The intent of this article is to present a list of one-time expenses for developing your own black & white film. I would guess that many people shy away from film photography because of the cost or difficulty. And I agree that it can get quite expensive if you have somebody else develop your film (if you can manage to find them, especially b/w).
But film photography doesn’t have to be expensive. We’ve already shown that there are a huge number of film cameras out there for under $50, and I wanted to see if I could put together a list of film developing supplies for the same price tag. After a few minutes of research, whad’ya know? Again, for under $50, we can put together a set of black and white film developing equipment. So let’s dig in!
THE BARE ESSENTIALS
|LARGE MEASURING CUP
You’ll need at least one of these measurement cups (or beakers) to measure out the water for your chemicals. I’d suggest getting a 600ml version so you can use it for double batches or 120 film. You can get 3 of these (1 for each chemical solutuion), but if you’re cheap (like me) you can use old plastic cups for holding the chemicals after they’ve been measured.
|SMALL GRADUATED CYLINDER
This guys is used for measuring out the concentrate chemicals, since you might be needing anywhere from 10-100ml of concentrate (if you’re using liquid concentrate supplies). Just be sure to rinse between chemical pours and clean very well before measuring out the developer.
These cheap-ass thermometers work just fine. They take a while to register the actual temperature, but they work. They’re also a handy little stir stick.
The cheap film reels will bend-up pretty easily, but something is better than nothing. Just like lenses, buy the best you can afford (you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration).
I’m hooked on the steel tanks. You can beat the hell out of them and they keep on truckin’. You can really slam them down on the counter to knock the air bubbles off of the film after your inversions.
I use these clips for film and print. They’re pretty gnarly, but they have quite a grip. Useful for when you’re wiping down the film at the end.
I’ve tried the film squeegees, but they always seem to leave a bunch of water spots. I like to wipe down the non-emulsion side of my wet film with a good clean micro-fiber cloth to take care of water spots.
OK, so those are the absolute minimum equipment requirements for developing your own black & white film. There are definitely some other items that will make your life easier, but those things aren’t always necessary. Again, these things above are the one-time equipment costs. Immediately below, you’ll find a list of consumable items that you’ll have to buy up-front and periodically throughout your film developing adventures.
Use whatever developer you want, but I prefer to use Ilford’s Ilfosol 3 solution for most of my film. The stuff works great on fine-grain film. The only downside is that it’s less versatile than other developers… and it’s a one-shot.
Stop baths aren’t as important as the developer, but they do a critical job. I like to stick with the Ilford stop bath just for consistency. * Water can also be used if a stop bath is not available.
Like the stop bath, fixers aren’t extremely important, but I like to stay with my brand. You can choose whatever fixer you want. * To clarify this statement, I meant that which specific fixer you choose isn’t as important as which developer you use.
For those of us with really hard water, a wetting agent can be a life saver. This little solution helps to clear your film of hard-water deposits while making it dry faster.
* Added for clarification based on reader comments
Remember, these are things that you’ll use-up over and over again (in addition to film). They’re actually pretty cheap, but you have to remember to keep them stocked so you don’t run out and inconvenience yourself. In addition to these consumable items, I’ve got a list of “luxury” items below that might make your “film developing” life easier, but they aren’t completely necessary (unless you’re a film addict).
These are nice to have when trying to pry the bottom off the film cassette in complete darkness. But you can also use some types of regular bottle openers to get the job done.
Like I said before, buy the best reel you can afford. Get the cheap ones and you’ll be fighting with the film after a couple of rolls. These expensive ones are built to take typical abuse.
If you shoot a lot of 35mm film (or medium format film), you might consider buying a double tank rather than a single tank. These guys will fit two 35mm reels or one 120 reel. Handy for saving some extra time and effort.
|MEDIUM FORMAT REEL
And of course if you’re shooting medium format, you’ll need a medium format film reel. These guys are easier to load than the 35mm reels, but sill buy a decent one.
Changing bags are helpful if you don’t want to seal off a whole room (which is a requirement for loading film on a reel). I don’t have one of these, but it sure would save me some time.
Of course, after you develop you film you’ll need somewhere to put it. Use archival quality sleeves to preserve your negatives. And use the 7×5 sheets so you can make contact prints later in your career (yes, I made the mistake of using 6×6 sheets and I’m now regretting it).
I could probably go on and on about all the other pieces of equipment that would make developing easier, but we’ll cut it off right here. The point is, you can shoot and develop your own black and white film for a relatively inexpensive upfront cost. Operating costs beyond that are fairly minimal, with the actual film being the most expensive component.