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Developing Black & White Film

Film processing equipment: (l-r) graduated cylinder, stop bath, developing tank, fixer, and a funnel.

Film processing equipment: (l-r) graduated cylinder, stop bath, developing tank, fixer, and a funnel.


by Bryan Bedell, Galewood Camera Club

In this age of digital photography, film photography is still fun and rewarding. As a high school student, decades ago, i did a little darkroom work, so after years of digital photography, I decided to pick up a film camera and try developing my own black and white film again. I don’t think people realize how easy it is, and how little equipment is needed. I’m not that smart; if I can do it, so can you!

To be clear, I’m talking about processing (developing, not printing) black and white (35mm or 120) film. Processing color film is relatively difficult and requires more equipment, chemicals, and precision. Making prints from black and white OR color film requires a darkroom with running water and a lot more equipment. But processing black and white film is cheap and easy, and you can scan the negatives with a decent flatbed for good results and make quality prints on a desktop printer and/or share your photos online.

A lot of online tutorials make it sound sort of scary, but it’s not. If you’re off a few (or 30) seconds or your water’s a couple degrees off temperature, you’re NOT going to ruin your film. The more accurate you are, the easier it’ll be to reproduce your results and fine-tune your negatives, but you can make some pretty boneheaded mistakes and still get decent results, even if your attention to detail makes darkroom perfectionists cringe. Consistency is important, but it comes naturally with experience, and in the meantime, you’ll be just fine. I’ve made some serious mistakes in exposure, measurements, and timing and still ended up with perfectly useable negatives.

This tutorial is divided into a few sections:

  1. Choosing Film
    Finding and choosing the right format, speed, and style of film.
  2. Equipment
    This is the equipment you’ll want on hand to develop black and white film. It’ll cost about $100, and is generally a one-time expense.
  3. Chemicals
    Several chemicals are needed to develop black and white film. Here is a list of what’s needed, and some recommendations. These are considered ‘expendable,’ even though many are inexpensive and reusable, you’ll eventually need more.
  4. Loading the Tank
    How to load 35mm or 120 roll film into a developing canister.
  5. Processing the film
    Step-by-step instructions to develop your film.
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