How to: Choosing Black and White film and Developer.

My Three Loves

My Three Loves

This is my personal choice partially made by nostalgia for when I used to shoot and process dozens of film each week, but more relevantly because as I now have limited time I need simplicity. Film choice is subjective but with developer cost and shelf life are a big factor.



My Film Choice.
The films I like are Tri-X traditional for everything I now do. Ilford FP4 which I sometimes use for fine detail and the Fuji Neopan films are as good as film technology gets. Pretty much though I stick to Tri-X rated at 200 or 400 asa. I love this film because it has attractive irregular grain, can be punchy and is always sharp and consistent, and because as a younger man we shared some good times together.

The Ilford FP4 is good for 4×5 photography and has a big tonal range which can however make the finished print a bit flat unless the lighting is spot on. Fuji film technology is so clean and grain free which is very handy on a 35mm neg – but I am not using 35mm at the moment.

Recently I tried Adox films and made some very nice negs with them. However even being extra careful I got annoying process faults and so I said thank-you but good night.

Feeling the Chemistry?

My Developer Choice.
Film Developer has to be the big constant in consistent photography. The greats from the now distant past obsessed about chemistry and obtaining the perfect negative. Modern film has a lot of latitude which means you can be way off mark and still obtain a very usable negative. Modern printing papers too are forgiving and with multigrade papers you can happily print even horrible negs. None the less consistent processing is the bench mark.

My choice of film processing chemicals is a practical one. I now work from home and I often go months between film processes. Therefore I need simple and clean to use chemicals which are easily diluted to working strength. I also need developers which have a long shelf life.

This is my list of ingredients for B/W film processing.

1. Developer
Kodak D76 (Ilford ID11 is the pretty much identical). This is a great general purpose developer which works particularly well with traditional Tri-X. With 35mm it gives the classic 1960’s press photographer look. I buy one litre sachets of developer powder so I don’t need big mixing jugs or storage containers. I like to use developer as a ‘one-shot’, it is simpler than adding extra time for each film the solution has processed. With ‘one-shot’ you add an equal amount of water to the developer just before you process and by adding the extra water gradually to the jug of developer you can regulate the temperature and end up with developer at the standard temperature of 20ºC. After use discard.

I also like Adox ADONAL which is a copy of the discontinued Agfa Rodinal loved by arty photographers for decades. It is known for making negs look really sharp and making a nice and pronounced grain pattern. I give Tri-X a good long soak in this developer to make punchy negs with good grain. Adonal is a liquid and you only need a tiny amount diluted in water to process, measure with a syringe. The liquid keeps for years so if you only dev film once in a blue moon Adonal is perfect. WARNING do not shake the mixed solution because it foams leaving big bubble marks on your processed film, so always agitate the tank by stirring and not inversion.

2. Stop Bath
I use Fotospeed SB50 liquid Stop Bath with indicator. It does not smell like old style stop bath because it uses safer chemicals. Keep mixed solution in a plastic bottle so that you can squeeze the air out of the top. When the solution starts to go pink throw away.

3. Fixer
I use Ilford Rapid Fixer which again avoids some of the dodgy chemicals older formulas used.

4. Wetting agent
After the final wash I add a tiny drop of Ifotol wetting agent to combat drying marks.

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