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Why You Should Develop Your Own Film

Posted on September 20 2018

Howard is back! And this time with some words of wisdom pulled from his vast experience and knowledge of the darkroom magic. Spoiler alert: you don't need a darkroom (?!) There is also an excellent analogy for choosing the best romantic partner. Read on...


35mm film coming out of the camera


Why You Should Develop Your Own Film

Once you have exposed that roll of film that you took so much care over, what do you do next? Do you post it or take it to one of the many excellent labs up and down the country that offer a developing service?

You might have a friend who does their own developing perhaps and will do yours for you. If you have shot on Ilford XP2, your local colour snap shop can process it for you and make pretty good prints from it too.

All the above methods work, but the chances are that you are not getting the best result possible from your film. Whoever processes your negatives will put them with a lot of other films in a bulk processing machine, where all the films in the batch get the same development. They will be using a general purpose commercial developer that gives reasonable results with all films.


lots of film drying

Lots of film processed for very little cost


Superior Developing Services

If you choose a superior service, like the one provided by Harman/Ilford Ltd, your film will be processed in the most appropriate developer, and you will be able to have the process modified if you want to increase or decrease the speed (ISO) of the film. The service is very good but film processing costs £7.00 and push or pull processing is £2.00 extra. Add to that the cost of postage there and back and the cost mounts up. You might have a few films to process and suddenly the cost saving by doing it yourself starts to look attractive.


film development tank

Modern tanks are cheap and easy to load


It's Not (Just) About Money

The combination of your camera, your lens, the exposure metering method you use, the lighting conditions that you took your pictures in, the film that you have used and your brain, all add up to a very complex set of variables, and unless you have control over your film development you will not get the ideal process for your negs. The only way to get the best possible result from your work is to adjust your film development to suit the circumstances.


film photographers changing bag

No need for a darkroom with a changing bag


I Don't Have a Darkroom

[Ed: um. Yes you do? It's called Devizes Darkroom, it's even called out in your bio!] You don’t need one. You can get all the equipment you need online, and secondhand darkroom kit is very cheap. [ed: oh this is one of those literary techniques to capture attention! What a pro. Ok carry on] You will need a CHANGING BAG to load your FILM PROCESSING TANK in, and you will need a THERMOMETER to get the liquids to the right temperature, plus at least two MEASURING CYLINDERS of suitable size to prepare the liquids. At the end of the article is a list of the minimum equipment to get started.


cylinders for developing film

You will need cylinders like these to mix and measure your chemicals


Splishy Splashy Sploshy

Now you are set to go, you just need to choose the right developer for the film you are using. I won’t get into that now, the forums are full of useful info on this and everyone’s taste is different, I only know what is best for my style of photography, and how to adjust my developing to get the best result FOR ME. The big thing here is how to arrive at the right combination of film, developer, dilution, temperature, agitation and overall time that works best.


thermometer for developing film

A cheap thermometer is more than adequate for the job


I will set out a good reliable working method to start off with in another blog, but the essential thing is that you need to realise that, if you take your own work seriously, you have to get your hands wet. Finding the right film and process combination for you is like finding the ideal girl/boyfriend, it may take a lot of tries and you will have some frustration and tears, but you will succeed if you understand what went wrong last time, and learn from it.


tanks for develop photographic film

Larger tanks can hold 2 x 35mm roll at a time (or more!)


Equipment List - Essentials

  • Changing Bag -the bigger the better – get a good one, they don’t fall apart.
  • Film dev tank - If you only do 35mm film, get a small one, otherwise get a “Universal” which does 120 as well, with an adjustable spiral or two.
  • Measuring cylinders – for both developer and fixer, get a large one that hold a litre, and a smaller one about 250 cc or so to measure out concentrated chems. If you are using one of the high-dilution developers, also get a plastic syringe to measure more accurately.
  • Thermometer – digital ones are fine, but a normal spirit (not mercury) 12 inch one is fine and doubles as a stirring stick.
  • Timer – a cheap digital kitchen times is perfect.


gloves for developing photographic film

Gloves can help if you have sensitive skin but are not necessary otherwise


Equipment List - Optional

  • Lightbox - Inexpensive light panels help when examining your negatives
  • Spare spirals – in case you have a few films to do, and don’t want to wait for the spirals to completely dry. You can try to load a slightly damp spiral but you will only every try once, and you will probably damage your film as well.
  • Film Washing Hose – a piece of rubber tube with a squishy tap fitting one end and a plastic bit on the other end that fits perfectly down the centre of your tank – gives you most efficient washing, saves water.
  • Drying Rack. – You know those plastic or metal frames that have lots of clothes clips on them for drying small items? – get one, and find a place to hang it at least 5 feet above the bath or shower.
  • Concertina Bottles (Concertina bottle can keep your chemicals fresh for a lot longer.)
  • Good Scissors – used for cutting your negatives into strips. Film filing sheets – to put your processed negs in – get them online.
  • LED thin light panel – sold for use by crafters – get an A3 one. Useful if you get a Pixl-latr (below)
  • Linen Tester –A magnifying glass to examine your negatives with – an 8X is fine.


concertina bottle for developing photographic film

Concertina bottles - will maximise chemical shelf-life


* Pixl-latr Home Scanner – one of the excellent scanning devices soon to be available from 35mmc *
This promised to be a brilliant device that doesn’t cost a lot and has the potential to give you pro-quality scans for no cost other than the unit itself:


pixl-latr photo 

About the Author:

Howard Maryon-Davis is a photographer and printer who has been working in darkrooms for over 40  years.  For all of that time his lab was based in central London, and printed work for many of the top names in advertising and editorial photography.  Now semi-retired, he still keeps a darkroom and studio going, and does a bit of teaching from time to time, mostly black and white printing using all the old techniques that have been handed down for many years. He is based in Devizes, Wiltshire, a few miles from Avebury. If you're interested in learning more about darkroom printing then head to his website for information about lessons: He is also on Instagram as @howardmaryon