Easiest B&W film to learn to develop?

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Hi, I have decided to take the plunge and begin processing my own B&W (I may not do prints yet, just develop & contact sheets). My question is: What would be the best B&W film for me to learn how to develop film? Is there a certain film which is "easier" to learn on?

Thanks Phillip

-- Phillip Silitschanu (speedin_saab@hotmail.com), December 19, 2001


All B&W films (except some real weirdies like the slide filmes (Polaroid and Agfa Scala) use the same basic steps for processing.

The T-Grain or Delta crystal films (Any TMax from Kodak - any DELTA film from Ilford) tend to be more twitchy about processing/exposure errors.

You are probably pretty safe starting with Kodak Tri-X or Plus-X Pan, or Ilford's HP5 or FP4. They have a more traditional chemical structure (Tri-X basically dates back to the 50s, but with improvements over time). Ilford Pan F has a traditional chemistry, too, but as a slow film picks up some additional contrast (think B&W Velvia) which can make it a mite skittish for the first-time user.

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), December 19, 2001.

Experiment: no one film is easier to develop; just vary the times. Try and get hold of Agfa Rodinal developer which has been around for yonks. It is a liquid and easy to make up using a medicine measuring glass. It is "one shot" - throw out the used developer afterwards. Lasts for ages. Rodinal has development times for all major films from Agfa, Ilford, and Kodak. Getting accurate temperatures, and not washing in freezing water, makes a difference. Some people use a wetting agent but this is not essential. Take extra care when wiping dry.

-- David Killick (Dalex@inet.net.nz), December 19, 2001.

david: why not washing in freezing water?

my recommendation is tri.x in ilford id-11. very simple and forgiveable.

-- stefan randlkofer (geesbert@yahoo.com), December 19, 2001.

Stefan - wash water should be +/- 5 degrees of dev temp otherwise you risk damage to the emulsion. In answer to the subject line - I too would vote for traditional film + traditional developer (e.g. tri-x/hp5 +id-11/d-76) - these 2 devs are (more or less...) the same BTW. These combinations are much more forgiving of temp/ development error in my experience (compared to the delta's and especially the tmax films (which are sticklers IMO)). One tip would be to quickly settle on an agitation regime which is consistent and repeatable and to stick with it (nb. the times that ilford and kodak recommend for their films' dev. each assume different agitation regimes). Anyway, once you get into it, you'll never let one of those butchers mess with your emulsions again! Best of luck. Steve

-- steve (stephenjjones@btopenworld.com), December 19, 2001.

Hi Philip

Another opinion: T-MAX 100 and T-MAX 400 are very friendly films and more or less mandatory at the course I do. And with D-76 as a common developer almost nothing can go wrong. With 1+1 at 20degrees C(1 part D-76 with 1 part water) you have a relatively tolerant and controlable process (12minutes, short shake every 30sec), in which not too much developper is used (=> cheap). Note that developing longer will increase contrast and shorter decrease it. Some people have become real artists with that.

Most B&W films have on the inside of the box they come in an list of how to develop that film with certain developpers. So the job is easy, no matter what film you take. After the developping shortly flush the tank with water, followed by the fixer. After 5-10min (the purple glow must be gone) the film is ready. (You can open the tank +/- 5min after the fixer was put in Now flush it for 5min with water, then add wetting agent to the water and leave the film in for a minute. Then, with a soft(!) tissue remove the water and dry the film.

The kind of film you will like best at the end is depending on what you want to do. Portraits and fine details are best shot with 25 or 50 ASA film. Normal daylight best at 100 and darker scenes at 400. On the other hand, some people fancy the visible grain on the films with higher ASA values. If you like to see the grain well, I suggest tri-x (400 ASA) which has a more clear grain than T-MAX 400, or go to 1600 of even 3200 ASA (e.g FUJI). If you don't want any grain at all, get a 25 or 50 ASA film (e.g. Illford PAN). In general the higher the ASA, the more grain will be vissible. Some like it, some don't.

So my recommendation is to go out with lots of different film and shoot :-)

-- ReinierV (rvlaam@xs4all.nl), December 19, 2001.

Tri-X is the most versatile and forgiving film I know of. Combined with D-76 or Ilford ID-11 you can get an incredible flexibility: Usable from 50 to 1600 iso.

-- Xavier Colmant (xcolmant@powerir.com), December 19, 2001.

Reinier I have to disagree with some of what you've posted - particularly your advice to go and shoot lots of different films. I would advise exactly the opposite - when you start out to limit the number of variables as much as possible. Enough to use one film and one dev until you get that right. Then move on to different dilutions noticing the effect they have (acutance and compensation effects). In my experience, this will take quite a time on it's own, without proceeding to different dev.s and films. Also shooting portraits with iso 25-50 film is a questionable suggestion both in terms of contrast and excessive sharpness. Your dev instructions are admirably laid back but, I think, might lead to unnecessary error - you should for example use a tempered water bath instead of a stop - and agitation should be consistent and not just any old shake. Fixing time depends on the type of film you use and should not be overdone. The usual test is to use the bit of film leader you cut off in your dark bag when loading the film, and see how long it takes to clear in your ready-made fix and then double this figure - you should certainly not "fix by inspection" as a general rule. Certainly 10 minutes fixing would be about twice too long even with modern t grain films (which usually take 1.5 - 2x as long as traditional films such as tri-x). In short, film devving is something to be got right in a rather scientific way - artistic expression is in the taking of the picturs and choosing of materials. I hope it goes well for you.

-- steve (stephenjjones@btopenworld.com), December 19, 2001.

I vote for Tri-X, also. You might like to try developing with diafine, which is a 2 bath developer. It is not temperature and time dependent like most developers, and gives a 2 stop push with TX. This is a very easy and very beautiful film/developer combination.

-- John Fleetwood (johnfleetwood@hotmail.com), December 19, 2001.

You really have to TRY to screw up developing Tri-X.

-- Josh Root (rootj@att.net), December 19, 2001.

Tri-X, D76 1:1 is just about foolproof.

-- Pete Su (psu_13@yahoo.com), December 19, 2001.

Lots of votes for Tri X here which is fine for moody, grainy, low light images, but surely fine grain (Pan F or Agfapan 25 if you can still get it) gets the very best out of Leica lenses in terms of resolution. Not for every image perhaps, especially portraits, but worth a go. And red filters are fun, even in front of Leitz glass.

Re Stefan's earlier question, another poster had more detailed advice, but the technical term for film going wrong when developed in freezing water is reticulation - it develops spider web, crackly marks. OK for special FX but that's about it.

-- David Killick (Dalex@inet.net.nz), December 20, 2001.

I totally agree with "Tri-X and D-76 and you can't go wrong." The sneaky thing about Tri-X is that its a really beautiful film. Its got lots of depth and character. Sneaky? Yes, because you'll probably start out with it, and, falling prey to "words from on-high" you'll then begin to play the field of silver (and non silver) based films, then you'll come full circle, back to good 'ol Tri-X. You'll realize that looking at T-grain is like listening to digital, while looking at Tri-X is like listening to a live performance.

-- John Layton (john.layton@valley.net), December 22, 2001.

". . . that looking at T-grain is like listening to digital, while looking at Tri-X is like listening to a live performance. "

John, I think that's a good analogy. I shot a lot of TMY and TMY for several years after they came out; but was never quite happy with the look of it. I'm much happier with Ilford Delta Pro 100 and 400. I don't know how similar the technology might be to T-Max, but, developed in XTOL, I'm happy with Delta Pro. I feel the images have more snap, crackle and pop compared to T-Max which somehow always seemed flat and lackluster.

-- Bob Fleischman (RFXMAIL@prodigy.net), December 23, 2001.

Oh, and I also find that Tri-X gives me the "richest" possible look. The tonality, or gradation, is just somehow more lush. I even find that Tri-X is a good film when some contrast is needed on an overcast day.

-- Bob Fleischman (RFXMAIL@prodigy.net), December 23, 2001.

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