Since the beginning of this year, I was sure that the pandemic is something of the past. I dust off my black & white film development apparatus and started shooting again.
I started shooting medium format film (by this day and age this term pretty much points to the 120 film) from late 2018. It was a camera lent from a dear friend. Soon enough, I bought a kit of Hasselblad 503CW camera and began pressing the shutter button. At that time, both B&W and color film are inexpensive. Since I wasn’t into the film development scene, I was almost shooting color negative film (C41) exclusively. Even the B&W film that I primarily used for a year is Ilford XP2 Super 400, a B&W film that is tuned to be developed in C41 process. After shooting some traditional B&W film, the different image structure allured myself to it. The capability to push the film from box speed is another flexibility I was looking for. That was when I purchased the development equipments.
The first film developer I used primarily is Ilford Ilfosol 3. At the time, I coupled this developer with Ilford HP5+ 400 or Ilford Delta 3200 Professional. This developer is comparably economical, for a 500 mL bottle, one can develop 10 rolls of 120 film in a Paterson tank using the 1+9 dilution, by today’s price of €15 per 500 mL bottle, it’s €1.50 per roll. I actually liked how the film comes out, but the shortcoming soon became very prevalent — the developer is not particularly great for pushing the film. Take HP5+ as an example, if I were to push it to ISO 1600 instead of the box speed of 400, the development time increased from 6 minutes 30 seconds to 17 minutes at 20°C. That’s where Delta 3200 comes in as the development for ISO 1600 would be 10 minutes instead.
The next developer I used is Ilford Ilfotec DD-X. This developer is designed to work with newer T-grain film in the Ilford Delta range and also have great pushing capability. Using the example above, for HP5+, pushing to ISO 1600 results in a development time of 13 minutes, whereas for Delta 3200, developing for ISO 1600 takes 8 minutes. I have also developed with slower film, such as Kodak T-MAX 100, the T-grain film from Ilford’s counterpart. The result was simply amazing. The grain is invisible from the dry scan I carried out with my Epson V850 Pro scanner (56mm × 56mm negative scanned to 60 megapixels). However, I found the topic that I’m accustomed to rarely require this level of detail. In addition, shooting in ISO 100 with medium format is roughly equals to using a tripod every time. For landscape, B&W filter may also be required and that would bring down the amount of light comes through the lens. Realistically, that means shooting at ISO 40 to 50. I wasn’t ready for this. However, this excellent developer has its own downside also. The default 1+4 dilution means a 1 L bottle can yield 10 rolls. By today’s price of €36 a 1 L bottle, that’s €3.60 per roll, significantly more expensive than Ilfosol 3.
Due to economy concerns, I began to look for alternatives. I have thought about both liquid and powder developers and settled with liquid again. Some powder developers are aiming to dilute to 5 L of water and I simply did not have room for that or could shoot that many rolls to fully consume that much of developer solution. These developers also cannot be downsized linearly to make a 1 L solution, which would be ideal in my case.
I settled with Kodak HC-110 at the end. It is a classic, introduced in 1962, suitable for traditional grain film, great for pushing. A number of dilutions to adjust developing time and density. It is also very economical with very long shelf life. I bought the first 1 L bottle in late 2019, and only used it up last week. Granted, I barely shoot any B&W film between 2020-2022, I still estimated a large number of rolls have been through that bottle, here’s the calculation:
I mostly used the “Dilution B” from concentrate. 16 mL of the concentrate is diluted to make a 500 mL solution, which is used for one roll of 120 film. That is roughly 62 rolls per 1 L concentrate. Considering its price of about €45 per bottle, it is about €0.73 per roll. Also, the developer does not expire after a few months since opened, unlike those two I mentioned above. Its color just darkens from light yellow to dark red/brown. One other similar developer I can think of with this “unlimited” shelf life is Rodinal. Yet, I haven’t tried it.
However, I do change the dilution, albeit infrequently. I try to aim the development time between 5 minutes to 11 minutes. If it’s less than 5 minutes, it is too quick and may lead to uneven development, and if it is over 11 minutes, stirring every minute becomes a chore. That means, I adjust the dilution based on the speed I shoot and corresponding development time instead of achieving a certain look. So far, I am happy about the results in most cases.
That said, in some cases I found the outcome less favorable. For instance, I found T-MAX 100 with HC-100 yield a grainier negative comparing to with DD-X; default timing of developing Ilford FP4+ 125 in HC-110 yield a high contrast negative.
Using HC-110 means there are something else also needs attention. The concentrate liquid is very dense and sticky. Each time I only use around 16-32 mL of liquid. That means the measurement could be difficult if the equipment was meant for larger quantity of liquid. Thus, a special measure or syringe is recommended. Also, flushing the measure while making the solution is also required as it sticks to the side.
I still need to be more adventurous though. I am interested in developing B&W slide film but still haven’t got a plan for it yet.
In this chapter, I mainly discussed the developers I used in B&W development. A touch of film choice is also mentioned. Next time, maybe I’ll talk about some other aspects in this very big topic.