B&W Film Developing Dilemma

Sometimes I really wish I were personally satisfied with digital photography and the digital image.  It has so much going for it – high image quality, convenience, low operating cost, instant feedback, flexible ISO that can be increased beyond ones needs, etc. etc.

I have embraced digital over the years but I just wish it had more soul.  The images are just too perfect and razor sharp. And maybe I hate that the digital process has made photography a bit too easy.

I love shooting film and always have.  But film has its fair share of frustrations including high costs and unavailability in India etc.  The most frustrating thing about film is that capturing the image is only the beginning of a process in which so much can go wrong.  You could have captured a super image, perfectly exposed and yet somehow totally ruin it during the developing process.  And once ruined then that’s it – there is no going back and redeveloping it.

These images below were shot in Dharavi, Mumbai. I was fairly satisfied with what I thought I had managed to capture on the roll.  But somehow in the process of developing I seem to have made some error which resulted in images that are too grainy and with smudgy details (not sure if it is clear when viewing the images this size but trust me the grain is large and ugly).  The worst part is that this time I am not sure where I messed up.

I have shot loads of film in the same way and developed them in the same way and ended up with good negatives.

So I will really appreciate if fellow film-shooters can give me any advice on what could possibly have gone wrong here.

Shot these on Tri-x rated at 800. Developed in XTOL at 20 degrees for 10 mins.


























22 thoughts on “B&W Film Developing Dilemma

  1. it’s funny — so many people who shoot digitally post process their work so that it looks exactly like the photos you have taken. that grainy, wiped out detail look. You just got, it – for better or worse. After all, you do say, “I have embraced digital over the years but I just wish it had more soul. The images are just too perfect and razor sharp.” the film gods have heard you! those photos may not have been what you were after but perhaps they are a mistake to embrace…

    1. I agree Tamar except I don’t think the extra large grain is coming through when the images are this size. I love grain and imperfection but the grain in these images is actually quite large and unappealing. Wish I could post my images larger so the problem was more visible.

  2. I love these images the way they are and glad you posted them. You are right though my friend, digital photos are always so perfect and a lot of my street processing of digital I also make to look like film

  3. I need a few more details so that I understand the reason for the large grains. From your development time of 10 min, it appears that your dilution is 1:1. Is that right? Also, have you mixed XTol from the two-part powder pack for 1L or the pack for 5L? The 1L packs had problems of caking, causing it to dissolve with difficulty. There were also irregular results for dilutions higher than 1:1 and hence was discontinued. Only 5L packs are available now.

    What is the age of the working solution? or when did you prepare it before using? Normally, XTol keeps for 6 months in a full tightly capped bottle. It does not turn brown like other developers so there no visual way to check if the developer has gone bad. One has to do a clip test to confirm.

    On the excessively high contrast in your pictures, would you be kind to share how this film was scanned? and any post processing? Thanks.

    1. Hi Sabir. xtol 1:1 from 5L powder pack. not more than 6 months old if i remember correctly (but i could be wrong). However, since I store the developer in bottles filled to the brim and capped and in a fridge i have never had a problem even when it has been 9-12 months old. The contrast i get from pushing the film. it was scanned on a cheap desktop scanner with minimum pp (only curves and a bit of dodging and burning). the scanne is not the best but usually gives better results than this so i dont think it is a scanner issue entirely

      1. I think the chemistry & processing appears in order. The only issue I can narrow down is that this particular roll might be either expired or within expiry but stored incorrectly. I’ve frequently seen this issue with expired rolls. I’d recommend exposing this film (if you have an unexposed one from this lot) at slightly lower than the rated speed @ 320 instead of 400 and under develop by about 10-15%. This allows shadow areas to receive some more light to compensate for loss in speed. Effectively you’re pulling the film. However, if you have already shot a roll at EI 800 then I’d suggest backing off a little on development time to reduce contrast. Not much can be done to reduce grains.

        Here’s a recent example of 2011 expired Arista Premium 400 (same stock as Kodak Tri-X) shot at rated speed and developed in Rodinal for normal times.
        You’ll notice that the grains are very prominent in the shopkeeper photo however they are not excessive. Shadow areas are not blocked and the contrast is very much in control.

        A few examples of another roll from the same lot, shot couple of days back at rated speed. Developed in HC110 dil H (slightly over by 20%).
        Happy Dog
        Dil Khush
        You're stalking me?

        On the scans, you will certainly get better results if you scan the negative with absolutely no default software/hardware corrections. The resulting scan will be absolutely flat. Then open the image in PS to normalize levels and add contrast to your liking. All the best!

          1. I use the Epson V700 with Epson software for all my scans now. I’ve tried the bundled Silverfast but found it too cumbersome. My earlier experience of VueScan coupled with my Minolta Scan Dual II was the best.

  4. I’ve had a similar result when pushing film and using a higher temp development recipes. You say that you were developing at 20 degrees, but if it was somehow actually warmer, you might get a similar result. The over-warmed emulsion almost sort of fractures and clumps together (there’s a word for it but I can’t remember). It can be much much worse than this, but could be a clue to what happened. High temp developing would also result in higher contrast. i’m not saying this is definitely the cause but you might run back through your process to see if your temps might have gone outside of range.

    1. An additional thing I forgot to mention, the name is “reticulation.” It doesn’t have to happen during development. A rinse at higher temperature can have the same effect on the film, though you obviously wouldn’t get the overdevelopment.

      1. Scotto i think you may have nailed it! I think the rinse was done with water at around 25-30 degree temp. Also i realise that starting development at 20 degrees does not mean finishing at 20 degrees. Any suggestions on how to maintain temp. Or is better to start at 17 to 18 degrees and let it then finish at whatever higher temp.

        1. I also agree with scotto’s thoughts on the cause. However, it’s best to start at rated temp, not lower. One way to maintain temperature is to set down the development tank into a tray of water at the development temp – useful for areas having high ambient temperature. I don’t do this in Bangalore, instead start with a dev temp of 19.5C to allow for slight rise when the developer is poured in the tank. At the end of development, I’ve found exit temp of the developer to show a 2.5-3 C rise. The stopbath and fixer temp is not so critical and can be within 5C of dev temp.

        2. Glad I could help you, Especially since I enjoy your work so much. I’m def. no expert but I can second that I usually use a water bath when developing. I use a large developing tray and rest my chemistry in it before I start developing. Obviously, more water, the more stable your chemistry will be.

          For the rinse, I typically use “cold” water straight from the tap until the final rinse where I use distilled water with a drop of photoflo.

          I had a similar problem, albeit with a much more pronounced effect a few years ago with T-max 3200. If you’re familiar with that film, it has a black coating that comes I had tried to (impatiently) remove with a warm pre-rinse. I had reasoned, if it came off with cold water, it would probably come off faster with warm water. I’m a genius! That’s when I discovered reticulation, and that I’m not as clever as I had thought.

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