I’ve recently started experimenting with developing colour (C-41) film at home using the Tetenal C-41 Press kit. I was initially a bit nervous to try home colour developing, since I had heard that absolutely precise temperature control was required for good results. Well, I’m here to tell you that the process is very, very easy; in many ways, it’s actually easier than B&W developing.
Here’s an overview of the process:
1. The Tetenal kit comes with powder in four pouches: developer, Blix A, Blix B, and stabilizer. You dissolve the powders into hot water (combining the Blix pouches into the same solution), and you’re set. Label each bottle and note the date you mixed the chemistry. The chemicals are reusable, and the manufacturer says you can get 12-15 rolls until they’re exhausted. However, anecdotal evidence suggest you can get approximately double that.
2. The developer has to be at exactly 102 degrees (Fahrenheit); not 103 or 101, but exactly at 102. The way I achieve this is to put the developer bottle into a small plastic IKEA storage box (similar to this one), fill that with a mixture of boiling water (about 1L) and hot tap water. I actually put the Blix and stabilizer bottles into the same water bath, although both of these can be used below 102 degrees. I have an electronic thermometer that I bought from Walmart for $5; I sit this into the developer bottle and wait for the temperature to rise from room temp to about 101 degrees (takes about 15 min or so).
3. While the temperature is rising, I get some water running at 102 degrees (I use the laundry sink in my basement and a small mercury thermometer to check the temperature). When the temp of the developer has reached 101 degrees, I do a 1 minute pre-soak of my film (I use Paterson tanks and reels) using the running water. This will bring both the tank and the film up to the correct temperature.
4. By this point, the temperature of the water bath and the developer should be about 102 degrees. Pour out the pre-soak water and pour in your developer. Agitate according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and between agitations, place the tank into the water bath. The developer stage is only 3 and a half minutes, so there’s not a lot of time for the temperature to fall, but you really want to do your best to keep it at 102 degrees. I certainly wasn’t extraordinarily cautious about the temperature, though, and my film came out great.
5. The blix and stabilizer can be used without as much care in terms of temperature. Blix is 6 minutes 30 seconds, stabilizer is one minute. Do a 1 min wash in warm water, then a final 60 seconds in PhotoFlo, and you’re done.
Basically, if you can do B&W developing, you can do colour. It’s absolutely easy. Perhaps as the chemistry ages, I may need to be a bit more careful about temperature, but I found with this method, I could reliably control the developer temp at around 102 degrees with little issue.
I use the same tank for colour as I do for B&W; just make sure you wash thoroughly after use (which you should be doing anyway). Also, be absolutely sure you don’t get any Blix into the developer; it will destroy the efficacy of the developer.
The image above was scanned in Vuescan on a Canon 9000F flatbed at 4800 dpi, imported into Lightroom, colour corrected with ColorPerfect in Photoshop CS6, and then minor adjustments (and, in this case, cropping) in Lightroom. The kit cost $19.95, plus about $3 to ship to Canada (I bought two kits in an order that included about 20 rolls of film, to keep costs down). So for $23, I should be able to get ~25-30 rolls, for a grand total of about $1 per roll. Contrast that to the $5 per roll that my local pro dip and dunk lab charges. Basically, with the money I save, I can afford to buy a roll of Portra 400 for every two rolls I develop using the Tetenal kit.
If you’re a colour negative shooter, I highly recommend trying at home developing.