View Full Version : Vitamin C Developers - motor honey, cough syrup?

Ed K.
3-May-2006, 17:15
Once again, while browsing a well known local store, I noticed an odd little bottle of NC-2 Vitamin C film developer for 4 bucks. Hmmm, I thought, looks more like cough syrup and the description sounds like yet another motor honey cure-all or patent medicine. Well, being the experimenter from time to time, naturally I had to buy it.

Recently, I wanted to find a low-contrast but hopefully full speed developer that would allow me to make easily scannable negs from HP5 with low grain. I've been out shooting handheld with my Gowland Aerial again, and every bit of film speed is useful as the lens is only F9 and somewhere between 16 and 22 makes a good fStop for the combo. Impossible it seems, but braced on various street firmaments such as a pole or building, it actually works out fine. While it might sound like sacrilege to some, I'm presonaly no great fan of HP5 most of the time, and most of my work has been in the slow film department except for my early 35mm days.

Developed for 15 minutes, 20:1, four sheets in 500ml working solution, I was quite amazed at the fine grain, decent sharpness and good representation of shadow through highlight. Very promising juice indeed, and naturally a joyous occasion to get those couple of extra stops in speed. Oddly enough, the HP5 in this juice looks a lot like Fp4 in Rodinal 1:50 (but with finer grain), however I like it a bit more tone wise.

With no manufacturer's credits on the bottle, I'm hesitant to adopt the particular blend because who knows if I can get it again in the future. The stuff smells like isopropal alchohol mixed with old Pelecan ink, and it has a reddish brown color in concentrate.

I'm shooting 8x10 here, so the end print will not be a very large blowup. From time to time, the end result my just be a contact print, using traditional silver process ( no alt process prints in this case ). Slightly flat/compressed tone is good for me in this case ( scanning ). If I can get a long term supply of it, it's worth going through the rest of adding it to my kit.

Okay you chemically adept experts and experimenters - any ideas as to the formula of this stuff, or any suggestions as to how to get a similar set of qualities from another brew? Or, does anyone know the origin of this stuff?

Oren Grad
3-May-2006, 17:44
Well, if you like the taste of vitamin C, have you ever tried Xtol? The active ingredients are isoascorbate and phenidone. It behaves more or less like D-76, except that for a given dilution it tends to deliver a touch more speed and slightly finer grain. There are other ascorbate/isoascorbate recipes floating around too if you want to brew your own.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
3-May-2006, 18:24
I haven't tried it extensively, but Mytol, a homebrew Xtol, seems to work very well. Fast (but even) development, low grain, nice speed.

www.jackspcs.com/mytol.htm (http://www.jackspcs.com/mytol.htm)

Henry Ambrose
3-May-2006, 18:48
What Oren wrote.
Xtol is cheap and easy to find.
Its great with most films, totally wonderful with HP5.

Ed K.
3-May-2006, 19:20
Thanks guys.

Funny I hadn't considered XTol, as I had bad experiences with some lab-developed XTol stuff in the past, however I'm not positive that they actually used real XTol instead of something else.

Isn't it amazing how often the lowly D76 comes is mentioned as a standard/reference point, or gets a revist after testing the other waters? Seems like I'll have to try visiting the old D76 1:1 days again too.

As to the NC2 - The claimed hypoallergenic properites of the NC-2 along with supposed environmental friendliness are nice, but less critical to me with a Jobo than trays. I suspect that some tray processing folks might like NC-2 except for the long processing times and need for continuous agitation.

Easy to do - I shall try some XTol then, and thanks for the suggestions. Other suggestions if anyone has them are of course always welcome.

Oren Grad
3-May-2006, 19:32
Isn't it amazing how often the lowly D76 comes is mentioned as a standard/reference point, or gets a revist after testing the other waters?

I started with D-76 more than 25 years ago, spent years wandering around developer-land, and finally settled on... D-76. If you haven't tried HP5 Plus in good old-fashioned D-76, and have formed your impressions of it based on results with punchier developers that emphasize grain, you may be selling it short.

Ed K.
3-May-2006, 20:17
Yes Oren, I too started with D76 more than 25 years ago. At that time, I shot 35mm using the venerable TriX in the green and yellow box from the local Thrifty Drug store counter, usually purchased around 3-4 in the morning before shooting. Ah, those days... To me at the time, I thought the old Ilford films were neato keeno, but I always bought the green/yellow, purple/yellow and brown/yellow boxes and loved what I got. ( TriX, PlusX, PanatomicX). Trouble is, back then I didn't care technically about some of the things I now care about, because the shooting was journalistic in nature then, sort of F8 and be there, or set it at 1.4 at 1/30th and hold one's breath while the motordrive churned.

There is wisdom and simplicity in what you say though - I must revisit the old simple way, which is also inexpensive. Haven't tried "real" D76 with any modern version fast films yet simply because the slow films in large format have done the trick. Recently, I got a chance to look at many old negatives taken by Mr. Gowland. Every single one of them would be a joy to print. Veripan film, or something like that, most likely in D76. Nothing but great mid tones, fine grain and tack sharp. In his usual modest and self-efacing humor, he said that he just used it because it was cheap and didn't do anything special to process the stuff.

J Motamedi - thanks for the recipe link. The comments say that the formula yields results equal to XTol, however there is no mention of any advantage to self-brewing it. Forgive me for asking, but why might somebody use Mytol instead of XTol, given that XTol is available retail for not too much money? I'll take your recommendation as meaning "try XTol, and if you must home brew, here's how", right?

I wonder what would happen if we packaged a set of old standby developers into mysterious new packages and didn't reveal the ingredients, then had a series of photographers comment on their properties. Sure, many would not be tricked, however a good bet would be that many would wander down what can be another chase of the fabled "magic bullet".

I confess I have wandered in developerland, and along the way I have seen first-hand just why there are pyromaniacs, rodinites and others. For so many things, rodinal just worked, worked easy and worked well, so that became a favorite. Same goes for DDX with designer films. Those are two paint cans so to speak. Nice to have some more. I still take those walks into developerland here and there; if nothing else, it helps to appreciate the options and the hard work of others. Ultimately, I may settle on, well, D76 - who knows?

Just two suggestions for these old stand by developers should keep me off the streets for a bit.
But darn, that little red bottle looked like it might have been a magic bullet. Negs were good too.

Oren Grad
3-May-2006, 20:30
I too started with D76 more than 25 years ago. At that time, I shot 35mm using the venerable TriX in the green and yellow box from the local Thrifty Drug store counter

TX in D-76 1+1 is the staff of life, the very meaning of "film". I use HP5 Plus for LF because TX is not now and never will be available in cut sheets, but my photo-brain will forever be calibrated for the genuine article...

Henry Ambrose
3-May-2006, 21:26
Ed and Oren,

A year or two ago I was looking at a friend's prints (from scanned Hasselbald negs printed 4x4 feet on an Epson) he was making for a show and we were talking about his negatives. I asked him what they were and he said "TriX". I made some casual remark like "nothing looks like TriX" or some such - to which he replied, "it looks like pictures".

His comment has stuck with me since that day and I often think about how very true it is. For an entire generation (maybe more) TriX and D76 defined "pictures".

(TriX looks good in Xtol too)

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
3-May-2006, 21:46

The only reason I am using Mytol is that I can't get Xtol easily.

As an important aside, Xtol is more septic system friendly than most other developers.


Paul Fitzgerald
3-May-2006, 21:47
Hi Ed,


unblinkingeye.com/Articles/VitC/vitc.html (http://unblinkingeye.com/Articles/VitC/vitc.html)

for Pat Gainer's original recipes for Vitamin C developers. The original formula worked well with TechPan to tame contrast, may be what you are looking for.

Good luck with it.

Ed K.
3-May-2006, 22:52
Ah you all are so terrific.

TX in D-76 1+1 is the staff of life, the very meaning of "film".

Shhhh. What would Ansel say? Didn't they embalm St. Adams in his D25?

I know what you mean about TX, and well, printed in a darkroom long before
most of us could even dream about affording a "personal" computer or the warehouse sized building to put it in. For fun, I'm going to go through some of my own negs from that
age, which should still be in good shape. I have many that haven't seen the light for
many, many years.

Donald Qualls
4-May-2006, 08:51
Didn't they embalm St. Adams in his D25?

No, no, they embalmed St. Ansel in HC-110 syrup. He was a big fan of high dilutions at the end -- like Dilution G for around 20 minutes with very minimal agitation.

However, Gainer's PC-TEA is reported to do everything you want/need from an ascorbate developer, has only three ingredients (not counting water for dilution at time of use), keeps and is used much like HC-110 diluted direct from syrup, and is (like most homebrew developers) quite inexpensive. I haven't tried it myself -- haven't got my chemical cabinet stocked up enough to include triethanolamine, yet -- but all reports are excellent. Ascorbic acid in general, in fact, seems to be nice for fine grain, even without any solvent action; I'm tempted to consider it a solvent developing agent in itself, like PPD (but without the problems inherent in PPD with modern films).

Ed K.
4-May-2006, 16:10
Ah, similar to antifreeze as a preservative...

Donald, I have tried high dilutions of HC110, however so far, while they worked well enough, results were nothing special for me - not great, not bad either. If you try some PC-TEA, do let us know what you find in your own experience. And if it's a magic bullet too, who could resist? It's nice to see another post from you as you have spent a lot of time looking into these things. I might suggest something OT to you - if you haven't tried TechPan in David Wood's dr5, you might find something interesting in that ( haven't you done a bunch of TechPan experiments? ). The stuff is still available in 4x5 sheets.

At the moment, I'm mostly interested in another developer option just to help conquer a couple of anticipated situations, and make something pretty reliable plus have some time to test it well enough before my upcoming travels. At this point, I'm mostly interested in the picture as opposed to the process; a sort of retreat from my wanderings in technoland/developerland.

Another great suggestion though, and I may try it too if it doesn't take too long to get the chems. Trouble is, I've only got about a week to do some testing and then depend upon the results.

I'll mix up some D76 and XTol today...

Donald Qualls
4-May-2006, 21:00
Actually, Ed, I've never used genuine Tech Pan; I've used Imagelink HQ and Copex Rapid microfilms -- in 16 mm only -- and worked up homebrew developers for them that ought to also produce good results on Tech Pan if the SPUR optimized developers, Technidol, TD-3, etc. are not available (in fact, my most recent results with Copex Rapid at EI 64 in Caffenol LC+C are the equal of any I've seen in subminiature with this film). I hope to try the 35 mm version of CMS 20 from J&C in the near future; I'd expect to get something like EI 40 with it in Caffenol LC+C, with grain and definition like conventional 6x9 cm size ISO 100 film.

I'm sure I will try PC-TEA at some point, and it's possible that a version with some added solvent action and restrainer might replace HC-110 for me (since it's almost a given that Kodak will drop most if not all of their developers at some point, and I can't mix real HC-110 for myself the way I can D-76 or D-23). Honestly, though, I'd prefer a glycol-carried PQ developer; TEA is almost solid at common darkroom temperatures and as a result can be difficult to measure. I might spend some time working up a substitute for HC-110 -- shouldn't be that hard to get close. Kodak appears to have used Dimezone or Dimezone S and hydroquinone, an ammonia-sulfite complex, and a strong organic restrainer, according to my reading.

XTOL is a good choice for immediate availability. Getting chemicals, mixing, and testing in a week is going to be cutting it too close, IMO; keep the PC-TEA for another day. You'll get the most speed with XTOL by diluting it and extending development, but that will also reduce the fine grain character. Probably best to test both ways.

Tom Hoskinson
6-May-2006, 23:26
I've been using PC-TEA for a little over a year and it works very well. The stock solution is a high viscosity liquid which looks like dark honey.

The Triethanolamine (TEA) is the solvent for the phenidone and ascorbic acid and it also provides the alkali when it is mixed with water to make the working developer.

The PC-TEA stock solution has a very long shelf life.

Jay DeFehr
13-May-2006, 14:30
I've been using PC-TEA for a long time (yrears), and have NEVER seen it solidify. I live in Idaho, and my darkroom gets pretty cold in the winter. I don't think PC-TEA has the same freeze point as TEA. If you think PC-TEA needs a solvent, you might be surprised. I'm looking at an 11x14 print made with 120 HP5+ and PC-TEA, and it's grainless. The restrainer issue is a red herring, unless you're working with alt processes, in which case a drop of BZT in the working solution will eliminate any fog. Great stuff.


Donald Qualls
13-May-2006, 21:21
Jay, it looks as if everything I feared about PC-TEA was a myth.

Have to order for TEA next time I get some chemicals. It's cheap enough, and I can heat it in the microwave to get the other stuff into solution.

I'm surprised at your "grainless" results with HP5+, but perhaps I shouldn't be -- I routinely process Fomapan 100 in Parodinal, because it looks better than in HC-110, and part of the way it looks better is that the grain is uniformly fine and crisp, almost invisible in a 2400 ppi scan (what I do see is most likely artifacting rather than actual grain) and completely invisible in prints at reasonable magnification. HC-110 makes that film look completely grainless, but loses some of the "crisp" character.

I need to get some BZT, too -- well, put 'em on the list, might be able to order some more chemicals in a week or two.

Larry Kalajainen
23-May-2006, 05:14
Here's a homebrew Xtol or MYTOL-like Phenidone, Vitamin C formula that works extremely well for me with HP5.

First, a stock concentrate I got from old Pat Gainer articles:
PC-Glycol (minus alkali)
100 g. Ascorbic Acid
.25g Phenidone
1 liter Propylene Glycol (Some auto parts stores carry this as environmentally-friendly antifreeze) I got a gallon for $15.

When you're ready to develop:
1 liter water at 70F
1 tsp. (5 g) Sodium carbonate
1/4 tsp. (1.3g) Sodium metabisulfite
20 ml. stock PC concentrate (1+50)

For me, HP5 rated at ISO 200 develops in about 7:30 minutes. Very fine grain, good accutance and long tonal scale.

The concentrate will keep virtually forever.