Developing BW at Home...Beyond the Basics

Black and White Alchemy
By Rick Paul, Saguaro Shadows Photography, LLC

Introduction

Mat and Leslie did an excellent job on FPP Episode 126 explaining some of the most popular choices in film developers, including D-76, X-Tol, HC-110, and Rodinal. My objective here is add to the that conversation by introducing more options in film developers.
No D-76!

Good 'Ol D76! The FPP Folks by Michael Raso - Canon T60 35mm slr camera- Eastman Double-X 5222 BW filmProcessed in Kodak D76.

While not completely true, I will say I rarely use D-76, at least these days. I've been developing my own film since I was 12, and at that time, I did use D-76 (and not to date myself, but my favorite films then were Verichrome, and Panatomic-X !). Why don't I use D-76 today? D-76 is an all-round general-purpose developer that works well with all films. In fact, nearly all B&W films, even modern ones, are designed to ensure that they develop well in D-76. So why don't I use a developer like D-76? Because I don't want General Purpose results!

D-76 also has shortcomings that are addressed in more modern film developer formulas. One additional note on D-76: To achieve better results, most sources agree (including Ansel Adams!), that D-76 produces better results when used in a 1:1 dilution one-shot ratio. Films developed in D-76 at 1:1 or 1:3, show better highlight latitude.
Not only do I not use D-76, I do not use any single developer alone. I have researched and experimented with different film/developer combinations, and I try to use what I feel is the best developer for the film I'm using and the results I wish to achieve.
I also only use 1-shot developers. I believe in using fresh developer with every roll.

above: Photo by Rick Paul / processed in FA-1027

My Go-To Developer - FA 1027
The developer I reach for most of the time is FA-1027 from Photographer's Formulary. FA-1027 comes in liquid form, and is highly concentrated. It generally dilutes to 1:9 or 1:14. The Massive Development Chart has development times for nearly all popular, modern films. FA-1027 produces an optimal negative with all Black and Films, including traditional grain films (Tri-X, HP5, etc.) or T-Grain Films (Ilford Delta, Fuji Neopan, or Kodak TMAX). FA-1027 produces a very fine grain, sharp negative.

For those technical folks, FA-1027 FA-1027 uses a balance between Phenidone and the developing agent Hydroquinone. In additional it contains 2 restrainers, Potassium Bromide and Benzatriazole.
This is an easy to use one-shot developer that will always yield pleasing results will almost any B&W film. I use FA-1027 with Tri-X and HP5, and I feel comfortable using it with Delta 100 and Delta 400.

above: Photo by Rick Paul / processed in Ultrafin Plus

The Ultimate Film/Developer Combination
When I shoot with Fuji Neopan Acros 100, I only reach for one developer: Tetenal UltraFin Plus! UltraFin Plus was recently replaced by a new and improved formula, now called Ultrafin T-Plus.
The Tetenal company is well known for producing very high quality processing chemicals. UltraFin Plus, a liquid developer, was created to produce a superior developer to take full advantage of the grain and sharpness of T-grain films.

UltraFin Plus is ideal for T-Grain films, but can be used with all B&W films. It provides very fine grain with great tonal range.
I never develop my Acros 100 in anything else!

Visit filmed.org to see many fine examples of UltraFin Plus used with many films. You can purchase Tetenal UltraFin T-Plus Developer at Freestyle Photographic.

Other Developers I use on occasion

Rodinal - I developer to do use on occasion, especially for older, traditional stocks (Plus -X, Pan-X, FP4).

Ilford DD-X/Kodak TMAX - I do sometimes use Ilford's DD-X on the Delta films, and Kodak TMAX Developer on the TMAX films.

above: Photo by Rick Paul / processed in BW2 developer - below: Another Rick Paul image processed in Rodinal.


Other Developers to Try
While some of our choices in film stock may have been reduced, the choices in film developers have not! This is largely due to publicly available film developer formulas, and most of the chemicals required are readily available.

BW-2
BW-2 is a proprietary film developer formula developed by Bill Watson at the Photographer's Formulary. BW-2 is a developer for Kodak T-MAX films. It provides sharp negatives, but the unique thing about BW-2 is to comes in 2 bottles. By altering the balance of the two solutions you can adjust the contrast of the final negative.

Geoffrey Crawley's FX Series

Geoffrey Crawley (1926 – 2010) was a photographic chemistry expert, a journalist, and was the editor in chief of British Journal of Photography for 20 years. He is known in the photographic world as one of the great photographic chemists. His formulas have been available since the early 1960's and are still some of the best formulas available today.

In the early 1960's, Geoffrey Crawley set about to create a series of developers to improve upon D-76 and D-23. This series of formulas were published as the "FX" series. Today, several of the FX formulas are still available for purchase, and the formulas are still available to "brew your own". The Formulas for the FX series are available in "The Film Developing Cookbook" by Stephen Anchell and Bill Troop.

FX-1
High Acutance Film Developer is a metol-based film developer, and contains a small amount of potassium iodide. Developer FX-1 produces high resolution, fine grain negatives, with normal contrast. Contrast can be controlled by adjusting the development time. FX-1 produces among the sharpest negatives for films in the ISO 25-200 range.

FX-2
FX-2 produces negatives with a high degree of sharpness. Grain is less apparent than with D-76. Compared with FX-1, FX-2 produces negatives with finer grain and less acutance.
A general rule is to use FX-1 for maximum sharpness and FX-2 for smother tonal graduations.

FX-15
FX-15, also known as Acutol-S and was a popular developer sold by Paterson. Although no longer sold today, the formula is publicly available, and still used by some film developers. FX-15 is known to offer better image quality than D-76, and one of the most popular in the FX series.

Buetler (Neofin Blue)
Buetler Neofin Blue provides excellent sharpness, medium grain, and low contrast. Neofin Blue is best with slower films (ISO 200 and lower). Lower contrast is achieved by releasing more bromide in the highlights. The extra bromide slows the development time in the highlights relative to the shadow areas. The effect is greater detail in the shadows and better overall contrast.

BW-2, FX-1, FX-2 and Neofin Blue are all available from the Photographer's Formulary.

Resources
Want to learn more about developers? The following are my recommend resources. I used all these resources to pull together the information in this article:

  • The Massive Development Chart - While the Massive Development Chart is available on various websites, the easiest way to access the data is thru on an App on iPhones, iPads and Androids.
  • FilmDev.org - The Massive Development Chart does not, and cannot provide development times for every combination of the film developer. But FilmDev.org can! Or comes nearly close! You can search the filmdev.org database for films or developers, and see examples of images produced by those combinations. If you come up with your own combination, it's easiest enough to add to the database and the collective knowledge!
  • "The Film Developing Cookbook" by Stephen Anchell and Bill Troop - This is the ultimate book to understand film developing down at the chemical reaction level.
  • Photographer's Formulary - An online store that provides many unique photographic chemicals not available anywhere else. The also provide the raw chemicals you need to produce your own formulas. The also sell some fantastic paper developers and toners, but that's a topic for another day!
  • Freestyle.com - Freestyle sells nearly every commercial film chemical available today, including some of Photographer Formulary's pre-packaged products.

Rick is a regular contributor to The FPP. You can e-mail hime at shadowsphoto@mac.com - www.saguaroshadowsphoto.com

Comments

pentaxpete's picture
I still have copies of all the articles written by Geoffrey Crawley in the 1960's in the 'British Journal of Photography' -- at the time I was a Scientific Photographer at University College London for the Geology Department and I had distilled water available from the Chemistry Lab opposite my room so I made up most of Crawley's Formulae including making up the very dilute Potassium Iodide for FX1. I did a 20x16" Exhibition print with Kodak Panatomic-X film taken in my PENTAX S3 and processed in FX1 and won some awards ! I still make up my own film and print developers now -- I have used FX15 diluted 1+1 but at the moment I have ID11 ( British version of D76) and use that 1+1. I have also got Rodinal given free.
JoeIannandrea's picture
It's great to see some of these excellent, though less well-known developers getting some proper attention. There's an important clarification I feel should be added with regards to one of my go-to developers, the Beutler formula, and its relationship to Neofin Blue. This is something that is a common source of confusion, and that confusion can lead to real trouble in the darkroom. Originally published in the 1930's, the Beutler formula is a simple high resolution developer that uses metol as the sole developing agent. Neofin Blue is a more complex formula that came out in the 1950's. Though overall it has similar characteristics and was also formulated by Willi Beutler, it is diluted and used in a totally different manner. The source of the confusion, according to Anchell and Troop... "A formula published by Patrick Dignan as “Neofin Blue” is merely Beutler’s old metol formula from the 1930s." The problem today is that Neofin Blue proper is still available from Tetenal, while others, most notably Photographer's Formulary, have followed Dignan's convention of referring to the original Beutler's formula as Neofin Blue. Thus an unsuspecting photographer using the Beutler formula and consulting the Massive Dev chart thinking Neofin Blue is one and the same thing (the listings there are for the very different Tetenal product) could ruin a goodly amount of film before figuring out what was going wrong. To me the best way to avoid the confusion is to end the convention of equating the two. Nothing is gained by referring to the old Beutler formula by another name, and much may be lost.
Anonymous's picture
Hi Rick, thanks for posting your thoughts. I tend to think that it is not very helpful to work with several developers at the same time and actually I think it is not helping to suggest to do that. People get lost in testing and grain comparing rather than focusing on composition and b&w processing of the image. Does it really make such a difference if you developed your favorite shot - e.g. the one best single shot you did in 2014 - in Xtol or D76 when the final print is 10x12"? I don't think so. Unless you have very specific requirements you do not need to have various developers. Rather I would recommend to find two or three films which work fine with your one developer and focus on using it and improving the process. Just my thoughts. Regards Marc
Gordon Cooper's picture

Not every developer is appropriate for every film. Rodinal is excellent for slower and medium speed 120 or large format films, while it certainly brings out the grain with Minox films. As Anchell and Troop say, a developer can be optimized for one film, not for all films. I have used Rodinal for 20 years, and it is simply not the best choice for Aero films like Superpan 200, which require a finer grained developer. It is excellent with (old) APX100 in 120 or Foma 100. In an ideal world one could stick to a very short list of films and developers, but with manufacturers folding or eliminating emulsions and developers from their catalogs, testing is essential if one wishes control over results. 

Gordon Cooper's picture

Is Neofin Blue still available? The original recipe was based round Pyrocatechin. Manufacturers alter formulas all the time-look at HC110, which initially had Pyrocatechin as its main agent. The current Arista replacement looks and smells nothing like a Catechin developer, suggesting it is quite different in composition. Tanning developers are simply different from others in many ways. 

BathroomDarkroom's picture

Thanks for the 1027 tip, Rick.  I like that it has the restrainers already in it.  That might bode well for the old Tri-X.  All the old films seem to settle out at around ASA 50, so maybe this will help beat the fog.  I'm looking for a "magic bullet" (big grin and wink) for the collection of decades-old stock I have lying around.  I tried Obsidian Aqua in the sodium variety without good results - way too underdeveloped even after remixing the catechol to verify the concentration.  I'm going to try the potassium flavor to see what happens there and will add 1027 to the list.

I've used Forumlary's BW-65 print developer with good results, too; more of a range in the shadows.

Mcutrone's picture
Toying with the idea of home developing now that I've gotten back to film as a hobby. Can you refer me to a site/books that would help me get started with home developing? Or is you tube the place to go?? Thanks

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