B&W Developer options

I am currently using Ilfosol 3 for a variety of 35mm films from my Nikon FE2.
Stop Bath, Fixer and final wash are Ilford. I develop 2-3 rolls per month and the films I currently use are:

Ilford HP5
CineStillXX BW
Fuji Arcos 100ii

Sometimes I use at box speed and other times will push 1, 2 stops.

I have no real complaint with my current developer but it’s the only one I’ve ever used and would like opinions regarding other options. Since I don’t develop a lot, I need something that has a good stable shelf life after opening.

After developing according to the The Massive Dev Chart, I scan with DSLR, process with Neg Lab Pro and final touch with LR. I almost always boost contrast and sharpness to varying degrees for personal preference.

I am looking for good contrast, sharpness and the ability to push when needed.

Thanks for any advice.


I suspect that your question is a little too wide ranging in terms of the selection of films that you use for anyone to feel confident to give any recommendations. For example I’ve always used Ilford ID11 (or Kodak D76), a very popular and long-standing powder developer available in packets to make either 1 litre of 5 litres. The concentrate keeps well in full bottles so I decant it into smaller squeezable plastic bottles as it gets used up, I generally use it 1+1 but it can be used 1+3 or neat. It’s fine with Tri-X or HP5 however I wouldn’t know how it performs with CinestillXX or Fuji Acros 100ii and for Tmax I might be inclined to use a developer designed for chromagenic films. A lot of labs use Kodak HC-110 as a good general developer but that’s pretty expensive for 1 litre of concentrate, it goes a long way though.

Edit: Actually just checked two prominent B&W labs in the UK and one uses Kodak XTOL and the other Ilford Ilfotec DD

I have been developing B&W for only a year now, so I have not much experience, but I also develop a similar, possibly less, amount per month, read extensively on the web, and came to the following conclusion:

After starting with Ilfosol, I purchased a 1 liter bottle of HC110 for € 36 and four 250 ml glass bottles with a stopper, and a syringe. I filled the glass bottles to the brim and stored the HC110 that way, opening only one bottle at the time for use. I extract 15.6 ml HC110 to make up 500 ml of HC110 solution B (1+32) and develop for usually round 6 min at 20C (Massive Dev Chart), some slow inversion at the start and 10 sec. every minute. I plan to go to solution H (1+64) and double the time at some point, with semi-standing, which would only require 7.8 ml of HC110 per film. I read that one can go down to 6 ml per film, while some mention success with 3 ml per film.

15.6 ml per film already means 15.6/1000 * € 36 = only € 0.56 per film, so why is it claimed to be expensive?

What appealed me with HC110 is extremely long shelf life (some report 10 or so years with still successful development), ease of use, reliability, low quantity of chem per film (environment…), good results with basically all films according to what I read and saw (I tried Fomapan 100, HP5, FP4, Delta 100, Tmax 100 so far in solution B with great, and much better than Ilfosol, results), and am anxiously awaiting how it will work with Tri-X which is claimed to be a wonderful combination.

Just my limited experiences so far…

In my opinion and experience:

T-Max developer is best for T-Max films, especially T-Max 100.
Kodak D-76 and Ilford ID11 are almost identical for use with Tri-X and HP-5 Plus.
Legacy Pro Mic-X Film Developer is a replacement for Kodak’s old fine grain Microdol-X. It’s very good with most films when you lower the ISO setting 1/3 to 2/3 stop.
Acufine is great for pushing Tri-X a stop or two.
Ilford Microphen is good for pushing HP-5 Plus.
CineStill Film D96 B&W Film Developer is correct for CineStillXX, which is a motion picture film.
Kodak HC-110 is a concentrate with a decent shelf life, if you keep it as a concentrate, blow some Nitrogen or Dust-Off into the bottle each time you remove a little, and use the whole bottle within a year. It is decent developer, but I always seemed to get more grain and contrast with it than I liked. When the concentrate turns color, toss it.

My advice is to use a VERY accurate thermometer, and a water bath to contain all chemical bottles and your tank during development, so they all stay at the same temperature. A Sous Vide cooking appliance works great to stabilize temperatures.

Start with manufacturer’s recommended time, temperature, and especially agitation instructions.

Run tests with your equipment and films. Expose a 21-step gray scale (Tiffen Q13 or Kodak Q14) at 1/3 stop intervals around the nominal ISO of your film, by about two stops either side of box speed. Evaluate results from there, and adjust your exposure and development to taste.

The one thing to remember about B&W is that exposure controls density, while development controls contrast. When you push film, you loose detail in the deepest shadows, because there was insufficient exposure there to form an image. You also increase the contrast, because silver builds up in the highlights fastest.

Better than Ilfosol 3 in what ways?

Sharpness, grain?

I was rather disappointed with Ilford HP5 and FP4 in Ilfosol with respect to grain, of which I saw too much. I do not have a lot of statistics though, but I changed two things: Switch to HC110 and reduced and more gentle agitation. In doing so, while keeping everything else the same, I see less grain, or perhaps less contrasting, finer grain is a better description. I did not find the grain “appalling” anymore as it was with Ilfosol. I cannot really see differences in sharpness on the small sample set that I have so far. Like I said, I have not done this for so long yet, but this is what I noticed. From my limited experience so far I do have the impression that grain depends on developer type, which I can imagine, as well as amount and way of agitation, but I do not understand the latter. I also think it’s not an exact science and it is hard to obtain proper statistics, so in the end one will use what one believes to work or likes in one way or another. Next up for me will be semi-stand development since I read it can give smoother results with good contrast, but we’ll see.