Better Negatives Through Chemistry

You can develop film at home without a darkroom. It’s not difficult to reach a high level of consistent quality, it’s dang cheap, and you don’t have to jostle with everybody else in class whilst keeping one eye on the bell schedule.

Since XTOL comes in packages that make five liters (to dilute 1:3; yikes!) and D-76 a gallon, I have some other suggestions for excellent chemistry that won’t go bad and that you can control nicely.

“Sodium sulfite proves the existence of God.” -Bob Schwalberg

Make yourself some D-23. It’s not available commercially, so you win/win by mixing it yourself. Visit your friendly local grocer for stainless steel measuring spoons, distilled, water, and a 32-oz. Pyrex measuring cup.

D-23 has only two ingredients: 7.5 grams of Metol (or do you say Elon?) and 100 grams of good ol’ Sodium Sulfite to make a liter. These are basically non-toxic chemicals, but some people acquire a skin rash from impurities in the Metol; it happened to me, but it took years of steady use before anything… um… developed. Photographer’s Formulary (see the link to the right) currently has Metol for $8.95 for 100 grams, and Sodium Sulfite is $6.50 for a pound. Keep ’em in a cool, dark location.

To make a liter of D-23, use the following spoon formula:

Heat 750 ml of water (distilled is usually recommended; I use de-ionized drinking water) to 125 F.

Add a pinch of Sodium Sulfite to the water and stir to dissolve.

Stir in 2 1/2 teaspoons of Metol. Completely dissolve before proceeding. (Use a straight edge to level off chemicals in a spoon.)

Stir in 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of Sodium Sulfite.

Add cool water to make 1000 ml (one liter) and store it all in two 16-oz. (or four 8-oz.) glass bottles. Use brown bottles if possible. Some popular beverages come in 8 or 12 or 16-oz. brown bottles.

Use D-23 1:1 (mix equal parts stock solution and distilled water). Check with Digital Truth (see link) for times & temps.

(I’m a big fan of the fixer called TF-4. It’s alkaline, as opposed to most other fixers [all other fixers that you’ve used], and it’s more expensive, but it makes hypo clearing agent unnecessary and the wash times stay short.)

After fixing, give 3 rinses with tap water, then use a washing aid for one minute (Heico PermaWash is the hypo clearing agent we use in the huge school).

Wash for 7 minutes (or 30 without hypo clear), then slosh for 30-60 seconds in wetting agent dissolved in distilled water. Some citizens have been known to use a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid in place of wetting agent. I’m just sayin.’


Once the film is hung to dry, spray distilled water on it from a spray bottle, both sides from top to bottom. After drying, the film will be pristine. There is a chemistry lab wash bottle which relies on hand pressure to squeeze distilled water out a small nozzle; Gardena also makes a good one.

Don’ wanna mix from scratch? FG-7 is a wonderful developer: it’s versatile and economical. In order to achieve finer grain, a higher exposure index and shorter processing time, make a 9% solution of sodium sulfite by dissolving a film cassette container’s measure into 12 or so ounces of water. Add one ounce of FG-7, then add water to make a total of 16 ounces. Consult “Digital” Truth. Here’s a cool parlor trick for darkroom nerds: make the pint of developer at 72 degrees, but add the sulfite last. The temperature will jump up to 75. Neato.

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