Like many other things, developing your own 35mm black and white negatives is much easier than you might expect. I started souping my own negs last spring and the hardest part was the research and learning the basic theory. Just in case you’re wondering what kind of equipment you will need, I thought I’d share my darkroom setup. You’ll be surprised how small amount of kit you’ll need to get started. As you can see, there’s only a handful of items needed. If you’re still thinking about developing your own black and white negatives, at least don’t let the gear part put you off, because you definitely don’t need to buy expensive gear.
There are few specialty items (tank, chemicals) that you will need to buy from a photo store (or second hand) but hilariously many items are just something that you can gather from your kitchen. (Just remember not to use them for cooking anymore after you’ve exposed them to chemicals.)
Here’s a list of the kit I personally use. All this stuff fits a small box and it is honestly all I need for home developing. At some point I’ll write another post on how I actually develop the film. We’ll concentrate on the gear list for now.
I bough my Paterson Tank System 4 developing tank second hand from a Facebook group. They aren’t too expensive new either. I paid 10€ for mine.
Chemicals need to be at precise(ish) temperature. So far I’ve used an old cooking thermometer from our kitchen. I’m planning to upgrade though to a real darkroom thermometer, but this just goes to illustrate that you really can go MacGyver and use stuff around the house.
Flask(s) and containers
You’ll need some amount of suitable containers for measuring, mixing and storing your chemicals. At first I used just some plastic yoghurt buckets, that I found at our kitchen cupboards. I’ve used also some basic 1dl measuring cups and a medical syringes for measuring.
Now I’ve refined my container selection a bit, and use a Erlenmeyer flask for mixing my working solution. It is an actual laboratory flask that I found at the reuse center for 1,50€. It is handy because it has precise markings for the amount of liquid printed at the side. I usually mix D-76 developer 1:1. I use 200ml of water and 200ml of stock developer and with this kind of flask, it is easy to mix just the right kind of dilution.
All the rest of my containers are basically for just storing the chemicals. I use 0,5l plastic soda bottles for that.
A funnel or two is handy for pouring liquids back and forth. I bought mine from the reused center for 0,30€. I didn’t want to ruin the ones we have at home so I bought a dedicated one for film chemicals.
You can use any regular bottle opener for opening film canisters. There are dedicated tools for that job, but you probably have a bunch of these at home.
Stop watch or timer
I use a cheap sport watch that I usually use for exercise. It has a decent timer that is suitable for developing. Correct timing is of course really important for the development, so reliable timer is an essential tool. I also like an iPhone app called Develop that features a really cool timer interface and a possibility to save your recipes. I don’t trust my iPhone though, because it can crash or I might get a phone call right in the middle of the process. Flight mode is encouraged, but I’m prone to forgetting things like that.
You will need developer, stopper and fixer. You can get away without stopper if you want. Some use water for stopping or mix your own from vinegar and lemon juice. I have not tried home stoppers though, so do your research for that.
For developer I use D-76 and Rodinal. There are so many developers out there so you can choose your own favourite. They all have their own characteristics and will have a huge effect on the image quality. But that is a whole another topic and a big one too.
For stop bath I use Ilfords Ilfostop and my go-to fixer is Ilford Rapid Fixer.
Some chemicals are more expensive than others. Rodinal is dirt cheap and one bottle will last for a million years. D-76 is a bit more expensive, but it’ll still cost something like 1€ / roll if you use that. In total I’d say if you invest 50€, you can get your chemicals sorted.
That is basically all the stuff you will need. In addition to that you’ll need of course scissor for cutting the film and perhaps some other basic household stuff like rags and tissue paper to clean up etc. Good luck with the souping! 🙂