Okay, so you want to develop film at home, but you don’t want to read a 2,500+ word guide about how to do it? Fair enough. This is the shortest, simplest, guide on the Internet with a number of suggestions to help you save money. It’s based on equipment and chemicals that can be found on Amazon or at any camera store that sells film.
Shooting and developing film at home is an easy process. I’ve probably screwed up in almost every way possible when developing film, and still come away with usable negatives almost every time. Here’s proof of all the times and different ways I’ve screwed up (and how you can avoid making these same mistakes).
I’ve developed over 200 rolls of film at home in the last year alone using a minimal setup. Here is the basic equipment that I would purchase if I lost everything and wanted to start to develop black and white film at home again. Color film can be developed the same way — color developing just requires a sous vide (also known as an inversion circulator) in a water bath to regulate temperature.
Home Film Developing Equipment Checklist
Development Chemicals ~$50
|Development chemical||Product name||Where to find the best price|
|Developer||Rodinal (Blazinol in Canada)||Amazon USA (find this locally in other countries)|
|Indicator Stop Bath||Ilfostop||At local store|
|Rapid Fixer||Ilford Rapid Fixer||At local store|
|Single-use starter pack||Ilford Simplicity Kit||Amazon|
Home Film Developing Equipment Checklist: one-time trial
If you just want to try out film photography once to see if it’s for you, it’s possible to temporarily cut down on some of these costs by using the Ilford Simplicity Starter Pack chemicals. These are pre-measured, single-use chemicals designed for maximum convenience.
Using the simplicity kit, you can save money by cutting out some of the necessary equipment for developing films, such as the graduated cylinder, funnels, and storage bottles. But you’ll still need a method of measuring 500ml of water, the negative sleeves to store the film, and the Paterson developing tank.
In the end, the Ilford Simplicity kit is not cheap. The listed chemicals above can develop between 25 and 100 rolls of 35mm film for only $30 more.
In my personal opinion, it’s worth spending the extra money upfront if you believe developing film is for you. And if you aren’t certain, Amazon has a generous, 30-day return policy on almost everything.
Required supplies ~$75
|Item||Required if using Ilford Simplicity?||Where to find the best price|
|Paterson Developing Tank with 2 reels||Yes||Amazon|
|500ml Beaker for mixing and pouring development chemicals||Yes||Amazon|
|Graduated Cylinder for measuring||No||Amazon|
|Set of funnels||No||Amazon, or Dollar Store|
|Storage bottles||No||Amazon, or 1L growlers from a local brewery|
|Negative sleeves||Yes||Amazon, local film store|
|Scissors, sharpie||Yes||Dollar store|
Step 1. Mix and store chemicals
On all of the chemicals, there will be a set of ratios that look like 1+#. The number is the amount of water per 1 part of the developing chemical. Since the Paterson Development Tank holds 500mL (enough for 2x 35mm reels, or 1x medium format film), divide 500 by 1+# to find the amount of chemical to measure.
Let’s take the fixer for example. Whether you use Ilford or Kodak rapid fixers, both require the 1+4 dilution for films. Divide 500mL by 5 to get 100mL of fixer solution. Using the graduated cylinder, measure 50mL twice and pour the liquid into the beaker. To get all of the solution out of the graduated cylinder, fill it with cold water, rinse, and pour water into the beaker 3 times.
Then, fill the beaker to 500mL with cold water (hot water contains contaminants from the heater). Since the fixer is the last step, clean one of the glass bottles and pour in the solution. Rinse the graduated cylinder and beaker 3 times before measuring other chemicals to avoid contamination.
Next, follow the same step for the stop bath, and then mix the developer. Leave the developer in the beaker until the film is loaded and ready to go.
Where do I find film development times and developer dilution information?
The greatest resource for development times and combinations is the Massive Dev Chart. This is the most complete, free resource available for film and developer combinations. And it’s somehow still updated every single year.
|Film||Dilution||Developing time in Rodinal at box speed|
|Kentmere 400||1+25 / 1+50||7.5 minutes / 20 minutes|
|Ilford HP5||1+25 / 1+50||6 minutes / 11 minutes|
|Ilford Delta 400||1+25 / 1+50||9 minutes / 20 minutes|
|Kodak Tri-X||1+25 / 1+50||7 minutes / 13 minutes|
|JCH StreetPan||1+25 / 1+50||10.5 minutes / 22 minutes|
What is the difference between developer dilutions?
The different dilutions can create vastly different looks in film negatives. Using Rodinal, a 1+25 dilution will develop the film faster, and with more contrast than a 1+50 dilution. If you’re looking to create negatives with the bare minimum of contrast, use larger dilutions like 1+100.
With developers like HC-110, D-76, and Xtol, smaller dilutions will result in negatives with finer grain due to solvents that eat away at the silver particles on the film. Using larger dilutions with less agitation typically produces sharper negatives with more shadow detail.
Step 2: Load your film into the developing tank
Loading your film is a delicate task, and I’m only going to be able to go over the process here briefly. If you’d like a more in-depth article, I’ve written a longer guide with a number of tips here.
The film has to be loaded in complete darkness. But any bathroom without a window will do just fine. Before loading the reel, make sure to sit in the room for 30 seconds and adjust to the light. You won’t immediately be able to see stray light coming in, and there’s nothing worse than finding out your film may be ruined by a small sliver of leaking light after you’ve removed it from the canister or backing paper.
If you do find some stray light, it’s easy to plug it up with a towel along the bottom of the door. If the light is coming through the sides, I’ve had good luck standing with my back against the crack to seal the incoming light.
Loading the reels is simple. 120 film can be unwrapped with your hands alone, but 35mm will require a pair of scissors to cut off the film leader and to separate the film from the canister at the end of the roll. Make sure to round off any sharp edges along the leader to stop the film from snagging on the reel.
Then, in the dark, find the sharper point on the reel. Grab the tip of the film between your index finger and your thumb, and pull the film into the reel starting at the sharper corner. Then, once the film is inserted far enough, the reel will grab it and allow you to pull it onto the reel by twisting one side and pulling it back like a ratchet.
Next, put the reel into the developing tank, ensuring the center column is inserted through the reel.
Step 3: Develop → Stop → Fix
For 120 film, pre-rinse the film for 1 minute in room-temperature water. 35mm film does not need to be rinsed.
Set an additional 5 seconds more than the developing time on your timer, start, and pour the developer into the tank quickly. Once it’s in, use the spin stick that comes with the Paterson tank and spin the reels for the first minute, changing the direction of the spin frequently to break up the flow of water. When the water flows consistently in the same places, it can leave patches of higher and lower density across the negatives.
This first minute of developer agitation is critical, as any unevenness in development from when the developer solution is first added will be amplified throughout the process.
Then, after the first minute, it’s time to start inversions. What this means is to gently turn the tank upside down while spinning it at the same time. The gif on the right provides a simple demonstration of how to complete an inversion.
Complete a set of three to four inversions every 30 seconds if the total developing time is less than 5 minutes, or once every minute if the developing time is 5 minutes or more. After the inversions are complete, gently tap the dev tank on a hard surface to dislodge any bubbles that may have settled on the film.
For more information on agitation, and some extra tips on how different agitation methods can change the outcomes of your negatives, take a look at this article. That agitation article contains the most in-depth information about agitation cycles anywhere on the Internet, and also shows a few cases of how things can go wrong.
How to stop film
Once the timer runs out, it’s time to pour out the developer and pour in the stop bath. The stop bath is a strong acetic acid solution that decreases the pH of the solution to a point where the developer is unable to continue working.
The stop bath only needs to be used for 30-seconds to a minute. Complete one set of inversions, and then pour the stop bath back into a bottle for reuse, rinse the film twice, and it’s time to move on to the fixing step.
Some photographers prefer to skip the stop bath altogether to save time, water, and money. Here’s a look at a few methods that can allow you to skip this step if that’s the way you’d prefer to go.
How to fix film
Fixing film is the last step that needs to be completed in the darkness. This is where the excess silver that hasn’t been exposed to light is removed from the film, rendering it completely inert.
Most fixer solutions require 3-5 minutes to completely remove the extra silver from the film. During that time, complete regular inversions every minute followed by a quick tap.
Once the time is done, be sure to save the used fixer solution in a bottle to be taken to a film developing store where it can be recycled for free. Fixer is an environmental toxin, and shouldn’t be dumped down the drain if possible.
The steps after fixing can be completed in daylight. Although I typically complete the washing stage with the film still in the closed developing tank. That way, I can wash both the film and the tank without using extra water.
If you’d like more information on fixing film, storage, and the different types of fixer that may be better for your skin or your processing, take a look at this article.
Step 4: Washing film using The Ilford Rinse Method (Non-hardening fixers only)
After fixing, the film has to be washed properly, otherwise, the film will degrade at a much faster rate than normal as the fixer continues to eat away at the silver.
Ilford’s technical data sheets contain a treasure trove of information about developing film. But one of the most intriguing lessons that I learned was how to wash film using the least amount of water possible.
The Ilford Rinse Method only works if you’re using a non-hardening fixer. Most fixers on the market are non-hardening, though Kodak fixers tend to have hardeners added to the solution. If you’re using a Kodak fixer, be sure that either it’s a non-hardening fixer, or that you haven’t added the optional hardener that’s in Part B of the powdered formula.
The technique goes as follows:
- Fill the tank and complete 5 inversions
- Refill the tank and complete 10 inversions
- Refill the tank once more and complete 20 inversions
After the final rinse, the film should be completely free of the fixer solution. Other guides online recommend washing film for 20 minutes in straight running water, which uses so much more water than is necessary.
Using a wetting agent to remove water stains
The last step in the rinse is to use a wetting agent. If you live in a city with really clean, clear water, this may not be necessary. Now that the rinsing is done, you can do this step with the developing tank open to light.
The wetting agent is a film-safe soap solution that helps the film to dry evenly.
With the developing tank open, pour just a couple drops, or measure out 1.5mL (1+200 dilution) of Ilfotol or other wetting agent. Mix wetting agent in distilled or deionized water inside the tank (filled just above the film). Using the spin stick that came with the Paterson tank to mix the solution and apply it evenly to the film.
After mixing for 30 seconds, pour the wetting agent solution out or save it for reuse.
At this stage, I pull the reels out of the tank, and shake them to remove as much water as possible. Then, I leave the reels laying flat for 2-3 minutes to allow the water to drip off the sides of the film.
Step 5: Dry, cut, and store the film
At this stage, I pull the film of the reels and if there’s still liquid on the reels, run the film between my fingers to remove the excess water. Then, using binder clips or clothespins, I hang the film off of a jute rope to dry.
Drying takes 2-3 hours, and it’s best to have some weight hanging off the bottom of the film so that it doesn’t curl as much during the process.
To keep the film from curling completely, hang it to dry in bathroom after running hot water from the shower for 5 minutes. The humidity helps bring down any dust in the room, and also keeps the film from curling excessively.
After it’s dry, it’s time to cut, sleeve, and scan the film.
Measure the film against your negative holders. To find the right place to cut. If you’re shooting 36-roll films, you’ll need sleeves that can hold that many negatives. Typically, I use these ones from Print File, which also allow you to cut the film into sections of 6 shots each, which is the maximum that can be scanned at once on an Epson V550/V600 film scanner.
You can also scan film with a DSLR or Mirrorless camera if you have one handy. Here’s what I use to scan film with my Sony A7III.
If your negatives are dense, they’ll be easy to cut at the appropriate places. But if they’ve been underexposed, it may be difficult to find the right frame lines. If that’s the case, place the negatives on an LED sketch pad, or a white screen on your phone to better see the lines.
This article contains all the information you need to get started. But when you’re ready to dive deep into film photography, here are the articles and books that I believe contain the most useful information.
Bill Troop and Steve Anchell’s The Film Developing Cookbook — the most thorough and scientific book on film photography. It’s up to date, containing info on every film stock and developer available as of 2019. They reference years worth of research and experience from the top scientists and engineers working with film photography. This book provides the basis for much of the information on this blog.
How to store film properly — a detailed guide on how to store film at home. Film degrades over time, but it’ll go bad much faster if it’s stored improperly. This guide goes over everything from where and how long to store it, to handling film after exposure.
A guide to pushing and pulling film — want to rate your film at a different ISO than is printed on the box? That’s called pushing or pulling, and each has a different effect. Check out this article for information on how to do it without getting weird results.
10 Common Developing Errors and How to Solve Them — This article contains the most common issues that you’ll run into with film photography. It’s a good source of information that will help you diagnose issues, or learn how to overcome them before they happen.
How to get consistent results on film — Everything new film photographers need to know about the medium. If you’re coming from digital photography, this is the guide that you need to read if you want to get better results.
17 Photoshop-free methods for creating sharper images — this is the guide to getting the most out of film photography. It contains information on every step of the process to create sharper images every time.
7 Ways to make film development more eco-friendly — this guide goes over a number of methods that you can use today to reduce your ecological footprint when developing film. From the types of developers you use, to the techniques that can reduce water usage.
How to choose the right film developer (side-by-side comparison) — this article shows exactly how the black and white film developer changes the look of the negative using 6 of the top film developers on the market, including HC-110, D-76, Rodinal, and even Caffenol.
How to choose the right B&W film stock — a detailed guide that goes over the differences between almost every B&W film stock available in North America. A perfect starting guide to help anyone looking for film for specific, archival, or general use.
How to make negatives last for generations — another deep dive into the science of film storage. This article focuses specifically on developed negatives, and how to store them in a way that’ll keep them from developing ‘vinegar syndrome,’ as well as a look into which film stocks last the longest.
Daren is a journalist and wedding photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. He’s been taking personal and professional photos on film since 2017 and began developing and printing his own photos after wanting more control than what local labs could offer.