Many people are intimidated by the idea of developing their own photo negatives. In many ways, that apprehension is understandable. To develop film, you have to operate in complete darkness some of the time, without even a safelight. It is usually a slow process that requires active agitation at carefully timed intervals. (What’s more, once your negatives are developed, you are only halfway to having printed photos; you’ll have to go through a whole different sequence to print your images.) Below are five lauded photography chemicals for film and paper development that you can always come back to for dependable results.
1. Kodak D-76 Developer Powder
If you stop 10 photographers on the street, 9 of them will likely have Kodak D-76 in their darkrooms. While other developers may have a leg up in sharpness, shadow detail, or tonality, none can beat D-76 in versatility. It’s wildly popular because it works with almost every black-and-white film and will always provide a workable image. It won’t necessarily be the first developer recommended to newbies, because powders take more work to mix than liquid developers, but the advantage is that it has a near-infinite shelf life.
2. Kodak Indicator Stop Bath for B&W Film
Some people opt out of buying a stop bath in favor of a thorough rinsing, a homemade solution, or simply skipping straight to the fixer. But a stop bath will extend the life of your fixer and is more precise. Kodak’s stop bath turns a purplish blue when its use is exhausted, making it easy to tell when it’s time to throw it out. It’s also very reasonably priced—it’ll last you roll after roll.
3. Ilford Rapid Fixer
Another favorite of hobbyists and professionals, Ilford’s fixer (which makes the image permanent and light safe) is an industry standard that delivers consistent results without much fuss. One key feature is that it does not use sodium thiosulfate, thus bypassing any need for a hypo clearing agent.
4. Ultrafine Monobath Black and White Liquid Film Developer
For beginners, a monobath can be a great way to jump into the world of developing your own film. Ultrafine’s monobath combines a developer and fixer in the same solution—the developer works faster than the fixer—so you can skip the three-step process. The downside is that with such a fast development time, your film will have a coarser grain than it would with a traditional method. But if streamlining is what you’re after, it’s a decent option.
5. CineStill CS41 Liquid Developing Kit
Casual photographers rarely get into color film development, but it’s simple with this two-step kit, especially if you have an accessible darkroom for color printing or if you scan your negatives straight to digital. The process is even more standardized than it is for black-and-white film, and CineStill’s kit comes in premeasured portions for added simplicity.