C41 Film, B&W Chemistry

Posted 2009.09.25 9.35 in Hobbies, Photography by Stephanie

So I’ve tried a few times to process colour film at home in Black & White chemicals. And I’ve had a few failures. It started out as a lark, then became a bit of a challenge and a learning process. In the meantime, I also got a newer, better scanner that has a bit more oomph in its transparency adapter and can better manage the darker negs that colour film produce. (Darker due to a built-in orange mask.)

My most-recent attempt actually produced workable results! Pitty I wasn’t trying to take good pictures.

What happened was, I picked up one of those disposable / one-use cameras. It was cheap, a ‘store-brand’, and mostly I wanted to take it apart to get at the shutter assembly and the electronic flash components. So I had 27 frames of film to piss away, and I did just that, snapping here there and whatever. The film was ISO 800 which is very fast (for me at least, I used to think 100 was ‘standard’ and 400 was ‘very fast’; now 400 seems standard.)

Anyhow, so at the end of the day I had managed to waste the whole roll and took the camera apart to get it out. The no-name camera contained a roll of no-name film. I had been hoping for some clue as to who made it, so I’d have some hope of knowing what to expect. No luck. So I snipped off a bit of the leader then loaded the rest into my developing tank.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about processing colour film in B&W chemistry: Development time is on par with B&W film. Silver halides are silver halides regardless of what the rest of the emulsion contains. My earliest attempts had way too much time in developer resulting in grossly over-developed film. On the other hand, colour films seem to have much thicker emulsions due to the different layers or whatever, so they need more fixing time than B&W film. My earlier attempts were using ‘normal’ fixing times, which were too short.

I’ve also learned that you can test the fixing time with a bit of the leader film – dip it in fixer and see how long it takes to go clear. Then fix the film for double that length of time.

So I processed the ISO 800 colour film for 5 1/2 minutes in my T-MAX developer, then fixed it for about 20 – 25 minutes in my Kodak fixer. It worked! The negatives were fairly clear, fairly detailed, there’s a good level of contrast, good tonality, and fair sharpness (where they were in focus!) Of course, since I didn’t take any decent pictures, that sort of left me with little to show for my success. The processed film doesn’t have any names on it, but I’m pretty sure it’s a Fuji film for three reasons: 1) the orange mask is very dark, almost brown, 2) what few markings are on the film do match other Fuji film I’ve used, and 3) the place where I bought it only carried Fuji film plus their own store-brand. So it seems pretty simple to just buy all their stock from Fuji, but have some of it labeled with their own brand.

Anyhow here is one semi-decent picture that shows the tonal range, contrast, and level of detail that I got from the colour film in the B&W process. The photo was taken with the disposable camera, ISO 800 film (probably Fuji) with the flash, unknown exposure and aperture.

Stephanie on the Sofa of Relaxation

Stephanie on the Sofa of Relaxation

Incidentally, if you’re wondering why I bother trying to use colour film to get black and white pictures? There are a few reasons. The challenge part is certainly there, but there is also an economical reason – black and white film is getting rare and expensive. There’s only one place in town I know sells it, and it’s over $5 per roll. If I can pick up 3-packs of a store-brand colour film for only $8 or $9 and use that instead, then I’m saving almost 50% on film.

So why not just process colour film in colour? Still economics – it’s expensive, even at Costco, and it’s wasteful. 95% of the time I don’t want prints. I just want to process the negs, then I can decide what to scan, and then of those I scan, if I do need a print, I can get that done on a one-off basis. So why not just shoot digital? I have a nice new DSLR. But film is sexy, retro, and frankly, the DSLR is freaking huge and awkward to carry around everywhere. Plus, it’s valuable and if I dropped, lost, or broke it I’d be really upset. Whereas old film cameras are small, easier to carry, cheap, and probably not attractive to theives – nobody wants an old film camera. And did I mention, retro & sexy?

Film – it’s where it’s at!

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