikor Stainless Developing Tank and Reels, a vintage thermometer and the awesome vintage Kodak Timer.

Along with things like film clips, leader retriever, developer, fixer, and the chemicals needed, measuring graduates and more, I managed to finally be ready to process some film again since the last time I had developed E-6 in 2004.

I had shot a roll of Tri-X in my Nikkormat and yet a half roll was still left. I pulled the film out and loaded up my newly acquired Nikon FE and finished up the roll.

No Darkroom Required
While you won't need a darkroom to process the film, you will need a darkened room or a changing bag to get the film into the developing tank. Although I do have a changing bag, I prefer to go into a room without any trace of light seeping in.

The best choice often seems to be the bathroom and place a towel along the base of the door to keep out any stray light. A good guideline to go by when using a darkened room is, if you can see light coming in around the door... the film can see it too.

Once you get the film rolled onto the reels and inside the developing tank, you can complete the processing in daylight.

I also highly recommend the Kodak Darkroom Data Guide due to it's vast assortment of developing times. This will also help you to establish any differences in development to compensate for out-of-date film and exposure errors made throughout the roll. Along with the Data Guide, if you have a pack of D-76 Film Developer, Some Stop Bath, Fixer and Hypo Clear... you are ready to confidently develop some B&W film.

Although you can get by substituting the Stop Bath with a shot of watered down vinegar and you don't need the hypo clear to finish the process, but it's worth the extra effort especially with out of date and possibly fogged film. Getting all the fixer off the film after processing is just as important as any other step along the way.

If you plan to shoot and develop film more frequently, it will be good to establish a baseline of your process. Even make notes of your set-up. Then when you feel you wish for more contrast or smoother tones, or any other difference in look that you prefer... you will always have your baseline to start with.

For me, I have lots of out-of-date Tri-X 400 film that I shoot at ASA 400 but develop as if I shot it at ASA 320. I also use D-76 at a 1:1 dilution for smoother tones and less sharp contrast than when using D-76 at full strength.

You can also alter your final outcome by which way you choose to agitate the tank. I have actually dropped back to agitating lightly for 15 seconds every other minute or so. More frequent and forceful agitation will certainly crank up the contrast. You also can alter things by the development temperature and time. The process is geared around 68 degrees but has several degrees variance hotter or cooler that will also work. These temperatures and times are listed in the Data Guide along with many other charts and steps to take in order to process Black & White Film.

The Steps
My basic process is to first make sure I have all my chemicals mixed and ready to measure out for the tank. I first also rinse the film with water at the same temperature the developer will be to keep the emulsion from having a "shock" reaction when the developer hits the dry film base in the first spot it contacts. A water rinse just assures that the film is ready to meet the harsh developer.

With D-76 diluted 1:1, I will also agitate about 15-30 seconds every couple of minutes and I do not keep the used developer since it may be a while before I develop again and it would expire anyway. That is also why I never mix up more than a quart at a time.

After developing and then pour in the stop bath and after the stop bath I also do another water rinse since I do reuse the fixer. Using a water rinse after stop bath will lessen the chance of Stop Bath contaminating the fixer. I also discard the stop bath but it can be kept for more rolls.

After the fixer process, I always also rinse with Hypo Clear before the final wash with water and I put a drop of dish-washing liquid in the tank with the reels.
I used this as my new baseline process after not developing a roll of film in about 12 years, and this is a sampling of the negatives shot with a 1971 Nikkormat, period-correct 50m lens and then it sat in the camera almost 2 years before I developed it.

The Exposure Values were also straight from what the match-needle metering suggested. So overall I was quite pleased with the results and have since then developed a few more rolls of Tri-X with repeated results from both the Nikon FE and a Nikon F100.

Should you try this at home?
By all means... Hell Yes.... You will feel a reward from your love of the craft of photography like no other reward.

Look around on eBay and start buying the items slowly or go all out and grab up what you need. It really isn't that expensive once you have the tanks and hardware. I even get rolls of film for less than they cost retail when you buy 10 rolls or more at a time.

All the chemicals, tank and other items needed fit into a nice rubberized tub and I can keep it neatly packed away between developing parties.

Processing E-6 Color Reversal Film
If you think the rewarding feeling of processing Black & white film is awesome...
Just wait till you process a roll of color reversal film and pull the rolls out of the tank after final wash. Oh my goodness... That is a rare feeling for a photographer to get to experience, especially in this day and age of digital photography and electronic processing.

Ironically I was printing from color slides well before I began processing them. At the time there was an absolutely fabulous print-from-slide material known as "Cibachrome" which produced incredibly thick-looking super glossy prints. And get the correct exposure was far easier to do than trying to get the exposure time/settings print from color negatives.

I would shoot Kodachrome or any other reversal film and have it commercially processed so I could then print it in my darkroom utilizing the Cibachrome process. It was quite fun because after you exposed the print paper you could develop it in a drum on a motorized base. Making a big 16x20 print and pulling it from the drum was almost orgasmic.

Very Little Difference In Processing
If you can process black & white film, then you can almost just as easily process e-6 color reversal film. You may not be able to find the original Kodak E-6 Chemistry to use, but you will be able to find Arista and Tetenal E-6 kits. A 3 bath process much like B&W. You have a First Developer, Color Developer and Blix with some water washes in between steps.

Just like in B&W processing you will need fresh chemistry for E-6. But more importantly, and the reason E-6 could seem more difficult is due to the temperatures. In B&W film you will be using chemistry around 70 degrees, but in E-6 you will be more like 100 degrees or more which requires you to make sure you can have all your chemicals at that high of a temperature.

Make A Water Bath
You may even already use a water bath to develop B&W film, so the process will be no different. You can easily have a controlled temperature water bath by using a large pan filled with water. Place your amount of chemistry need in a container and all the steps into the water bath to sit and even out their temperature. Use water heated from the microwave to make the water in your bath hotter if needed.

I personally recommend you have multiple thermometers and measuring graduates to do either B&W or color processing with few hassles and more efficiently. Basically - if you have a water bath and go by the directions that come with the chemistry, you will have the same success rate as you do with B&W.
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