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Developing Adventures – Mishaps in Processing

I started developing my own black and white film earlier this year after sending it out to a lab started to get a little bit too expensive for me. I received a Film Photography Project kit for Christmas last year that comes with FPP76, which is a smaller batch of Kodaks D-76 developing powder.

As I learn, I wanted to share some of my mishaps along the way in case you are learning too. I actually had a really good streak of no mishaps at first. I had heard of many potential disasters when first starting out, so I knew it was only a matter of time.

The Mishaps

I like to reuse my batches of D76 stock solution, Ilford Rapid Fixer, and Ilford Stop bath for budgeting reasons. I know some of you will cringe at this, but I am starting to know when enough is enough by keeping a journal of my results and how many rolls have been processed with each batch. I knew by doing this I would run into some hiccups that I would have to learn to notice.

The first bad experience I had was when my fixer became exhausted. Now I knew that developer can become exhausted after too many rolls of film, but it never crossed my mind that fixer could. The first time I ran into this issue was with a roll of Ilford Delta 400. I’ve noticed this issue happens mostly with Delta films and Kodak T-max and Tri-x. I fixed for 5 minutes but still got the following result.

Ilford Delta 400 processed with exhausted fixer

At first I thought there was a light leak. Then I googled the issue and found someone on a forum with similar looking negatives after using exhausted fixer. So, I rerolled the negatives onto the reel and sat it in fixer a little longer.

As you can see it cleaned up the picture. I of course disposed of the fixer and made up a new batch. More examples below.

Another issue I ran into was using the can opener to pop open the 35mm film canister. In order to remove the film from the canister, you have to use a can opener style wrench to pop the top off. This proved to be difficult for me to do blindly inside the changing bag. I found out there was another process you can use without having to remove your film from its canister. With this method you would cut off the leader of your film, then start loading it onto your reel (inside the dark changing bag) little by little pulling it out of its canister, cutting it free at the end. Now in order to do this, your film must not be all the way rewound back inside its canister when you remove it from your camera. There has to be a leader still hanging out. I tend to roll it all the way. In that case you need a film retriever to pull the leader back out of the canister. This is where the disaster came in.

I tried a couple rolls this way. I retrieved the leader using a film retriever, cut off the thin tongue of the film and loaded it this way inside my bag. This proved to be so much easier and faster. I was excited until I scanned my film and found it to be all scratched up.

Ilford Delta 3200

Above is an example. You can see the scratches all around the edges and on the picture itself. The only explanation was the film retriever was scratching the film. I am not sure what I did wrong here, but now I load my reels using this method only if the film leader is already hanging out. If it isn’t, then I use the can opener… or I just “Hulk” the canister open with my thumbs as recommended by Mike Eckman by sticking my finger into the slit of the canister and prying it open.

A Hulked Canister I pried open with my fingers. You can see the scratches where I failed to open it with the can opener

All in all, I have had way more good experiences than bad developing my own film at home. I still send my color film out to a lab, but hope to get into processing that myself soon as well. For now practice makes perfect, so I’ll stick with black and white.

Let me know what kind of issues you’ve run into while developing your film. If you have any tips on ways to replenish chemicals, or on how to know when a chemical is exhausted before using it, please let me know in the comments.

Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.

9 thoughts on “Developing Adventures – Mishaps in Processing

  1. I think you are discovering that “Practice makes perfect” as you said. Luckily for me I made my mistakes in school before film and supplies were so expensive. The good news is it sounds like you are out of the woods as they say, you figured it out. I would try another bottle opener, it sounds like you got a troublesome one. I don’t reuse developer, I just throw it out, but I do reuse fixer. Everyone has their own routine in the darkroom, there is no one correct answer, don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. I send color film to ‘The Darkroom’. Best of luck, I have spent a lot of happy hours in the darkroom and wish you the same.

  2. Hi! Great to read about your adventures. I don’t normally re-use black and white chemicals, but will sometimes re-use fixer. You can get “Edwal Hypo Chek” for testing fixer, or use the following method… When you mix new fixer, take an exposed leader and drop some fixer on it. Time how long it takes to clear and make a note on the bottle. Each time before you use the fixer, repeat the test. Once the clearing time is twice the original time, mix up a new batch. FWIW, I always Hulk the canisters open and have never had any trouble doing so. Some are harder to open than others, though!

  3. Never reused chemicals. Never used a changing bag. Never had any problem opening film canisters with a “beer can style” can opener using the blunt or rounded end, not the pointed end. What kind of can opener are you using?

  4. Never reused chemicals. Never used a changing bag. Never had any problem opening film canisters with a “beer can style” can opener using the blunt or rounded end,

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