Gainer's Vitamin C Film Developer : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I've come across an article in the Nov/Dec 1994 issue of Darkroom and Camera Techniques called Non-chromogenic Antiscorbutic Developers for Black and White, by Patrick A. Gainer. I was interested in trying out one of his formulas, which was reprinted in the Jul/Aug 1996 issue of Photo Techniques magazine called Gainer's Vitamin C film developer. The ingrediants to the formula include water, borax, sodium hydroxide solution, ascorbic acid(vitamin c) and phenidone. I was interested in it because except for the Phenidone I was able to purchase all the ingrediants at a grocery store, it is a cheap developer dollar wise and most importantly to me it is supposed to be one of the most "environmentally freindly developers"-as stated in the article. As the editors of the magazine also state "it yields a fairly soft working formula that produces curves on several films quite similar to those produced by D-76. Being a sulfite free developer, however, it yields noticeably better sharpness than D-76, with very fine grain." My question is has anyone had any experience using this developer with film and paper? What were your results, any comments? Regardless if anyone answers I plan on working with the formula and I also wanted to share this with the rest of the B/W community because of the environemntal friendliness of the formula. We need to be conscious of our use of chemicals and if anyone is interested I can post the formula, or you might be able to purchase a back issue of the magazine. Also, does anyone have other input to more environmentally friendly developers, print washers or other products of use in our photographic endevours? Any responses are greatly appreciated. One final note, maybe such a new heading can be added to the discussion page. Thank you for bearing my long winded comments.

-- Saulius Eidukas (, February 02, 2000


One of the major assertions of the patent for XTOL is that it is better for the environment because it doesn't have a developing agent from the hydroquinone family. Kodak's marketing doesn't seem to be emphasizing this point. So for the environmentally conscious photographer who doesn't want to mix their own, XTOL might be a good choice.

-- Michael Briggs (, February 02, 2000.

I hope you're going to titrate that Sodium Hydroxide with Hydrochloric acid before you throw it down the drain, because that's the only way you'll make it environmentally friendly.

I would have thought that Citric, Tartaric or Boric acid would have done equally as well as Ascorbic acid as a pH buffer, with no perceptible difference to the results.

-- Pete Andrews (, February 02, 2000.

For another Ascorbic acid developer, try to get a copy of The British Journal of Photography, dated 10.11.99 or whatever was the second publishing date in November. If you want e-mail me and I'll try to dig it out for you and e-mail you the formula. Alternativly try to contact the author DR Cyril T Blood through

David Kirk

-- David Kirk (, February 02, 2000.

This formula sounds good because supposedly there's no allergenic or poisonous ingredient. (The sodium hydroxide must of course be diluted) If I remember right, phenidone is not listed as a poisonous chemical at EPA. Please, correct, if I am wrong !!!

Both hydroquinone and methol can cause allergic reactions with time. In my youth, I messed a lot with BW, and though haven't done it for years others than occasionally, I still feel immediatly ill if there's a developer with methol in my darkroom. When I'm doing BW, I use HC-110 for film (though I don't know it's content) and Ilford PQ (phenidone/hydroquinone) developer with papers.

-- Jan Eerala (, February 03, 2000.

Thank you all for your responses, they are of help as I am no expert in the chemical processes of photography and have until now only concerned myself with off the shelf develpors and how they will best suite my particular needs. I came across some more information for anyone wanting to get better "educated", as I do. The first is a publication you can download from Kodak's website. its called Environmental Guideline's for Amatuer Photographers. Just type in j-300 in the search box on the main page and hit go, then click on the publication and download. Another source I came across is a book, don't know if still being printed, called Overexposure-Health Hazards in Photography, by Susan D. Shaw & Monona Rossol, published by Allworth Press, New York. I have only skimmed both, but they seem to contain much valuable information on the chemical processes, health issues, disposal, conservation etc. These may already have been posted to this site, but I think it's worth repeating. If anyone has more information, please feel to share. Thank you all, and happy photographing.

-- Saulius Eidukas (, February 04, 2000.

Can you post the formula or email it please? I for one would like to see it,and I'm sure others would too.

You should be able to make a soft working paper developer that works using variations of the same theme. I've played around with it a little bit but dont have it mastered yet.


-- Wayne (, February 07, 2000.

Since I received inquiries to the vitamin C recipe I retyped this from Photo Techniques magazine, Jul/Aug 1996 issue. I've included more than just the formula as I thought it might be helpful, especially to those who have limited experience, as I, in making their own developers. As I stated before you can probably purchase back copies or have the articles recopied for you from Photo Techniques magazine, they also have a web page- Patrick Gainer, in the 1994 issue, offers more formula combinations and goes into more specifics regarding the formulas. Those whose interest is peaked may find that article both interesting and useful. Gainer's Vitamin C Film Developer Since Patrick Gainers' article "Non-Chromogenic Antiscorbutic Developers for Black-and-White" appeared in the Nov/Dec 1994 issue, several of the editors have tried his formulas. We found that the basic ascorbic acid (vitamin C) version yields a fairly soft-working formula that produces curves on several films quite similar to those produced by D-76. Being sulfite-free developer, however, it yields noticeably better sharpness than D-76, with very fine grain. We also set out to see whether we could buy all the components (except the Phenidone) at the hardware, grocery, and health food stores, and kept track of the actual prices. Here's what we found: Borax: Each liter of developer uses 6.1 g Borax. We bought 5 lbs of 20 Mule Team Borax in the super market for under $4.00. This amounts to about one penny per liter of developer for the Borax. Sodium hydroxide solution: We purchased pure sodium hydroxide crystals as Red Devil Lye (sold as a drain cleaner) at our hardware store for under $3.00. It made 3,400 ml of 10% solution. Since you need 17 ml per liter of developer, that's a penny and a half per liter for the sodium hydroxide component. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C): We paid $13.20 for 227 g of pure ascorbic acid crystals at the local health food store. That's about 12 cents per liter of developer for the Vitamin C component. Phenidone: This is the only chemical we had to buy through a photo supplier. Including tax, we paid a little over $14.00 for 57 g of Phenidone. Once all the calculations are done, that amounts to a bit over half a penny's worth of Phenidone per liter of developer (the caveat being that we'll never use up all this Phenidone before it oxidizes). If you're clever and can use up all the ingredients you buy for one use or another, the total cost of Gainer's Vitamin C developer is right around 15 cents per liter of working strength solution, or a little less than 4 cents per roll of 135-36. If that's no the world's cheapest film developer, we don't know what is. Gainers' Vitamin C developer is potentially less than one-seventh the cost of D-76. It's also one of the most environmentally friendly developers we know of. Phenidone qualifies as non-toxic, and each liter of developer uses barely more than a trace: .02 grams per liter. Borax is sold as laundry additive. Vitamin C is obviously a human-friendly substance. The unfriendliest chemical in the developer is the lye. With every liter of developer you use, you'll be tossing 17ml of 10% solution down the drainbut remember, it's drain cleaner. We think you'll agree that throwing a dash of drain cleaner down the drain every time you develop film isn't such a bad thing. What you need to prepare Gainers' Vitamin C Developer: 7 A small 100 ml bottle and a dropper that will measure 2 to 5 ml (ask your pharmacist-we got both for free); 7 A clean 1 or 2 gallon metal bucket in which to mix the sodium hydroxide (for a couple of bucks, we picked up a paint-mixing bucket at the hardware store where we bought the lye); 7 A gallon jug to hold the sodium hydroxide 10% solution (mark it "Poison" and keep it out of the reach of children!); 7 Some rubbing alcohol-be sure it's the 91% Isopropyl kind, not the cheaper 70%; 7 A gram scale; 7 A small graduate marked in milliliters. Step 1: make a 1% solution of Phenidone in alcohol (we've simplified Patrick Gainers' measurements a bit here) by measuring out 100 ml of rubbing alcohol in the graduate. Add 1 gram of Phenidone. You now have 50 doses of Phenidone solution prepared (you can of course make more if you want). Store in the 100ml bottle. Step 2: make a 10% solution of sodium hydroxide by dissolving one 12-oz. (340 gram) can of lye in water to make 115 fluid ounces (3.4 liters). Start with a lesser quantity of very cold water and add the lye slowly (it will generate some heat). Be careful of your eyes! Decant it into the gallon jug, and you now have your sodium hydroxide 10% solution ready. Step 3: mix it up prior to use. Start with 800 ml of water, and add, in order: Sodium hydroxide 10% solution: 17 ml Borax: 6.1 grams Vitamin C (ascorbic acid crystals): 2 grams Phenidone 1% solution: 2ml Water to make : 1 liter At 680 F, use the developing times specified for straight D-76 with whatever film you're using as a serviceable starting point. Here is the same formula but written by volumeric recipe (to make 1 Quart), as written on pg. 64 of Darkroom & Creative Camera Techniques Nov/Dec 1994. Sodium hydroxide 17ml 20 Mule Team borax 1.5 tsp Ascorbic acid 1/2 tsp Phenidone solution 2.5 ml Dissolve in order given. Phenidone solution is 1/4 tsp in 80-ml denatured alcohol or 91 % isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Sodium hydroxide is 10% solution. Dilute stock solution 1 + 3 for film, 1+ 1 for paper. I hope others find this information of use and if anyone tries the formula, please share your results. I recently developed my first batch of 8x10 negatives and attempted making some contact prints. The results were poor, but none-the-less promising. I am using Ilford HP5 film with a view camera and lens combination for the first time, and am still working out the kinks for my exposure and developing times.

-- Saulius Eidukas (, February 09, 2000.

Saulius, thanks for posting the formula. For the sake of consistancy while you are testing, you might want to use Xtol instead. Its also a phenidone-ascorbic developer, and its less than $7 for 5 liters from B&H. I only mention that because it might be easier to get repeatable results for your tests that way-unless you are a more accurate formula-mixer than I am, which is certainly possible!

I'm in the same boat right now. I'm just getting back into B&W after ten years of color. I'll be using Xtol at first for consistency, but I'll probably give this formula a try later. You cant beat the price, and I already have all of the ingredients.


-- Wayne (, February 09, 2000.

One other thought, since this formula doesnt use sulfite. Phenidone doesnt keep well in solution without a preservative, from my (very) limited understanding of things. I dont know if the alcohol acts as a preservative or not, but maybe someone else does. If not, that could certainly be a factor in consistency. It might be adviseable to only mix as much as will be used per session, unless someone knows differently. I presume the author of the formula thought that through already, but just thought I'd throw it out. I hate mixing phenidone even in hot water, and havent tried it in alcohol. If it keeps a long time that way, I'll start doing it that way.


-- Wayne (, February 09, 2000.

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