Black and white film development for lazy people by Colin Barey
colin Barey has been kind enough to share with us his technique for stand developing black and white film. I had actually been hoping for something like this as I recently found a place in Japan that sells R09 One shot. Yippee!
Black-and-White Film Development for Lazy People:
Part 1: Rodinal stand development
It’s been said repeatedly that developing black-and-white film yourself at home is much easier and cheaper than might be expected. Most shooters seem to settle on one film and one developer and hone their skill in using them to razor sharpness. I’m not blessed with that degree of discipline and focus, so I’ve ended up shooting nearly everything and developing it in nearly everything. In the course of these kitchen chemistry experiments, I’ve come across some techniques and materials that are a little less conventional than standard D-76 processing.
Sometimes you just can’t be bothered to stand there and watch an egg timer and agitate your film 10 or 15 times. No matter: if you’re willing to accept some compromises in terms of the materials you can use and how you use them, you can still achieve great results in Rodinal.
Rodinal stand development: light fuse and get away
Patented in 1891, Rodinal is one of the oldest film developers in the world. Formerly manufactured by now-defunct Agfa, it’s still produced by Agfa’s remnant company in Europe, Adox, under the name R09. Despite its impressive age this developer still has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s a liquid, so you don’t have to mix a minimum of a liter of it like you do with powdered developers. You only mix what you need. It’s a one-shot developer so you can’t reuse it, but it’s so concentrated and cheap that this is meaningless. Another of Rodinal’s charms is that its keeping properties are excellent. I’ve developed film with Rodinal from half-used bottles after they’ve been sitting on my shelf for nearly a year, and it still works. Finally, unlike HC-110, its dilutions make rational sense: 1+25, 1+50, and 1+100 are the most common. These are ratios you can do in your head, unlike Kodak’s tortured, mad hatter concoctions in defiance of all logic. The dilution I’ll be talking about is 1+100. In essence, you mix your Rodinal to this absurdly dilute concentration, put it in the development tank with your film, and leave for an hour. It doesn’t matter what films you develop, within the limits mentioned below. You can put ISO 400 film in the tank with ISO 50 film, and both will take 60 minutes to develop.
What kind of results can you expect? The first thing you’ll notice is that the perceived sharpness of your images will be enhanced due to an adjacency effect where higher density areas border lower density areas of the negative: unused developer from low density areas diffuses over into the edge of high density areas, increasing their density further and resulting in a sort of halo effect:
Note the subtle lightening near the edge of the back of his jacket; this makes him look sharper and pops him out where he might otherwise have blended into the asphalt road.
In this one, I’ve pushed Tri-X to ISO 3200 and stand developed it in Rodinal for a full 2 hours. The haloing is much more pronounced. It wouldn’t work on every shot, but it works here in my opinion.
As you can see, the effect can either be very subtle or distractingly extreme, depending on the speed of the film used and the contrast of the scene among other factors. Faster films show pronounced haloing in very high contrast scenes, and hence I don’t recommend using Rodinal stand development on films with box speeds over ISO 200 if you’re shooting people in black suits against white concrete in mid-summer sun, for example. Another unique feature of Rodinal is that at these low concentrations, it’s not a solvent developer, meaning that it doesn’t alter the grain structure of the film during development, unlike D-76 or XTOL, for example. This means that films which are designed with specific solvent developers in mind (often called “t-grain” films, such as Kodak T-Max or Fuji Neopan, because of the shape of their silver halide crystals ) will look very different after stand development, and probably much grainier than you might expect. For this reason, I’ve found that it’s best to stick to “traditional” cubic grain emulsions like Kentmere 100, Fomapan 100 and 400, FP4+, SFX 200, HP5+ and Tri-X, unless a grainier effect is acceptable to you. If you shoot slow films at box speeds, this is the right process for you. If you’re constantly pushing T-Max 400 to 1600, it’s not.
Stand development is deceptively simple. However, it’s best not to think of it as simply entrusting your hard-won images to the vicissitudes of fate. The more control you can exert over the process, the better your results will be. There are a few caveats that I had to learn myself the hard way that will help you achieve a more reliable outcome:
1) Control the temperature. If the developer temperature isn’t stable for the whole 60 minutes, you will notice a pronounced and unattractive density gradient in the film. To prevent this, I make a 20C bath in a Styrofoam cooler with a water level just a little below that of the developer in the tank and immerse the tank in it during development. Even after as much as an hour, the temperature of this bath doesn’t drift more than a degree up or down regardless of the ambient temperature, as long as you keep the lid of the cooler closed. Pre-soak the film for 3-5 minutes to get the temperature of your tank and film to 20C, and remember that in hot weather, the tank and film are going to be much hotter than 20C, so you’re going to need to use water a few degrees under 20C. When it’s over 25C in my apartment, I pre-wash the film with water that’s at about 18C, because as soon as the water hits the tank and film, the temperature is going to rise by a couple of degrees at least; this is necessary when developing film in any developer in hot weather (with the exception of the one I describe in part 2). Put the tank in the bath and mix your Rodinal while you wait for the temperature to stabilize.
2) Use enough. Agfa’s factory recommendation for stand development was that no less than 10 ml be used for each roll of film regardless of the concentration. This means that one roll of 35mm or 120 film would need a minimum of 1 liter of solution(!); in practice I’ve found that 5 ml per roll is just fine. Any less than this and the developer may exhaust before the film is completely developed.
3) Agitate a lot early, then not at all. I agitate for a full minute at the beginning, then bang the heck out of the tank to ensure that any bubbles dislodge, then put the tank in the bath and go away. Any further agitation will disturb the halo effect described above. There is a lot of stuff on the internet about people inverting the tank once or twice during the hour, but I found that this was largely done in an effort to mitigate the density gradient which can be better tamed with proper temperature control. If your temperature is stable, you shouldn’t need to do this, and your results will be more interesting if you don’t.
Rodinal stand development is a process that everyone ends up doing a little differently. Give it a try and you’re bound to create your own special methodology. It takes a while to nail it, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and it gives your negatives a unique look that cannot be achieved in any other way. And hey, what other process allows you the time to eat dinner while it’s going on?
Thanks for this Colin, I shall be giving it a try.