How much more black could it get? None.
October 25, 2009 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Tried developing my first bw film last night and it didn't turn out at all - what did I do wrong?

I decided to take the plunge into home developing my own black & white film. Bought the chemicals, a tank, and a plastic graduated cylinder. After an hour of practice I managed to load some 35mm film onto the reel, and followed the instructions here as well as I could.

After the fixer step, I took the film out and didn't see anything at all. Hoping it was just the end of the roll, I finished the wash and wetting agent steps. Looking at the finished film, it was completely clear (with some light streaks coming from the sprocket holes). Nothing even approaching an actual image.

I did some film developing in university a long time ago, and the most common explanation would be that the film didn't actually get exposed - but I'm pretty sure that's not the case. I rewound the film myself and would have noticed if it had been suspiciously easy. I was using a SLR (Canon FTb) so it's not like the lens cap was on the whole time either.

In terms of development process, what might have caused this? A few factors:

1) My 'darkroom' is an interior closet at night, and to human eyes seemed completely dark. And even if there had been light to fog the film, it would have turned out overexposed not completely underexposed, no?

2) I realized afterwards that I got the fixer proportions wrong - I did 1+3 instead of 1+4. That wouldn't have 'stripped' the film would it?

3) After the post-fixer rinse, the water was noticibly blue/purple as it was coming out. Is that normal? I was also agitating during the rinse, but looking at other instructions it's not clear if you're supposed to or not.

Film was Kodak T-Max 100, developed in Ilfosol S for 8.5 minutes according to the chart here for 8.5 min at 20 C, agitated for 10 seconds every minute (agitated by turning the tank over slowly).

Any suggestions? I'm going to shoot another test roll and try again, but I'd like some idea of what I was doing wrong in the first place (other than the fixer proportions).

Also, if anyone can personally recommend a foolproof tutorial online (I know there are hundreds) that would be great.

posted by Gortuk to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When you were shooting this film, did you have the lens cap on?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:58 AM on October 25, 2009

if the negative was clear wouldn't that indicate that the film had been completely exposed? Unexposed film would be black with the emulsion all still intact. If the emulsion's gone, your film was overexposed. If you spent an hour loading it onto the reel then perhaps there was a significant amount of light leak. The more likely thing I think is that your stop chemical didn't actually stop the developing process. or the developer wasn't adequately flushed out, and it just kept eating away at the negative until you had nothing left.

In any case, what you have now is an excellent roll of practice film for getting more acquainted with the negative reel from your developer tank.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:11 AM on October 25, 2009

if the negative was clear wouldn't that indicate that the film had been completely exposed? Unexposed film would be black with the emulsion all still intact

Yeah, no.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:12 AM on October 25, 2009

I would guess either the developer dilution was wrong or the temperature - how accurate is your thermometer?
posted by Lanark at 8:21 AM on October 25, 2009

Response by poster: Sys Rq: I knew someone was going to ask about the lens cap, which is why I mentioned that in the question - I would have noticed if the lens cap was on when I was using a single lens reflex camera.

wabbittwax: I sacrificed a different, unused roll of 35mm film to practice on for an hour. It only took a couple tries to get the actual roll on, so it wasn't in the open air that long. And a clear negative implies black positive, which means anything but excess light (to the best of my understanding).

Lanark: The developer dilution was 1+9. I put 50ml of Ilfosol in the bottom of the flask and filled up the rest with tap water to 500ml. I was using a digital cooking thermometer to measure the temperature of flowing tap water. How far off would the temperature have to be in order for nothing to show up at all? Next time I'll set up a separate cup of water and get the temperature exact.
posted by Gortuk at 8:33 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: My first bet is an unexposed roll. My second bet is the developer dilution.

And, yes, you should get a blue/purple tint to the water, but the water should still be transparent.

Hope the second time is more successful!
posted by msbrauer at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: Unless you cut it off completely there should be an exposed piece of film at the very beginning where you loaded it into your camera, was that part black after development? A major mistake with the chemicals could possibly do this, but it's unlikely. You should at least have something on the film.

My guess is that you didn't load the film into your camera right and you weren't actually exposing it, but that would have probably been obvious to you so... It's also possible that the mirror isn't flipping up when you're shooting---> does the viewfinder go black when you shoot a picture? Also the shutter curtain could be broken. Shoot a long exposure with the camera open, with no film, and see if everything is functioning properly.
posted by Locobot at 8:42 AM on October 25, 2009

Response by poster: Locobot: there was indeed a black piece at the beginning of the roll. Good piece of evidence.

I'm loathe to think that I somehow shot an entire roll black, but the idea does provide some comfort in that I didn't lose the entire roll due to bad development! I shot two colour rolls before on this camera, with professional development, and they turned out OK, but it is a pretty old and finicky beast (my dad's SLR from 1979).

I'll run another test roll through my Holga and see if that turns out any better.
posted by Gortuk at 8:58 AM on October 25, 2009

1. Your developer might be bad or "exhausted."
2. You poured fixer when you thought you were pouring developer.
posted by planetkyoto at 9:04 AM on October 25, 2009

3. I should refresh pages I loaded an hour ago.
posted by planetkyoto at 9:07 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: Do you see the frame numbers and edge markings? If so, your development process was adequate and the film likely never went through the camera. No edge number and markings indicate no (or grossly insufficient) development.

After you load a 35mm camera, before you fire off the several blank frames generally requiredt o get the counter to frame 1, backwind the film with the rewind know until the slack is gone. Then, when you fire off the dummy frames the knob should turn as you advance the film. That way you know the film is traveling through the camera correctly.
posted by imjustsaying at 9:13 AM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do the negatives have the films code and numbering sequence along the film edge? If, not you used fix (or stop) first rather than the developer. If the numbers are there then the film was either poorly exposed or, not at all.

The blue dye is the anti halation layer being washed away, blue water is normal.

It's possible to clear the negatives from too much fix, but it takes a long time to happen so if you stuck to the times needed for the particular brand of fix you used the film will be ok.

Water temperature isn't extremely important with b&w film, if you're a degree or two out from 20C I wouldn't worry about it.

If you want to foolproof your developing sequence have everything laid out beforehand and, stick to the same layout every time. I lay out the developer, stop, fix from left to right in front of me before I start.
posted by squeak at 9:17 AM on October 25, 2009

How fresh is your developer? I gather that Ilfosol (like Kodak's XTOL developer), when mixed as a stock solution, has a recommended shelf-life of six months or so (when stored in a full, sealed container): a solution older than that (or one that has been exposed to oxidation) runs the risk of 'sudden death', i.e. one day it may work fine, then the next it may not.
posted by misteraitch at 9:20 AM on October 25, 2009

Response by poster: Lots of good responses above. The Ilfosol and Fixer were both brand new, sealed bottles purchased that day, and I took the seal off just before using. I was careful when mixing my first batches but it would be easy to mix up the bottles as they are almost identical - I'll be very careful of that in the future.

The numbers and film brand info are indeed present along the edges of the film. Those are created during development? That's some very good evidence.

Based on what everyone's saying it seems like I may have somehow ended up with a roll of unexposed film, which would be a terrible coincidence (camera failure at the same time I decide to start processing my own film!) but not impossible given the hardware.
posted by Gortuk at 9:27 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: It's very easy to not get the film loaded correctly in a 35 mm camera. My students do it all the time.

For next time: Do what squeak said above.
posted by cccorlew at 9:50 AM on October 25, 2009

Gortuk, pop open the back of the camera and, trip the shutter a few times with the lens off to make sure the shutter curtain moves, the mirror flips out of the way and, the film take up spool advances.

If you used the built in meter for your shots then, try loading the camera with more film and, use the sunny f16 rule to expose a few frames then, use the cameras built in meter for a few more. Stick to the same subjects, same lighting conditions so you can compare the results.

And, btw you don't need to use a whole roll of film. Advance the film a few more frames then when you go to load the film on the reel, cut the film a inch or so away from the film canister, so you have a bit sticking out. That way you can cut a new leader from the remaining film.

After all that you should be able to narrow down the reason why your film didn't come out as expected.
posted by squeak at 11:37 AM on October 25, 2009

The camera shutter failed. Before shooting another roll open the back of the camera and try a few shots. See if the back plane shutter leaves open.
posted by Gungho at 11:38 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: Make sure after you have loaded your film that it is really being taken up. One way to test this is (after loading and closing back) to turn the winding lever clockwise until you can feel the resistance of the film. Listen carefully as you do this - if you do not feel resistance soon, then you will hear the film dragging inside and it means you are just about to wind your leader into the canister.

When you feel the resistance, it means the film is now pulled tight against the sprockets, and it should advance properly.
posted by SNACKeR at 11:59 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: ...and when you did like SNACKeR wrote, you'll see the winding lever turn as soon as you advance the film, there's evidence.

I don't believe in this coincidence thing. If you're preoccupied in some way (such as planning to use the film for learning developing) PLUS you don't know the camera too well, forgetting to double-check whether the film is properly loaded would be the typical thing to happen.

On the bright side, your developing skills and your dark cabinet conditions seem fine, actually. Close-check your roll again. If you really positively don't find any traces of light intrusion or post-development darkening anywhere except for the very beginning of the roll, you should be able to go right ahead and do grand stuff. Good luck.
posted by Namlit at 3:47 PM on October 25, 2009

Response by poster: OK, I did my second roll tonight and I now have to admit - I totally didn't have the film loaded correctly. For four months I was pointing a metal box at people and doing absolutely nothing at all.

The good news is, my second roll turned out great (from eyeballing the negs). It turned out that my developer was actually Ilfosol 3, not S (the price tag was helpfully obscuring the last letter), which uses a shorter developing time. I learned a few things about not making assumptions today!

Thanks for everyone who offered their expertise here.
posted by Gortuk at 5:21 PM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: Looks like you have this problem sorted (I was going to say look for the edge-markings but I'm too slow), and good on you for doing your own processing. You'll want to check out APUG for similar questions (this one seems to get asked every two weeks) and/or general timewastage and soaking up information on film-related things.

The edge markings are exposed onto the film by the manufacturer, which is why they are a good indication whether you've done development or not. An apparently common error is to put fixer in first, which will completely strip the film and leave you with clear acetate and no markings. I never understood how one could be so clumsy... but I now realise because I have D-76 stock in whisky bottles and fixer in vodka bottles - it works for me but I can just see it going horribly wrong!

You can judge only that there is development but not how much development from the density of the edge markings because they vary between film types and between batches, though they should be consistent within a batch. Sometimes you'll get dense markings, sometimes you'll get really faint ones even if you're developing correctly (for normal contrast) and your images come out correctly. If your negs have too much or too little contrast, don't look to the edge markings for answers.
posted by polyglot at 7:38 PM on October 25, 2009

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