View Full Version : DIY Black & White Processing

5-Jan-2009, 23:06
So I am just getting my first large format and I am going to start off shooting B&W. So I am looking for some answers that I did not find in the articles I have read thus far. Do most people find it better to process your own film? With a few different methods of processing, which is most commonly used? Is one easier or cheaper than the other? Does one produce a far better result than the other? What could one expect to spend for a complete budget set up? Last, what about printing? Is it cheaper to send it to the lab? What would a home set up cost going down the middle as far as quality of paper and supplies? I have found prices in articles but I would like to hear it from the people who are actually doing these processes today. Thanks

5-Jan-2009, 23:22
You don't say what format(s).

Quicker to home process then to send it out. Cheaper. More control.

No idea what is the most common.

Cheapest must be trays. Easiest? A drum on a motorbase.

Cost depends on new versus used. But trays even new won't be much. Plus you can use the trays for printing. Drums are more money even used.

Printing is a big subject. Contact printing can be nothing more then a light bulb and some trays. 4x5 enlargers are almost free these days on the used market.

5-Jan-2009, 23:23
sorry... 4x5

5-Jan-2009, 23:25
Also, with a 4x5 enlarger how large can I print assuming I have large enough tanks for chemistry. Would it be cheaper to process film and just have it scanned and print digitally?

5-Jan-2009, 23:32
Depends on your enlarger. With a 135mm lens mounted my enlarger will do 24"x30" [I think that's right] on the baseboard. If I needed more then that my little Durst actually wall projects so size would be limited by paper and room size.

Bjorn Nilsson
6-Jan-2009, 02:34
Unless you absolutely don't want to do it, you should at least try it. You will learn a lot from the experience. (Even if you later decide to e.g. scan and print digitally the knowledge of how to do it is invaluable.)
For developing the negatives you don't need much space, but for enlarging you need some small room which you can dark out. (For most people this is more of a problem than anything else.) For ideas, have a look over at Apug.org at the "Darkroom equipment" section. On top of that there's a sticky thread called "Darkroom portraits", where you can find lots of inspiration but also tons of stuff you never knew you needed. :)
As most of the hardware needed for a darkroom can be found in good shape for very little money these days, you just need to be a bit patient and collect enough information, so that you know what to look for.
You can get started with a few trays (5x7") for developing the negatives. A bottle/bag of D76, some fixer, 10-15 minutes of darkness and you're there.
While you're at it, see to that you get a piece of glass (5x7" too), a small box of 5x7" printing paper and some paper developer (about the cheapest you can find at Freestyle) and you can do contact prints from your negatives, so at least you know what your pictures look like. All you need for exposure is a small light bulb with a switch. (Plus an extra safelight bulb, you know, the red one...)


6-Jan-2009, 04:46
It sounds like you don't actually have a dark room yet. I personally can't imagine going into large format B&W photography without a darkroom. It is so much about hand crafting. Can you dedicate space to a darkroom and for a sink for trays? If you can and if you have the time, that is the thing to do.

6-Jan-2009, 10:15
I have a spare bedroom but I dont know if it is going to be messy or smell. If it is I have a one car garage that is empty most the time. I can black out the one window and seal up any cracks leaking daylight.

6-Jan-2009, 10:34
You seem to have many very basic questions. Perhaps, you might benefit from reading a book...

may I suggest:

Barbara London and John Upton, Photography

Barbara London and Jim Stone, A Short Course in Photography: An Introduction to Black and White Photographic Technique

George M. Craven, Object and Image: An Introduction to Photography

These are just a few that I am personally familiar with. There are many others.

Once you have an idea what is involved, then, you can shop around for the stuff needed. B&H and Adorama are two pretty good one stop shops for all things photographic...including chems.

6-Jan-2009, 10:38
With respect to B&W, developing the film and printing it is an integral part of the whole photographic process. Darkroom equipment has never been easier to acquire on a limited budget. Basic developing and printing is very straight forward.

Brian Ellis
6-Jan-2009, 10:48
In order of your questions:

I don't know what "most people" do but I think processing your own film is better because it gives you more control and because it's less expensive.

I don't know what "most people" do. The methods used include tray development, Jobo systems, Jobo or similiar (e.g. Unicolor) drums, BTZS (Beyond The Zone System) tubes or similar home-made tubes, and various types of tanks. I used the BTZS tubes for many year. I preferred them over other methods because they are relatively inexpensive (compared to a Jobo system), take up little space, and allow you to do everything in light once the film is loaded in the tubes.

Trays are the cheapest in terms of initial equipment cost, BTZS tubes are the cheapest in terms of developer usage. I don't know that any one system is "easier" than another. I find trays a pain because I don't like standing in the dark for 10 or 15 minutes shuffling film and inhaling chemicals. A Jobo motorized system would allow you to do other things while the film is being processed but if you have different sheets that are to be developed for different times then you need to reload and process each set separately so that would be less convenient than trays or tubes.


Cost obviously depends on the system you use.

Whether printing yourself or using a lab is cheaper depends on a lot of variables, mainly your volume and the cost of buying the equipment needed to print in a darkroom (enlarger, safe light, grain focuser, easel, etc.) vs the price the lab charges. One nice thing is that used darkroom gear is dirt cheap these days. With a little patience you should be able to set up a nice darkroom for very little money if you buy used equipment, I'm guessing a couple hundred dollars would do it. You can easily check the cost of paper and supplies just by going to the web site of one of the places that still sell this stuff (e.g. Adorama, B&H, et al).

6-Jan-2009, 11:00
Don't do it yet. Large Format is expensive both in money and time, and it doesn't take much in the way of problems to really discourage a beginner. (I've been doing it for 60 years and I still get discouraged.) It was a lot easier to learn before they discontiued Polaroid.
I suggest that you get your camera, tripoid, meter, half-a-dozen cut film holders, and start by finding a good lab to send your negatives for developing and contact printing.
Recommended as a good combination of cost and quality: www.dalmationlab.com.

6-Jan-2009, 11:12

Updated URL: http://www.dalmatianlab.com/

Sorry Bill, but I just had to do this. :)

Best, Darr

Bruce Watson
6-Jan-2009, 12:00
So I am just getting my first large format and I am going to start off shooting B&W. So I am looking for some answers that I did not find in the articles I have read thus far. Do most people find it better to process your own film?

Absolutely. You to make your own choices for developer and development process. IOW, you get control and can make the process do what you want it to.

Starting out you may not yet know what you want your process to do. In that case, running some negatives through your local pro lab might give you a base line. Something to compare to and hopefully beat.

With a few different methods of processing, which is most commonly used?

Like most things in photography, consensus is rare. What works for someone else may not work for you. Some people swear by tray processing, some swear at it instead. Some people like the various daylight tanks. Some like the BTZS tubes. Some like the Jobo tanks.

I for one love my Jobo 3010 tank for 5x4. But clearly, YMMV.

Is one easier or cheaper than the other?

Yes, but that's not really a good question to ask. Your next question is a better question.

You won't really understand that until you destroy some "important" film. After you spend days and days of repeat trips to be there when the conditions are just right, that destroyed film looks mighty expensive indeed.

Does one produce a far better result than the other?

Again, this depends on you. Some people get nice even development from tray processing. Some can never master it.

One reason I'm using a 3010 tank and a Jobo CPP-2 is that it gives me such even processing and it's so repeatable. Way better than I could get from trays, and better than I could get from the BTZS tubes. But trays and tubes may work better for you. You'll have to try them and see to know.

What could one expect to spend for a complete budget set up?

No idea. It's been too many years and I'm not current on pricing.

Last, what about printing? Is it cheaper to send it to the lab?

Labs can't be cheaper really. If you are doing your own work in your own space, you aren't paying their salaries and overhead.

What would a home set up cost going down the middle as far as quality of paper and supplies?

No idea. But used darkroom equipment is being thrown away because they can't get people to take the stuff. You should be able to stretch your dollar well with used darkroom equipment.

A question you didn't ask, but which I think you might be interested in: It's possible to process your own film without a darkroom. All you need is a changing bag (aka portable darkness) and a daylight tank of some sort. You can also use the changing bag to do the "film holder dance" of unload, clean, reload your film holders.

Do some reading and search the archives here. And read up on our darkroom primer (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/darkroom-primer.html) from the LFP.info homepage.

It's true that there are some learning curves. But they are well worth climbing and mastering. It's all easily doable. If I could do it, surely you can too.

6-Jan-2009, 12:12
One option in seeing if DIY is for you is to use a 'rental darkroom.' Most cities have one or two and you will be able to get help from the people there.

Another option is taking a photography course at a local community college that has a darkroom.

If you do decide that DIY is for you, then setting up your own darkroom is very doable provided that you have sufficient space. I live in an apartment and have the enlarger (4x5) in a corner of the bedroom. I taped-up two black 3-mil 42 gal contractor trashbags on the corner walls (back and side) to absorbe any light leaking from the enlarger and use the 4 more bags to light-proof the bedroom window. If I want to process during the day, the entire apartment can be lightproofed using those bags. All wet processing is done in the bathroom which is windowless. I simply unscrew the light bulbs to keep the exhause fan running while I am working. The Jobo CPA2 is too large for the bathroom counter so I place it on the kitchen counter which is large enough and level. With the exception of the Jobo 3010 expert drum, I use a harrison 8x10 tent to load film reels. The expert drum is more conveniently loaded upright in the bathroom.

Good luck and welcome to DIY!


6-Jan-2009, 12:52
Thanks all.. Alot of help. I do read articles and book but I find asking people who are currently doing these activities is much more helpfull. Thank God for forums!

6-Jan-2009, 13:08
Here's my .02:

do you have a 35 or 120 film camera...? or one you can borrow ?

learn on 35/120 . takes less amount of chemistry, saves $. cheap film, etc. get a plastic daylight reel tank, easy to load.

dont buy the large bottles/etc of chemicals until you know you will use that amount.
no fun throwing it out due to expiration, when its still half full.....

expect to spend about 100 to 200 to get everything you need. search your local craigslist for darkroom timers, safelight, etc.

use the bathroom. you need running water. if for nothing else, to rinse out your gradautes, wash film, etc.

Whereabouts are you anyway! ? :)
Your local college(s) may offer a photo course with film/print processing being taught.
highly reccomended, thats how I started.

both developing and printing are combination science, art and some magic. :)
the more you learn, the more you realize how much there is to know!

6-Jan-2009, 13:12
Developing your B&W is really part of the exposure process. You can give part of your control to the Labs but it will hurt your ability to develop your own method and style. Everything you do is part of your final print.

The actual process is nearly trivial. B&W has even been developed under fire in ditches during WW2. Doing a really good job is a bit more work but once you train yourself to be consistent it is easy, even colour is no big deal although temperature control becomes much more involved. B&W is developed at room temperature and is not at all hard to nail.

I use BTZS tubes in my 5th wheel bathroom. A 44" x 42" space, not counting the tub/shower. The BTZS tray and two 8x10 trays cover my sink area. Hang the film from the shower rail.

The exact method you use is less important than being consistent. Being able to vary time to push and pull film and just your hit standard development depends on your ability to do the same thing again and again. Pick a work flow that you like and make it consistent.

I found that, after learning how, that no lab seemed as good as my own stuff.

6-Jan-2009, 13:28
I am in La Verne.. About 30 miles east of downtown LA in southern California

6-Jan-2009, 13:58
I am in La Verne.. About 30 miles east of downtown LA in southern California

craigslist. Your area is probably full of listings on craigslist. Don't forget to look at other craigslists like San Francisco, Sacramento, Central Valley, Santa Barbara, San Diego, etc. If the deal is right, be prepared to drive a little to save a lot.

Some of my experiences:

The deal too good to pass up:
1953 4x5 Pacemaker Speed Graphic, 2 lenses, 5 holders for $100 from the original owner.

The Enlarger too good to pass up:
Omega D5-XL Super Chromega, 150mm Componon-S lens, 50mm Komura lens, Beseler drums (8x10 & 11x14) and motor base, Beseler color analizer, easels, misc. stuff. This gear cost me the gas to make a 500 mile round trip to Wichita Falls, TX and lunch for the gracious donor.

Complete 35mm & 6x6 Darkroom:
Omega enlarger, lenses, all the little stuff that adds up quickly like trays, beakers, Gra-Lab Timer (gotta love a Gra-Lab), electronic timer, safelights, Paterson tanks & reels, easels, etc., etc., etc. for the price of gas to drive across Houston and get it.

Jobo tanks:
3010, 2553, (3) short 25xx (35mm/120/4x5) tanks, 2840 print drum, several lids, 5 35/120 reels, 1 2509 4x5 reel, Uniroller motor base. $200 from a private indivdual and a local camera shop.

Expired/short dated film:
20 Velvia Quickloads, 20 Tmax 100 Readyloads, 100 sheets HP5+, 25 sheets Delta 100, 100 sheets Arista EDU Ultra 200. Total: $85.

I traded a big Bogen tripod for a 105mm Tominon lens in Copal #1 shutter and a set 6" Bausch & Lomb Rapid Rectilinear lens cells that fit in the Supermatic (X) shutter that came with the Speed Graphic.

The deals are out there. Beat the bushes. You'll find more than you need.

11-Jan-2009, 20:06
there's more than one way to skin a cat, same with processing.

After years of having a dedicated darkroom, I now make do without one. I have a bathroom with no windows which I use only for loading film and paper. When I process something, I load it into a lightsafe tank and take the whole thing to the kitchen sink. Very convenient.

I don't enlarge, I only do negs and contact prints (8x10). But you can save yourself tons of $ by processing your own negs, making your own contacts, and then sending out for your final prints.

I originally intended to send out for all processing and printing when I got into 8x10. However, I never found a lab that did a good job. I got bad uniformity, lots of neg damage, etc. One local pro lab gave me a color print with green sky as if it was taken on the planet Vulcan. Sad but true.