Darkroom Digest: Black and White Film Developers

September 13, 2016  •  15 Comments

I have been developing film in the darkroom for decades.  I started developing my black and white film in the darkroom and creating prints when I was about 12 years old. My dad helped me build my darkroom in our basement and I have never looked back since those humble beginnings.  Today, I develop all of my different films in my darkroom (i.e., B/W, C-41, E-6, X-Ray) ranging in size from 35mm up to 11x14.  I have the ability to develop films up to 20x24, but 11x14 is my largest camera.  

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I wanted to share my personal thoughts about black and white film developers because I get a lot of emails and questions from photographers on a regular basis about this topic.

I think it is important for every photographer to fully understand their motives and be honest with themselves.  By doing this, photographers can stay focused on the end game and the important aspects of what matters most.  For example, I love nature and being outside.  I try my best to communicate the freedom, joy, and peace that I experience when I am outside in nature.  I am not thinking about all the various developer choices that I have at my disposal, and more importantly, no one cares other than another photographer.  

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  1. As with most technical topics, I think too many photographers focus on the technical aspects versus the practical and creative.  
  2. For 35mm or 120 roll film when photographing a wide range of subjects in various lighting conditions, I would choose D-76 and Tri-X or HP5+ film. I have an easy eco-friendly formula for D-76 that you can mix from dry chemicals on demand.  
  3. If I were using 35mm film, and I wanted to make enlargements 16x20 or bigger, I would use T-Max 100 or 400 or FP4+ and develop in X-TOL 1:1 or Rodinal 1:125 using stand development.  
  4. For large format developers, it is more about shadow detail than anything else.  There is very little grain with larger negatives and as long as it is sharp on the negative, it will be sharp on the print at just about any size.  I make 40 x 50 prints from Tri-X 4x5 negatives and they are just beautiful.  D-76 is a very forgiving and wonderful developer and I use it all the time for a wide range of film mediums.  If I only developed negatives rarely, I would use HC-110 because you can mix it up on demand or you could mix some classic D-23 or Divided bath D-23.  
  5. Using developers, other than the standards like D76, HC-100, and others, should only be explored after a photographer understands their capabilities and how it doesn't meet their creative objectives.  I suspect that almost every photographer could use D76 or HC-100 and no one would ever know the difference.  

If you are looking for more detailed information on how to choose a black and white film developer, then you can read my article that I published on this topic.  

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Peter Campbell(non-registered)
HI Tim,I have recently found your website and have found your articles and info on lots of subjects very interesting and informative. Please keep it up.
Phil Varrick(non-registered)
Tim, have you ever used the Acufine line of developers? I have used them in the past, especially when push processing and found they provided a nice grain structure and tonal range. Any thoughts on these products? http://www.omegabrandess.com/products/Accufine

Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Michael, thanks for the info on the developers. Hopefully my readers here will benefit from the info. Please stay in touch.

Michael Schneider(non-registered)
You will missing a lot of the advantage of the last 30 years in developer progress, if you stay with HC110 and D76. Test the products from SPUR in Germany. It is a small company specialist for industrial film development (microfilm, health care x ray film etc.). The developer for our films Trix, Tmax etx. are stunning. http://spur-photo.com/some-information-in-english/
Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Earl, thanks for commenting and sharing your experiences. i have also had really good results with Rodinal, especially with the Kodak Ektascan B/RA X-Ray film. It is almost fool proof in my Jobo. I have heard really good things about APX 100. What do you like most about this film?
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