Home-processing C-41 color film

I’ve been working on acquiring some film at lower cost so I feel less guilty about taking more photos on a regular basis.  After I had about 100 rolls or so of film in the fridge, I realized processing can be pretty expensive as well.  Just developing and scanning can be pricey; scanning at a higher resolution gets crazy expensive.  My recent batch of film to develop and scan was again going to be over $200 dollars, so I started looking at home developing.

I had learned how to process black and white film in my photography class back in 2014, and I had heard and read about others processing color film at home.  I had thought about this in the fall of 2014, but just didn’t pursue it for some reason.  I found some impressive results of people home processing, so I decided to finally give it a go.

I chose the Unicolor C-41 kit from the Film Photography Project based on cost and the results from others on Flickr.   While I was a little intimidated, the first roll turned out just fine by following their video tutorial.  I had shot a 12 exposure roll of expired Fuji 100 bracketed at +/- 0.5 EV to see how it turned out.  I used the Maxxum 5, ISO set to 80.  It was a really flat day light-wise, and I was just doing it to experiment with a film I could get a lot of pretty inexpensively, and to play with over-exposing.

The end result was I liked the rated and underexposed shots, which would be 80 iso and the equivalent of 120 iso, so I can probably just rate it at box speed.  More exciting was the fact that the home developing worked!  Here’s a couple of shots from that test roll:

As far as the scanning, I was able to use some credit card points to cover the cost of the Epson V600 scanner.  I was a little torn between “settling” for the V600 vs the V800, but for my needs the V600 has been more than worth it.

I purchased developing chemicals for black & white and E-6 film as well.  I have five more rolls of C-41 to develop, five rolls of black & white, then I’ll mess around with the E-6, also using a bracketed test roll from a lot of expired film to determine the best rating to shoot.

I figure I’ll be somewhere between $1 and $3 per roll for developing the rest of the year for color film, and well under $1 per roll for black & white.  I spent less on the chemicals and supplies I needed to develop at home than I would have spent just for the 15 exposed rolls I currently have to be developed and scanned.

One benefit from processing at home is I’ll be able to develop rolls as I shoot them.  It’s probably under 30 minutes start to finish, including the prep work in the film changing bag, which is my least favorite part.  The last rolls I did took less time than Billy Joel’s Glass Houses album, which is only 35 minutes.   There’s just something almost magical about opening that container and seeing images on the film!  Plus controlling the process from taking the picture to developing has another layer of satisfaction.  Using the money I’m saving, maybe I can get a little larger prints of my favorites made.

I think my next step is to rearrange my work space.  With the addition of the scanner, I’ve been working through some slide collections I’ve picked up, plus developing & scanning film, and testing/sorting cameras.  All in about the same space I use for sorting, cleaning, and listening to vinyl.  The end result is my space really is a wreck right now!  On the plus side, I’ve identified 14 cameras to be sold or donated, so that get’s me down eight.  (one more camera ended up in my possession after the count of 21 – a Canonet QL-17 GIII that would have replaced my Zeiss Contina. Unfortunately it’s shutter is frozen.)  My wife decided one of the cameras would be a good decoration in the den, so the Uniflex II TLR will still be in the house.

Of those that made the first cut so to speak, there’s still two or four that might find new homes by the end of the year:  Either the Canon T70 or AE-1P, maybe both; the Zeiss Ikon Contina depending on the results of the camera test; and maybe the Bronica SQ-Ai.  I’ve only shot one roll through it which I haven’t developed yet, but the Hasselblad 500C is so much nicer.  Time will tell.

Then maybe it will be time to look for a Sony DSLR to replace the aging Panasonic digital point-and-shoot, finding something that will take advantage of my Minolta lenses.  Ironically, the desire to replace that Panasonic camera almost two and a half years ago is what led me back into film.

I probably didn’t “save money” over buying a DSLR (it’s debatable – but I’m probably under $1500 in two years on film and cameras even if you count my class tuition and darkroom membership), but I’d probably be once again thinking of replacing it if I had bought one then, so maybe it all works out in the end.  I do know I would have never learned the things about film and likely not improved my photography as much had I stayed digital.



3 thoughts on “Home-processing C-41 color film

  1. Agreed. I haven’t timed it out, but it takes a few hours at room temp for the emulsions on the film to harden. I have scanned some more quickly in a pinch, but often i just wait until later that day or the next day to scan and catalog. If they’re handled too much before they fully “cure”, you can leave prints, pick up a lot of dust, more easily scratch the negatives, etc. It’s still possible to do same day/next day sharing of your photos on film though, which i find pretty cool. If you needed faster drying, I’m sure a second hand or even DIY drying cabinet could be had relatively cheaply with patience.


    1. After “the Google” search for “how long to dry negatives”, I’ve decided to dry them overnight. The results of that search were all over the map as far as time – but the take away I got was the longer the better.

      I did notice many used their shower as the place to dry. That reminded me of some good advice I read some time ago. Run the shower until the mirror steams up. Then the dust in the air will cling to the water droplets in the air. Turn off shower and then bring the negs into the room and hang them. The room is about as dust free as can be made.

      I’ll just wait to cut, scan and sleeve. And likely I’ll break this new work flow with the hammer of impatience.


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