August in a College Town

M6TTL, 50 Hex, Delta 400 @ 200, Xtol
M6TTL, 50 Hex, Delta 400 @ 200, Xtol
M6TTL, 50 Hex, Delta 400 @ 200, Xtol
M6TTL, 50 Hex, Delta 400 @ 200, Xtol
M6TTL, 50 Hex, Delta 400 @ 200, Xtol

The dumpsters have been overflowing for a weeks . . .

NOTE: These are from two rolls of Delta 400 exposed at 200 and developed in Xtol. It wasn’t a winning combination. Delta can have tendency to run towards flattened midtones, and pulling it in Xtol seems to do it no favors. Tmax Developer would have been a better choice. Oh well. I’m down to just a couple of rolls of Delta 400 . . . might push them in Microphen.

Diafine Days

Hexar RF, ZM Biogon 35, Delta 400 in Diafine

Diafine for the Doldrums

For a few weeks there, I renewed my love affair with Diafine. It didn’t last, but it seems worth writing about, since I long ago promised a review of Diafine. I’ve mentioned before that Diafine was for a long time my only developer, usually in combination with Neopan 1600 or TriX. Those were the available darkness days. Recent experimentation with Delta 3200 got me back to thinking about Diafine, particularly about how carefree it can be; mix once, use for years, no critical temperature or timing worries etc. The typically fat midtones, good shadow detail and well controlled highlights are nice too; makes scanning easier. In a lot of ways, it’s the perfect, low-maintenance choice for your slightly frazzled feeling photographer.

The Basics of Two Bath Developers

B&W developers have two main components, a reducer and an accelerator. There’s a bunch of other junk in there, but it’s all supporting role stuff. The reducer is the actual developer. The accelerator makes the developer work on a time scale of minutes instead of hours. Single bath developers mix all this up in one batch, usually with a preservative to keep the whole thing shelf stable for more than five minutes.

Single bath developers have a couple of weaknesses. Foremost, those preservatives are not entirely effective, particularly if you don’t control exposure to air. Hence the proliferation of those burp bottles that supposedly prevent your developer from oxidizing. They don’t.

Besides having the longevity of pepperoni pizza in an IT shop, single bath developers also require complicated contrast controls. Think Zone System. Single bath developers force us into “shoot for shadows, develop for the highlights” because highlights develop fast and shadows develop slow. Long before the density is built up in the shadows, those greedy highlights have stuffed themselves, become blocked up and impossible to scan (or print). You can get some measure of control over this by using really dilute developer and minimal agitation. Without agitation to bring in fresh developer, the highlights will quit developing, while the slower feeding shadows will continue. Taken to extremes, this gives us stand development routines with rodinal diluted to 1+250 and times around an hour. Stand development is tricky though. Do it wrong and you get uneven development. Do it right, and you are still developing for an hour.

Dual bath systems are really targeted at this second problem, although along the way they often end up solving the first problem as well. They do this by separating the reducer and the accelerator into two solutions, part A and part B. The reducer goes in part A. The accelerator in part B. Part A saturates the film with developer, but because reducer sans accelerator is slow acting, very little development takes place until part B is introduced. In part B, the accelerator goes to work on the reducer already saturated into the film. Since there is no more reducer available in part B, the highlights use up the reducer available to them quite quickly, while the shadows can take their sweet time. That’s the theory.

Hexar RF, ZM Biogon 35, Delta 100 @ 50 in Diafine


In the US, at least, when you say two bath developer, you probably mean Diafine. It’s by no means the only option, but it is the most widely available two bath developer. Pretty much any internet photoshop will have it, although there are some interesting restrictions involving shipping it. Outside of large format circles, where it is sometimes used with very slow films, Diafine is primarily known as a speed enhancing developer for already fast films. With TriX you get a two stop bump, with many other films a one stop bump and with some slow films and T grain films a no stop bump. Many a forum has gone down in flames arguing about whether the Diafine speed bump is legitimate. The speed increase seems to come mostly as an increase in midtone density. Shadows get a slight boost, but usually not by much. Argumentative types with densitometers will argue – and probably argue rightfully – that this speed boost isn’t real because it just changes the shape of the curve. That said, it looks real enough to the eye in most situations.

Apart from being a speed enhancing developer, Diafine also has a reputation for ease of use. This reputation is mostly legitimate with a few exceptions to be discussed later. It is essentially insensitive to changes in time and temperature. Keep it between 70 and 85 degrees and leave the film in each bath for at least 3 minutes, and you should be fine. There’s not much to mess up. You don’t even choose your own film speed, as the Diafine box has a table that lists most commonly available film types and how to rate them.

That’s the theory. The practice is a bit different. Time and temp are really pretty much irrelevant, but agitation is not, and, it turns out, film speed isn’t quite as straightforward as the table on the box would lead you to believe. As to agitation, many rolls of film have been ruined by following the box recommendation for “gentle” agitation. Agitation during the first bath just makes sure that developer has evenly soaked into the film. In the second bath, since we aren’t worried about bringing fresh developer to the film, agitation shouldn’t much matter. It turns out, agitation during the second bath isn’t so much a matter of bringing in fresh chemistry as it is a matter of disposing of waste. Agitate too little during that second soak and you will end up with bromide stains. I think.

Are those vertical streaks in the sky bromide drag, or just old-fashioned, uneven development?
Hexar RF, 50 Hex, Delta 100 @ 50 in Diafine

As with many things that everyone already knows, it’s next to impossible to find out anything concrete on the internet about bromide drag. It’s just taken for granted that we all know what bromide drag is, and that it happens to all those naughty people that try to use Diafine to increase film speed. From the little I’ve been able to piece together, it seems that bromide is a natural by product of development. If you don’t agitate enough, it runs down the film, causing stains. I’ll buy it, particularly since upping the agitation seems to fix the problem. The shot above I only agitated – and very gently at that -for five seconds every minute. Upping the agitation to a more vigorous ten seconds every minute seemed to solve the issue, although the increased agitation was with different film type, Delta 400.

I don’t recall ever having this problem when using Diafine with TriX or Neopan 1600, but in those days I used a stainless steel tank. The variable might be the film or the difference between rotational – plastic tank – or inversion – stainless steel tank – agitation. Given the varied results I’ve seen with my plastic tanks, I suspect a little of both might be at play. I’ve done four batches of film in Diafine in recent weeks. One batch of Delta 3200, one batch of Delta 100 and two of Delta 400. The Delta 3200 showed a bit of streaking on a few frames at the end of one roll. The Delta 100 showed streaking on most frames of both rolls. The first batch of Delta 400 showed streaking on the last ten frames of each roll, but on the second batch of Delta 400, where I doubled the agitation, I got no streaking. It will be interesting to see if increased agitation resolves the problems with Delta 100. I suspect that increased agitation is necessary with the plastic tank, and that some films require more agitations than other – the couple of rolls of HP5 I souped in Diafine early this summer showed no streaking.

When Diafine gives you bromide drag, make wide format lanscapes.
Hexar RF, 50 Hex, Delta 100 @ 50 in Diafine

Apart from this streaking issue, the only other question with Diafine is film speed. Do you shoot your film’s native speed or what the Diafine box suggests? What if the box suggests nothing? Native film speed will almost always work, although you will end up with flat negatives and, in some cases, really dense midtones. This ends up looking kind of strange on the negative, but it usually scans ok. Keep in mind that the highlights should still be controlled because the developer exhausts itself in the highlights first. The film speeds suggested on the Diafine box are a good bet for really contrasty light. At the suggested speed, in contrasty light, Diafine often gives you negs that appear to have normal contrast. This is why available light shooters so often go for Diafine; you can get high film speed without nearly as much contrast as you would normally get from pushing. You can also gain a level of contrast control by changing film speed. Contrasty light? Shoot at Diafine speed. Flat light? Shoot at native speed. All without the need to change development. Pretty tricky, eh?

Diafine and the Deltas

You will often hear that Diafine and Tgrain films don’t mix. A very short experiment with Tmax and Diafine a few years back did not yield great results for me, but I wasn’t very patient with it. I have vague memories of Fuji Acros in Diafine working well, but I can’t be bothered to find the negs in archives. While it is certainly true that you don’t get much of a speed boost from the Diafine/Tgrain combo, you do get fine tonality, ease of use, and a long lasting developer, at least with the Deltas. Initial results are, well, inconclusive. Sometimes this combo seems to work great, other times you get nasty, muddy midtones. I’m not sure what’s up with that, and at the moment, I’m not inclined to take the experiment any further. My love for Diafine has slipped away. Controlling time and temperature just aren’t that hard, and the results of this experiment have been a little too unpredictable.


All else aside, I’m pretty happy with a lot of these photos, regardless of the developer used.