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January 14, 2012 / Aware of the Void

A Terrifying Insight – Caution Maths Ahead

Coffee Trip

“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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

I can live without the Guinness but I may regret never learning how to play tennis.
Primitive Hut
Coffee & CrepesWhat I Sacrifice for My Hobby  – Nikon 401X 35mm Tri-X 400

D-I-S-C-ONo Disco – Nikon 401X 35mm Neopan 400

Pyramid SchemeThey Have My Money – F100 35mm Neopan 1600

One of UsCome Join Us – F100 TRI-X 400 @ 1600


Leave a Comment
  1. David A Lockwood / Jan 14 2012 4:08 pm

    Guinness now that is a hard thing to live without – even for photography…….!


    • Aware of the Void / Jan 14 2012 4:27 pm

      It’s OK David, I am not giving it up, just having one less pint to help support my other vices.

  2. 1cruzdelsur / Jan 14 2012 4:39 pm

    Genial; super¡ Very Nice¡

  3. Moni / Jan 14 2012 5:30 pm

    oh this is great!! thank you for this post! I am so won over by film at the moment. I seriously don’t know if I can go back to Digital. I am interested in developing my own film and I even have a windowless bathroom. I may actually try this!!

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 14 2012 6:02 pm

      Thank you again Moni, I still use my digital camera and have found it invaluable so don’t throw yours in the bin just yet.You seem to have at least some of the components required to develop your own, I say just give it a try. It can add an extra layer of creativity that you don’t get when you send out your film to a lab. Feel free to ask any questions because my post is a bit light on the specifics of how to actually process.
      I may do a blog post in the future to explain my workflow based on the mindless experimentation of an overenthusiastic amateur!

  4. David Hall / Jan 14 2012 5:38 pm

    I just love your humour Brendan. Another superb post.

  5. Four Blue Hills / Jan 14 2012 5:56 pm

    Very nice article. A lot of time, thought AND MATH! 🙂 You wrote it up very nicely and very clearly.

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 14 2012 6:40 pm

      Yep Math(s) and Colcannon, this is how I choose to spend my weekends…Thank you for stopping by. Any chance you could post me some of those Kale chips. They sound lovely!

      • Four Blue Hills / Jan 14 2012 6:52 pm

        I am sending them to you via telepathy. Hope they survive the trip! 🙂 Let me know how the Colcannon turns out and if your wife enjoyed your cooking. 🙂

  6. Dan / Jan 14 2012 6:09 pm

    Some notes…

    1) You should book some anger management sessions if you actually have to replace your development equipment every two years. I will be surprised if my plastic tanks, reels, and whatnot don’t last more than ten years.

    2) I’m surprised that your rapid fixer is lasting so long. My fixer (a cheaper brand, to be fair) usually lasts about 20 rolls or so before exhaustion. I usually recommend monitoring with a fixer testing solution. Don’t lament your purchase of acidic stop bath, as it will come in handy when you start silver gelatin printing.

    3) If you shoot a lot, you can buy 50-foot (15 m) rolls of 35mm film and roll your own with a bulk loader. The loader and cassettes will set you back about $50 USD to start off, but you’ll end up paying about half the money for each roll of 36 exposures.

    You’ve inspired me to investigate my own film-shooting costs. Maybe that will be a new post for me!

    -Dan, the “other bloggers on the internets.”

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 14 2012 6:35 pm

      Thank you for stopping by my blog Dan I am honored because in my small world you would be considered a minor celebrity!

      1. I would hope the gear lasts well more than two years but I wanted to try and at least be realistic with my sums so I picked a reasonable figure. The longer they last the lower the per roll cost of DIY development. If I still have them in 3 years I will be able to invest the €47 I have saved in more film.

      2. Yep this is a bit of a mystery to me also, I keep testing it with bits of left over film and so far so good. I may be pushing my luck a bit at this stage so it may get dumped soon! I still use my stop, not all the time just when the mood hits me.If I ever manage to set up a dark room at home for printing I will make good use of anything left.

      3. I am actively investigating this at the moment. The problem for me is space to store all the stuff, every-time something new arrives in the house I have to pretend that it was always here. Can you load the bulk loader in a changing bag or would you need to use a darkroom?

      I hope you do your own analysis on development costs because I know from reading your blog you will do it in a more and scientific way…..

      • sibokk / Jan 16 2012 2:44 pm

        LOL! I love point 3 because that’s exactly what its like for me.

        “what this? I’ve always had that? Remember the time back with the thing over at you know who’s place with the face?”

        I’m planning to roll my own film shortly sans bulk loader. That’ll be a laugh!

      • Aware of the Void / Jan 16 2012 8:19 pm

        Simon you would be amazed at what i have tried this with. I think my wife does something similar with new clothes “this old thing, I have had that for ages” Do you have a darkroom for rolling your own or will you be doing it in a changing bag? I am intrigued.

  7. Lo / Jan 14 2012 9:27 pm

    Dan – he is very hard on things (door handles, clothes, crockery etc). I fully expect him to need a replacement wife within five years.

    Four Blue Hills – his cooking is always delicious, I think it is his second favourite hobby after the photos. Our house is full of cookbooks and they sure aren’t mine.

    Brendan – There is kind of a love story there. Us going/not going to the cinema and not fighting over you spending ages in the bathroom. All good. Also you forgot to mention that film is a hell of a lot cheaper than updating from your D90 which seems to be the other option.


  8. filmwins / Jan 14 2012 9:37 pm

    I love everything about this. Thanks for sharing. The humor was appreciated.

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 14 2012 9:44 pm

      Kiely, thanks for stopping by, did you find the hidden link to your blog….

  9. drawandshoot / Jan 15 2012 12:35 am

    Wonderful post, very insightful. 🙂
    Really there is nothing like film…

  10. mimo khair / Jan 15 2012 2:33 am

    yay to film!!

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 15 2012 7:51 am

      Yay to you!!, thank you for stopping by. I really enjoyed your photos yesterday Mimo.

  11. marinachetner / Jan 15 2012 3:02 am

    Brendan – you’d make a good math teacher. Though I may never get to developing my own film, I loved your insightful, funny and excellently written post. I can especially identify with the cost of a Lack table – I am a proud owner 😉 Great photos. I like that disco ball 🙂

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 15 2012 7:49 am

      She is D desirable
      She is I irresistible
      She is S super sexy
      She is C such a cute
      She is O oh, oh, oh

      She is D.I.S.C.O.

      My hope is that anyone reading that will have it stuck it their head for the day!
      “Brendan – you’d make a good math teacher.” I see you are adding comedian to you list of considerable talents Marina. I may go and buy a LACK table just to have one in the house, they seem like good value! 😉

      • marinachetner / Jan 15 2012 2:10 pm

        Singing talents, as well – so multifaceted (and they are the better choice of lyrics ;)). The Lack is great as a ‘side’ table… ie. to put things on for long periods of time. It’s sibling, the larger coffee table, begs to be replaced as it doesn’t stand up well to daily use 🙂

  12. seekraz / Jan 15 2012 3:54 am

    Hey Brendan – thank you for visiting and leaving me a note today. It looks like your guesswork with developing your own film is becoming more skill than guesswork…your work is fantastic.

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 15 2012 7:41 am

      Thank you very much Scott, I am glad you enjoyed my post. I can assure you there is still a fair bit of guess work involved but that is OK, I enjoy the mystery.

  13. Hasan Ibrahim / Jan 15 2012 5:20 am

    This is excellent! I’ve only shot about 2 rolls on film till now only because it’s so expensive to get them developed here in Melbourne. I’m saving up right now to set up a basic lab to start developing myself. I’m just a little scared though. Thinking I might screw it up and completely waste my precious roll. Cost is a crucial point because of which I did consider at one point to just make my film cameras show pieces on the shelf and just shoot digital but then I realised almost all passions have some cost involved. This post really puts things into perspective. Thanks for that. And I absolutely love the ‘They have my money’ photograph. What scanner do you use?

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 15 2012 7:33 am

      Hi Hasan, I am glad that you like it. I am lucky that I have only ever had a couple of rolls that were completely ruined. I accidentally put a roll of black and white in with some rolls of colour film that I gave to a lab to develop, there was nothing left when I got it back! I also had one that ripped in half in the changing bag because of a little impatience on my part. For me this was a little irritating but not the end of the world. I think since I have started taking photos I have lost more shots because of failures of memory cards in my D90 than I have through screwing up my development! There is a little bit more about that here

      I scan using an Epson V330, I had this scanner already for work and it was a happy coincidence that when I started to process my own film that I could use this. I am sure if I looked into it there would be better or worse scanners out there but sometimes even I am just happy to work with what I have to hand! I think that scanner cost about €100 when it was bought so if I had to replace it that would be about the same as a meal for two in a Mid-range Restaurant, starter, main and desert with a bottle of wine.

  14. yarglags / Jan 15 2012 1:47 pm

    I enjoyed your “maths”. It helps put things in perspective. I’m getting over the loss of a 120 slide film that I screwed up. The loss comes back to me when I pass the places where I took the pictures on the roll and I remember the image is gone. I must see if I can re-create what was lost.

    I’m just got some Rodinal to check out on my next film. It should work better than the pint of larger I could have got for the same money.

  15. christian harkness / Jan 16 2012 12:21 am

    Hey Brendan, a very fine article indeed, and I totally agree that stop bath is not necessary. However, as with all things photographic, everybody has a different opinion about most everything on the subject.

    A couple of things you mention that I would address differently.

    Firstly I think one ought to stow chemicals in opaque bottles, and I would definitely spring for some hypo-check [ and some fixer remover.
    [ ] The brand on these does not matter. Also for some photo-flow wetting agent [ ] I used to not use photo-flow and asked somebody why the heck they were using it, and then they explained about the stained negatives to me. My reply was that I never had that happened, and of course, the very next roll I developed had water stains on them. Much depends on the the softness/hardness of the water coming out of your tap.

    Cheers and best wishes!

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 16 2012 8:27 pm

      Thank you Christian, the feedback is appreciated.I think I am OK for the opaque bottle as all the cheicals are stored in a box in a dark cupboard. I am on the look out for an inexpensive set of pharmacy bottles for proper storage. I started with water bottles because I had no idea how hooked I would be on B+W development when I started out.

      I have photo-flo already but I will heed your advice and pick up the other bits when I am next ordering bits.

      Thanks again Christian, your blog has become a great source of inspiration.

  16. James Pearson / Jan 16 2012 10:23 am

    Brilliant blog post, I enjoyed it “alot” (I love that blog). I’m literally putting the finishing touches to my shopping list to get started in home development and trying to decide what I really need and what’s just nice to have. Your maths has backed up my own rough finger-in-the-air guestimates and I can’t wait to get started.

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 16 2012 8:21 pm

      Thank you James, I am glad someone mentioned the “alot”. I love a good guestimate, the best of luck with the purchases.

  17. sibokk / Jan 16 2012 2:26 pm

    That was a very good read and was an excellent cushion for a Monday morning.

  18. jusstdesserts / Jan 16 2012 2:48 pm

    As always, an entertaining read. The pictures help too.

  19. Martin / Jan 21 2012 2:42 pm

    Great post. I’ve often broken down my costs too. If I were to stand develop every B&W film I can get costs down to around £0.20 a roll… colour is more variable but I once got 30 rolls out of a 1 Litre Kit… not idea but worked out at £0.50 a roll

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 21 2012 3:18 pm

      Thanks Martin, it was an interesting exercise that made me do Maths for the first time in many years! I would be interested in more details on your stand development technique. I have ordered a bottle of R09 this week but it may be months before I play with it. It was added to the cart to get me over the minimum order size for a delivery to Ireland!
      I am doing more and more of my own C-41 stuff but that is only because I am shooting less of it. My local lab gives me a deal if I get 5/10 rolls done at once but the B+W has taken over for the minute.

  20. mostlymonochrome / Jan 22 2012 10:58 am

    Nice site. I’m still addicted to 35mm film and have no plans to cure my addiction in the foreseeable future.

  21. Caryn / Jan 28 2012 3:56 am

    Great post. Very nice photos (“Don’t Look at Us Join Us” is priceless…she is so not happy with you!) and funny too. You write very well!

    • Aware of the Void / Jan 28 2012 10:29 am

      Caryn, she was laughing before I took the shot and after. If you play close attention this person appears in a lot of my photos…..

      • Caryn / Jan 28 2012 9:40 pm

        OK…I will pay closer attention in the future! 🙂

  22. Martin Lack / Jan 30 2012 10:08 pm

    Thanks for popping by one of my rare ‘photography’ posts. Looking at your excellent B&W photos reminds me of a time – almost 20 years ago before I got married – when I indulged such hobbies. Now that I am single again I really must give this one another go; although I will first need to secure stable employment. However, processing and developing your own photos – I have never considered that. May be now Eastman Kodak is likely to go bust (can you believe that?) – we may all have to learn…

  23. Phantazein Studio / Jan 31 2012 1:07 pm

    Great post, very entertaining.

  24. brian / Feb 3 2012 1:58 am

    The costs really can be kept down pretty low, as you show. The only two developers I currently use are HC-110 and Rodinal, both extremely economical. I’ve never in my life had the desire to use a stop bath, nor a hypo clear. Just a bit of an extended water bath for each. People who insist on stop baths on a budget use vinegar solutions. Personally, I pretty much have to use photo-flo for a final rinse, as well as distilled water… Photo-flo is an economical chemical as well though, and distilled water also. The only really extraneous chemical I use is hypo-check… But, peace of mind with regard to fixing is worth the added cost. All things considered, there are far more expensive hobbies out there. 🙂

    • Martin Lack / Feb 3 2012 10:35 am

      Cheers Brian. However, fully understanding your comments will have to await my being in a position to pursue my new hobby. 🙂

  25. Melbus / Feb 27 2012 1:26 am

    Great post about keeping costs in perspective as well in regards to pursuing a hobby! I’ve been looking into DIY darkroom development for a bit now (but lack of privacy hampers me somewhat), nice to know you’ve developed some very nice shots like “They’ve got my money.” Did you scan the negatives to post, or did you put them on photo paper?

    • Aware of the Void / Feb 27 2012 1:01 pm

      Hi Melbus, thanks for your comments. Everything essential I use for home development fits in one box about 30cm x 30cm x 30. I generally unpack, develop in the kitchen and then repack. I dry the film in the bathroom and this tends to be the only source of annoyance to the other users of the facilities. In the interest of interpersonal relationships I tend to develop late on a Friday or Saturday evening and leave the negs to dry overnight and deal with them first thing in the morning.

      I scan all my negs using an Epson 330, I am not set up for printing at home but I will at some point in the future – I would like to make a permanent area for this which is not possible where I live at the moment. I do some dark room printing and it is the goal to do more this year but I need to go into the city to rent a darkroom and it is not easy to do this on the spur of the moment.

  26. Susi / May 8 2012 7:51 pm

    Plenty of information and such a funny writing style! I will give film developing a try sooner or later… so nice to hear there are “changing bags”! 🙂 I’m really afraid of the dark, ten years ago I went to a darkroom with a friend of mine and almost had a panic attack!

  27. Debra Broughton / Sep 7 2012 2:53 pm

    I found your blog from a discussion in a flickr group and really enjoyed this post. Great photos and the comparisons are inspire. If you’d included another comparison to takeaway food you could prove that shooting film really is cheap as chips.

    • Aware of the Void / Sep 7 2012 4:52 pm

      It is a bit Irish comparing everything to the price of a pint of Guinness but whatever makes the point!!

  28. David / Sep 19 2012 1:13 am

    What a lot of comments! I laughed and laughed. But it’s all true. Film really seems to be expensive on your side of the pond. Here I can get rebadged Tri-X (Arista Premium 400) for a bit under $3 a roll, or even less if I roll it myself (another pretty small expense for the winder, about the same as you’d pay for a wheeled cart to carry your groceries in).
    The changing bag’s fine but I kept stabbing the inner fabric with the scissors, so the light-proofed bathroom is my go-to loading area.
    If you expand this reasoning (which you should not because you did this perfectly and with great wit so why mess with perfection) you could include the cost of archiving materials and whatever it takes to get in on the computer (which is where the digital folks put their photos) such as a scanner or taking macro digital photos of your negatives on a lightbox and inverting them, which I’ve seen.
    For me, I have spent so much energy on this comment that I will retire now with a pint of Guinness. Undeveloped film will have to wait.

    • Aware of the Void / Sep 23 2012 7:23 am

      Hi David, thanks for your comment. I like the idea of the bulk roll but mostly because I tend to find that 36 shots on the one roll is a little too much. I think I would prefer 20 shot rolls it would suit the type of photography I do a little better. my dark room is not 100% light proof so I will need to stick with the changing bad for a while yet.
      The original version of this blog had more details on additional items but editing for effect won in the end….for the record I scan with an epsonv330 which suits my needs I have made a little promise to myself that I will keep the 120 stuff purely analogue so it will never be scanned (until it is).

  29. Peter Murphy / Nov 16 2012 9:55 pm

    Enlightening and fun read, thanks Brendan. I think if you factor in a print run of digital shots to PhotoBox or similar, the comparative cost comes down even further. A recently-installed shed has one small window that could be blocked up, but I think my wife would ask the same questions as your when in the bathroom for so long. Looking forward to trying my Nikon EM. Thanks for the post.

    • Aware of the Void / Nov 16 2012 10:00 pm

      Thanks Peter, this slide to the dark side is a slippery one…

  30. hahnro / Jan 14 2016 9:36 pm

    Your economic comparisons are more interesting than David MacWilliams..

  31. Slavi Kb Слави Кб / Jan 15 2016 3:59 pm

    ah, the fake tan…I’ve been trying to blend in with the locals and decided this was my shortcut-no matter what it costs…but maybe it’s easier if I only appear on b&w photos – i’ll save on the tan.


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