Photographer & Gentleman

Journal

A journal of stories and photographs by Calgary photographer, Riley J.B.

Develop & Scan | C-41 Colour Film

I have received a couple of requests via Twitter & also a few emails asking for my process for developing and scanning my colour negative film. I thought I would do a quick write up of the process that I find works for me.

I am definitely not and expert in developing or scanning film. There are probably many out there that are more knowledgeable than me. But what I do works for me.

Developing

I typically only shoot colour negative film {C-41 process}, Kodak Portra/Ektar/Gold, Fujifilm 400H/Superia, and started developing it myself after reading a few blogs about it. Some are of the opinion that it is more difficult than developing black & white film because temperature matters more. I wouldn't know as I have only developed colour film.

Here is what I bought to start being able to develop..

Accoutrements: 

  • Paterson Universal Tank. This allows me to develop the film in light. The tank is lightproof but still allows liquids to be poured in and out. This one has two spools that adjust from 135 to 120 film size. It can do one roll of 120 (medium format) film or two rolls of 135 (35mm) film.
  • Large Changing Bag. This bag is light tight when both my arms are in it. I load the rolls of film into the Paterson tank in here. 
  • Thermometers. My main thermometer is digital but I also have an analogue backup in case the digital's battery dies. You can get by with just one. I bought these at my local grocery store. Just make sure you keep them in your film kit so they don't get used in food.
  • Can Opener. I use this in the changing bag to open the 135 film canisters. This too is just from a grocery store.
  • Film Clips. These are used to hang the film to dry at the end. 
  • Film Squeegee. This is to remove the extra liquid on the film when hanging to dry. This one is rubber and I am a bit worried it may end up scratching my film. It hasn't yet though. I do have a sponge type on the way to try.
  • 1 litre Brown Glass Bottles. I bought 4 of them at a local laboratory supply store. Glass will be better sealed from air than plastic, they are dark so light won't effect the chemistry and they look real science-y. (Not pictured above)

Chemistry:

The only place I have been able to find this C-41 Chemistry is at B&H Photo. It is the Tetenal C-41 Press Kit for Colour Negative Film. It comes as a powder and I mix it up. Very straight forward and easy to do. A kit costs $24.50US and I think it can realistically do 15 rolls of film safely. I have heard people who have done upwards of 24 rolls. It really depends on the ISO of the film, how it is stored, how much colour shift is acceptable to you, etc.

It is a 3 chemical process. Developer, Blix (Bleach & Fixer combined) and Stabilizer. Pretty simple.

The Process:

For C-41 developing the Developer has to be at 39ºC (102ºF). When first mixing the chemicals I use hot water. After mixing them it is just a waiting game until they cool down to the required 39ºC. But for this post I'll explain how I do it from storage.

For the timing I use the app Lab Timer for my iPad.

  1. I use a large pot and place it in the sink. I put the bottle of Developer & the bottle of Blix in there. I use an extra bottle with just water in it and place it in there too. I put my thermometer in the bottle of Developer and fill the pot with hot/warm water. Watch the temp climb.. if it stalls before hitting 39ºC add some more hot. I always add the water to the side of the pot that is opposite where the developer bottle is.
  2. I put my film, Paterson tank & scissors in the changing bag. I then wrestle the film into the reel and close up the tank. It's now ready to have some chemicals poured into it. To practice putting the film on the reel I wasted a roll of film to practice in the light and in the bag. It gets pretty easy with practice.
  3. As the temperature of the chemistry nears 39ºC I make sure my timer is ready to go.
  4. I first pour in the plain water to give the film a rinse. The water should now be around 39ºC so it will get the tank and the film up to our developing temperature. I let it soak for 1 minute and then pour it down the sink. The water is usually a pretty colour.
  5. I start to pour the developer into the tank and I hit the start on the timer. I use the little stick included with the tank to agitate the reels for the first 15 seconds. After that I invert the tank every 30 seconds for the 3 minute 30 seconds of the Developer stage. By invert I mean I take the tank with one hand on the lid and one hand on the bottom. And I turn it at medium/slow speed upside down until I can hear the liquid sloosh to the lid and then turn it right-side-up until I hear the liquid slosh to the bottom. Just like that 4 times. Then I tap the bottom of the tank on the counter or in the sink to dislodge any air bubbles on the film. I then set the tank into the pot of warm water to keep it at 39ºC. After the first set of inversions I place the bottle of developer into the other side of my sink and place the funnel into the top. When there is about 10 seconds left on the timer start to pour the developer back into the bottle and cap it.
  6. Next up is the Blix. With the developer bottle out of the way I do the same thing with the Blix as I did with the developer but for 6 minutes 30 seconds. Blix will generate some kind of gas during the inversions so some say it is necessary to burp the lid on the tank in-between inversions. I do it twice total. Again I place the bottle in the other side of the sink with the funnel(that has been rinsed) and pour the Blix into it with about 10 seconds remaining on the timer.
  7. Now the film is no longer sensitive to light. I run the water and stick the thermometer into it until it is near 39ºC.. the only real critical step for temperature is the developer. With the top off of the tank I run water into it completely submerging the film. There should always be a constant flow of water. I move the tank in a circle while it fills with water and then dump it completely out when it is full to the top and then fill it up again while swirling the tank around. This lasts for 3 minutes.
  8. After the 3 minute wash it is the final step. The stabilizer. This bottle is just kept on the countertop so it is room temperature. It is poured in and agitated for the first 15 seconds. I also give it a tap on the counter to dislodge any bubbles. After 30 seconds to a minute it is returned to the bottle. There is not additional wash. The stabilizer will keep the film around for a long time so you don't want to wash it off.
  9. I take the film to my bathroom (the one I usually shower in as their should be less dust in it) and hang it to dry. A quick squeegee to get the excess off and that's it. You're now a part of history by developing your own colour film.

Quick Thoughts:

Not enough developer in the tank.

  • When I did my first roll of film I did not fill the tank up enough. I thought it was as I was using a recommendation from a post in the internet. But it caused issues with the development.

What I did after that roll was filled my spare glass bottle full with water and poured it into the Paterson Tank without film in it to see how much liquid was needed to properly submerge the film. And by using the same bottle I store my chemistry in I can look at the bottle to know if I have enough chemistry in the tank. Too much is better than not enough.

  • The limited time between tank inversions is when you do quick housekeeping. Rinsing the funnel, wiping up little spills, telling you wife she looks great so she feels better about you doing this in the kitchen.. 
  • Review the timing and instructions before you do it. I know what I am doing but it is always nice to review it so you don't blank briefly while the timer is going.
  • If you use glass bottles make sure you have a good grip before pouring. They get slippery when they are wet. I dropped one as I went to pour it into the tank in the sink. I have no idea how it didn't break. Next time I doubt I will be so lucky.

Scanning

Once my negatives dry for an hour or two I get right to scanning them. My process for 135 film is very easy. I have a Kodak Pakon 135-Plus scanner. I just feed the whole roll into it and it scans it in a matter of minutes. The film doesn't even have to be completely flat. The only two issues with the Pakon are a.) it only runs on Windows XP and b.) the max size is 3000px x 2000px. I use an old laptop I have to scan, save the TIF files to my dropbox, and then pull them from my dropbox on my iMac into Lightroom. (Update: I now run a virtual Windows XP machine on my iMac & it works amazingly.) I let the Pakon's software do the colour conversion for me. It is spot on 98% of the time. For that other 2% I can make minor changes in the software before exporting. Typically I will just export it as is and if needed do a really quick correction in Lightroom.

My desk while scanning 135 film with the Kodak Pakon 135-Plus

For my 120 negatives I use the aforementioned Epson V600 flatbed scanner. It does a pretty decent job with medium format. I bought an aftermarket film holder (from betterscanning.com) with a glass insert to keep the film flat. This holder is also adjustable. I cannot focus the scanner itself but I can adjust the height of the film holder to ensure exact focus. Luckily the standard height setting is great as is. The glass insert ensures the film lays perfectly flat in the holder.

I use a few aftermarket pieces of software with the V600. To scan I use VueScan instead of the Epson software. It comes with built in colour profiles for various films. And they are terrible. Not accurate at all. At first it really made me down on doing this whole development/scan thing myself. But then I found out about the ColorPerfect plug-in for Photoshop. So now I scan the negative using VueScan.. with no colour correction at all.. basically a raw scan saved as a TIFF. I open it in Photoshop and apply the ColourPerfect filter (which has a bunch of film profiles that are great) and then import that into Lightroom for final little tweaks.

Below is a crappy photo that was on the roll without enough developer.. Kodak Ektar 100 rated at 60. On the right is the scan where VueScan did the colour conversion and exposure using the Kodak Ektar film profile.. on the left is the same photo scanned as a raw with VueScan but converted in ColorPerfect using their Kodak Ektar profile. It was much easier to work with and more true to Ektar and the exposure in my opinion.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 7.44.49 PM.png

For film the only tweaks I do in Lightroom, if any, is I add a bit of contrast, up the blacks and add a bit of sharpening. Also I will do some minor temperature shifts. But I like to keep the photos true to the kind of film I was shooting with. Here are some comparisons of photos from the straight scan (left) to my final edit (right). 

Leica M3 | Zeiss Sonnar 1.5/50mm | Fujifilm 400H

Rolleiflex 3.5F | Kodak Portra 400

So there you have it. My film and scanning workflow in a nutshell. Is it more work than sending my roll to a lab? Yes.. waaaay more work. There is nothing wrong with sending film to a lab.. places like Richard Photo Lab or Caribou Film Lab.. they do awesome work. But for me I truly enjoy developing my own film just to be connected to the entire process. The costs at the onset seemed like a fair bit compared to sending my film to labs. But now I am set up to keep shooting and keep developing with only having to buy film and chemistry.

I plan to do E6 development for colour slide film when my Film Ferrenia arrives.. and I may even branch out to doing my own  black & white processing.

If you enjoyed this post please share it and if you have any comments or questions be sure to leave them in the comments, email me or send me a tweet.

{RJ}

(I have tried to link all of the product I mention in this post to where you can buy them.. these are not affiliate links and I am not sponsored by any of them.)