Developing BW at Home...Beyond the Basics
Black and White Alchemy
By Rick Paul, Saguaro Shadows Photography, LLC
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.
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 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.
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 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, 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.
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.