B. The Chemicals
Chemicals come in powder or liquid presentations. It is said that liquids are easier to use since you only have to dilute them in the specific proportions required by your film. However, due to transport and access limitations, I have only used the powder presentations.
The chemicals that you require to develop film are the followings:
- Developer. The developer converts the latent image to metallic silver, that is it brings out the latent image from the negative. This is the most important element of the process, the developer you chose may exploit the best of the characteristics of your film or it can totally ruin it. There are many choices for developer, but as a starting point you can’t go wrong with Kodak D-76, this is a very versatile developer that has been around for decades and almost any normal purpose film may be developed with D-76. Other developers can provide better results but this one comes in powder presentation, therefore it was my first choice. Later you may try Xtol, which also comes in powder presentation as well, but I have not yet fully tried it to the extent to give a proper opinion. For starters I would buy Kodak and not third party developers, there are a lot of “D-76 like” developers but the price difference is minimal.
- Fixer. The fixer makes the image permanent and light-resistant by dissolving any remaining silver halide salts, in other words as it’s name implies it “fixes” the image brought out by the developer from the negative. As in developers there are many options to choice from when it comes to fixers, but they mostly come in liquid presentations. For me there only option was Kodak Fixer because it comes in powder presentation. I have also tried a Fixer from Foma but my local supplier ran out of stock, so I bought a 5 gallon pack of Kodak fixer at the same price I acquired 1 litter of Foma Fixer. I have read from many sources that one fixer or another won’t make any difference in your negatives. This is true to a certain extent, just read the recommendations of the film manufacturer, for example while developing efke films it is recommended the use of non hardening fixers.
- Hypo Clearing Agent. Abbreviated HCA, it helps to wash out the film from any residual chemicals. If a HCA is not used, some films may present a tint dye purple or pink. Any HCA will do the job. Kodak’s HCA comes in powder.
- Wetting Agent. This helps to a uniform drying and to eliminate drying marks such as water spots; applying a wetting agent will make the water to slip through the film when you hang it to dry. It rinses the film at the final step, it does helps a lot.
- Distilled Water. This is not a chemical but it is of outmost importance for mixing the ones above referred, also it will be of great help during the final wash of the film.
Tips on mixing the Chemicals
Mixing powder chemicals requires patience and to follow some security measures.
- A ventilated place
- Latex Gloves
- Mouth mask
- Measured Beaker
- Distilled Water
- A mixer (glass preferred)
- The Powder Chemical
The two principal elements that you require are the chemical and the water where you will dilute the chemical.
The importance of the distilled water: distilled water is des-mineralized, tap water and bottled water comes with high to low levels of minerals depending on where you live, this is called “hard water”. I found out that in El Salvador neither tap water nor bottled water is apt for mixing chemicals; many people in other countries with less “hard water” use distilled water for mixing the chemicals.
It is recommended that you heat up the distilled water to 50 C for an easier dilution. If you are making a gallon, heat up 1 litter pour it into the beaker and then pour in the whole chemical package mix. Here comes patience comes to play, you need to stir gently for whatever time is needed to dissolve the powder, if after 10 minutes it does not dissolve what I do is I pour the entire beaker content (liquid and non dissolved powder) into the gallon jug where the rest of the distilled water is, mix it gently and the whole thing will be dissolved in a couple of minutes.
After mixing the chemicals is always wise to let them rest for a day; I usually mix them at night and check them in the morning. Keep the mixed chemicals in air tight containers otherwise they will get depleted very soon. I use plastic containers to keep the large batch and small glass containers to actually use during the developing process.
Next: The Developing Process