View Full Version : Recommendations for DIY E-6 Processing

eric black
9-Feb-2007, 07:41
Im either a control freak or I have grown tired of others incorrectly developing film for me (especially when I try to push or pull film). Either way, I am wondering if anyone could give me some direction on what is required to set up an in home E-6 lab for developing 4x5 film. I typically shoot about 200-300 images per year and dont mind working with chemicals (My paying job is in chemistry so its not much of a leap for me). How affordable is the equipment and what are the success/horror stories that anybody who has tried this has to share with me. Lastly, what are the expenses associated with making this step? Thanks for any advice you can dispense my way

Louie Powell
9-Feb-2007, 08:41
Eric -

I've done it, though in the interest of full disclosure I will admit that its been more than a few years, and I did it with 35mm rather than 4x5.

The only thing that is really challenging about E-6 is temperature control. The recommended processing temperature is 100 deg F, and the first developer must be maintained to within 1/4 deg of that point to achieve consistent film speed/exposure. Yes, it is possible to vary the first developer temperature if you also vary the processing time, but to do that and achieve consistent results requires a lot of testing. The temperature can vary a bit in the rest of the processes, but they are all "processing to completion" and extending the time to compensate for a drop in temperature won't hurt anything.

Assuming that you are not going to opt for a Jobo system, you will need to find some kind of tank for processing. The HP Combi-Plan tank has a good reputation, and there are a few stainless spiral tanks out there on e-bay that would also work. You will need a good thermometer, some bottles for chemistry, and a large container to serve as a tempering tank. I used a Rubbermaid bin that my wife had purchased for some other application. Obviously, your initial cost will vary depending on what you have on hand versus what you have to buy.

The easiest way to purchase the chemistry is in packaged kits, and there are several suppliers to choose from. But that's where it gets interesting. First choice: three-step versus 6-step? The three-step kits are easier to find and are less expensive, but they lack the stabilizer and other finishing chemicals that lead to longer life expectancy for the finished product.

It is also possible to purchase raw chemicals from Formulary or Artcraft and make your own kit. That's probably less expensive, and if you are a practiced chemist, might be the way to go - after you master the process.

The other issue with kits is economy. Here, I have to refer to my 35mm experience. A liter kit typically is designed to process six-35mm rolls (or equivalent), in three waves of two rolls each, with the first developer time extended on the second and third waves to compensate for partial exhaustion of the chemicals. I found that it was possible to squeeze a seventh roll through the kit with no apparent impact on results provided the three waves involved 3-2-2 rolls. And if that all happened within the 30 day shelf life of the kit (from the time the first wave was processed), the cost per roll came out to be significantly less than commercial E-6 processing (at the time). However, if my shooting rate was slower and I couldn't process all six (or seven) rolls within the 30 day period and had to discard partially used chemicals because they had aged too much, then commercial processing became more attractive.

The other factor was turnaround. A classic example was when I had a workshop assignment to photograph the interior of a building. I took a day of vacation to complete the assignment, photographed in the morning, went home at noon to process the film from the morning shoot, and then was back on site before the end of the day to reshoot the stuff that didn't work from the morning. At the time, the fastest turnaround in this area for E-6 was about 24 hours, so the DIY approach was a clear winner.

9-Feb-2007, 08:56
200+ sheets but how spread out? 4 a week I'm not sure it's worth while. If it's less spread out then then okay.

I'd suggest Jobo tanks even if you don't get a processor. The tanks can use very little chemicals and are a better match for colour processes.

For chemicals I'd suggest the Kodak 5litre kit. I'd also suggest going to the Kodak website and downloading the Z119 manuals.


At the low end you need something to maintain your chemical temps. Tanks. Plus the other usual darkroom stuff. I use a fish heater in a picnic cooler to temper my chemicals. It works. Is simple. Plus it's fairly cheap. The Jobo tanks I use are then mounted on a Unicolor roller to spin the tanks. Roller plugged into a Gralab 300 timer. The tanks once warmed up will hold temperture for each step.

At the high end is some sort of processor.

John Hoang
9-Feb-2007, 09:33
Getting E6 chemistry is part of the problem. I live in Southern California and used to buy Kodak E6 5 liter kit locally. Not any more, I now have to mail order from Adorama. B&H has it but they do not ship.

I strongly recommend Jobo processors. I have been using Jobo CPP-2 and expert drums with great success.

Ted Harris
9-Feb-2007, 09:38
I process E6 all the time, sometimes as many as 50 sheets at a time. I use a Jobo ATL2300 and keep rotating Expert Tanks. I don't recommend tray processing because temperature control is a bit more difficult. Fact is, that the only really really criticla step in terms of temperature is the first developer. I have 35mm slides that I processed 40 years ago in totally uncontrolled conditions that still look fine BUT if you are a control freak and want to insure quality you will need to maintain temperature controls.

10-Feb-2007, 09:29
FWIW, I use the aforementioned Kodak 1-shot kit and a Jobo and always get consistant results. Roll film only for me as I've yet to shoot chrome sheet.

The Jobo is a big rip-off for what you get but they are often seen on Ebay.