How To Develop Your Film At Home

If you are interested in developing your photos from home, the Paterson tank is truly worth a try. Photography is not only an art, but a lifestyle and deciding to process your own work can be excited and rewarding. Here’s why you gotta roll up your sleeves and try it!

Cost. Developing your rolls at home saves you a serious amount of money in the long run. If you walk into Photodom on any given day and decide to develop and scan your film, it costs $15 per roll (high res scans), or $18 per roll (super res scans). We love the service at Photodom, but sometimes it’s nice to have a cheaper option in case the rent is due or some other extraneous life cost gets in the way. Developing at home takes the cost down to approximately $1 per roll!

Control. You have full mastery of your photography from the top to the bottom. As artists we are sensitive about our $h!t *cues Erkah Badu* and its remarkably satisfying for every single part of the process to be done by you. From capturing images on each roll, to developing and scanning them, it all has this undeniable cyclical nature about it. The entire process makes you feel like you can do everything.

Here’s a thorough video on how to get it done!

You will need: A Paterson Universal Tank

Kodak Professional Photo-Flo

Kodak Indicator Stop Bath

Kodak Professional Kodafix Fixer

Kodak Professional Hypo Clearing Agent

Kodak Professional D-76 (if film is Black and White)

You will also need: a dark bag, a film canister opener, bottles for the chemicals, thermometer, timer, scissors, a running water supply, clothespins to hang your film dry, gloves, and an apron.

If you ever want to advance your film processing to the next level, grabbing a motorized roller base is a great option. The motorized roller base is a bit different all together. The development tank lies sideways on the base. Less chemistry is needed as you won’t be submerging all of the film simultaneously. By continuously rotating your tank on the base, all of the film gets its fair share and will be developed correctly. The amount of chemistry saved is incredible. For developing two rolls of 35mm film, Unicolor’s instructions for developing with their Uniroller call for 240mL. For one roll of 120, the numbers are 500mL vs. 210mL. That means switching over to a roller base workflow can easily double the amount of rolls you can develop per batch of chemistry. 

So now that you know what they are, how do you find them? Check anywhere you’d go for any used film gear. I’ve seen plenty on eBay, ShopGoodwill and Facebook Marketplace. The brands you should be searching for are Uniroller/Unicolor, Beseler and Cibachrome. At the time of this writing, they tend to range from $100 to $200. These rollers work best when used with tanks built specifically for them. Unicolor tanks are moderately rare but usually not very expensive. If you find a leaky tank, spraying the mouth with some Flex Seal spray and slathering it with a generous amount of petroleum jelly should make it water-tight once more. Even if you can’t find the compatible tank, it’s not too hard to perform a DIY conversion on a tank you already have.

And if you can’t get your hands on a genuine motorized roller base, there are a couple more options. Jobo makes a manual roller base. It has all the same benefits except you have to roll it by hand.

The one issue with motorized roller bases is a common one that plagues the film photography world. No one is making them anymore. All available stock is decades old. It would be great if all the major film companies decided to make these again. Motorized roller bases are way too good of an invention to be lost to time. Companies like Cinestill and Negative Supply have already shown amazing manufacturing prowess in making brand new items for the film community. I believe that this isn’t just something they can do, but must do. However, due to their scarcity, it is great to have DIY darkroom options with the Paterson products. It’s actually an incredibly simple process, and once you get the hang of it, you will have that new skill under your belt forever!

Norbert Daniels is a freelance photographer in Detroit, MI. Take a look at his work here!

Rodra Burruss is a writer, dancer, and novice photographer who likes to capture movement.

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