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How To Develop Your own Film at Home

Developing your own film at home can be a rewarding and satisfying experience, as well as a way to save money and have more control over your creative process. In this guide, we will explain the basics of black and white film development, such as the equipment, chemicals, and steps involved.

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What You'll Need to begin developing your Own film

  • A film camera that uses 35mm or 120 film.

    • You can use any type of film camera, such as SLR, rangefinder, medium format, etc. You can also use disposable cameras or instant cameras that use film cartridges.

  • A darkroom or a changing bag.

    • A darkroom is a light-tight room where you can load and unload your film without exposing it to light.

    • A changing bag is a portable alternative that allows you to do the same thing inside a light-proof bag.

  • A developing tank and reels.

    • A developing tank is a light-proof container that holds your film and chemicals during the development process.

    • Reels are spools that you wind your film onto before placing them inside the tank. 

  • A thermometer and a timer.

    • A thermometer is used to measure the temperature of your chemicals, which affects the development time and quality.

    • A timer is used to keep track of the development time for each step.

  • A measuring cup and a funnel.

    • A measuring cup is used to measure the amount of chemicals you need for each step.

    • A funnel is used to pour the chemicals back into the bottle without spilling them.

  • A bottle opener and scissors.

    • A bottle opener is used to open the metal canister that holds your 35mm film.

    • Scissors are used to cut the film leader and tail before loading it onto the reel.

  • Chemicals for developing your filmThe basic chemicals you need for developing black and white film are:

    • Developer: converts the latent image on your film into a visible image;

    • Stop bath, which stops the development process by neutralizing the developer. This can also just be a running water bath;

    • Fixer, which makes the image permanent by removing the unexposed silver halides from your film; and

    • Rinse agent, which removes any residual chemicals from your film and prevents water spots from forming.

  • Black Accordion​ bottles to store the stop bath and fixer solutions.

    • These are reusable many times.

    • Stop bath can be used for up to a year.

    • Fixer​ can typically be used for up to 20 rolls of film (36 exposure 35mm film) or for around 6 months in an airtight bottle with the air removed.

A Minolta film SLR camera
A set of film developing reels loaded with 35mm film, in a dark room with a red safelight.
A spirit thermometer
A pair of standard scissors
Chemicals being mixed up.

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Before Developing Your Film

  1. Mix up your developer according to the required dilution to make your working solution. You'll need to determine this for each film you want to develop, but some common working solutions are D76 stock, D76 1+1, HC-110 dilution B and 510-Pyro 1:100.

  2. Mix up your stop bath and fixer according to their instructions. You'll be able to reuse these solutions many times, so make sure you have some airtight, accordion style bottles to store the solutions in once used.

  3. Lay out all your equipment - reels, tank, cap, bottle opener, scissors and film, so you know where it is in the dark. The last thing you want is to have the cap off the film canister and not be able to find your reel or tank!

Develop Your Film - Step by Step

  1. Load your film onto the reel and place it inside the tank in complete darkness (either in a darkroom or a changing bag).

  2. Pour the developer into the tank and agitate it according to the instructions for your film type and developer brand (usually every 30 seconds or so).

  3. Pour out the developer after the specified time (usually between 5 to 15 minutes depending on your film type and developer brand).

  4. Pour in the stop bath and agitate it for about 30 seconds.

  5. Pour out the stop bath into one of your accordion bottles after about 1 minute. Clearly label the bottle, remove the air and seal.

  6. Pour in the fixer and agitate it according to the instructions for fixer brand (usually every 30 seconds or so).

  7. Pour out the fixer into the other of your accordion bottles after the specified time (usually between 3 and 6 minutes depending on fixer brand). Clearly label the bottle, remove the air and seal.

  8. Fill the tank with water. Invert five times. Empty. Repeat, but invert ten times. Empty. Repeat, but invert twenty times.

  9. Open the tank. Fill the tank with water (preferably distilled water). Add two to three drops of rinse agent, swirl the reels then remove from the tank.

  10. Shake the reels to remove excess water and rinse agent, then remove the film from the reel. Squeegee the excess water off, and hang it to dry in a dust-free area.

The exact times, temperatures, and amounts of chemicals you need for each step may vary depending on your film type, developer brand, and personal preference. You can find the recommended values for your specific combination on the internet, such as the Massive Dev Chart, or on the packaging of your film and chemicals.

The Result

After developing your own film at home, you will get a strip of negatives (or positives for slide film) that you can scan and edit on your computer, or print in a darkroom. You will also get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from creating something with your own hands. Developing your own film at home can be a fun and rewarding hobby that allows you to express your artistic vision and experiment with different techniques and effects.

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