View Full Version : Only one Developer for B&W

2-Jul-2006, 19:12
Dear all,

I have used a lot of film x developer combination and whatever result I get it is always like a surprise. So I decided to stick to the expert’s advice and concentrate in one developer. But which one? My profile, as far as developers are concerned:
1- I like to photograph people (for fun, I am not professional)
2- Sizes from 35 to 13 x 18 cm. Lots of medium and 4 x 5 inches
3- I have a condenser enlarger Durst Laborator 1000
4- Fearing the day I won’t find any B&W film anymore I have a stock of Tmax, Tri-x 320, Ilford FP4 and FP5, AGFA 100, Forte and Classic.

I am pretty much in favor of D23:
Positive points I see in D23:
1-It is simple and I can prepare it freshly just the amount I need (I always dispose the working solution afterwards).
2-It is prepared from raw chemicals (independence)
3-It is good for low values (the ones one cannot miss)
4-It responds well for expansion N+1 or N+2

Negative points:
1-High values tend to become all the same if a certain threshold is passed and a certain fog also shows up. Can this be improved with practice?

I know the stock advice: try it, if it works for you, that is all that counts.
But as this is going to be like a long term commitment I would like to hear your comments about it. More positive points, negative points and alternatives are welcome.


Ron Marshall
2-Jul-2006, 20:09
Here is a site where the characteristics of various developers is discussed:


Ron Marshall
2-Jul-2006, 20:35
Sorry, this is the page I meant to post:


Ed K.
2-Jul-2006, 21:24
"Sizes from 35 to 13 x 18 cm. Lots of medium and 4 x 5 inches"

I can't give you expert advice on this however, have you had a look back at your own work to see any trends you like, problems you wish to smooth out or have you identified where you think another developer is going to do the trick? You may have your answer right in your files.

Paul Fitzgerald
2-Jul-2006, 22:48
"1-High values tend to become all the same if a certain threshold is passed and a certain fog also shows up. Can this be improved with practice?"

Sorry but sounds like you're over-developing with D-23, try more exposure and less developing time.

If not you can try adding 0.5g potassium bromide per liter to kill the fog.

With that variety of films and formats you may want to try D-23 as a 2-bath developer. Just use D-23 as bath A and 5.0g borax per liter as bath B, 4 minutes in each bath then tune it for each film type from there.

Good luck with it.

Jay DeFehr
3-Jul-2006, 00:27

I shoot mostly portraits in formats ranging from 35mm through 8x10, and use most of the same films you do, along with some others, and my favorite developer is 510-Pyro. 510-Pyro is not like other pyro developers in many ways, and is very forgiving and easy to use. It is a single solution developer, like HC-110 or Rodinal, that is diluted with water to make a one-shot working solution. The stock concenrate has a VERY long shelf life; I can't say how long for sure because none of it has ever gone bad, but estimate it in decades. 510-Pyro shares all of the positive aspects of D-23 you list, as well as some others, and none of the negative aspects. Here's a link to a short introduction and the formula:


A kit of the dry chemicals can be ordered from Artcraft Chemicals very reasonably, if you want to try some before stocking the constituent chemicals to make your own. Just add the dry chemicals from the kit to your own TEA to make the stock concentrate. I get my TEA from The Chemmistry Store. Here are the links:



510-Pyro is very economical, and requires only 1ml of concentrate to develop a roll/8x10 sheet of film. Good luck.


3-Jul-2006, 05:08
There is a "Universal Developer" called Harvey's 777, which produces high speed, low grain, and sharp negatives, lasts forever and is so easy to use that it's even panthermic. Unfortunately it has fallen out of favor and is now available only in huge quantities.

Steve Kefford
3-Jul-2006, 05:20
...4- Fearing the day I won’t find any B&W film anymore...

Why do you fear this? B&W chemical photography will be with us for many more years to come.


Brian Ellis
3-Jul-2006, 08:00
I've never been a big fan of unusual developers or developers that can only be bought from chemical houses or other similar places. I also don't like to keep a lot of different chemicals on hand so I don't favor developers that you have to make yourself from scratch. I've used Kodak D76 1-1 forever (though I recently read an article from someone who made a pretty convincing case for slighly better results using it undiluted and if using it that way wouldn't require that I redo all my tests that's probably what I'd do). D76 is a very good general purpose developer, it's been around for close to 100 years now, in stock form it has a decent shelf life (I think Kodak says six months or a year in a fully stoppered bottle though I use two months as my own maximum time just to be safe) or it can be bought in sufficiently small quantites that you can mix a stock solution each time you use it. I figure anything in photography that's been around that long must be pretty good and I've always been pleased with the results using it with a wide variety of subjects. I think Ilford makes a developer that's chemically identical to D76, I forget what it's called.

Armin Seeholzer
3-Jul-2006, 08:24
XTOL ist the one and only, good speed very nice tones, sharpnes almost no grain!
Test it use it don't look back.

Jim MacKenzie
3-Jul-2006, 10:05
Ilford's D-76 is called ID-11.

Using that developer undiluted will result in finer-appearing grain at the expense of less perceived sharpness (acutance). Since grain is a non-issue for most large-format photography, dilution seems to make more sense to me. (I have long used diluted D-76 with 35mm film and find that the trade-off has been worthwhile; I almost always prefer image sharpness over fine grain, and simply use slower films when I want both.)

D-23 is a good developer with which to play with. Eventually you will probably want to add a second and third developer (one at a time!). One of the greatest advantages, to me, of large format photography is that you can shoot an image on several sheets of film and develop it in different developers with different times to get precisely what you want out of the image. It is far easier to tinker with possibilities with LF than it is with roll film or 35mm. One can, of course, take this to ridiculous lengths but I like the idea of shooting an image on three or four sheets of film so that I can try different possibilities a little more easily.

Stick with D-23 awhile. Learn what you love about it and what you hate about it. Once you know that, try to find a developer that will really complement it and learn how to use it (Rodinal pops into my head as a possibility, or a pyrogallol or pyrocatechin developer like PMK or Pyrocat). It is even entirely possible that you will love D-23 so much that this additional step will not be necessary.

Bruce Watson
3-Jul-2006, 10:59
XTOL ist the one and only, good speed very nice tones, sharpnes almost no grain!
Test it use it don't look back.
I'll second that. XTOL is the only developer I use for B&W. I mix it with steam distilled water. I store the stock solution in old wine bottles using a vacuvin (http://www.vacuvin.nl/wining_winesaverrvs.html) stopper system. Using this system I've used stock that was eight months old that worked as well as freshly mixed.

I use XTOL at the 1:3 dilution. As Armin says, excellent speed, excellent tones, excellent sharpness, and small, well formed grain.

And if Kodak ceases to make it, there are published formulas that are reputed to be very similar that give very simlar results that you can mix yourself from readily available chemicals. I've never done that, however, because it's just too cheap and easy to buy from Kodak.

Henry Ambrose
4-Jul-2006, 09:18
Another vote for Xtol.
Its a great all-around developer, you'll get fine results with most any film and its cheap to buy and easy to mix. I make my Xtol with RO or distilled water and store it in small glass bottles. Keeping it in small pre-measured doses makes it very convenient to use. Xtol keeps very well, giving consistent results over time.

I can also say that D23 is a fine developer. D23 gives me about one full stop less speed than Xtol 1:3. Otherwise I can't think of anything wrong with D23.

ronald moravec
5-Jul-2006, 11:49
If you are looking long term to when supplies are no longer easily available, pick something you can mix from raw materials that will keep into the future.

D 23 or D76 is it. Buy some bulk (one pound) metol, and break in down to 2 oz bottles. Tape seal the lids of seven bottles and work from one. cut a plastic spoon down so you can get into small bottles. Either mixed developer will be good in a full sealed bottle for 6 months unused.

xtol has some virtues, but it has a limited shelf life. I will give you fits if the package shelf life is exceeded, although it will appear to work, it will not. I no longer use it.

The real problem is going to be paper. Almost all of todays papers have chemicals in the emulsion so the manufacturer does not need to age it before distribution. This keeps down mfrg costs, but limits shelf life of the paper to 2/3 years tops.

I have some 40 year old paper that is still good, but it is an old emulsion, Polycontrast.

Wayne Crider
6-Jul-2006, 14:15
"I have a stock of Tmax, Tri-x 320, Ilford FP4 and FP5" (HP5+?)

There are solvent developers (fine grain) and non-solvent (high acutance) developers. Some loose speed, some maintain it and some increase it. Most acutance developers are compensating to a degree. Then there's super fine grain and tanning developers, and developers that can be divided for two bath processing. Almost hard top choose just one!

Tabular grain films like Xtol and it's the recommended developer by Kodak. I use it and like it. It mixes easily and last quite a long time (over a year in my case) if precautions are taken. It's pretty benign and gives about a 2/3 stop increase in speed... D76 is a developer that every film manufactuer makes sure their film will perform well in, "although there are questions if it is the optimum developer for todays films" (quote FDC-Film developing Cookbook). Crawley addressed this in his FX developers... I've used D76/IDII in the past but would probably start mixing my own D76 if wanting to use it again. The formula changes without notice and that's not necessairly a good thing for some... I like Diafine as it's easy to use with no exact temp problems but Diafine doesn't seem to like tabular grain films. If I was traveling and developing as I go I might use a two bath without the temperature requirements... I've used Pyrocat, but developing times / contrast index's are mostly by experiment for your enlarging source. It works, has it's adherents, and can be used (as others) as a stand developer especially for micro contrast gradation. I found a shorter life expectency.

It believe what it comes down to is using the correct developer for the subject matter, being low contrast or high contrast situations, and what look you want to achieve. I think that you may be better off sticking to one film (for awhile) and using 2 different developers. One developer for fine grain and one for acutance with a push. If your deep tanking it or Jobo'ing your film, there are developers that are better then others for the specific process. If you shoot smaller quanities of film and would like a longer lasting developer the 510 Pyro above or Diafine might serve you better. As a all around developer I believe Xtol surpasses D76.

11-Sep-2006, 09:50
Hello again,

So I followed Jay De Fehr's recomendation and prepared some 510 Pyro. The first film looks very good. But I have one question: My room temperature was about 68 F and it was quite difficult to pump the developer into the seringe (without needle of course). The viscosity is very high. Is there a problem if I heat it up everytime I need some from the stock bottle? I prepared 200 ml and use about 5 each time. That means the last five would experiment 40 ups and downs in temperature. I wonder it that would make it worse in any way. Any clue about it?



Jay DeFehr
11-Sep-2006, 18:28
Hi Wagner.

TEA is fairly viscous at room temp, but not so much that it creates any problems in my darkroom. I keep my 510-Pyro in a condiment squeeze bottle with a measuring syringe inserted into its tip. To make a working solution, I just turn the bottle upside down and draw out the required volume of concentrate, and then add it to my pre-measured water, and stir. If a thinner consistency is easier for you to work with, you could try Pat Gainer's trick of keeping the bottle of concentrate in a hot water bath. Heating/cooling cycles have no adverse effects that I'm aware of, so if it makes it easier for you, I say go for it.


12-Sep-2006, 05:14
There has been some experimentation with Pat Gainer's PC-TEA formula adding some propelyne glycol to the formula to make pouring easier. Have you tried replacing some of the TEA in 510 Pyro with glycol? Of course the glycol serves only part of the funciton of TEA - it's not an accelerator - so it may throw off the balance.

And to keep this thread on topic, I'm finding PC-TEA to be a good developer for various films if you are looking for a simple, long-lasting non-staining developer.

Donald Brewster
12-Sep-2006, 08:00
I'm a classicist. Tri-X in D-76 1+1.

Christopher Perez
12-Sep-2006, 08:29
After reading a couple links, I'm concerned about the cancerous nature of hydroquinone in D76 (and other) developers.

XTOL looks safest, health wise.

The reason for my sudden concern is that I tray process 8x10 in D76. I read where the chemicals are absorbed through the skin. It scared me.

Besides XTOL, which developers are commonly available in the US that are relatively "safe" from a health perspective?

Ron Marshall
12-Sep-2006, 09:25
Besides XTOL, which developers are commonly available in the US that are relatively "safe" from a health perspective?

Here is a list of unsafe developer ingredients:


Jay DeFehr
12-Sep-2006, 11:32
Hi Juan.

The viscosity of 510-Pyro, or PC-TEA has not been an issue for me, so I haven't bothered trying to thin either with glycol. If one were to add an equal volume of glycol to the concentrate, one would compensate by using 2X as much concentrate to make a working solution. Warming the concentrate seems a more practical and economical solution for those who find TEA concentrates too viscous.


Donald Qualls
12-Sep-2006, 17:44
After reading a couple links, I'm concerned about the cancerous nature of hydroquinone in D76 (and other) developers.

Ansel Adams worked with D-76 and Dektol for most of fifty years (he was an experience photographer before they came along, of that'd be a higher figure). It wasn't cancer that finally killed him, AFAIK. Epidemiological studies made long before it became common for photographers to wear rubber gloves found that photographers were no more prone to early death than those in low-risk occupations (and were better off than many -- chemists, for instance, used to simply accept that they were likely to die by age 60 from the long term effects of benzene used as a solvent for organic chemistry).

It's certainly possible to be dangerously allergic to metol, but it's also easy to set up a darkroom without a trace of metol present. Some asthmatics have trouble with the sulfur dioxide emitted by acidic solutions containing sodium sulfite; an acid-free process (water stop, neutral-to-alkaline fixer) can avoid this (and even rapid fixer, if not significantly alkaline, won't produce enough ammonia to cause the same issues). Pyro, pyrocat, and a few of the older developing agents that are seldom used these days have higher toxicity than the more common agents, but even those are no more hazardous than what you inhale every time you fill your vehicle's fuel tank, and your exposure is likely to be lower as long as you don't drink your developer (it's a very good idea to wear a respirator or correctly fitted dust mask when mixing pyro or pyrocat from powder, but otherwise gloves are plenty of precaution).

The only reasonably common darkroom chemical that's seriously hazardous to use is selenium toner.

If you do B&W reversal or alt processes, you may be exposed to potassium dichromate, which is pretty serious stuff; it's an irritant, blistering agent, and suspected carcinogen, but my experience with it is that the powder tends to clump rather than flying around, so inhaling it would seem to require working at it. You'll also work with sulfuric acid in reversal -- just as you will if you refill the cells in your car battery (as you should, unless you pay someone else to do so). If you mix your own developers, you might wind up handling sodium or potassium hydroxide, probably the most acutely hazardous chemical in my darkroom (I'm more afraid of the dichromate, but that's because lye does all its damage immediately, and then you heal with nothing worse than a scar, while dichromate is just getting started when you wash a splash off your skin; the real damage may be years down the road). A droplet of lye too small to feel, landing in your eye, can do permanent damage before you even know it's there; wear goggles if you mix chemicals that require hydroxides, and either buy the stuff already in solution, or follow correct procedures for mixing and diluting strong solutions of either acids or bases like lye.

Obviously, if you have children or children have access to your home, *all* chemicals need to be secured so that only children old enough to understand their use can gain access, and then only with adult supervision until the children are old enough and experienced enough to work on their own (for some of the chemicals in my house, I think that'd be shortly after they moved out on their own, if I had kids).

Ralph Barker
12-Sep-2006, 19:50
. . . Obviously, if you have children or children have access to your home . . .

Shouldn't children be Velcro'ed to the wall for appropriate display? (Some may require a liberal application of gaffer's tape to minimize noisy complaints.) If so, wouldn't that solve the potential chemical-exposure problem? ;)

Donald Qualls
13-Sep-2006, 16:08
Velcro isn't appropriate for mounting children, Ralph -- their constant squirming will cause them to work off level, creep downward, and in extreme cases may even result in them falling right off the wall (which can cause a soft print by transmitting vibration through the house frame to your enlarger head). If you wish to wall mount children, they need to be dry mounted with an extra-heavy pressing, but at low temperature (to avoid color shift), then matted free-floating. The archival dry mount adhesive is much less likely to provoke an undesired reaction than the latex adhesive on gaffer tape, which can cause red discoloration in some examples.

Umm... ...we *are* still on a joke footing, right? :eek:

Christopher Perez
13-Sep-2006, 16:27
It's the freezer for children. Keeps 'um fresher longer. Quieter too. They don't tend to move as quickly as when they're warm.

St. Ansel died from cancer. But I don't know what kind.

Eric Jones
13-Sep-2006, 17:23
Another vote for 510-PYRO, I use a standard plastic 6-ml syringe. I encounter no problems with the viscosity at standard room temp 68F.

steve simmons
14-Sep-2006, 06:08
"St. Ansel died from cancer. But I don't know what kind."
I thought he died from heart failure. Where did you get the cancer story?

steve simmons

Patrik Roseen
14-Sep-2006, 08:12
...the cause of death is stated in many places on the internet, e.g. Wikipedia.

The wordings are almost the same everywhere so it could come from one single source.
True or not I do not know...

Christopher Perez
14-Sep-2006, 08:33
I was in Powell's books the other day and was thumbing through one of the St. Ansel biographies. I don't recall who's writing it was. My bad, I realize. But it clearly stated that he died of cancer.

I don't wish to cause a stir. If I'm wrong I'm wrong. But the sentence I read started me to thinking about health issues and traditional photo-chemistry.

I would LOVE to hear how wrong I am so I can go back to doing what I was doing.

"St. Ansel died from cancer. But I don't know what kind."
I thought he died from heart failure. Where did you get the cancer story?

steve simmons

steve simmons
14-Sep-2006, 10:49
As far as I know Ansel died of heart failure or complications from heart failure. He had a pacemaker that he wore out and he had a replacement valve in his heart that gave out.

steve simmns

Patrik Roseen
14-Sep-2006, 10:59
...heartfailure aggravated by cancer...


As I said in my previous post, the story is out there, Right or Wrong?

Ron Marshall
14-Sep-2006, 11:10
What does it matter how AA died. Even if by cancer, it cannot be proven the cancer was caused by darkroom chemicals.

Proper precautions should be used by anyone handling chemicals. Then there is no need to worry.

14-Sep-2006, 12:57
Ansel was 82 at the time of his death. There are alot of things that at that age can kill you. A lot of people don't live that long and some do. It is a crap shoot. Live and enjoy your life.


18-Sep-2006, 19:18

I would like to thank you all for your input and take the opportunity to report what is my conclusion refering to the question I posed opening this thread:

I gave up about having only one developer. I decided that D23 and 510-Pyro make a good combination to work with.

For subjects with wide tonal range I will consider 1/2 to 1 point over exposure while shooting and developing with D23 to have a printable negative with texture from shadows to highlights.

For subjects with narrow tonal range the 510 Pyro gives me a lot of freedom on how far I want to stretch it in the negative by varying the developing time.

Both are flexible to use in oposite situations but that is how I figured they give their best.

In both cases I do not depend on more than raw chemicals, very easy to mix, with D23 we don´t bother with stock solution (as we prepare only the working) and I just loved the shelf life of 510 Pyro that (as far as I understood) lasts virtually for ever as it doesn´t oxidize. About using a seringe for measuring the 1/100 dilution it is enough 20s in a microwave (for 200 ml stock) and it becomes friendly fluid.

That closes for me a questioning I have had for years and, eventhough there might be better alternatives, I will keep that as a framework and concentrate my attention in varying other aspects in making better photographs.

Thanks again for the good discussion.



Jay DeFehr
18-Sep-2006, 20:12