Developing Color Film

So you’re bored, fearless, and want to take on the next challenge that life throws your way?

Good for you!

Developing color film is definitely the way to go.

In actual fact, we need people like you to carry the film torch in this disposable age of “digital desperados”.

It is straightforward, satisfying, and does not require a darkroom (as I previously assumed…)

To begin with, there are two hurdles that you need to overcome:

  1. Getting the right chemicals and equipment; and
  2. Getting the film into the canister.

Once you accomplish the above, developing color film is simply a matter of planning, and organization.

Let’s get started!

First: Shoot a roll.

(I recommend Portra 400–it is fantastic!)

Now put it aside.

Second: Get on the intarwebs, and git yerself some gear.

(Alternatively, you could do Step II first, and then take some photos, so the gear arrives when your roll is done.  The order of these steps is not overly critical…)

You’ll need:

B&H is an excellent source for all of the above.  The chemicals themselves are best purchased in kit form.  These come in many iterations, but may be found here by searching for the term “Tetenal”.

The kit I purchased arrived under the branding “Jobo” but they are basically all the same:

Scan-130528-0001

There are four packages in the box: Three big, and one small.

(Looks like nasty stuff, right?  Be careful!)

In actual fact, while the first package may dissolve your fingers and such (kidding, kidding…) it is actually the fourth innocuous, tiny little package that you have to worry about.  Why?  It is basically formaldehyde, which living things don’t really like.  So don’t go sprinkling it on your salad or anything…)

The package contains mixing instructions which you don’t really need to follow.  In effect, you mix each package with 1000 mL of tap water.

Note well: (I think in Latin it is “Nota Bene” or “NB:” so there you have it…you have already learned something else.  Or maybe you already knew that.  Which is fine.  Read on.)

  • It is best to add 500 mL of water, dump in the powder, swish and swirl, and then add the other 500 mL.
  • The two middle packages (Blix A and Blix B) are mixed together in the same container.  Dissolve “A” first, then add “B” once the final 500 mL has been added.
  • (Just in case you’re wondering, “Blix” stands for “Bleach Fix”)
  • Do NOT get the Blix and the developer in contact with one another: The Blix will ruin the developer, and you’ll be hooped.  Label your bottles and lids carefully!!

Pace yourself: you should probably go to sleep now, and we can pick up here tomorrow.

Seriously though: the next step is getting the film into the canister.

My good friend Peter has an excellent guide posted here.  (I am not going to replicate his efforts, because he has done such a stand-up job).

The only thing I will note is: I can only find Portra 400 in 36 exp rolls at present.  It is much more finicky to get a 36 exp roll loaded properly than a 24…

As a result, you should probably practice a few dry-runs before attempting your actual roll.

The second thing is (I know…I said I would only make one point, but it is my site, dammit, and I can say whatever I want…) trial-and-error has taught me that it is probably best to unroll the whole roll “onto itself” in the bag, and then start from the back end (if that even makes sense…)

So now:

  • You have your flawless roll of 36 (37, if you’re careful…) amazing photographs captured;
  • You have your chemicals prepared;
  • You have your roll loaded into the developing canister with the funnel seated; and
  • You have all your equipment assembled.

Now you need to wait until your kids are in bed, and your partner is otherwise occupied, so he or she will not ask you “WTF are you doing with the sink at this hour?

Go to sleep.  Seriously.  We will pick this up tomorrow.  You’ll screw it up anyway if you’re too excited.

Have a beer on me…

(If you’re up for it…and you truly think you’re ready, Part II is here).

21 thoughts on “Developing Color Film

  1. Ondrej says:

    Hi Mark,

    I would like to ask you for your opinion/ advice.

    I have just started shooting with M6 + 35mm C biogon 2.8 ( I am still waiting for the new Voigtlander 50mm 1.5). I would like to achieve retro 70-80s look of my pictures, i.e., the low contrast/ faded colors + some grain. I just wonder, if I can achieve this with the modern glass (C biogon) or is it necessary to buy an old lens. Is it possible to achieve that within process of developing the film? Also I would like to ask you what color film could be suitable for this effect?

    I would be very grateful for your opinion. I am thinking of giving a try to develope the film myself.

    Thank you.

    Ondra

    • mewanchuk says:

      Hi Ondrej,

      Please excuse my very late reply: I am working on a full-length, feature response to your question.

      There are indeed a few things you can try; please stay-tuned for a detailed response!

      All the best, Mark

      • Ondrej says:

        Dear Mark,

        thank you very much for your time dealing with the answer to my question! I appreciate your suggestions!

        In the meantime, I was inpatient and ordered an old 35mm lens – summaron f/3.5 – for my general photography. Its a slow lens, but is still affordable and I saw some photos on internet and loved its retro rendition. The color photos have exactly that look I am looking for… so let see if it makes a difference.

        I will definetly stay tuned to your great website!

        Thanks again and best regards,

        Ondra

  2. Ondra says:

    Hi Mark,

    Is it possible to send you some photos by mail? I would like to know your opinion. There is an issue with a white spots on some my photos and I just wonder what it could be. Maybe you could help me. Thank you in advance.

  3. jkjod says:

    Sorry to bombard your site today, but one more question (ok maybe more than one as this progresses). I am about to jump into this whole processing fun, I was curious if you are processing one roll at a time or more than that? If more than one, does the process change besides the amount of chemistry?

    • mewanchuk says:

      Jordan,

      Congratulations!!

      I often do process two 36-exposure rolls at the same time in a 120 tank. Total volume is 495 cc. Other than that, nothing changes. (Except for the technicality of getting two rolls loaded on separate spools in a changing bag–more chance of scratches if you’re not careful, but that’s about it).

      Be sure and send me some samples–and good luck!!

      (Next stop: buying an immersion circulator!)

      M.

      • jkjod says:

        You actually read my mind – I have been looking into coming up with something with a PID/bucket heater to temper the chemistry. I used to do a lot of home brewing, and always wanted to build a electric brew kettle…who knew you could use it for this as well!

        • mewanchuk says:

          Jordan,

          It’s really the only way to fly–If I know I am going to be shooting a roll, I throw the “chems” in (10 points if you know what movie that’s from…) and they are up to temp quickly and easily. The photos are developed immediately after I finish shooting. Getting a circulator really took a lot of the difficulty and variability right out of the equation.

          …Now any word from your side?

          -M.

        • jkjod says:

          Well, sad to say no points for me…you got me on the reference. I’ll give you an update once I’ve got everything underhand – hopefully in next couple of weeks. I have a few rolls waiting, now just to figure out a scanning option…

        • mewanchuk says:

          🙂

          It was a “Bourne” reference…good film; stupid premise. (“Viral off the chems…” Anyone??)

          Anyhoo…you should look into the Pakon/Kodak F135 as a scanning option for high volume and rolls…excellent job for the money and ease-of-use.

          Keep me posted!

          M.

  4. Mark says:

    Hi Mark,
    What immersion circulator did you end up getting? I’m about to build my own water bath to keep ‘chems’ and tank(s) up to temperature.

    Looks like Peter removed the C41 processing instructions…? 😦

    Happy processing…

    • mewanchuk says:

      Hi Mark,

      I purchased a circulator from a company (Underground Circulators) which has unfortunately now gone out of business. There are a variety of temperature control devices (drop-in circulators…) available, but they all look to be somewhat more pricey.

      As far as Peter’s processing guide is concerned, I’ll have to update my links…Essentially it was just a matter of getting the film into the canister inside the changing bag, and the equipment required.

      I’ll try to get something more comprehensive up; feel free to contact me directly (email on homepage) if you have any specific questions.

      Good luck!
      -M.

  5. kenbryson says:

    Hi Mark,

    I got set up with a Cinestill C41 kit about 6 months ago and developed a few rolls. Then today I did another roll but it came out completely blank (transparent). Is there a chance the chemistry was spent and just didn’t do anything? I kept the chemicals in collapsable bottles to there was not too much air in there.

    It’s possible I loaded the film wrong (Hasselblad A12 Back) but I don’t think so. Plus the camera is firing so the film should have been exposed.

    I’m stumped. Any ideas?

    thanks!

    Ken

    • mewanchuk says:

      Hi Ken,

      The chemicals will definitely degrade over time, even in collapsible bottles (six months is a LONG time with partially spent chemicals…) but I would honestly expect *SOME* kind of image if everything is working probably; however faint it might be.

      To me it suggests a camera issue of some sort: (Dark slide all the way out? Shutter working properly? Have you used the camera previously, or recently?) Is there a chance you mixed up the order of the chemicals? (The Blix and Developer start to look a bit similar over time…) Is it possible the developer was contaminated with the tiniest bit of soap, Blix, or Surfactant?

      Anyway, keep me posted on any insights…sorry to hear!!!

      -M.

      • kenbryson says:

        Reporting back that I ran a roll of 35mm through a different camera and got the same results with the C41 developing. I must have contaminated it somehow as the chems were only actually 4 months old. Or maybe Cinestill kit is particularly quick degrading. I had everything labeled and was sure not to get any blix near the open developer bottle but maybe i need to use glass beakers and stainless steel funnels instead of plastic.

        Anyway, I don’t shoot enough colour film to make these kits economical at this time. I think I got 8 rolls through in the first few months then it stopped working. $50 for the kit so about the same as lab processing. I use rodinal for B+W processing and that lasts forever.

        Then again, I think the answer is always shoot more film!

        Thanks for the valuable resource 🙂

        • mewanchuk says:

          Hey Ken,

          Thanks for the follow up–funny enough, I was just thinking about emailing you the other day.

          Glad to hear you got it figured out (sorry about the results!)

          I am surprised at the price of the kits though…you should be able to get them for a lot cheaper than that!! (FPP has the 1L kit for $21, and I can get at least 12-15 rolls through one of them!)

          All the best, Mark

          On Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 8:27 AM, If Time Stood Still… wrote:

          >

  6. kenbryson says:

    Thanks Mark,

    I’m in Ontario and I don’t think FPP will ship chemicals to Canada. Argentix.ca has a C41 powder kit for for $30CAD so maybe I’ll give that a try. I purchased the $50 Cinestill C41 kit as I could get it off the shelf in Toronto and avoid shipping charges. Also it claimed to do upwards of 24 rolls so was the clear winner on cost/roll. I guess I just have to save my colour rolls and do them all over a few weeks if I get another kit.

    The other factor is my Epson V550 scanner is getting me down (even with additional cut glass inserts to keep the film flat in the holders) so I was thinking of just getting all my colour rolls developed and scanned in a lab. Just stick with B+W at home (I have 3 rolls stand developing as I type).

    Thanks again!

    -Ken

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