Black and white film development at home. Part 1. Equipment.

Film development at home is not a very tedious process, but it requires a high level of discipline and proper quality tools. Regarding tools, one needs the best to make quality and satisfying work.

When I was beginning to be interested in film development, I was living in Ukraine at that time and it was extremely easy and cheap to get a couple of Soviet development tanks. Thankfully, my friend refused me to buy them as such an old tank, especially from Soviet times, is real garbage and at most can be an exhibit in some marginal museum.

Tools are crucial, so you need to allocate some time and money to shopping. In most cases - nothing great comes cheap and easy.

So, your detailed shopping list would be (in alphabetic order):

Changing bag

A changing bag is one of the most significant pieces of equipment. It can be used anywhere: at home, lab, or even outdoors. You can fix jammed or partly exposed film and also use it to wind film into the development reel of the development tank.

Cotton gloves

Cotton Gloves prevent fingerprints on photographs, negatives, slides, papers, and optical glass. Highly recommended when scanning or printing negatives. Also, I use to reveal film and roll it to a tank reel using gloves to prevent sticking film to fingers using changing bag.

Development tanks

Two popular brands to consider are Jobo and Paterson. The main recommendation here is: to avoid tanks with steel reels. With a plastic reel it’s way easier to load a film.

Paterson tank reels have metallic balls to fix film during load which prevents the film from coming out from the reel.

Jobo tanks leak less than Paterson, they are built using better materials.

I got both systems to have a backup, currently, I am using Paterson Super System 4.

When you deciding on what tank to buy, you need to consider the following: 

  • how many films you will develop per time? If you want to develop more than two films - it is better to go with Paterson, you can find tanks that can handle f.e. 5 films per time;
  • do you want to develop only 135mm or 120 films as well? Some tanks can handle both - some are designed for developing one 135mm film.

The stainless reels and tanks are great for colour as the reels do not absorb some of the more penetrating chemicals and you can load a film on wet reels. If you need to travel and develop this would be your choice.

Jobo tank system:

Paterson tank system:

Drying rack vs clips and squeegee

After a film is developed the final step is to flatten and dry it out.

The difference between using a rack versus clips is that you need to cut the film before hanging it on the rack. I use a rack for drying medium format film and clips for 135mm film. 

Film clips:

Drying rack:

Film squeegee with rubber lips removes excess water from the surface of the newly developed film, preventing the formation of watermarks or spots.

Film opener

There are at least two options on how to reveal a film from a canister:

  • film lead retriever: for extracting 135 mm film leader from cassettes. Hard to use sometimes. Not a preferred option if you need to use it often;
  • cartridge opener: works as a beer opener, very simple to use. Preferred option.

Mixing jugs and storage bottles

You would need to mix at least two different solutions: developer and fixer.

Fixer can be reused in future so you can store it in a storage bottle for the next time, this doesn’t apply to a developer solution.

Mixing jugs should be dedicated to your film development process only, don’t reuse them for other purposes like cooking etc. Mixing jugs and storage bottles should be resistant to all photographic chemicals, and also be graduated in metric, imperial or US scales.

You would need at least two graduated cylinders: small (up to 30ml) and large (up to 300ml). The first one will use for precise measurements of chemicals and the second one for water.

Storage bottles: 

mixing jugs

Pergamine Paper Negative Sleeves

Archiving is very important. After the film is dry, you need to store it in a sleeve.

I can recommend Fotoimpex Pergamine Paper Negative Sleeves, they are cheaper than “plastic” sleeves and more archival because of the porousness allowing any moisture to evaporate. The Pergamine Paper is absolutely chemically neutral and archive-safe.


Any scissors will work.


Any long (20-25cm) alcohol-spirit-filled thermometer will work.


Important features timer should have:

  • independent channels for separate timing which makes it suitable for timing any film or paper development process;
  • sound alarm.