Don’t be scared to try colour developing! Considering the number of photographers I have heard concerned about pulling the trigger that is colour film, it’s actually an incredibly streamlined and straightforward process. If you’ve never developed film before and start with colour, you’ll find later on it’s actually black & white that is the more complex between the two. While it can be a little trickier bringing your chemicals up the required 39 Celsius, the rest is a piece of cake. Below I have listed a few reasons why I think colour film is easier to develop than black & white, starting with perhaps the biggest point of all:
Every Roll Has The Same Developing Times.
The beauty about developing C-41 is that as long as you’re working with fresh film, the instructions are going to be the same across the board, regardless of brand or ISO. That means if you have a developing tank that takes two rolls of film (or more) you can develop a 100 speed film right along with an 800 speed using the same times. That is not a luxury that black & white developers can claim. Even Ilford HP5 and Kodak’s Tri-X, notorious for being similar, have different developing times.
All The Chemicals Come Together In A Kit
Talk to any seasoned film photographer and they’ll likely describe their developing chems as a mix of two or more brands. I myself use a Kodak developer but swear by Ilford’s Rapid Fixer. Also, some will say stop bath is the only way to go, while others claim water is enough. Some use hypoclear, others don’t. In the beginning a lot of this can be confusing. The way some people talk about the process, you’d think you were going to start a fire by skipping a step. But a C-41 kit like Tetenal’s is very straight forward. There are three chemical solutions: Developer, which, erm, develops. The Blix, that both bleaches and fixes the negative, and the Stab, which will keep the colours from shifting overtime. That’s it.
The Chemicals Are Reusable
When I’m developing black & white, I use HC-110 by Kodak, a developer that is meant to be mixed, used once then disposed of. This means each time I develop a roll I need to measure the correct amount of concentrate with water, and ensure it’s twenty Celsius or adjust my time accordingly. With a C-41 kit, I dump the chems into the tank, then back into the bottle. Wax on, wax off. After a certain amount of films have been developed or if the stock reaches a certain age, I replace the kit, all at once.
Less Steps & Less Time
If you’re a serious black and white film developer, then it’s likely you may have decided to have additional steps to ensure your film comes out clean and free of spots, streaks and left over chems. Though not always needed, people will add a hypo clear solution, as well as photo flo to their developing process. A complete B&W development may include as many as seven steps! Colour developing, using a Tetenal Kit for example, will only have five steps if you include the prewash. That is Prewash, Dev, Blix, Rinse, and Stab. Only two steps less may not sound like much but it can add up and the times for each step will vary as well. A full black & white workflow, with say Fuji Acros 100 film, can take twenty-five minutes not including prep time. The total development of a roll of C-41 with Tetenal is around fifteen minutes.
The truth of the matter is every process has its own issues, nothing about film is “easy”. To paraphrase JFK, we don’t shoot with film because it’s easy, we do it because it’s hard! However, colour film has developed a reputation for being more fussy, touchy and harder than B&W and that’s just not true. It comes with its own set of challenges but once you have those figured that out it can be a much smoother process.