Stop Film Hopping! – Film Developers

In this post I’d like to talk about three film developer I’ve used through the year of 2021 with Ilford FP4. My trio of developers are:  Classic Rodinal, Spur N Acurol and recently Branco Ottico Zone.

B&W has plenty of options, folks do too much film hopping anyway and not enough learning about different developers and technique. Film photography is very much a slow burn. My affair with Ilford FP4 and PanF over years to get the look I wanted – took time.

This roll costs 5.60 euros from a local store. It really pays to learn the knowledge from others in film community. There’s oddles of information to glean from.

Stop Film Hopping

Let me start off by saying that film photography is so popular at the moment. Which I’m delighted about and happy to see new folks picking up film cameras. What kind gets up my goat is, “film hopping” – jumping around trying out different film stocks without much consideration for the development process. You know who you are? we are all guilty of this celluloid film pleasure!

This is of course is splendid that there are more and more film stocks available. However for me, film photography is very much a slow burn. Especially on the B&W front of things.

Au Garden in Autnumn - Agfa APX 100, Nikon FE 50mm 1.8, Acutol Spur N
Au Garden in Autnumn – Agfa APX 100, Nikon FE 50mm 1.8, Acutol Spur N

Last week I ran through a roll of Agfa APX100 B&W for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I made the recipe for development myself with Spur Acurol N. (1:100, 40mins at 16 degrees, gentle agitation every minute).

But I would, although prefer to see “developer hopping” and recipe tweaking become a thing. Why the heck am I saying such madness at all! mmh? Let me begin …

Is it better to be a grain gazer then a pixel peeper ?

The only way to learn film photography is of course by doing. Getting out there, shooting and loading up film. However the other side to this is developing the negatives back at base. This is such an integral part and parcel of producing the end result.

Film development is the recipe you decide to indulge in. The developer you mix and partake in, determines very much the look and feel of the final outcome. Not to mention the stirring of the brew – agitation and inversion. Much over than film stock itself.  Meditate if you will for a moment on those thoughts…

- Agfa APX 100, Nikon FE 50mm 1.8, Acutol Spur N
Agfa APX 100, Nikon FE 50mm 1.8, Acutol Spur N

Therefore spending more time on development and less money on expensive fancy B&W film stock should take more of our priorities. On the colour side of things film stock does tends to control more the look then the development. While the opposite can be said for B&W film. That’s the beauty of B&W and its development.

Its development can be such a deep personal thing as you have so much freedom. Freedom to leave your particular stamp on the image you’ve taken. The tonality and the grain. Are you a grain gazer yet ? how does grain make you feel ? All fuzzy and warm inside?

Rodinal

#135 Sea Posts and Net, Pellestrina, Italy
Ilford FP4 ASA 400 Pushed using Rodinal – #135 Sea Posts and Net, Pellestrina, Italy

An ode to Rodinal, the Agfa’s trademark name for their concentrated film developer formula, patented no other than Dr. Momme Andresen way back good old 1891. It is the oldest continuously-produced developer formula in the world.

Therefore every beginner and even long time user should start with. This inexpensive and long shelf life developer from the 1890’s still produces incredible results even with ISO 400 film. It’s just a matter of chemical concentration ratio and agitation you apply. I believe everyone should know the limits and possibilities of Rodinal first as a baseline when moving to other developers.

Agfa Rodinal
Agfa Rodinal Source:https://archive.org/details/agfabookofphotog00barrrich/page/26/mode/2up

Rodinal is a high-acutance developer so you will tend to get higher grain but increased sharpness. Many might say Rodinal has poor grain control. That’s not absolutely true.

Advantages

  • Long shelf life
  • Can be used at different dilution ratios to control contrast
  • Temperature is usually 20 degrees.
  • Flexible semi stand or stand development possibilities
  • Super cheap

Disadvantages

  • Can be often quite grainy
  • Not suitable for anything higher than 400 ASA

Spur N Acurol

#121 It's a guessing game,Graz
#121 It’s a guessing game,Graz

Advantages

  • Long shelf life
  • Low solution concentration 
  • Grain is controlled

Disadvantages

  • 26 degrees in some film cases,
  • Slow time to develop,
  • Often you need to shoot at a different box speed
  • Not much options for pushing and pulling films

More information on development times for different film types

Branco Ottico Zone

Another developer I’ve being using to push film too, but I need to write a proper review on it at some point.

#140 Nets and boat - Le Salina, Ferrara, Italy
Branco Ottico  Zone Developer – #140 Nets and boat – Le Salina, Ferrara, Italy
#142 Nets - Le Salina, Ferrara, Italy
#142 Nets – Le Salina, Ferrara, Italy

Advantages

  • Long shelf life
  • Low solution concentration 
  • Simple to push film by +1 and +2
  • Simple to increase/decrease contrast

Disadvantages

  • high concentration developer

More information on Branco Ottico Zone

Branco Ottico Zone Times
Branco Ottico Zone Times

Conclusion

Learning to use a developer and film combination is so essential to get to where you want to go in terms of tonality and the look you want to achieve.

Let me know what film developers you love and use, and why.

 

 

 

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