A Terrifying Insight – Caution Maths Ahead
“I’ve always been interested in doing that, but from what I can understand it can be quite costly.” When I read Kate’s comment, about my black and white film development, my initial instinct was that it is inexpensive and everyone should give it a try. But then it occurred to me that this may not be absolutely true. So with this in mind I reached for my protractor, slide rule and abacus to do some serious Maths. I can hear you all cry “Why not just use a calculator!” Well once you go analogue it is really very difficult to go back.
To try and keep this at least teetering on the edge of being interesting I’m going to do the very Irish thing of costing one item in terms of another unrelated and inexplicable item. This is similar to the system used to denote the tallness of something in relation to stacked double decker buses or how long something is compared to football fields. I will only occasionally give a direct price for something because everybody knows that it is rude to discuss money no matter how useful that information might be. I am not sure if this is unique to the Irish so let me know. I once bought a house and I still don’t know what it cost because I did not want to embarrass the estate agent by asking – true story!
If you are planning to develop film at home there is some essential equipment that you will need. I am not going into the specifics of how to develop film here because for the moment we are just interested in the cold hard facts of how much this will cost. The process of developing your own film is covered very well by other bloggers on the internets and my slipshod attitude to measuring and timing may only confuse if you are just starting out. The essential equipment required and associated costs are:
- Some form of measuring jug with markings on the side to indicate how much liquid is in the vessel. I bought mine in a €2 Shop. This is like a pound shop only slightly dearer for everything. I got three jugs for my two euros. The same two euros invested in my local corner shop could have bought me a large bag of popcorn and 330ml can of cola
- You will need storage bottles for your mixed chemicals. In the past I have reused water bottles for this – just make sure you label them with the chemical name and if you are of an artistic nature you can add a skull and cross bones so that you won’t drink them by accident.
- You will definitely need a film developer. My personal choice to-date has been Kodak HC-110. It comes in a concentrated syrup and seems to last forever. I use it as a one shot developer and I use about 6ml every time I develop a roll of 35mm film. I bought mine on-line and it cost €20.98 for a one litre bottle. Had I not bought the HC-110 my wife and I could have gone to see “Alvin and the Chipmunks – Chipwrecked” at our local cinema. This would cover the ticket price but the snacks would have to be funded from a non photography related opportunity cost.
- I bought stop bath when I was starting to develop my own film. It turns out that because of my preferred method of development I could have spared myself the €5.97 cost . Stop bath is not essential but can be handy. It is a pity I did not know this sooner because with that six euro I could have bought ten large loose oranges in my nearest supermarket and kept the scurvy at bay for a few more weeks.
- Fixer is key to film development. Once you have fixed your film you can expose it to the light. I have been using Ilfords rapid fixer. This also comes in a concentrated form and the working solution gets reused alot. I have developed somewhere in the region of 30 rolls so far and it is still working fine. A 500ml bottle cost me €8.59. The same money could have bought me a “Lack” side table in IKEA . It would have been easy to assemble, low weight and easy to move. It may not have lasted as long as my bottle of rapid fixer but at least I could have put a mug of coffee on it.
- You will need a thermometer. This is used to make sure that your chemicals are roughly 20 degrees centigrade. I picked mine up in the local pharmacy for €4.95. I went in to the pharmacy to get myself some bright orange fake-tan so in hind sight the thermometer may have been the better choice here.
- It would be very difficult to home process 35mm film without investing in a development tank and reels. Once again I bought mine from the internets. It cost me the handsome sum of €21.72 but I have seen these on eBay for less. I bought most of my gear from the one on-line shop to save on shipping. It costs €21 to rent a tennis court near me for one hours play. I do not play tennis but can we assume that this is because I wasted my money on photography equipment instead of getting out there and playing on the old clay court.
- The last essential thing is somewhere very, very dark. This is needed to transfer your film from the roll to the development tank. A windowless bathroom works best as it may be possible to seal it completely from any light sources. A changing bag would be a more practical option. This acts like a portable darkroom that you put your hands in to and work on the film. I mostly use a changing bag because I like to play guess the object and it also helps me avoid questions from my wife about what I have been doing in the bathroom for so long. My changing bag cost me the price of chicken wings, Thai beef salad and a cola in the Watermill pub. This is a local pub and my €19 euro would have gone further in the critical mass of the city centre.
Now for some fun Maths! I am going to try to work out the development cost per roll for the chemicals. I am sure this will be wrong so please feel free to leave the correct answers in the comments section below. Please remember that marks will be lost if you fail to show your workings. The total purchase cost of my chemicals was €35.54. I use 6ml of HC110 every time I develop a roll of 35mm film. I assume that my stop and fixer will be good for 40 rolls of film based on a Google search. That makes 49 cent the total chemical cost per roll. I am at a loss to think of anything I regularly buy that would cost 49cent.
My initial investment in equipment was €47.67 or thereabouts. Assuming that I can expect some wear and tear I plan to replace it in two years time if necessary. If I keep shooting and developing at my current rate I will burn through 104 rolls of film in that space of time. Hence the equipment cost per roll is 46 cent. This gives me a grand development cost of 95 cent. I now have a choice, I can develop a roll of 35mm film or enjoy a Snickers bar. Tough choice!
The price of the film you choose to shoot is probably the single biggest factor to consider because this will be the real ongoing cost for you. I currently enjoy the results that I get with Kentmere 400 film. This is a real stroke of luck because I can get this film for about €3.50 a roll if I buy it in packs of 10. There is cheaper film and there is frighteningly expensive film – pick one and try it.
This may not have been the most exciting blog post ever sent into cyberspace. There was less explosions than I had hoped for and I never quite figured out how to work in a love story. Luckily I did get to use my abacus for the first time in 700 years. More importantly it made me realize what needs to be sacrificed for my hobby. I think I can live with one less bag of popcorn and cola. I think the world is a better place if I never see Alvin and the Chipmunks. Fake tan on an Irishman is always a bad idea. One less meal in the Watermill every year is a small price to pay for the enjoyment that film development brings me. In total my hobby costs me less than a pint of Guinness in my local pub.