View Full Version : starter darkroom

scott russell
14-May-2008, 13:12
Hi, I want to start shooting and developing my own ilford b&w film but im not sure where to start. my only experience is with 35mm/120 film using Spring chemicals in high school which i happened to be pretty happy with.

I plan on buying a combi plan tank as i don't have an actually dark room to work in. My girlfriend used to run a darkroom and she recommends the D76 powder which seems to be pretty economical. Does anyone have a favorite set up they use to develop their film?

theres also this efke infrared film thats on the market that i want to shoot (which is actually more motivating to get darkroom supplies and start developing!) i got great results using the kodak infrared film in 35mm but i don't have any experience with this and would like to pick a chemical set up that could easily deal with the ilford and efke films.

14-May-2008, 13:17
Scott, I've no experience with powder devs, I'd recommend a big 5L bottle of Suprol (essentially universal developer - paper and film). I've got perfectly fine results from it and over here 5L is the cost of 500ml of Rodinal.

Since I'm like you, I have a changing bag and load/unload the film with that, I hate combi-plan tanks but they are a lot faster to develop high-volumes (more than one sheet at a time, which I do with a Paterson Orbital).

14-May-2008, 22:39

Jobo 2551 tank.
2509N reel [or two]
Unicolor motorbase I think it's a 351
Gralab 300 timer.

A newspaper to read while things spin. -)

I'm guessing 4x5.


I mix up D-23 1:3. It's easy and quick to make up. Not the cheapest but you won't waste any so in the end it's similar.

TF-2 fixer. Which is cheap and easy to make up.

John Kasaian
15-May-2008, 07:39
Scott, your girlfriend is correct, D-76 is the 'gold standard.' You may feel inclined to experiment with more exotic stuff and that is great too but if you don't have another preference yet, D-76 is the way to go IMHO---it works very well on everything.
I've never used a combi-plan, but you might check out the Unicolor article on the LF Homepage---these aren't expensive and work great for daylight processing---sort of a "poor man's Jobo"
If you can soup film in a darkroom, then tray development is my recommendation for 4x5 B&W film.

Check out Craigs List for used stuff. You can probably set up a dark room for a song these days :)

Ralph Barker
15-May-2008, 10:49
Scott, you're likely to get a wide variety of recommendations on chemicals. Since you appear to be new to 4x5 (I'm assuming that is your format based on the CombPlan tank ref), sticking to one reliable developer, such as Kodak D-76 (or Ilford's equivalent ID-11) for a while will help simplify the learning process. You can find suggeste development times for D-76 for most popular films on the Massive Developer Chart site:


Naturally, you'll need to do some testing/experimentation to arrive at your own optimal exposure/development combo for each film you use.

Note, too, that with the CombiPlan tank, you don't really need a darkroom, as such. A good film changing/loading tent (I like the Harrison tents) would suffice for developing purposes. You will, of course, need a darkroom of some sort for enlarging or printing, unless you scan and print digitally.

If you try the Efke 4x5 IR film, be aware that not all 4x5 film holders and camera bellows are opaque to IR transmission. In other words, "dark" to us isn't necessarily dark to IR. You may want to get a roll of 35mm IR film to test your setup (i.e., snip sections of the 35mm film and tape it inside your holders to see if it fogs - either in the holders alone, or after the dark slide is pulled with the holder in your camera).

scott russell
16-May-2008, 10:17
So this is the setup I have figured out so far:

Combi Plan tank

D-76 power
Kodak Indicator stop bath
Kodak fixer powder
Kodak hypo clearing agent (not sure about this, previously i used sprint fixer remover or perma wash)
Kodak Photoflo

-not sure about hardening agent
-not sure about bottle sizes/graduated cylinders/measuring cups. i think the combi plan takes a half gallon of liquid?

I was trying to decide between a kodak or sprint system or both. I like the sprint chemicals cause they dilute to 1:9 so you can get a few shots with one bottle, and the mixing is super easy. On the other hand, once you open the bottle and there is air in it, some of the chemicals only last a couple months. This might be a problem if i don't go through the whole bottle in a couple months. Powder is easier in that sense, cause you only need to make a the working solution and the bag of powder is safe to store for a while. Im sure i'll be developing one batch of 6 negs every week or so, but once it slows down i may not develop anything for months and i would like to have chemistry on hand without having to re-stock my entire line of chemicals.

To clear things up a bit, the main reason i wanna dev some b&w is to mess around with a 4x5 pinhole a friend lent me. bracketing a bunch of 3 dollar Polaroids (which i can't see buying any more of in the future) would just make me feel foolish, and having b&w chemicals on hand and a tank would be all the more motivation to shoot some black and white with my view camera and maybe some infrared; killing a few birds with one stone.

Ralph Barker
16-May-2008, 15:08
The hardening agent is optional with most modern films, and necessary only with a couple of Eastern European films known to have soft, easily scratched emulsions.

Your last post sounded like you might be thinking of mixing less than an entire envelope of developer. That's not recommended, since there's no guarantee that the chemicals are evenly disbursed.

I don't use a CombiPlan, but a friend does. He fiddled with the ratios trying to mix just enough to cover the film. After getting some partially-developed sheets, he decided to mix a full liter, completely fill the tank, and toss the small amount left over.

scott russell
16-May-2008, 16:17
Which films do you mean specifically by eastern european? Does that include ilford? that's probably western though, but i know so little about geography i wouldn't trust just guessing.

As far as mixing solutions, i don't mind making a little too much, I just want to do in a practical and convenient way for someone who might only develop a batch of negs once every few weeks. Are you sure the combi plan only takes a liter? I've been told its about a half gallon. If that's the case, one packet would provide two combi tank loads of film. Can D-76 be used, stored, and then re-used like stop bath and fixer? I don't remember being able to do that when i developed 35mm in high school; but some of these developer packages explain that the working solution is enough to develop far more square inches of film than i can fit into a combi tank, leading me to believe that its reusable. Whew, sorry for so many questions, i promise i'll shut up and buy my stuff already and get started after i clear this up.

16-May-2008, 17:36
Kodak hypo clearing agent (not sure about this, previously i used sprint fixer remover or perma wash)
All three are wash aids - essentially the same - optional with film processing and almost essential for paper prints - just follow the directions.

-not sure about hardening agent
No need for hardener for run of the mill work.


17-May-2008, 00:22
Which films do you mean specifically by eastern european? Does that include ilford?

Ilford is an English brand. Last time I checked, England was in the UK, the very (very) West of Europe!

kev curry
17-May-2008, 01:39
Scott a 1 Ltr pkt of Ilfords ID 11 can be made up (stock solution) and then stored in a concertina bottle - (you can compress these bottles to expel all the air as you go along) - for up to 6 months. When you need to develop film you mix the stock solution with water at 1 to 1 eg 150ml/ID 11 stock + 150ml water to make 300mls of 'working solution', then use this 'one shot' and throw it away, its pretty economical. Its also a good idea to transfer a newly opened bottle of fixer into a concertina bottle or as I do, simply squash the fixer bottle till the fixer almost spills out of the top to expel the air then tightly replace the screw cap again. I can either do 1 5x4 sheet at a time or up to 5 sheets at a time in 300mls of working solution in open trays in the (dark room) no problem....... of course you would have to find your own personal film speed and development times for what ever regime you chose to use.


Ralph Barker
17-May-2008, 07:24
Which films do you mean specifically by eastern european? Does that include ilford? that's probably western though, but i know so little about geography i wouldn't trust just guessing.

I was being vague to cover a lapse in memory. I believe it is Efke films that are noted for having soft emulsions. Ilford films don't require the hardener.

Are you sure the combi plan only takes a liter?

I'm working from memory of discussions with my friend, but I believe the specs call for something like 650ml, but it took closer to 800ml to fill the tank completely. But, that might be incorrect. Whatever the instructions call for, I'd suggest mixing to the next practical volume and completely fill the tank.

Gregg Cook
17-May-2008, 13:07
Xtol is becoming one of the economical gold standards...