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Diary Of A Home Film-Developer

In Vietnam, the price of getting a roll of BW developed and scanned is under 80.000 VND (4 USD) and can be as low as 50.000 VND (2.5 USD), which is so cheap that you would wonder what is the point of developing the film yourself.

For enthusiasts, I would advise you trying to develop film yourself at least once. It is an amazing experience where you can create a physical relationship with your negative rather than just seeing it already inverted on screen. Ones can put their own unique thumbprint into the photographs, on top of pressing the shutter button. Understanding the photographic process thoroughly will substantially improve how you see light and shadow, and it is also a chance to experiment with different mediums. A 35mm film that seems mundane when treated with a typical chemical bath may appear otherworldly if personally developed.

The whole BW process is not that difficult and toxic as people might think and you can do in your kitchen or bathroom. Just keep in mind that the chemicals are corrosive by skin contact, so wear proper clothing, develop in a well-ventilated area, put on a pair of glasses and a facemask just in case, and always store the chemicals on low shelves to reduce the chance of face or eye damage. Please watch the following music video to understand the hazard of developing chemicals, which is rather easy to prevent.

Please note that you should only develop B&W film at home as the chemicals are not toxic and the process doesn’t require absolute control over temperature and time. The C41 and RA4 to develop color films can have a negative impact on your health if done frequently and getting rid of needed chemicals is also more complicated.

Chemicals needed.
– Developer: These are two most popular products HC-110 and D-76. They are equally good with HC-110 produce slightly crispier negatives and D-76 with better tonal range. I would advise using D-76 since it allows more space for mistake in time and temperature control. HC-110 reduces developing time substantially so time and temperature management must be accurate. (350k VND ~ 18 USD for 3.8 liters). Dilute as the instruction on the package.
– Stop bath: I am against the use of stop bath due to its acidic nature, which can erode the negatives. Water would be perfectly fine.
– Fixer: They are all the same. (250k VND ~ 12USD for 10 liters). Dilute as the instruction on the package.
– Photoflo: I love this thing. It makes the surface of negatives smoother to prevent water spot and mineral deposits. Not necessary but highly recommend. (150k VND ~ 7.5 USD for a small bottle that can be used so many rolls).

*All of the chemicals listed above can be purchase at:
– 2E Quang Trung, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. You can also call Bac Lam at 0913510587 for shipping to other cities or any other request.
– Crop Lab at 541/29 Huỳnh Văn Bánh, Ward 14, Phú Nhuận District, HCMC.

Equipment needed.
– A dark room: Anywhere with no light. For me it is a bathroom with no window and a piece of rag to block off any light leak.
– A 600ml – 2 reels – developing tank, around 600k -750k VND ~ 30-37 USD. You can also get it from 2E Quang Trung, Hanoi or Crop Lab.
– Measuring cups (a 500 ml and 2 x 1 liter cup). You can buy it from here.
– A thermometer. Around 50-70K VND ~ 2.5 -3.5 USD at any supermarket.
– Paper clips.
– A scissors.
– Steel Wool.

Prepare.
– Bring your film into a dark place to reel it and put it into the tank. You should practice with exposed negative in the light with your eyes closed before doing it in total darkness. You can watch here for instruction.
– Your tank needs to be fully sealed before turning on the light.

– Dilute 300ml D-76 with 300ml water (1+1) and prepare 600ml of fixer, both at 20°C. Put the chemicals in hot or iced water if needed to make sure the temperature is as close as possible.
– 3 liters of water at 20°C.
– Check out “massive dev chart” for the correct developing time. We are developing Kodak Tri-X 400 so the developing time is 13 minutes at 1+1 dilution at 20°C.

Develop and fix.
– Start the timer.
– After 2 minutes, pour out the water and fill the tank with developer.
– Fill the tank with 20°C clean tap water and agitate constantly for 2 minutes.
– Agitate constantly for the first 30 seconds then 5 seconds after each minute. After each agitation, hit the bottom of the tank 3 times to prevent bubbles.

– After 13 minutes, pour out the developer (developer is safe to dump down the drain) and fill the tank with 20°C water right away.
– Again, agitate constantly for 2 minutes then renew the water and keep the agitation going for another 2 minutes.
– Next, pour out the water and fill the tank with fixer. (Best fixing time is 8-10 minutes)
Agitate constantly for the first 30 seconds then 10 seconds after each minute. After each agitation, hit the bottom of the tank 3 times to prevent bubbles.
– After 8 minutes, pour the fixer back into the measuring cup.
– Now you can open up your developing tank (negative is light safe now yoohoo!) and put your film through running water for 15 – 20 minutes to clean the chemicals off the negative.

– After 20 minutes of washing, the cleaner the negative the longer it will last.
– Next, put 3 or 5 drops of photoflo to 600ml of water and gentle rotate your negative for 1 minute. Now your negative is ready to hang.
– Use paper clip on both side of the negative to keep it straight.
– Your film should be dry after 1.5 hours -2.5 hours, depends on season.

Final steps.
– The next thing to worry about is how to deal with fixer; you can put the steel wool in the used fixer for 2 days to absorb all the silver before dumping it down the drain. Simple!
– Once the film is fully dry you can store it in the plastic canister or a print-file if you have one.

Here are some results:

If you are in Hanoi and keen on developing but too lazy to prepare all these you can visit Nadar Photo Club. They are happy to guide and provide you with all equipment and chemicals needed for BW developing.

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Diary Of A Home Film-Developer

Self developing your own B&W film can be a fun experience that provides you with absolute control over the photographic process.

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