FAQ—Film & film developers.

How to develop film successfully

I'm often asked by many people "...what black & white film and film developer should I use?"

Well the answer is, it does not matter, and it depends! All film/developer combinations produce many different results, most will work provided the film receives enough light ot begin with and isn't TOO over developed. A series of carefully controlled experiments can give you the results you want, or help you to decide what you want or can expect.

As a beginning point use the manufacturers recommendation for developer for any chosen film, but over expose the film by setting the ISO to a half or two thirds stop to compensate for any exposure problems. [In fact I always overexpose any film I am unfamiliar with.]

As a starting point, development time can be the manufacturers recommended. This can be altered in any direction if problems develop [pun intended]. Just remember that increases in development time increase contrast and decreases in development time lower contrast.

Once you feel comfortable with the manufacturers recommendations it's then time to move on to some other combination of developer with your chosen film. When you choose a new developer try and work out what kind of developer it is? The manufacturers times can be an indicator. If the times are short say under ten minutes or so then it is a high energy developer, if they are longer than 12 or 15 minutes then it is more likely a low activity developer. [This can also be acheived by changing dilutions a lower dilution means longer times and thus a less active developer and the reverse for high dilutions]

High activity developers then can be used for things like push processing, or increasing grain and contrast and increasing the contrast of any scene, low activity developers are better for lowering contrast in any given scene and suppressing grain characteristics.

Well this still hasn't answered your original question, has it? So what I'm really trying to say is that your choice of film and developer will be based on the results you want or need. This can only be determined by careful testing of your materials. However starting with manufacturers recommendations is a good place to start.

Having said all that I do have some things to say about a couple of film/film developer combos I have used/continue to use.

My recommendation for introducing students particularly for those in classes at the junior level and middle level, is Ilford film [any one] with it's corresponding developer, and following Ilford's™ times and temperatures. Anecdotally this combination produces very 'forgiving' results, ie, it is capable of recording reasonable results even if the students make mistakes with exposure and development. The trade off is that grain will behave the way one would expect it too, unlike more contemporary films like the Kodak T-Max family of films.

My recommendation for introducing more senior students to a good film film developer combination is T-Max 400™ used with Kodak's™ Microdol X™, in their standard dilution times of 24 degrees C @ 16 mins. This if used carefully produces negs of a smooth tonal scale with fine grain. Of course the key here is CAREFUL use, this means that the student has enough sense to pay attention to details such as time temperature and dilution, all key factors in the production of a good quality negative.

Once students are comfortable with this combination and understand how all factors affect film development then they could start to experiment with any other developer they might like to play with.

Further references, for B&W Film & Developers?

Steve Anchell's great books . The darkroom cookbook, and The Film developer cookbook

Henry Horenstein's books, 'Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual'. and Beyond Black and White photography.

Now you can start with this website, the digitaltruth.com, and get a good feel really quickly, on what times, temperatures and dilutions will get you acceptavle results.