In the recent publication, The Darkroom Cookbook (1994), the author (Steven Anchell) states "fine grain is not as important as acutance. This is in part because modern films are so fine-grained that there is little need for futher improvement."  Obviously, Mr. Anchell has not had much experience with subminiature cameras. With the smaller formats, grain becomes an issue. When working with tiny negatives that must be enlarged 25 times to make an 8x10 print, grain is definitely a concern.

More than in any other format, film development is crucial with the subminiature format. A small bubble on a 4x5 inch negative will hardly be noticed, but with a submini negative the same bubble turns into a behemoth. First, you need to decide if you should do the developing yourself. No matter where you live, it is possible to find a commercial darkroom that will process your film -- in your area or through the mail. For more information, check out the details of available services in the Camera Shop. Some of these will actually do a good job, but many won't, even if they have some experience with subminiature films. The problem lies in their not knowing how best to process the film for your needs. As a result, they must rely on the film development standards from the manufacturer of the film, which is adaquate but not the best. If developing the film yourself is out of the question, shop around until you find a lab that has some experience with the smaller formats, and is willing to take the time to meet your needs.

If you plan on doing your own processing, you'll need to find all the right equipment and start developing some standards. The additional processing equipment that you will need (other than the standard items for any format) are reels for your film and negative storage sleeves of the proper format. The reels will be the biggest obstacle. Check out the details of available products in the Camera Shop. If it's simply impossible to find a reel for your film, don't dispair. Since submini formats are so small, it's usually possible to develop the film in a tank without a reel, but it requires constant movement of the film so that all sections of the emulsion will be exposed to the developer.

There are a wide variety of developing formulas available that are useful to the submini photographer. The developer that you use will depend on the type of film you are using and your personal preferences. You'll see zillions of formulas in the literature, but be skeptical of any that claim "miracle" results. If it REALLY gave such great results, everyone would already know about it and be using it. The most important selection criteria is grain versus sharpness versus speed. While some formulas claim to give two or all three, what they actually provide is a compromise. You need to determine which is most important to you and select a film/developer combination that provides which you want. For example, Microdol-X (and it's derivatives) is a fine-grained developer. It produces fine-grained results. It is not known for its acutance (perceived sharpness) or good film speed, however. Other developers (such as Rodinol), sometimes called high acutance developers, give better perceived sharpness with a sacrifice in the grain size and film speed.  D-76 (and others) gives good film speed, but not the best sharpness or finest grain.

This decision is not as big a deal with larger formats, since they have more room to sacrifice. You can develop a 4x5 negative in Campbell's soup and get a useable negative (not really, but you get the idea!) With the submini formats, the issue becomes much more important. Given the size of the submini negative, grain size will usually be pretty big, regardless of the type of film. It's easy to see why so many submini users select a fine-grain developer as a way to compensate. At the same time, however, it is also critical not to lose the limited sharpness that the small submini negative possesses. When enlargements are made, many opt to sacrifice the grain and go for the acutance. And in some circumstances, speed has to be the determining factor, at the cost of grain and sharpness.  For a more complete discussion of these points check out the excellent column by Robert Chapman, PhD (Chemistry) in the Sep/Oct issue of Photo Techniques, entitled "Photochemistry: Edge Effects and Machie Lines".

This forum will not suggest any "best" developer for submini formats. There simply isn't one.  And even a list of developers would always depend on personal preferences. Some of us will like pictures with less grain, others will prefer pictures with greater edge sharpness. Still others opt for film speed.  A good way to help decide the issue for you is to make a few tests. Shoot the same subject with three different rolls of film. Then develop one roll for acutance, one for speed and the other for fine grain. Compare the results (you can also test the film for film speed on the same roll!). You may find that you like different developers, just like different films.  For low-light situations, where higher film speed is important, you opt for developer A, while for normal lighting conditions you go with developer B.  There's nothing illegal about a harem of developers -- at least not in THIS state.

In general, more dilute concentrations of any developer will give greater acutance, as will less agitation. No matter what developer you use, if you use that developer at a higher dilution and use less agitation, it will produce greater acutance. A good fine-grain developer is D-76, while a good high acutance developer is one of the many Beutler/Crawley developers. A few formulas are listed here -- but they need to be mixed from the raw chemicals; there are many more to choose from at your local library or bookstore. The formulas listed here make one liter of working strength developer. Exact processing times must be determined by tests that you run -- you can times from a book or website, but they can never be optimum for you since.

Here's a Massive Developing chart with an extensive list of formulas, times, tips, etc. if you use a pre-packaged deeveloper.   But before using any darkroom chemicals we suggest you check out this page on chemical safety.

If you have any additional formulas for this page, please contact the Sub Club at the FRONT DESK.

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