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Need more confidence when returning to developing

I have done B&W film developing in the past and I'm considering maybe doing some again in the future. Though this time around, it would be 4 x 5 inch sheet film rather than 35mm. I like the simplicity of dealing with sheet film during processing rather than rolls of film. However, I don't have the greatest confidence in my film developing skills. I often have the feeling that I'll stuff it up somehow. That's why I like it when labs process my films as they will nearly always do a good job.

When I developed films in the past, it seemed to be down to luck as to whether my films would turn out well. I had a few issues now and then. One of them being water marks appearing on the negatives when they;re drying. And another time, I developed some Ilford FP4 125 asa film and it turned out super grainy. Even a 4 x 6 inch print from that film was extremely grainy. More grainy than a 1600 asa film. A shame because I was shooting aircraft and one of the featured airlines doesn't exist anymore - Ansett. There was also an occasion when I had some negs hanging up to dry longer than usual and they collected all this dust which transferred to a print that I made. If I recall correctly, I think I was trying to deal with another issue at the time (possibly water marks) hence the longer than usual hanging time.

Would there be any tips that anyone could give that would hopefully lead me to get more consistent results with film developing?
 

Duff photographer

Active member
Would there be any tips that anyone could give that would hopefully lead me to get more consistent results with film developing?
Without knowing your workflow, the first thing I would do is review the workflow. (Sorry, sounds obvious, I know).

My DIY film developing has been in fits and starts. Each time I get back into it, I have to relearn everything - read the manufacturer's film data sheets, watch the few decent videos on developing, re-read the many books (some available for free online). I often write down the processes in the order they need to be done, and then do a dry run in my head, or even act it out with imaginary chemicals and what-have-you (when no-one is looking). I don't do anything fancy like pushing film or experimenting with different developers outside the recommendations of the film's data sheet, thus eliminating any issues arising from such.

Above all, discipline is definitely needed. Go through those processes in the order they should be. Don't skimp or miss out on the necessaries. Don't use chemicals that are past their use-by date. Don't use chemicals that have been cross-contaminated. Make sure mixing of chemicals is in the correct ratios they should be. Keep to the recommened developing times. Etc. Etc.

As for the issues you have been having such as water marks on the negs. Do you use a product such as Photo-flo? Do you used distilled water (I use the free water from the dehumidifier as a final rinse)? Do you squeegee the film (assuming it's relatively scratch resistant)? ...and so on.

As regards film grain, things that increase grain include under-exposing the image in camera; developing the film for too long, type of developer used, how old the film is (the older, the more you have to over-expose in camera), and probably a few others I can't think of at the moment, but you may know all these things anyway.

If the negs have attracted dust, then it's no problem washing them again.

Not sure if any of the above helped, but if you are having specific issues, then a breakdown of what you did may expose the problem (hah!, I made a pun :cool:).

Cheers,
Duff.
 
Thank you for your reply.

As regards film grain, things that increase grain include under-exposing the image in camera; developing the film for too long, type of developer used, how old the film is (the older, the more you have to over-expose in camera), and probably a few others I can't think of at the moment, but you may know all these things anyway.
If I recall, this particular film was correctly exposed in camera. And yes underexposure can lead to more grain but Ive rarely seen grain this extreme before. An absolutely massive amount of grain viewable in a small print. I believe my developing times were consistent (I simply followed instructions.) I can't remember the type of developer used but it generally gave good results. I was studying Year 12 Photography as an adult re-entry at the time and the developer was supplied to us. We probably used the same type of developer for just about the whole year but there was only one occasion when I experienced this extreme grain issue. And the film was brand new as always. I don't suppose temperature could be a factor? I can't remember if I paid too much attention to temperature.
 

Godfrey

Well-known member
In processing B&W film, everything hinges on consistency. Consistent exposure, consistent dilution of developer, consistent temperature across all of the development process (developer, stop rinse, fixer, wash, and final rinse), and consistent agitation throughout the development process. To achieve this you need a proper set of graduated cylinders to prepare the developer and fixer, an accurate thermometer, and an accurate timer. And the discipline when using them to do it the same way all the time.

I make it very very simple. What I've found over the many years of my processing B&W is that I like a certain amount of grain ... I'm not going for the absolute grainless perfection or the greatest acutance that some are seeking. I'm also processing film to be scanned, not to be printed in a wet lab, so I'm looking for a modest contrast without blocked highlights and full shadow details. So ... I process all film the same way and adjust the ASA a little bit to accommodate differences in the different films. I haven't looked at a data sheet in years.

For all films, I use a dilute concentration of HC-110 (1:49 from the concentrate). I fill a big jug with water the day before and leave it in the kitchen on the counter to stabilize in temperature to room temp (about 74°F here). I mix the developer and fixer concentrates to spec just before processing. I don't use a stop bath, only a water rinse between developer and fix, from the same water. I pour in the developer and agitate gently for 15 seconds, then I agitate gently for 5 seconds every minute, and develop for 8 minutes that way. I pour out the developer and pour in the stop-rinse, agitate for ten seconds, pour it out after a minute. Pour in the developer and agitate the same way for 8 minutes. Pour that out and then pour in the wash water (again from the same source), doing that six times each time agitating the same way and pouring out after two minutes. The final rinse is with Kodak PhotoFlo 200 mixed at 1:200 dilution. Film is then pulled from the tank and hung to dry in the shower.

To my eye and for my scanning process, the results are near perfect every time.

I hope that helps you a little. Good luck! :)

G
 

Shashin

Well-known member
And yes underexposure can lead to more grain but Ive rarely seen grain this extreme before.
Overexposure and overdevelopment will lead to more grain as well. Overdevelopment can be caused by high temperature or over agitation. Overexposure can be a result in metering (did you camera meter actually correctly meter the scene?) or errors/varience in shutter speed (a mechanical shutter can be off by more than one stop). One indication of inconsistency in metering is if your images across a roll of film show under- and overexposure.

Try with some test shots. As others have said, watch the entire process. If you don't have a handheld meter, consider one. A Gossen SBC is excellent.
 
Overexposure and overdevelopment will lead to more grain as well.
Though negative film is very tolerant of overexposure. There are some that say that some overexposure can reduce grain. And there are some that say that excessive overexposure can increase grain.

Overdevelopment can be caused by high temperature or over agitation.
Interesting. You reckon I should add some ice to lower the temperature?

Overexposure can be a result in metering (did you camera meter actually correctly meter the scene?) or errors/varience in shutter speed (a mechanical shutter can be off by more than one stop). One indication of inconsistency in metering is if your images across a roll of film show under- and overexposure.
Yep, I metered the scene correctly. A mechanical shutter can indeed be off but it's mainly slow shutter speeds that are affected - being somewhat slower than usual. Regardless, I was using fast shutter speeds with an electronically controlled shutter.

Try with some test shots. As others have said, watch the entire process. If you don't have a handheld meter, consider one. A Gossen SBC is excellent.
The camera I was using was a Canon AE-1 and I found the internal meter gave reasonable results. Test shots? Lol. Ive probably put over 100 rolls of slide film through that camera over a 15 year period and the majority of exposures were fine.

Regardless, the amount of grain from that particular film I mentioned is way too excessive to be a camera exposure problem. It's likely something to do with the developing process.
 
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MartinN

Active member
Fresh chemicals is a must, and the longest shelf life developers (unmixed stock) are Kodak HC-110 and Rodinal. I use those almost always. Mixed fixer should be good for max 3 months and with those developers mentioned I would not bother to re-use the mixed solution.
 

Godfrey

Well-known member
I only re-use mixed, dilute developer when I am doing a few rolls within a couple of days at most. Most of the time, I consider it one-shot use only ... since I always use a pretty dilute developer, it's not a huge waste of developer Concentrate. 5ml of HC-110 concentrate nets 250ml of my usual dilution, and I can process five to six rolls of film in that before it begins to be noticeably degraded from exhaustion.

G
 

MartinN

Active member
I only re-use mixed, dilute developer when I am doing a few rolls within a couple of days at most. Most of the time, I consider it one-shot use only ... since I always use a pretty dilute developer, it's not a huge waste of developer Concentrate. 5ml of HC-110 concentrate nets 250ml of my usual dilution, and I can process five to six rolls of film in that before it begins to be noticeably degraded from exhaustion.

G
Yes, you are right. HC-110 is strong and can do a few films. Rodinal is not recommended to be used for more than once. Both these developers can be diluted a lot. For HC-110 I use 1:50 - 1:80. Real Rodinal formula is worth seeking if going with it.
 

Shashin

Well-known member
Though negative film is very tolerant of overexposure. There are some that say that some overexposure can reduce grain. And there are some that say that excessive overexposure can increase grain.
Excessive density causes more apparent grain, whether than is from overexposure or overdevelopment. That is independent of the question of exposure latitude. Nor does the effect change with public opinion.


Good luck with your 4x5 project.
 
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Interesting article. With my problematic film, it looked like regular grain but it was more extreme than the images in that article. It was a 125asa film though I guess it ended up looking more like a 3200 or 6400asa film (or higher.) Though I'm only going on memory of seeing the 4 x 6 inch print from years ago. Back then in 1997, I did a whole year of B & W processing during my studies and only had that extreme grain issue once. The teacher was responsible for replacing and purchasing chemicals in that darkroom.
 
Excessive density causes more apparent grain, whether than is from overexposure or overdevelopment. That is independent of the question of exposure latitude. Nor does the effect change with public opinion.
Very true! On cinematography forums, there is some discussion of the benefits of overexposing negative movie film - reduced grain etc. I know that many cinematographers deliberately overexpose neg film by about half a stop or two thirds of a stop and possibly a bit more. And obviously, negative stills film (for photographs) would behave in the same way regarding overexposure. Not long ago, I was reading a discussion on another photography forum where someone was saying that it was beneficial to overexpose negative film. Another person replied directly to that individual, stating that negative film is merely tolerant of overexposure - inferring that there is no real benefit from overexposing it. And yes, as you say, public opinion doesn't change facts. Though that posting is quite different to the kinds of discussions I read on the cinematography forums about overexposure.
 

Godfrey

Well-known member
There is a difference between color negative and most B&W film (anything other than film like XP2 Super) ... most B&W films are silver halide crystals which form actual silver particles in the emulsion when processed. Depending on how the film is exposed and processed, these silver particles clump up. Color negative film (and XP2 Super) uses a similar chemical mechanism, but the normal processing for these films essentially leaches the silver out of the emulsion after the silver grains are produced and replaces them with dye blobs. That's why a certain amount of overexposure with color neg (and XP2 Super processed in its native C41 chemistry) can create a smoother, less grainy rendering with perceptually higher acutance ... a bit of silver clumping nets more dye-blobs being migrated to a small space, flowing them together and blurring the grain edges, and/or reinforcing edge boundaries. The result is that traditional, standard process B&W films look much different when overexposed than color neg and XP2 Super.

You can see the difference easily using XP2 as a test medium. Load two cameras with XP2 Super and expose them both at ISO 100, a 2-stop overexposure. Then send one off for C41 processing and process the other in a fine-grain developer like dilute HC-110 (extending the development time 20-30% to accommodate the underexposure). The C41 process negatives will be dense and will have a very smooth, silky texture that is nearly grainless; little will be blocked up. The HC-110 process film will be quite coarse and grainy in its rendering qualities.. the most recent photo I posted to Flickr.com is an example of this.


Ginko Leaves - Santa Clara 2021
Kodak Retina IIc
Ilford XP2 Super in HC-110 1:61

I like the effect of this more than the utterly grainless look, but it's not the right look for all photos. :)

G
 

anyone

Well-known member
The most obvious point is temperature. Try to follow the spec sheet: you can use a bucket and a thermometer to get the water to the correct temperature (e.g. 20 degrees). Use this water for dilluting your chemicals to the right ratio and also for rinsing.
 
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