Color film developing chemicals – develop at home kit

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As I promised in last week’s blog, this week I will be discussing how easy it is to develop color negative film at home too. The chemicals are different, and the process is a little different in that a higher processing temperature is needed. There’s an economic incentive to process your own film too – you can expect to spend $9 – $10 per roll for C-41 processing a 36-exposure roll of color film (processing only, with no other service). In contrast, purchasing a C-41 processing kit and doing it yourself will cost a mere $2.35 per 36-exposure roll.

What you need – equipment

This is the very same equipment that you will need to develop B&W film – if you do not have any film developing equipment, here is the reproduced list below:

  • Changing bag
    • This allows you to transfer exposed film from the film canister to the developing tank in total darkness.
  • Developing tank with (at least) 2 reels
    • For beginners a Patterson plastic tank and reels is recommended. It is much easier to learn how to load film on a ratcheting reel than to load film on a stainless steel reel.  I have one small stainless steel tank and reel and I have hardly ever used it in the past 25 years.
  • Thermometer
    • Get a decent quality stainless steel thermometer with easy read dial (or go digital for extra $) to process at the target temperature that your film and developer combination calls for.
  • Scissors
    • You will need a small scissors to cut the ends of film when loading the film into the tank, and again after the film has completely dried to cut into 5 frame strips for storage.
  • Bottle opener 
    • An old-school metal bottle opener is handy to open 35mm film canisters ( in the changing bag!)
  • Timer or cell phone app such as Develop! (available in the App Store for iOS) or Dev it – darkroom timer on Google Play for Android phones. 
    • Use this to accurately time each step of the development process to get consistent results.
  • Film clips
    • These firmly clip onto the wet film so that you may hang it up to dry – on a clothes hanger, or any other suitable location where the film will not be disturbed for an hour or so.
  • Film Sleeves
    • Once your negatives are completely dry, archival plastic sleeves are the preferred way of storing and organizing them.
  • Storage Bottles
    • The C-41 process chemistry consists of liquid mixtures that you need to pre-mix prior to starting the process. The three mixed solutions (Developer, Blix, and Stabilizer) have a shorter shelf life when pre-mixed for processing, so if you buy a gallon kit, it makes economic sense to have three quart (32 ounce) storage bottles for your process chemicals.

The process

The times and temperature may vary depending upon the C-41 kit you choose to purchase, but generally the C-41 process is carried out at 102-104 F, whereas processing of B&W film is done at or slightly below room temperature. For a DIY home color film processing setup the use of a small or medium sized picnic cooler will do an excellent job of keeping a warm water bath for your chemicals. Personally, I have taken things a step further by putting my Joule sous vide cooker into double duty for film processing, and it does a fantastic job of maintaining the water bath at temperature. No chemicals (or food!) ever come into contact with a sous vide cooker – it just maintains a constant water bath temperature using a heater and water circulating pump.

Steps

The following steps are consistent with the Arista C-41 processing kit:

  1. Premix 1 quart (or 1 liter) of Developer, Blix, and Stabilizer according to the directions that come with your particular C-41 process kit.
  2. Immerse the three process chemical storage bottles with premixed process chemicals into a heated water bath at 104 F, and allow each of them to come up to temperature.
  3. Once the chemicals are at temperature, adjust your kitchen faucet to run water at the same temperature (104 F), and once the running water is at temperature fill your developing tank (with exposed color negative film already loaded) and hold for a 1 minute pre-wash.
  4. Empty the pre-wash water (note the water is now colored?) and immediately add a sufficient amount of developer (approximately 400 mL per 36-exposure roll of 35mm film). Agitate at 1 minute intervals for the time indicated in the C-41 kit directions.
  5. Empty the developer back into the storage bottle (it can be re-used several times, unlike B&W developer that is a one-time use), and then immediately add Blix for the appropriate amount of time with agitation.
  6. Empty the Blix back into its storage bottle (it can also be re-used several times) and then wash with water, filling and emptying the tank at least seven times, for a minimum of 3 minutes and then drain.
  7. Add Stabilizer for about 1 minute (this is similar to Photo-Flo solution) and then drain.
  8. Hang film and allow to dry.

Similar to B&W process

So you can see that processing color negative film is a lot like the B&W process except for the processing temperature. Can you process C-41 at room temperature? Yes, you can … but expect some color shifting to occur.

If you like to cook as I do, you may be interested in getting yourself a sous vide cooker that will also help you with color negative film developing!

Conclusion

Photo film processing at home, whether B&W or Color, is easy and fun! It doesn’t take a huge investment in equipment or chemicals to do this either. Remember though – if you happen to live in a house with a septic system rather than a municipal sewer, you may not want to dump any chemicals down the drain!  Please check with someone knowledgeable about septic system maintenance before putting any chemical solutions down the sink. Also be sure to find out ahead of time from your local municipality how to safely dispose of used photo chemicals if you cannot put them down your sink.

Happy Shooting!

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