Black and white film development for lazy people

Posted on by Bellamy


Black and white film development for lazy people by Colin Barey
colin Barey has been kind enough to share with us his technique for stand developing black and white film. I had actually been hoping for something like this as I recently found a place in Japan that sells R09 One shot. Yippee!

Black-and-White Film Development for Lazy People:
Part 1: Rodinal stand development

It’s been said repeatedly that developing black-and-white film yourself at home is much easier and cheaper than might be expected. Most shooters seem to settle on one film and one developer and hone their skill in using them to razor sharpness. I’m not blessed with that degree of discipline and focus, so I’ve ended up shooting nearly everything and developing it in nearly everything. In the course of these kitchen chemistry experiments, I’ve come across some techniques and materials that are a little less conventional than standard D-76 processing.

Sometimes you just can’t be bothered to stand there and watch an egg timer and agitate your film 10 or 15 times. No matter: if you’re willing to accept some compromises in terms of the materials you can use and how you use them, you can still achieve great results in Rodinal.

Rodinal stand development: light fuse and get away

Patented in 1891, Rodinal is one of the oldest film developers in the world. Formerly manufactured by now-defunct Agfa, it’s still produced by Agfa’s remnant company in Europe, Adox, under the name R09. Despite its impressive age this developer still has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s a liquid, so you don’t have to mix a minimum of a liter of it like you do with powdered developers. You only mix what you need. It’s a one-shot developer so you can’t reuse it, but it’s so concentrated and cheap that this is meaningless. Another of Rodinal’s charms is that its keeping properties are excellent. I’ve developed film with Rodinal from half-used bottles after they’ve been sitting on my shelf for nearly a year, and it still works. Finally, unlike HC-110, its dilutions make rational sense: 1+25, 1+50, and 1+100 are the most common. These are ratios you can do in your head, unlike Kodak’s tortured, mad hatter concoctions in defiance of all logic. The dilution I’ll be talking about is 1+100. In essence, you mix your Rodinal to this absurdly dilute concentration, put it in the development tank with your film, and leave for an hour. It doesn’t matter what films you develop, within the limits mentioned below. You can put ISO 400 film in the tank with ISO 50 film, and both will take 60 minutes to develop.

What kind of results can you expect? The first thing you’ll notice is that the perceived sharpness of your images will be enhanced due to an adjacency effect where higher density areas border lower density areas of the negative: unused developer from low density areas diffuses over into the edge of high density areas, increasing their density further and resulting in a sort of halo effect:

Note the subtle lightening near the edge of the back of his jacket; this makes him look sharper and pops him out where he might otherwise have blended into the asphalt road.

In this one, I’ve pushed Tri-X to ISO 3200 and stand developed it in Rodinal for a full 2 hours. The haloing is much more pronounced. It wouldn’t work on every shot, but it works here in my opinion.

As you can see, the effect can either be very subtle or distractingly extreme, depending on the speed of the film used and the contrast of the scene among other factors. Faster films show pronounced haloing in very high contrast scenes, and hence I don’t recommend using Rodinal stand development on films with box speeds over ISO 200 if you’re shooting people in black suits against white concrete in mid-summer sun, for example. Another unique feature of Rodinal is that at these low concentrations, it’s not a solvent developer, meaning that it doesn’t alter the grain structure of the film during development, unlike D-76 or XTOL, for example. This means that films which are designed with specific solvent developers in mind (often called “t-grain” films, such as Kodak T-Max or Fuji Neopan, because of the shape of their silver halide crystals ) will look very different after stand development, and probably much grainier than you might expect. For this reason, I’ve found that it’s best to stick to “traditional” cubic grain emulsions like Kentmere 100, Fomapan 100 and 400, FP4+, SFX 200, HP5+ and Tri-X, unless a grainier effect is acceptable to you. If you shoot slow films at box speeds, this is the right process for you. If you’re constantly pushing T-Max 400 to 1600, it’s not.

Stand development is deceptively simple. However, it’s best not to think of it as simply entrusting your hard-won images to the vicissitudes of fate. The more control you can exert over the process, the better your results will be. There are a few caveats that I had to learn myself the hard way that will help you achieve a more reliable outcome:

1) Control the temperature. If the developer temperature isn’t stable for the whole 60 minutes, you will notice a pronounced and unattractive density gradient in the film. To prevent this, I make a 20C bath in a Styrofoam cooler with a water level just a little below that of the developer in the tank and immerse the tank in it during development. Even after as much as an hour, the temperature of this bath doesn’t drift more than a degree up or down regardless of the ambient temperature, as long as you keep the lid of the cooler closed. Pre-soak the film for 3-5 minutes to get the temperature of your tank and film to 20C, and remember that in hot weather, the tank and film are going to be much hotter than 20C, so you’re going to need to use water a few degrees under 20C. When it’s over 25C in my apartment, I pre-wash the film with water that’s at about 18C, because as soon as the water hits the tank and film, the temperature is going to rise by a couple of degrees at least; this is necessary when developing film in any developer in hot weather (with the exception of the one I describe in part 2). Put the tank in the bath and mix your Rodinal while you wait for the temperature to stabilize.

2) Use enough. Agfa’s factory recommendation for stand development was that no less than 10 ml be used for each roll of film regardless of the concentration. This means that one roll of 35mm or 120 film would need a minimum of 1 liter of solution(!); in practice I’ve found that 5 ml per roll is just fine. Any less than this and the developer may exhaust before the film is completely developed.

3) Agitate a lot early, then not at all. I agitate for a full minute at the beginning, then bang the heck out of the tank to ensure that any bubbles dislodge, then put the tank in the bath and go away. Any further agitation will disturb the halo effect described above. There is a lot of stuff on the internet about people inverting the tank once or twice during the hour, but I found that this was largely done in an effort to mitigate the density gradient which can be better tamed with proper temperature control. If your temperature is stable, you shouldn’t need to do this, and your results will be more interesting if you don’t.

Rodinal stand development is a process that everyone ends up doing a little differently. Give it a try and you’re bound to create your own special methodology. It takes a while to nail it, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and it gives your negatives a unique look that cannot be achieved in any other way. And hey, what other process allows you the time to eat dinner while it’s going on?

Colin Barey is a Tokyo based photographer with a passion for street photography.
You can see more of his work here:
Flickr
500px

Thanks for this Colin, I shall be giving it a try.
JCH

27 Responses to Black and white film development for lazy people

Jason October 9, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I live in a very hot and humid climate. I would like more information on how you maintain the water bath. How do you maintain the temperature of the bath? Using ice makes it too cold. I also tried ice packs. I can’t maintain a water bath temperature to try stand development.

Heck, I have concerns about the temperature drifting when using my normal development process.

Reply
    Colin Barey October 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Tokyo in the summer is about as hot as it gets. As I mentioned in the article, use a styrofoam cooler. Balance out the temperature in the styrofoam cooler using ice as needed and a good thermometer. Once you get the temperature to 20C, it will stay stable in the cooler with the lid on for at least an hour. The cooler I use is a larger one, so the water bath is quite large. This may lend additional stability to the temperature.

    Reply
      Jason October 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Thanks for the reply. I think my problem is that the water bath is too small. I will attempt and use a much larger cooler and bath. Thanks.

      Reply
zachukisson October 9, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Great article! Just wondering, is that the whole process? Or is a fixer still required?
Thanks :)

Reply
    Colin Barey October 10, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Sorry; after the developer step, proceed as normal. I sometimes don’t use an acid stop after stand development because the developer is so dilute and largely exhausted after an hour that water alone should suffice.

    Reply
David R. October 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Hi, there is always lots of contradictory statements regarding the lifespan of the R09, versus the original Rodinal recipe.
Does the R09 turn brown when old, and do you only need to mix it for a few minutes to have it back to its original color and chemical strength?
Can I keep a bottle of R09 forever?

Reply
    Colin Barey October 10, 2013 at 11:36 am

    It seems to last effectively forever. It would be best to transfer it to smaller bottles as you use it, because I seem to end up throwing some away in the summer when it gets hot, evaporates into the overlarge space inside a mostly used bottle, dries and crystallizes. That said, I’ve used the dregs in these bottles with the same results that I’ve gotten with fresh stuff. I wouldn’t recommend it, but there you have it.

    Reply
Lou October 9, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Great post, thanks to Colin for this. I always though I should give it a try, with these instructions this is much clearer.

Next up : black and white development for lazy and hurried people ?

Reply
    Colin Barey October 10, 2013 at 11:38 am

    That would be Diafine. It’s a much shorter article I think; not even sure it is an article. Up to Bellamy ;)

    Reply
      stanis riccadonna zolczynski October 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      Diafine not only for lazy and hurried. My shooting the streets in dark scandinavian winter calls often for ISO 1600 . Diafine pushes TRI-X trouble free up there Times are not relevant, everything over 5 min goes and you cannot blow highlights and temperature can vary 5-6 degree. I set ISO at 1200 but even if you overexpose you still get the results.

      Reply
Terry Thomas Photos / Atlanta, Georgia USA October 11, 2013 at 3:43 am

I really do not like the “adjacency effect”. To me it is a sign of either inexperience or being lazy. I do not find it attractive at all.

To eliminate it would not one simply have to gently agitate the film once in a while? How hard can that possibly be?

BTW, I lived in the Tokyo metropolitan area for several years in the late ’60s so know how hot and humid it gets. But, the humidity in Tachikawa was nothing compared to another small area of Tokyo: Iwo Jima where I spent a couple days as a photojournalist.

Currently I am using HC-110 dilution “H” (half of “B”) with 4×5 films such as Shanghai 100 and Arista.EDU 100.

Thank you for an interesting article.

Terry Thomas…
the photographer
Atlanta, Georgia USA

Reply
BadBatz October 11, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Rodinal is (was) AGFA trademark. After World War II AGFA remained in West Germany (in Leverkusen) and later become Agfa-Gevaert, etc., whereas a factory in East Germany (ORWO) was producing the pre-World War II recipe of Rodinal as ORWO R09. There was a controversy whether the Rodinal and R09 were indeed the same products but, although AGFA could have been making minor improvements to Rodinal, both products were based on the same original idea and recipe and worked just as well (or bad, depending on the camp you were in…)

Both products turn brown undiluted, which does not affect the properties of the developer (I still have an unopened bottle of AGFA Rodinal from mid 1990s and an opened one from the early 2000s which works fine.)
Both products need to be used immediately after diluting.
There are more myths about Rodinal than about all other developers combined but that’s a big part of the fun! Just search the net and don’t reject even the looniest ideas, such as developing in highly diluted Rodinal for a day or two…

Reply
Michael Ward January 3, 2014 at 10:13 am

A great article about one of the constants in my life…
Rodinal is a bullet proof developer I’ve been using it for over fifty years. Some of the modern devs can offer different looks I like some of the Illford one shot developers (LC29?) and some of the results with two bath Diafine are stunning but the process is more involved. But by and large Rodinal is also quite flexible depending on the variables time, temp, concentration and agitation Here’s my take on stand development with Rodinal (http://perceptivelight.com.au/?s=Stand+development)
I have found its best to stick with one developer and trial different film emulsions. Try the suggested dev procedure for any film first then stand development and compare.
I don’t think I want to have a darkroom again per se, then have to enlarge and print, as much as I love wet prints, because scanners and ink jets are just so accessible…

Reply
Graham Martin February 5, 2014 at 8:54 am

Nice article! I’m considering getting into home-dev because here in Brazil film is itself already expensive, never mind having it processed elsewhere. I own an Epson V700 so I think it’s worth my time to get into developing at home and then only have to spend on film, which I can have posted from Ireland now and then if my family obliges.

My question is, have you ever tried home-made mix like ‘caffenol’? And if so, or if you are aware, how does it compare?
It seems like a great, clean, cheap and mess-free alternative, but I keep wondering why more would not take this option unless of course the quality of the end result is not as good. Any ideas?

Thanks!

Reply
    Colin Barey February 13, 2014 at 9:14 am

    I haven’t tried caffenol or any of the other homebrew options. There are so many commercially available chems still at very low prices, so I just haven’t seen the point. As you say, film is expensive, and I just haven’t been able to entrust my hard-won images to a pot of coffee or whatever yet. I may experiment with it in the future just to see what happens.

    Reply
    Marcelo August 8, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Hi Colin. Nice article, I’m gonna try everything u said. I have friends in Europe that delivery chemistry to me. As graham said, here in brazil is not that simple to get hands in the things u need for a reasonable price. But my thing is temperature. In rio is over 30c 10 months of the year, and tap water is 28c.
    JCH, if you could get me in contact with Graham Martin so we can discuss our mutual problems it wold be very helpful. Send my email to him if it’s possible. Thanks marcelo

    Reply
Jose Morales March 18, 2014 at 3:11 am

Excellent article, Colin. I can’t wait to start developing my film at home. I do have a few questions, though. I head that stand developing Tri-x often leads to it being very grainy. Does this always happen or is it just dependent on the process? Also, after the rodinal and the water for the stop bath, how much fixer do you use? Thanks so much for this article. Keep film alive.

Reply
    Colin July 28, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    The graininess is a matter of taste. Rodinal is not a solvent developer, so it leaves the grain as it is; it doesn’t smooth anything out. I personally think Tri-X looks great in Rodinal; very regular grain, not unattractive. Your opinion may differ. As far as fixer goes, the normal amount. You probably don’t need to use an acid stop given how dilute the development chemical is though.

    Reply
Victor Bezrukov July 28, 2014 at 1:08 pm

we have only Rodinal fix in our film store in Telaviv and not always it exist there.
i tried this technics with d-76 and not sure if i was too accurate with temperature also agitated the tank a few times as was said in explain that i read. i got very strong dirty line on the bottom side.
thank you for this explain – i hope to try it again when i’ll find this dev.
Victor

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

© Copyright 2014 Japan Camera Hunter, all rights reserved. Template by HK. Design updated and maintained by Ashkas Design