How to Avoid Taking Blurry Photos with Film Cameras

We’ve added a new thing to the store – when you order, you can enter your Instagram username in the “More comments” box, and I’ll give you a shout-out on the Buy Film Canada Instagram Story when your order is being packed.

A returning customer took advantage of this the other day, and added that all of her photos of flowers on IG were taken with film from Buy Film Canada. I wrote back saying that the pics looked great, and she mentioned that she had run into trouble a few times, and that a lot of the photos looked good in the camera’s viewfinder while framing them, but came out blurry in the end. She was using a Mamiya RB67, which worked fine for most shots, and these close-up shots of flowers at night were the only time that she ran into problems.

I started to write back to her, but then decided this would be good content for this blog haha! I am not 100% sure why her specific photos weren’t coming out, but I do have a lot of ideas that might help anyone in a similar situation.

One Consideration: Camera Shake

If you don’t have an actual macro lens for close-up shots, a great alternative is to use a cheap lens extension tube. These just extend the distance between your camera and your regular lens, and make it easier to get close-up shots. The downside is that they cut down significantly on how much light enters the camera.

I’m not familiar with the bellows that is built into the Mamiya RB67, but I think it must have the same effect, to some degree at least. So, if less light is coming in, there’s going to be more possibility of camera shake, and this may be especially pronounced when taking shots in the evening or night.

Solutions:

If possible, using a tripod should help in a big way. If that’s not possible (like in this case, due to the flowers being very low to the ground), then trying to hold the camera in a more steady way might help.

Any time you can brace yourself against a wall, for instance, that’s always something to try, but if you’re taking photos of something on the ground, maybe just sitting down instead of leaning down could help.

Another Consideration: Shutter Shock or Mirror Slap

When you take a shot with an SLR camera, the mirror has to move out of the way before the shutter can open and close. On some cameras, this doesn’t affect things much, but on others, it can make the camera vibrate quite a lot, even once the mirror has been moved and the photo is being taken.

Solutions:

I feel like I’ve seen this mentioned in relation to the Mamiya cameras like the RB67 and RZ67, so I did a quick search, and sure enough, Nicolas Llasera has a great, short video about how to use Mirror Lockup on a Mamiya RZ67. He mentions at the start of the video that this may work on the RB67 too.

I was also going to recommend using a shutter release cord. This is a cheap accessory you can get that will release the shutter without having to directly touch the camera. This is another great way to eliminate any amount of vibration to the camera. I was going to explain how they work a bit more, but after checking out Nico’s video, I saw that he demonstrates how to use it very nicely, so check that out.

Another Possibility: Lens Aperture

I’m not sure that this would be the problem in the case that the customer described, but every lens has certain apertures that make photos come out sharper, or less sharp.

Most lenses that I’m aware of will be less sharp at the very widest and narrowest apertures, and then have a “sweet spot” somewhere in the middle. It seems like most sweet spots are in the f8 or f11 area, or at least that’s what people commonly say.

Having said that, if you do shoot at the f8 – f11 sort of range, it could be quite tough get certain effects (shallow depth of field, for instance) that you might want, and sticking to just those apertures may actually increase your camera shake if you’re shooting in dimmer conditions without a tripod, so this is just something to consider.

Also worth noting, there also lenses that are very sharp at basically all apertures, so if you have some incredible Leica or Sigma Art lens on your camera, probably not worth getting too tied up with this.

Another Possibility: Exposure Time

This ties into camera shake a bit. So of course, the longer your shutter is open, the more time there is for the camera to shake. If you’re taking handheld shots, then the faster the shutter speed, the better. One thing I read about once though (and now unfortunately have no clue where I saw it), is that if you’re using a tripod, there’s a certain little window where camera shake makes a bigger difference.

The theory was that if you take a fast shot, you avoid camera shake anyway, and if you take a long exposure on a tripod, any short amount of shutter shake will wind up being a small percentage of the actual exposure. However, if you have the shutter open for a medium amount of time, maybe 1 second or so, and you have a camera with bad shutter shake, the actual vibration of the camera may still be occurring for a long part of that exposure. I’m having trouble describing this correctly, and would also love to hear from anyone who has thoughts on this effect, but that’s it basically: Short exposure good, Long exposure (with tripod) good, but medium exposure (with camera that’s prone to shutter shake/mirror slap) not good.

I hope this article helps someone, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions or thoughts. Close-up and macro photography can be a bit more problematic than just shooting scenes in more common settings, but they’re also really fun, and the results can be so great, they more than make up for any hassle.

What’s a Good Alternative to Kodak Ektar?

This never really happens, but we recently ran out of Kodak Ektar 100 for a short time, and someone emailed for some advice:

I am new to film, and am looking for a fine grain, color negative film for landscapes. Are there any you would recommend instead?

Happily, I was able to reply that we did indeed have Ektar back in stock (I had just received some, but hadn’t re-listed it), but I thought this was a great question.

So first off, I want to make a note that this person didn’t want an Ektar alternative specifically for the ISO. Ektar has an ISO rating of 100, which is as low as it goes for regular colour negative film these days. In fact, the only other current colour film that’s ISO 100 is Fuji Industrial 100 (which also may be sold under slightly different names by Fuji in different markets), but that’s becoming hard to come by, because Fuji has recently discontinued it.

So as far as fine-grained colour films, the only alternatives I can think of are Kodak Portra 160, and Kodak Portra 400.

These films have higher ISOs than Ektar, so you might guess that they won’t have quite as fine a grain, and you’d be right, however there isn’t a huge difference, and most people are not going to notice the grain in Portra 160 or 400 unless they’re really blowing up the shots and looking very closely. I actually just had a discussion on Instagram with a regular customer this weekend about how amazing Portra 400 is when it comes to grain size.

Portra 160 and 400 both use the same KODAK VISION technology and are much more advanced than most other colour negative films. Portra 160 has slightly finer grain, so if you’re not worried about light-gathering abilities, that’s probably the best choice for fine grain. (As a side note, it’s worth noting that Kodak Portra 800 is still, as far as I know, an older formulation that isn’t using the KODAK VISION technology, so it’s not as grain-free, although it’s still a really great film).

Now, it’s worth noting here that this customer was specifically asking about colour negative film, and not slide film. Slide film is harder to get processed, but if you’re open to that, then there are a few other good choices, with Fuji Velvia 50 being the most obvious.

Velvia has been the traditional landscape slide film for eons, and may have a slightly finer grain than Ektar (I’m not positive to be honest). Again though, Ektar is insanely fine-grained, and if you don’t have a reliable source for E-6 slide film developing, I’d stick with it. Velvia’s ISO rating of 50 is very low, and it’s fantastic film, with some really cool colour properties, but it does cost more to buy and get developed, and if grain is your priority, you’ll be more than happy with using something like Portra 160 as your alternative (or 400).

Can You Use Blazinal (Rodinal) with Ilford Stop Bath and Fixer?

I received an email tonight from a gentleman who mostly uses digital, but wants to start shooting a few rolls of B&W per month (which by the way, I find to be a really good strategy – colour film photos look different than colour digital, but B&W film photos really look different than B&W digital). He’s had darkroom experience, but it was many years ago, and he was wondering whether he should order Blazinal (which is Rodinal, sold under a different name for legal reasons in Canada – trademarks or something) in combination with Ilford Stop Bath and Ilford Rapid Fixer.

The short answer is yes, there is no problem at all with that combination. In fact, judging by the sales from my store, this is the most popular combination people are using right now (in Canada at least!)

Now to be fair, as far as stop bath and fixer go, I only sell the Ilford stuff, but that’s because it’s all anyone ever asks for or wants. There are other products out there (Kodak makes fixer for instance), but they’re harder to get, and there’s not really any point, because stop bath and fixer are very utilitarian products. At least as far as I know, there aren’t any that really impart any different looks or qualities to the final photos they produce. I suppose that if you had some really outdated bottles that went bad, those would affect your image quality, but that doesn’t really count.

Developer chemicals will change your final image, of course. Different developers can affect the sharpness, contrast, etc. of your negatives, as can the process you use. For instance, Blazinal/Rodinal is very popular for stand development, which seems to be constantly growing in popularity (I haven’t personally had great results when I’ve tried it, but that was only twice).

Blazinal is the most popular developer I sell, followed closely by Ilford DD-X, which is an excellent developer, although without the extremely long shelf life of Blazinal/Rodinal (this is not a slam on DD-X, it has a normal shelf life, but Blazinal is just much longer than almost any other developer I know).

But yes, the fact is, if you’re just talking about standard B&W developing, and not any special process (like cyanotype, silver collodion, etc), you can mix any developer with any stop bath and fixer. They each have a very distinct part of the development process to take care of, but they don’t really interact with each other in any way that would cause compatibility issues.

What’s in the Unicolor C-41 Kit and What Size Should You Buy?

Someone just asked me what’s in the Unicolor C-41 kit that we sell here, and it reminded me that I went to a film photography meetup recently where a couple of people asked me about that, so I thought I’d write a quick post about it:

When you buy the kit, what you receive is a cardboard box with a few things inside:

  • A short, but very clear and useful instruction booklet
  • The C-41 Developer powder, packaged in a vacuum-sealed foil bag
  • The Blix Part A powder, packaged in a vacuum-sealed foil bag
  • The Blix Part B powder, packaged in a vacuum-sealed foil bag
  • The Stabilizer powder, packaged in a little zip-loc bag

I’m going to go through each of these briefly:

  1. The Developer powder is what you’re going to use for your first step of developing C-41 film. This (like all the C-41 chemicals) comes in powder form, so that it has a long shelf life, and once you’re ready to start developing film, you mix it with water and put it in a bottle and make sure it’s all dissolved (the booklet should explain this – basically you mix the powder in while stirring at a high temperature, and then possibly leave it a while to dissolved fully).
  2.  The Blix Part A and Part B powders are packaged separately, because they contain chemicals that react when they’re mixed up. When you’re ready to develop these, you’ll mix both of them together with water, and you’ll actually see a chemical reaction when they come in contact. This is actually pretty cool to see, you just have to make sure you don’t mix them too fast, and you use a big enough container, because they create an endothermic reaction, and there’s a bit of bubbling and vapor. Once you mix these, you’ll have a liquid solution that you use for the second step of developing.
  3. The Stabilizer powder is just a very small amount of white powder in a zip-loc bag (the other bags are strong, vacuum-sealed, opaque bags). After you mix this with water, you use it in the third stage of developing. Your film is completely developed and ready to scan/print/etc. at this point, but the stabilizer treats and hardens the actual film to avoid any degradation over time.

And there you have it, those are the 4 things included in the kit. I should also mention that the instructions in the kit are very well written. It’s just a little paper booklet that’s short, but is so nice and readable, and contains all the information you need, explained very, very clearly. I was actually really surprised at how user-friendly the booklet is when I first saw it.

So what size kit should you buy?

The main things you want to think about when you decide on a size are these:

Shelf Life: As long as you keep air out of your storage bottles (usually done by squeezing extra air out just as you seal them), your chemicals can last for quite a long time (at least several months, if not longer), and most people who do this are able to get a lot of rolls out of each kit. The instructions say you can get up to 12 rolls done before there’s any degradation, but after that point, any loss in color or contrast is still pretty gradual, so it’s very common to get a lot more out (I’ve heard people report from 20-35+ from a 1 Liter kit). So what this means is that if you think you’re only going to home develop 6 rolls in a year, it’s probably not worth buying the 2L kit, because your chemicals may wear out before you have a chance to fully use the kit.

Price: Buying the 2L kits gets you a pretty good discount – you only pay about 50% more than buying a 1L kit. Apart from lowering your cost per roll, this also gives you a little leeway – for instance, if you buy a 2L kit, develop a bunch of film with it, but then your life gets busy and don’t get back to it for a while, and the chemicals get old, your cost per roll might still wind up the same as if you had bought the 1L kit.

Bottle Size / Storage: Unlike B&W chems, with C-41, you are supposed to mix all the chemicals at once, then store them in bottle until you’ve exhausted them. This means that if you buy the 1 Liter kit, you need 3 bottles that each hold 1L of liquid. If you buy the 2 Liter kit, you need 3 bottles that hold 2L. We sell the Delta Datatainer chemical storage bottles in each of these sizes, which are great, high quality bottles, meant for this task. However, if you want a less permanent option, you can use plastic pop bottles (just make sure to rinse them very well, and don’t expect them to last forever).

So whichever size you use, you need to think about storage. You’re going to have 3 bottles to put away, and 2L bottles take up more room than 1L.

Hope this article helps, and I’ll repeat the link to buy the Unicolor kit (as well as changing bags, developing tanks, etc) here.

Is Developing C-41 (Colour) Film Really Harder than Black and White?

A prospective customer emailed me today about the C-41 kits in the store. They asked about the shelf life of the chemicals involved, and also wanted to know whether developing colour film was really tough and unforgiving, as some people say. I wrote up this reply, and wanted to post it here as well, hopefully it helps out other folks in the same boat:

Great questions!

So first off, about the expiry dates: The C-41 kits contain powdered chemicals, which are sealed extremely tightly in metallic bags, and my understanding is that these will last a very, very long time in that form. Once you expose them to water, then it’s a different story, but I know people who take months to use a mixed kit, and swear there are no bad effects.

The way you store your mixed C-41 chemicals is very important to how long they last, and there are 3 things you can do to make sure they last as long as possible:

1. Keep oxygen out of the bottles. I understand that this is the most important thing you can do. Whatever bottle you use to hold your chemicals, you want to squeeze the bottle before you put the lid on, so the liquid goes right up to the top, then put on the lid tightly. Some people use empty pop bottles, some use special bottles meant for film that let you do this too.

2. Keep the bottles in a dark place. Or just have an opaque bottle.

3. Keep the bottles somewhere cool. My understanding is that you don’t have to go crazy on this and refrigerate them, just try to put them somewhere that doesn’t get too warm/hot.

So for the next question, is it hard/unforgiving to develop colour film:

I know that when I started developing film, I read this all the time – everyone said that Colour was much tougher than B&W. Because of this, I put off doing C-41 for quite a while. However, as time went on, I started hearing more and more people saying it wasn’t really that hard, so I started researching it, and realized it didn’t sound much different. Finally, I gave it a go, and my conclusion was that wow, it was just as easy as doing B&W, and in some ways easier.

In most ways, the home developing process for C-41 (colour) film is just like B&W: You load your film into a tank, and you have 3 liquid chemicals that you pour in, leave a while and then pour out, one by one. The main difference between B&W and C-41 is just that B&W chemicals are kept very close to room temperature, but C-41 developer needs to be heated up, to about 39°C, or thereabouts.

So this sounds pretty daunting at first, but when I actually tried doing it with a thermometer, it was really not that tough. You heat some water in a small tub to about 40°C or 41°C, you put your developer bottles to stand in this water, and you wait for it to reach the right temperature. You might have to fiddle with the bath a bit and add a little more hot or cold water now and then, but it’s really not tough.

If you think you’re going to be doing it a lot, you can get a Sous Vide heater, which have become extremely popular for this use in the last year or so. This is a cooking tool you can clip to your water bath container, and it’ll regulate that water and keep it at the right temperature while your bottles of chemicals heat up in it (you don’t put the sous vide heater directly in the chemicals).

But I want to stress, you absolutely do not need a Sous Vide, or any other fancy heater. You can do everything yourself with just a thermometer. A Sous Vide (or other heater) just lets you set it up, go do something else, and come back to perfectly heated chemicals a while later.

So this brings us to the part about developing being unforgiving. This is the thing that kept me from developing colour film for the longest time: I kept hearing that you had to keep the water temperature within 1 degree in either direction, or your photos would turn out badly. I even read some people saying you had to keep withing 0.5 degrees.

After talking to a number of people, and my own experience, I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions there is. You can be off by at least a few degrees with no bad effects. I actually had a badly calibrated thermometer to start, and developed numerous rolls at 3 degrees off, and I didn’t notice at all, the photos all looked great. Recently, one of the hosts of the Film Photography Podcast mentioned that he had done experiments with developing at 10, and I think 20, degrees Fahrenheit off the correct temperature. He said he went above, and below the recommended temperature, and still wound up with fine photos. (He may have mentioned some extra grain at the extreme temperatures, and I definitely wouldn’t do this on PURPOSE and expect perfect results, but this is extremely interesting to me, and I’d like to try it myself sometime as an experiment.)

And one thing people don’t mention about C-41 temperature too is that of the 3 chemicals you use, only the first one, the developer needs to stay at the correct temperature, and (at least in the Unicolor kits we sell) the film only stays in that chemical for 3 and a half minutes. So you don’t want to worry too much about the developer losing temperature, since after 3:30 or so, you’re moving on to the next chemical anyway. (The next chemical is Blix, which even the Unicolor instructions say can be 10 degrees off in either direction).

There seems to be a lot of things in the film photography online world that aren’t completely, fully documented, and a lot of them seem to turn into games of Telephone sort of. Someone on a message board will say that you should try to stay within a few degrees of the correct temperature, and over the years this will be passed down from msg board to Facebook group to Twitter feed to msg board, etc, until someone is saying “If you don’t get within half a degree of the right temperature, your photos will EXPLODE and YOUR HOUSE WILL FLY INTO SPACE”. The temperature thing is a prime example of this, to me anyway.

Oh and also I wanted to cover why some people consider C-41 developing easier than B&W: With C-41, there is only a single developing time for your kit. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using ISO 100 or ISO 1600 film, whether it’s Kodak, Fuji, Lomography, etc. – it all just goes in the developer (then blix, then stabilizer) for set times. You can mix any C-41 colour films you want in one batch, and it’ll be fine. With B&W this is the complete opposite, and you have to look up times for each film/ISO/developer combination, and you can only mix multiple different films in one batch if they happen to share the same times.

So that’s that, I hope this is helpful. Because I actually sell C-41 developing kits, I always worry that I might sound like I’m biased or something, but I really do believe that it’s just as easy to develop Colour as it is B&W. I actually also sell B&W chemicals, so if I really thought that was an easier process, I’d just say so. And personally, I definitely love that the times are always the same and I don’t have to look things up every time I change film (or developer, ISO, etc), although I know some people really enjoy the process of experimenting with different times and temperatures and whatnot for B&W.

Spot Buy Film Canada in Mike Janik’s Latest Vlog

Mike Janik is a Toronto photographer who publishes The Toronto Times, and makes great Youtube videos.

While he started out by doing camera reviews and informational videos (check out ‘How to Clean Your Camera‘, ‘13 Film Photography Hacks‘ and ‘Let’s Talk About Zines‘), a few months he started also doing Vlogs.

In his latest, he prowls the streets of downtown Toronto, wielding one of the Fujifilm 1600 ISO, 39-exposure disposable cameras that we sell on this very store. He winds up taking some great architectural shots, which he shares, and also sums up his thoughts on the camera. He also mentions the possibility that he might make a video showing how to reload a disposable, which I personally would loveDrake disposable cameras to see. I know that a couple of people who have bought one of the (there’s some extra Toronto content!) have mentioned that they intend to that, and while I know there are a few videos about it on Youtube, I’d love to see a really good video on it.

You can watch it right here – recommended viewing for all Canadian film photography people (and the not-Canadian ones):

 

A Nice Review of Bergger Pancro 400 on Youtube

UPDATE: I originally forgot to link to Bergger Pancro in our store haha, woops, bad salesman.

I just wanted to point everyone to a very thorough review of Bergger Pancro 400 that I saw on Youtube. You may already be familiar with the MAX+ONE Portrait Photography channel, who make very good videos about film photography. Max and his friend Jules spent 3 months shooting only Bergger Pancro. He then tested out the film in a few different developers, and then made a great, comprehensive video about it. They shot in a variety of situations from Croatia to Munich, and did some prints as well. Great video, well worth a look.

I’ll quote some of Max’s thoughts from his review, but you should watch the entire video for more:

“Bergger Pancro is an amazing and very interesting film. It does have a rather flat characteristic, which makes it well suited for scanning and also doing prints of the negatives. I have to say that most of the time while editing in Lightroom, it was mostly about increasing the brightness and adding a little bit of contrast, so it was not really kind of working hard on getting the kind of dynamic range that you sometimes want an image to get kind of hard contrasts and things like that. So it was really easy to edit, and it felt the same while doing the split grades, that was kind of interesting to see how easy that was, and how quick we could often get results that suited our taste and what we had intended to do.

This is a film that I can highly recommend. I really appreciate it’s kind of glowy look for skin tones and skin in general. For Black & White portraits, I really think this gives it a certain modern and at the same time classic look, and I will definitely use this film again and again, especially using it with Kodak D-76 or, if I’m shooting it at ISO 200, with Spur Acurol-N.

So this is a film that I will most definitely order some more of, and that I really enjoy shooting.”

 

An Overview of Developing Film

Developing Tank

Since I added C-41 developing kits to the store the other day, I’ve had a few emails about developing your own film. I’ve been developing my film (Black & White initially, and then Colour) for a while now, but I can still remember the time before I did, and how daunting it was. For me, part of the problem was that initially, I saw a lot of very in-depth instructions on the web, as well as videos, but I just wanted to figure out a general overview. I hope this article will help with people in my situation, and I’ve decided to word some of it in a Question/Answer format.

Is it hard to develop your own film?

Nope! There are a number of steps you have to follow, but they’re all easy steps. To me, calling something “hard” means that you have to practice it before being able to do it, and also that you have to make choices/decisions along the way, which you might get wrong.

Developing film is not like this. You just do certain pre-defined steps, and as long as you do the correct things, your film should turn out perfectly.

What’s more, there’s less room for error than some people let on. People make some very scary claims about how perfectly, precisely, exact you must keep your water temperature, especially when developing colour film, but a lot of those claims are very exaggerated (in my opinion, some people like the idea that they have mastered a very tough process where you can’t vary your temperature by 0.5 degrees or else your film will be completely unusable).

The thing you’ll notice if you spend any time discussing home developing online is that 99.9% of people say “you should do it, it’s great!”, and almost nobody ever says “Oh it was a disaster, sooo hard!” It just really is something almost anyone can do.

Can you give me a really broad overview of the process?

Sure! So first, you take a bunch of photos. You probably knew that step haha.

Next, you have to transfer your film to a developing tank. This is basically a plastic jar that is designed to not let any light in. It has plastic reels inside that you spool your film around.

Now that your film is in the developing tank, you pour in developing liquid and wait for a certain amount of time (between 3 and 10 minutes depending on the film and developing liquid). While you’re waiting, you agitate the tank once or twice per minute, by turning it over a few times.

Now, you pour out the developing liquid, and you put in another liquid. The next liquid might be a few different things – it varies depending on whether you’re doing Colour film, or Black & White, but once it’s in there, you do the same thing: Leave it in for a certain amount of time, while agitating the tank 1 or 2 times a minute.

Now, there’s one more chemical liquid to pour in. Again it might be one of a couple of things (Fixer or Stabilizer generally), and you leave it in for a certain amount of time, then remove it.

Now you can open up the tank and you have negatives! You hang them up to dry.

There are a couple of parts where you pour water into the tank during the process as well, to rinse the negatives. This might be at the end or the middle, depending on B&W or Colour, but it’s the easiest thing possible.

Do you need a darkroom?

No, you don’t. There is only one step of developing film that requires darkness, and that’s when you transfer your film to the developing tank. This only takes a few minutes, and you can do this a couple of ways:

The easiest way is to use a changing bag. This is a special, light-proof bag that you stick your developing tank and film in, along with a few other things (scissors, can opener to open the film can). It has holes with elastics around them, so you can stick your arms inside the bag without letting any light in.

If you don’t have a changing bag handy though, it’s fine, you just need to black out a room for a few minutes. Personally, I’ve done it in both a bathroom, and a walk-in closet. In both cases, I just put a towel on the ground to block light from coming in the door, and I also put electrical tape up to cover the door cracks. While this is a dark room, it’s easy to set up when you need it, and isn’t the same as setting a complex darkroom with sinks and lots of equipment, like some people imagine it. That sort of darkroom is only needed when you actually print traditional darkroom photos (instead of scanning your negatives and sharing them online, or printing them on a printer).

So wait, I have to transfer the film to the developing tank in total darkness? Isn’t that hard?

You do indeed have to perform this step in total darkness (you can’t use a red light like you may have seen in movies, etc.- that’s for doing darkroom printing).

This is the trickiest step, and the ideal situation is to have a cheap, or wasted, roll of film that you can practice with in the light. What I personally did was to watch a few Youtube videos very carefully, so that I was pretty sure I knew what to do, and then I tried it on a long-expired roll of no-name film I got at a camera show. I did it once in the light, and was very confident that I knew what was going on, so I took a regular roll of film I had shot (that wasn’t too important and wouldn’t kill me if I ruined), and I tried doing the procedure for real, in the dark. Watching the Youtube videos and practicing once paid off, and I transferred the film just fine, and it came out perfectly.

If you don’t have a spare roll of useless film, it can seem painful to waste a roll to test this out. What I’ve always said is that hey, you can get a cheap roll for $5 CAD (even cheaper in US dollars), and I think you might as well just get one and shoot a bunch of quick snapshots, and chalk the few dollars up to learning a new skill. Having said that though, I still have a handful of unusable rolls handy that would be perfect for practicing, so if you make an order on Buy Film Canada, just make a note that you’d like one, and I’ll send it if I have one (I’ll also try to remove this part of this blog post when I run out, so if you see this, I probably have one). These rolls have been completely exposed and rewound, so photos will come out completely white from them, there is 0% chance of any photos coming from them, so please only request one if you need to practice transferring film to a developing tank.

How much does developing your own film cost, is it cheaper?

There’s an up-front cost that can run between $0 (if you find someone dumping their old stuff on Craigslist/Kijiji) to maybe $120 if you buy all the equipment brand new. Buying new is quicker and convenient, but old equipment does the job just as well, unless it’s damaged.

Paying the up-front costs might not be fun if you buy everything new, but you can do what digital shooters do: Pay a bunch of money up front, and then magically forget that it happened, and pretend that everything you do from then on is free haha.

Once you’ve paid the up-front costs, the actual cost of developing each roll is definitely cheaper than doing it at a lab. It depends what you use, but I would say that at most it’s going to be half the price of doing it in a lab, and a lot of people use chemicals very efficiently and spend much less than that (especially with B&W film).

If you also figure in the costs of travelling to a lab, maybe paying for parking, etc., it definitely winds up a lot cheaper for most people.

The main thing to really consider other than price is: Do you enjoy developing film? I used to think it was going to be a hassle, but I thought “Oh well, the round trip to a lab takes me 40 minutes, then another 40 minutes to go pick up the negatives later!” and did it. What I found out was that the process is very fun and relaxing to me, and it’s something I look forward to now. Other people might find the complete opposite though.

What equipment do I actually need?

The basics are:

  • A developing tank with reels. The most common of these are Paterson brand, and Buy Film Canada can actually special order these for you (and we’ll stock them if there’s enough demand). There’s also AP brand which are very similar, and also fine.
  • A changing bag (optional). This is convenient to have, but if you can black out a room for 10 minutes, it’s not necessary.
  • A timer. You can use your smartphone for this.
  • A can opener to remove the lids of 35mm film cans.
  • Scissors to cut the film from the canister.
  • Some sort of clips to hang the negatives to dry. (I need to clarify this, but people do use laundry clips.
  • Some containers to hold the chemicals – you can buy special ones fairly inexpensively, but I believe some people do use empty plastic pop bottles (thoroughly cleaned of course).

What chemicals do I need?

If you want to develop colour film, there’s basically only 1 choice for home developers, that’s called a C-41 Press Kit. We sell them on Buy Film Canada, and they contain everything you need to develop colour film.

For Black & White, there is a larger range of possibilities. You buy B&W chemicals piece by piece, and you need 3 things: A developer, a stop bath, and a fixer. A typical shopping list for these might look like this:

  • Developer: Ilford Ilfosol 3 or Ilford DD-X or Kodak D76 or Kodak HC-110 or Rodinal (also sold as Blazinol). There are many other developers, these are the most popular.
  • Stop bath: Ilford Ilfostop or Kodak Indicator Stop Bath
  • Fixer: Ilford Rapid Fixer or Ilford Ilfostop Stop Bath or Kodak Fixer or Kodak Kodafix.

As you can see, there are a lot of options, but they’re all decent choices. To start, you probably just want to pick whichever you can find most easily.

Buy Film Canada doesn’t sell any B&W chemicals right now, but we have access to them, so if you’re interested, drop us a note, and if a few people are interested, we’ll stock them!


Well, that’s about it for now. I hope this accomplished the goal of just sort of giving a wide angle overview of developing.

For me, the toughest part was actually just getting myself in gear to buy the equipment and do it. Once I did, it was just as easy as everyone says, plus a lot more fun than I expected. If you have any questions about this article, please email andrew@buyfilm.ca

C-41 Developing Kits Available for Sale Now

Since I started this site, the most common request I’ve received has been for C-41 developing kits. I’m finally found a decent way to get them to Canada, and they’re in the store now.

The kits are standard Unicolor kits, and contain several pouches of powdered chemicals. These are the kits that almost everybody uses to develop colour film. There are other kits available (mostly in Europe from what I’ve seen) that provide the chemicals in liquid form, but these cost a lot more, and as far as I can tell, they don’t really have any advantage. These Unicolor kits produce excellent results, and I don’t honestly know what advantage there could be to be honest.

I plan to have some blog posts up soon covering the process of home developing C-41, so keep your eyes open to this blog, but feel free to email support@buyfilm.ca in the meantime with any questions on how these work, what other equipment you need, etc.

C-41 Processing Kit – 1 Liter

C-41 Processing Kit – 2 Liters

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