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Processing black & white film

Essential ingredients


There is a tremendous sense of excitement when you open your first film cartridge (in total darkness, of course) to begin the process of film processing. Your first glimpse at the final negatives is usually quite exhilarating.
There is a tremendous sense of excitement when you open your first film cartridge (in total darkness, of course) to begin the process of film processing. Your first glimpse at the final negatives is usually quite exhilarating.

Standard black and white film processing is not difficult. Just about anybody can do it. It is a straightforward, easily-understood, simple-to-follow process that needs hardly any physical space and not much in the way of equipment.

The quality of the finished negatives (and ultimately the prints made from the negatives) depends as much upon the precision of your film processing as it does on the proper exposure of the film when the pictures were being taken.

Film processing precision means using precisely-correct measurements when mixing chemicals, precise temperature maintenance and precise timing.


When just starting out to process film, it is best to carefully follow the film manufacturer's recommendations for processing a particular brand of film. You will produce fine negatives from properly-exposed film if you religiously follow the recommended procedures. As you gain more experience, you may wish to deviate from normal processing to obtain different results, but it is best to master the basics first.

WHAT YOU NEED TO PROCESS B&W FILM


Plastic developing tank components.
Plastic developing tank components.

Here is what you should have:

  • black and white film that has been exposed;
  • complete darkness;
  • a dry counter top;
  • a bottle cap opener to open the 35 mm film cartridge;
  • scissors;
  • a film developing tank;
  • reels that fit into the tank (one per roll of film);
  • film processing chemicals - developer and fixer;
  • optional chemicals (recommended) - stop bath, hypo clearing agent and wetting agent;
  • a container in which chemicals can be mixed;
  • a stirring rod to mix chemicals;
  • a graduated beaker for measuring amounts of chemicals;
  • chemical storage bottles;
  • a darkroom thermometer;
  • a timer (a stopwatch will do);
  • a funnel;
  • running water that can be maintained at a constant temperature;
  • a washing hose;
  • a sponge squeegee to remove water from the film (not essential, but helpful);
  • clips for hanging negatives; and
  • a dust-free location to hang the film to dry.


There are many additional items that are useful (but not essential) in processing film, such as a waterproof apron, clean towels, water temperature mixing valves, specialty darkroom sinks, siphons and a myriad of other darkroom accessories.

For information on the chemicals used in processing black and white film, click here or on the "Chemicals for B&W film" link below.

Metal developing tanks are also available. Many beginners find loading a metal reel to be more difficult than a plastic reel, but once you get the hang of it, you may decide to stay with metal for its sturdiness.
Metal developing tanks are also available. Many beginners find loading a metal reel to be more difficult than a plastic reel, but once you get the hang of it, you may decide to stay with metal for its sturdiness.


Further information...

Chemicals for B&W film

Developing film