How to Make an Eco-Friendly D-76 B&W Film Developer & Why It's Important

September 19, 2016  •  12 Comments

How to Make an Eco-Friendly D-76 B&W Film DeveloperHow to Make an Eco-Friendly D-76 B&W Film Developer In a previous article, I introduced the concept of eco-friendly darkroom chemicals.  

One of my favorite developers of all time is Kodak D-76. Unfortunately, at this time, Freestyle does not offer a commercial-ready version of D-76, so I am taking the next best step and making my own formula and eliminating hydroquinone (a carcinogen).  

Freestyle does offer an eco-friendly version of XTOL, which I have used for 35mm roll film because I like its sharpness on the smaller roll films.

At this time, I just don't use roll film that often, but when I do, I will only be using the eco-friendly version of XTOL moving forward.

You are welcome to connect with me on my personal Facebook account where I provide behind the scenes updates for my friends and family that I don't share anywhere else.

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FORMULA FOR D76-H

This formula for D76-H is credited to Dr. Grant Haist who worked at Kodak.  Keep in mind this version of the formula can be used in the exact same manner as Kodak's D76 original formula, making it a win-win in my book.

You can refer to Kodak's datasheet for all relevant information regarding development times, etc. 

This is similar to the formula that I use to make D-23-Eco Accelerated.  You may want to read my article on how to make D-23-Eco developer and why you would want to explore this as a developer choice.

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 D76-H (ECO-FRIENDLY FORMULA)

Distilled Water (125F/52C).....750ml

Metol.....2.5g

Sodium Sulfite.....100g

Borax.....2g

Distilled water to make 1 liter

This formula omits hydroquinone and increases metol by 0.5g. This formula prevents the increased contrast associated with the original D-76 formula during storage, but it does not prolong the shelf life. However, the most important point is that the use of this developer does not discharge hydroquinone to wastewater.  I tested aged D-76 on a couple of different occasions and could never measure the increased pH that is reported to occur.  Even if that is the case, this formula is better for the environment. 

The D76-E formula is recommended for one-shot use at 1+1 dilution or repeated development up to 8 counts of 80 sq. inch of film per liter of stock strength solution through reuse with increased processing time (10 to 15% increase after each roll). The reused solution should be kept for no more than two weeks as a decreased activity may be detected.  If you want to test the pH of your developer, you should aim for a target pH of 8.5 at 25 °C ± 0.05.  

Note: all of the chemical materials are available to order directly from Photographer's Formulary via their website. You should be able to source distilled water from your local resources.  

If you are interested in making your own D-76 developer, then you may be interested in my B&W Darkroom Photography Video Workshop.  I've had photographers take this workshop in over 20 countries around the world and that really makes me happy that so many photographers continue to be interested in improving their analog photography skills and knowledge.


WHY ELIMINATE HYDROQUINONE?

Hydroquinone is a carcinogen.  The chemical has been identified as both a potential clastogen and mutagen. A clastogen is a toxin that has the capability of cause breaks in chromosomes, cause sections of them to be destroyed, and to rearrange the sections and thus cause mutations that can lead to various types of cancer.  A mutagen is a material that causes mutations and damage in DNA. When the DNA is altered, it can cause any number of chain reactions that can negatively impact the health, including cancerous growth of cells and cell division.

Other than its use in darkroom photography, hydroquinone is still one of the most commonly used skin lightening agents on the market in the United States.  The ingredient has been banned due to numerous safety issues and serious toxicity concerns in Europe, Japan, and several other countries. I am not a chemist, however, it is my understanding that hydroquinone in conjunction with UV light can magnify its toxicity.  

UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF FILM DEVELOPERS

The goal of film developer is to convert the latent image on the film made at the time of exposure.  Developing agents achieve this conversion by reducing the silver halides into silver metal.  The developer only acts on those particles of silver halides that have been exposed to light.

Black and white film developers typically consist of three main components: developing agent (e.g., metol), alkaline agent (e.g., borax), and a means to delay oxidation of the developing agent (e.g., sodium sulfite).  

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Metol

Metol along with Phenidone (newer agent) and Hydroquinone are common black and white developing agents. Metol is an organic compound and a colorless salt.  Metol is known to be a good choice for continuous tone and has been widely used in commercial formulas for many years.  

The original D76 formula (see below) contains both Metol and Hydroquinone and is called an MQ developer. This combination of agents is known to provide greater developer activity since the rate of development by both agents together is greater than the sum of rates of developments by each agent used alone (superadditivity).  Hydroquinone is principally associated with its action as a reducing agent (reduces silver halides to elemental silver).  

Sodium Sulfite

Sodium sulfite helps to delay oxidation of the developing agents by atmospheric oxygen.

Sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, is most commonly used as a preservative in wines and foods due to its antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Consumption of sulfites in wine and food is generally considered harmless, except in people who lack the bodily enzymes to break them down during digestion.

Borax

An alkaline agent such as Sodium Carbonate, Borax, or Sodium Hydroxide are used to create the appropriately high pH for black and white film development.  

DISTILLED WATER

To eliminate foreign agents in your developer, I highly recommend that you use distilled water.  This also allows you to make the developer exactly the same, independent of the local water source.  

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KODAK'S ORIGINAL D76 FORMULA

To the best of my knowledge, this is the formula for Kodak's D76 developer:

  • Water (125 deg. F).....750ml
  • Metol (or "Elon").....2g
  • Sodium Sulfite, anhydrous.....100g
  • Hydroquinone.....5g
  • Borax, granular.....2g
  • Cold water to make 1 liter

Note: chemicals should be mixed in the order listed above in both formulas and development times listed by Kodak are based on 68F/20C.

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Comments

Shawn(non-registered)
Hi Tim,

Just an update to let you know I got the developer working. I inadvertently had ordered Sulfate instead of Sulfite and that was what the problem was. If anyone reports getting a purple developer instead of clear or a completely blank roll of film you will know that is the mistake I made :)
Shawn(non-registered)
Hi Tim,

I purchased the items and followed the directions for the eco friendly D76. I ended up with a completely blank roll. I was wondering if you knew why or if you would have time to email me so I can ask questions. Thank you so much. I really hope I can get this version of D76 o work.

The camera I am using I use all the time and have no issues with it also using trusted film.
Shyam(non-registered)
Mr. Tim, Can Phenidone be used instead of Metol? Will it be environmentally safe? What will be the preparation formula if we use Phenidone? Thank you for your years of hard work and passion. I am very exited to know about your work and learn great many things.
Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Larry, thanks for the comment and question. Have you read my article "How to Choose a B&W FIlm Developer?" - Here is the link. If this doesn't help, just send me an email and I am happy to share my thoughts. Article- http://www.timlaytonfineart.com/blog/2015/4/how-to-choose-a-black-and-white-film-developer
Larry Huhn(non-registered)
Tim, can you recommend a good source for comparison of developers? I have been bouncing around somewhat blindly between Pyrocat HD, D=76, and Rodinal. I would like to narrow my developer choices and try to refine my techniques for 120 and 4x5 film.
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