Developing film with HC-110


This is a re-write of a set of postings to the Leica Users Group that were lodged on a website at the University of Texas... entirely without my permission... by the list moderator, Marc James Small.

I have allowed them to remain on the UTexas server, because so many people have been interested in them... but in the form that they are there, they aren't very coherent (they are two seperate postings, in reply to seperate questions), and, frankly, it is offensive to me that they had been stolen and used without my permission.

So, here they are, as a Guilty-Conscience-Free, better-written, entirely honest article, on my very own website.



I expose and process several thousand rolls of B&W film... 35mm and 120... and, depending on what goes on in any given year, up to several hundred 4x5 sheets of B&W film. I am a specialist in the dying art of producing B&W images for publication... mostly editorial, often for advertising/brochures.I use HC-110 for EVERYTHING, as I have found it to be the MOST PERFECT developer around. The key to using HC-110 is that you must be ABSOLUTELY CONSISTENT in your processing habits. You MUST do everything the same way, tank after tank. Your temperatures must be "dead on"... from the start of development, through the end of the wash... as well as your agitation habits.

First... don't make stock solution, and then mix developer, as the instructions on the bottle suggest. Make "one-shot" developer, by mixing to dilution at each developing session. This is a guarantee of consistency, because the concentrated HC-110 "goo" does not deteriorate as quickly, in air, as stock solutions do... and will give you good, "potent" developer for every session. Mix dilution "A" by putting one part of HC-110 "juice" into fifteen parts water, at your favorite temperature (I recommend 75 degrees F.), e.g.... one ounce HC-110 to fifteen ounces water, to make one pint of developer.

Mix dilution "B" (a generally better choice than "A") by putting one part HC-110 "juice" into thirty-one parts water, at your favorite temperature... e.g., one half ounce of HC-110 to fifteen and one half ounces of water, to make one pint of developer.

If I may digress for a moment... the biggest, and most popular, Bad Habits that affect the development of film are processing at low temperatures, and washing the film in water at "tap temperature".

Kodak, Ilford, and Agfa all recommend that you process modern films at 75 degrees, to lessen the amount of time in developers... and that you use a Rapid Fix WITH NO HARDENER added, to reduce the time in the fixer, and that you wash FOR NO MORE THAN FIVE MINUTES. Modern films all have "thin" emulsions that will be adversely affected by prolonged wet times. Use a water stop (at the same temperature), rather than an acid stop... it will be kinder to your emulsions. Sudden radical dilution of the developer will just as effectively stop development as a chemical destruction of developer will... and it is less jarring to the emulsion to NOT be suddenly confronted with an intensly acidic environment.

Wash water MUST be kept at the same temperature as the developer, water stop, and fixer. If you wash in water at "tap temperature"... which is usually around 20 degrees cooler than developer temps... you will suddenly contract the thin gelatin emulsion, and that will cause grain clumping. If you want the finest grain available in a modern film... then temper your wash water.

Undigressing... Second... a good T-Max negative LOOKS ABOUT A STOP THINNER THAN A GOOD TRI-X NEGATIVE. The thinner-looking negatives PRINT THE SAME, but there is a knee-jerk reaction to want to develop them more, next time.

This is the reason why a lot of Old-Timers don't care for T-Max films... they think that they have to develop them to a greater degree to get "negative density", and wind up blocking the living s**t out of the highlights, and increasing the apparent granularity in the mid-tones. It is a failing of Kodak, that they didn't/don't EXPLAIN this to photographers, who regularly develop their own B&W.

Third... don't agitate too much. Agitation increases contrast... in the highlights... by moving fresher, unspent developer into contact with the film emulsion. I, personally, only agitate one or twice during development, because I want to be gentle to my precious film. If you are a constant or frequent agitator, your times will need to be signifigantly shortened, and your overall contrast may be "skewed"... with your film exibiting high contrast in the highlight areas, and low contrast in the shadow areas. I like my negatives to have higher contrast in the shadows, and lower contrast in the highlights... so I don't agitate very much. If the negatives are too thin, then I extend the overall time... I do NOT increase agitation.

Fourth... EVERYONE'S water is NOT the same, and EVERYONE'S thermometer is not the same. If you develop ANY amount of film over time, you need to programmatically adjust your developing times, temperatures, and dilutions to fit YOUR PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCES.

I used to work at a small daily newspaper, with another photographer, who lived about eight miles from me. We would take film from the SAME hundred foot roll, expose it and develop it for RADICALLY different times 'n temps... in HC-110 developer provided by the newspaper (bottles out of the same case), to get similar results. Just for laughs, I took MY thermometer and tanks to HIS house, and developed film as I regularly do... and IT WAS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT! It was 'way overdeveloped. Obviously, the water coming into his house was RADICALLY DIFFERENT than the water coming into my house. This was proven when I moved to another town, next to the town in which I had been living, and had to adjust my times to be shorter, in order to acheive the same level of development.

What I mean to say is... that the time/temp combinations recommended by a manufacturor are ONLY A STARTING POINT in determining which time/temps will work for YOU... with your unique combination of water, thermometer, and agitation. To do good darkroom work, keep a log of each session, and carefully notate the problems that you are having, what you do about them, and how those changes have affected your negatives. This will give you a good "road to follow" while making the various adjustments that are neccessary to get good, repeatable results in each and every unique darkroom.

Finally... HC-110 was developed (pun intended) to provide professional finishers and photographers with a developer that gave SHORTER times to complete development. If you're developing film for only 5.5 minutes, EVEN SMALL CHANGES IN YOUR DEVELOPING TIME WILL PRODUCE RADICALLY DIFFERENT RESULTS... an extra 30 seconds is roughly 1/10th more development... a signifigant number.

Again... absolute consistency (I admit to being Very Fussy about my B&W film... although I'm not particularly fussy in any other area of Life...) is VITAL to getting the most out of this wonderful "soup".

All that being said... I use a different dilution of HC-110, other than "A" (1/15), or "B"(1/31). I use a dilution of 1/63... or HALF the strength of Dilution "B".

Why? I used to use Rodinal and FG-7... both wonderful developers... but they are UNSTABLE. Once you open them (particularly Rodinal), they start to decompose in air at an alarmingly fast rate. Also, at the time, the distribution of these products was spotty... it was difficult to GET these products, even in a well-stocked store.

I wanted an extremely dilute developer, so that I would get the "compensating effect" of longer developing times, with little or no agitation. Dilute developers "poop out", locally, next to the film. Since the highlight areas of the film suck up more developer than the shadows, the developer in proximity to them "poops out" faster than the developer around the shadows. This, combined with longer times, and not much agitation, gives me the extra contrast in the shadows, and lower contrast in the highlights that I am looking for.

I tried T-Max Developer, Sprint Developer, and Ilford's liquid ID-11 developers, as well as HC-110.

Sprint and Ilford are essentially D-76... and also decompose fairly rapidly, when opened (although not as quickly as Rodinal). T-Max Developer is, essentially, liquid Acufine... a developer that I like very much. The biggest problem with T-Max Developer is cost. It is VERY EXPENSIVE to use as a one-shot. It is really designed for darkrooms that are in constant use, daily... like a processing lab, or a (still found, but largely extinct) newspaper/wire service B&W darkroom.

HC-110 is VERY CHEAP to use, lasts almost literally forever as a concentrated syrup, and is available Darned Near Everywhere... so I set about do figure out what I needed to do to get it to work the way I wanted it to.

I started at twice the manufacturor's time for dilution "B"... at 75 degrees, which is the most easily obtained and maintained temperature from the faucet/water heater/water supply that I was using... and the negatives stunk. I then started "backing off" that time, using shorter and shorter times, until I determined that I had found the one that gave ME the best negatives... the ones that printed easily, and looked great.


To make a long story short... I generally use the following times and temps:


@ ASA 200................ 7 1/2 minutes

       400................ 9 1/2 min.

       800............... 12 1/2 min.

      1600............... 19 min.


T-MAX 400; Ilford HP-5, Agfapan 400:

@ ASA 200............... 8 min.

      400............... 10 min.

       800............... 13 1/2 min.

      1600............... 20 min.


T-MAX 100:

@ ASA 50................  8 min.

      100............... 10 min.

       200............... 13 1/2 min.



@ ASA 800................. 9 1/2 min.

      1600................ 14 min.

       3200............... 18 min.

       6400............... 23 min.


These times and temps work for ME and ME ALONE! You have to experiment to fine tune YOUR OWN times and temps. It's OK to get radically different results.



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