Last year, after about 2 years of shooting with my Canon Digital Rebel XS, I bought my first (then second, and third, and so forth) manual film camera in Singapore, as I was getting ready to get married.  It was an old Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F, with a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar.  Of course, I had to figure out where to get film, both color (easy) and monochrome (almost impossible) in Singapore.  I also figured that, the rate I was going (figuring out exposure was a huge pain!) I will have to develop my film back in the US (I was only back for a month).  So I purchased a changing bag, a film development tank and some other miscellaneous items.  Chemicals, for the most part, was purchased from Adorama and ebay (although a bottle of fixer and some developer powder sit in my Singapore home, unopened).  It was, however, a frustrating process trying to figure out the ins and outs of film processing, so I thought I will write this post to help a fellow out.

Short Primer
So what does one need to process his/her own film?  First, you have to realize that there are many color processes (E6, K-14, and C41, which is the most common), and essentially one type of black and white process (with the exception of chromogenic BW film).  There are also two types of film – negatives (common) and positives (slide films, harder to shoot, and harder to find).  Because color processes are a little more difficult to perform in the regular home (temperature control and hazardous material disposal needed), I will only focus on black and white negative film processing.

You will need to have at least the following items:

  1. Development tank: the light-tight tank is unlike any other opaque container, and you can pretty much forget about trying to replace it with cheaper stuff.  This will likely be the most expensive piece of equipment for development, so don’t be afraid to pay upwards of 30 bucks for a good one.  There are generally two types of tanks, namely the Patterson plastic tanks which work with some pretty ingenious reels, and the stainless steel ones that are a little harder to load.  I have both, and I think the plastic reels, which hold the undeveloped negatives, are a little easier to use.  This is important because you will be working without sight when loading the film (not even the red safelight, since your film is sensitive to red light too!).  I do not think you can interchange the reels, so I will recommend Patterson plastic tanks.  The tanks come in different sizes, and generally a tank sized for two 135 film will work.  If you foresee yourself shooting medium format, though, you will want to try larger tanks meant for simultaneous development of two 120 rolls.  You should note that most plastic reels can be extended to work with 120 film by twisting is clockwise.  Very handy!

    Metal Development Tank with Reel

    Patterson Plastic Development Tank with Reels (one extended and the other on the center stem)

  2. Changing bag: this is, again, a light-tight item, and is used for loading the exposed film onto the reels prior to development.  You can think of it as a two-layer, black t-shirt with the part where the head comes out sealed off.  Basically, you put all the stuff into the bag, double-zip, and place your hands through the “sleeves” to load the film in total darkness.  I will explain this a bit later.  This should cost approximately 20 bucks.

    A changing bag is a double-zipped nylon bag with two sleeves for accessing the light-sensitive materials

  3. Measuring cup & syringes:  The chemicals will be approximately hundreds of milliliters in volume, so you’d want a cup/beaker that can easily hit 1 liter.  You should also have large syringes for up to 10mL of chemicals.
  4. Thermometer: If you live in a temperate country, the seasons can wreak havoc on your processing.  Be sure to prepare a thermometer for consistent results.  Typically, the temperature used for BW is either 68 or 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Film picker (optional): this is handy if your film is completely rewound after shooting (i.e. no film leader showing).  Alternatively, you can use a pair of pliers and just pop the film canister.  I prefer this to the film picker for its simplicity.
  6. Scissors!!: to cut the end of the roll from the reel.
I will continue next time with the chemicals, and finally the processing itself.  Stay tuned!
*Pictures to come