C-41 Workshop

C-41 Processing Workshop

In the pre-digital era, almost everyone who used a camera would have shared the common experience of taking a roll of colour film to the local chemist or shopping centre for processing. One week, one day or even one hour later we would receive our sleeved negatives, set of prints and as was often the case, a free replacement roll of film.

 

Today however we are much more likely to shoot our colour memories on our digital cameras or phones, later to be viewed on screens and saved on memory cards and computers. Consequently most local photo and camera shops these days do not offer a film processing service any more.

 

What options does this leave for the colour film enthusiast?

 

Well, of course there are still camera shops, mail order services and even some suburban photo shops left that will develop your film for you, but our options have diminished and in some cases the cost has increased for what is now a specialized rather than a standard service.
                                                                                                           

 

What colour processing looked like circa 1995.        

Another option is to develop those colour films yourself. Kits for developing colour negative film are available locally and on-line. The cost for home developing is very reasonable compared to commercial rates although we cannot do the actual printing of the negatives with such a kit.

This colour negative chemical processing system is called C-41. The analog world has its own jargon in much the same way as the digital world does. So each processing system is identified by some obscure code - D76, E-6, C-41 etc.

The workshop

On Saturday 21st Feb, we gathered in the MCC darkroom in order to experiment with colour film developing. Simon Grant was the organizer of the day and Tina Thomson, Mark Devaraj and Selby Markham joined in.

A few weeks previously Simon had ordered a Jobo C-41 kit from the US. Not all darkroom chemicals, whether they be B&W or colour, can be shipped from the US to Australia, as some are in liquid form and are subject to airfreight restrictions. The Jobo kit however is a powder kit and therefore shipment is not restricted.

In the weeks leading up to the workshop, the participants had been shooting a range of colour negative film on various formats. Eight rolls of film were brought along to the darkroom, a range of 35mm and 120 roll film.

 

Simon came prepared with a control film that had been commercially processed. This would give us a reasonable idea of how our process went.

 

The C-41 process is arguably more straightforward than black and white developing.

In B&W developing there are many variables. Even if the same chemicals are always used, time, dilution, and agitation can all influence the end result. With C-41 however, the process is standard across all colour films, regardless of brand or ISO.

 

Packets of powdered C-41 chemicals waiting to be opened

The key to a successful result is temperature. Luckily, the MCC’s darkroom is equipped with a Jobo developing tank that regulates temperature. All the chemicals plus the developing tank, can be placed in their individual containers inside the tank in order to be kept at the critical 39 degrees.

 

The Chemicals

The Jobo C-41 process is a three bath system with Developer, Blix (Bl-each and f-ix) and Stabilizer chemicals.

 

The Process:

1. Pre-soak in plain water to prepare the emulsion so that the chemicals can penetrate the film effectively and to get your tank up to the correct temperature.

2. Develop for 3 and a half minutes no matter what type of colour negative film is being developed.

3. Blix is used for 6 minutes 30 seconds. At the end of that time, the coloured emulsion is (hopefully!) fixed.

4. Wash for three minutes.

 

Jobo Developing Tank with Temperature Regulator. An independent thermometer was used for accurate control.

5. Stabilize, this is essential to prevent your newly developed colours from fading, for 1 minute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, the moment of truth!

   

Simon agitating the film inside the developing tank.

Success!

 

Would we do it again?

Yes! We found the process to be quite straightforward and fun.

 

And so what does this mean for the colour film enthusiast?

It means that we can continue to shoot our wonderful Portra, Ektar, Ultramax and Gold and feel safe in the knowledge that even if our local chemist raises their eyebrows and shakes their head when asked if they still process film, that it is well within our capabilities to take matters into our own darkrooms.

 

  Simon inspecting his negs.