After a slight delay caused by receiving a spoiled bottle of liquid developer, I was able to try my hand at developing black and white film using the Cinestill Df96 Monobath developer. Cinestill was very responsive and promptly sent me Df96 powered developer and a 1-L bottle as a replacement. In the meantime, I jumped in to film developing with C-41 processing, so using the Df96 Monobath was a breeze.
I developed two rolls (Ilford Delta 400 and Kodak TMax 400) of 120 film on the same evening. The Delta 400 was expired but freshly removed from the fridge a few hours before shooting and processed within a week. The Kodak on the other hand had been exposed almost two years ago and stored on the camera shelf in my office. The Ilford film turned out beautifully; the Kodak not so much, but I think the fault lies with the film and storage rather than the developer.
Df96 could not be easier to use. I worked in the Kitchen sink and used a large pot of hot water from the tap to heat up some distilled water for mixing the chemicals. It took a couple of minutes of continuous stirring to completely dissolve the dry chemicals, then I just let mixture cool while I loaded the first roll onto the spool. I pre-rinsed the film for about a minute with warm tap water, and once the thermometer showed less than 80 degrees, I poured in the developer. I agitated by rolling the tank for the first 30 seconds, the used the stir stick to rotate the spool every 30 seconds or so for an 8 minute development time. Then I poured the developer back in the mixing pitcher, rinsed 10 times with tap water, then did a final rinse and soak using distilled water with a single drop of dishwasher rinse aid. The process was generally the same for the second roll except I let the tank sit in the hot water bath for part of the time during development just to make sure that the temperature didn’t drop too much.
The Ilford Delta 400 looks beautiful. The negatives looked very good and were easy to photograph, and the processed images have nice contrast with excellent detail in the shadows and highlights and subdued grain. These are the best black and white negatives I have worked with, and all of my previous films were professionally developed.
The Kodak TMax 400 suffers from a multitude of issues, and this roll is not a fair test of the developer. The first thing I noticed was that the Kodak negatives were much denser than the Ilford negatives, and the edges of the film were very dark instead of being clear. For the most part, this did not affect the exposed portion of the frame although a few of the inverted images are brighter near the edges. This would seem to indicate incomplete development near the edges of the film, but I don’t know why this would have occurred. I agitated the Kodak roll more than the Ilford, and I left the film in the tank for a full 8 minutes.
Another problem with the Kodak film is the “backing paper issue” that apparently affected TMax 120 film from about 2016 through 2018 (my roll was purchased in 2017). However, this was not the first roll of TMax I used from that batch, but it the only roll to exhibit the issue. Maybe the improper storage of the film after exposure contributed to the appearance of the issue on these photos, or maybe it was the X-ray scanners at the airport. Several of the frames on this roll have other artifacts, and the grain is very pronounced.
I’ve now tried developing both color negative and black and white films using the Cinestill processing kits and have achieved excellent results with both. Developing with Df96 could not have been easier, and with the results I got from the Delta film, I don’t see any reason to try a more complex developer. I am perplexed by the appearance of the TMax backing paper issue and the grain in my TMax images, so I’m planning to shoot another roll of TMax from that same 2017 batch of film to see if I can get better results from this film.
Aside from the developing, I’ve not been happy with hardly any of the 6x6 black and white landscape photos that I’ve captured. The exception is a roll that we captured inside a slot canyon. This is probably a good topic for another post, but I seem to be missing the point when capturing black and white landscapes.
Have you tried developing with Df96? How do you think it compares to other developers? Leave a comment and let me know.
Processing note: all of these images were processed completely in Lightroom using Negative Lab Pro v2.2. These images required very little work after conversion although color toning and vignettes were added to some photos.