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Buying Guide:
7 Top Black and White Film Developers

What options are there besides D-76, and do they really make a difference in how your prints will look? You'd be surprised!

By Mason Resnick

Honestly, developing negatives is boring; I know, you want to get to the fun part, watching that print emerge in the developer. I know I do. But when processing film, you actually have options besides that standby, Kodak D-76, that can control the size and even the shape of the grain, and as a result, will help form what your final print will look like. So it may not be the most exciting part of the process, but you do have creative options here.

Here are 6 film developers, and what makes them distinct from each other. Choose wisely!

Kodak D-76: A fine-grain general-purpose developer. Follow the directions and process at the optimal temperature (68 degrees) to get the best image quality and dynamic range from a well-exposed negative.

Kodak T-Max RS developer is especially designed for the super fine-grain characteristics of Kodak T-Max 100, as well as Ilford Delta films. It's a two-part liquid developer, and some folks don't use Part B.

Ilford Microphen: A fine-grain film developer, Microphen gives an effective increase of about a half-stop or more, especially when processing ISO 400 and higher films, such as Ilford HP5 Plus or Kodak Tri-X. The good news? Because of its low alkalinity, Microphen actually reduces grain size, and the resulting negatives are finer-grained.

Photographer's Formulary MCM-100: This developer contains catechol and p-phenylenediamine and produces extremely fine-grain negatives with good sharpness and superb tonal gradation. It is recommended for Tri-X, TMAX and HP5 films; however, it is also excellent with slower films. The contrast can be controlled by development time. The chemicals in the kit will make a working solution with a capacity for six rolls of film. The shelf life of the working solution is six months.

Acufine ACU-1: An ultra fine-grain film developer, ACU-1 is designed to let you push-process lower-ISO films such as Kodak Plus-X. This is a one-time use developer, and cannot be replenished.

Ilford Perceptol: This is an extra fine grain film developer designed for use when very fine grain negatives are required and a decrease in film speed is not important. It has been specially formulated to get optimum results from high resolution lenses. Ilford says it's formulated especially for Ilford 100 Delta Profeasional, FP4 Plus and Pan F Plus films, and produces significantly finer grain in Ilford's fast films—Delta 400 Pro, HP5 Plus, and Delta 3200 Pro, compared with a standard fine grain developer. It's a good choice when texture and definition are critical.

Ethol UFG: I LOVE my UFG! Process Tri-X or HP-5 in it and the grain has an almost ethereal look to it, and the dynamic range is 7 stops, which is outstanding. It can be used as a replenishment or one-shot developer.

Finally, there is one developer additive no darkroom should be without: Sodium Sulfite. Add a pinch of this powder to increase the dynamic range of your images.

Still not sure? Drop me a line in the comments and I'll try to answer!

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