When the photography bug bit me, I started in the digital realm. I acquired a Nikon D80 DSLR and I also had a Kodak Easy Share digital point and shoot. I never began to think about film until I learned about toy cameras and lomography. I quickly bought a Holga 120CFN medium format film camera and a Mamiya C220 medium format film camera as well. I was learning how fun shooting with film was, but I was still hesitant because of the cost.
I first tried to find the cheapest places to buy and develop my film. But now, I have started to realize that I am a bit of a control freak. I scribble all sorts of special instructions on my send out development forms. SEND OUT ONLY – NO PRINTS – DEVELOP ONLY – DO NOT CUT NEGATIVES. All sorts of things. And then I found myself irritated if one of my requests were ignored. Scouring the internet, all the forums I found discussing film all had a similar answer to my control issues: develop your own film at home!
This has been a daunting task in my mind. I used to work for a local police department and a part of my job was to develop black and white prints in their in-house dark room. I didn’t mind that job and I didn’t find anything about that daunting. Why was developing film at home so scary to me? I soon realized what was so intimidating was the fact that there are A LOT of options for developing your own film.
First I needed to decide what type of film to develop. Everything I read pointed to black and white film as being the simplest to do yourself. Ok, that was an easy choice. Black and white film is relatively cheap and abundant, plus I like the format. So I went on Adorama’s eBay store and bought 10 rolls of Ilford HP5+ 400 35 mm film.
Next, I needed to gather my home developing supplies. Since I was shooting in both 35 mm and medium formats, I needed a developer tank and reel that could handle both. I settled on the Paterson Universal developing tank that came with an adjustable reel for either 35 mm or 120 film. Now I needed to gather my chemicals.
This is where it became extremely confusing for me.
There are SO MANY choices for your developing chemicals. I even briefly read a post on Flickr’s I Shoot Film forum about developing film with urine. So the choices are far reaching. The most popular chemicals that many people mention on the interwebs over and over again are made by Ilford, Agfa, Foma, or Kodak (and I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface here). I chose the Kodak chemicals since there is a lot of free information on the web about using their HC-110 developer. As a bonus, it was relatively cheap to buy. So I settled on Kodak HC-110 developer, Kodak Fixer, and Kodak Stop Bath — all I bought from Freestyle Photographic Supplies.
After I made that decision, and finally gathering all the other supplies I needed (measuring cups, graduated cylinders, etc.), I was ready to try out developing my first roll of black and white film. I had a finished roll of Ilford HP5+ 400 35 mm film sitting around that I had been waiting to gather the courage to develop myself. So I finally swallowed my hesitancy and got to mixing my chemicals and preparing the developing tank. One thing that made me very confused about the mixing process was how all the instructions were using ratios of concentrate to water for creating your solutions. I have a degree in Physics, but simple math like this ALWAYS holds me up.
With some help from my fantastic numbers-crunching wife, I eventually figured out the solution ratios I needed to make with my chemicals. Following the very good development guides at both Square Frog and the Massive Dev Chart, I was able to develop my first roll of black and white film with no major problems. I look forward to shooting more and more film because the developing process is very fun and rewarding.