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Photographic shelf life

As you might remember, I am occasionally getting my hands wet with photographic chemicals and try to do so on a regular basis.

But, alas, time is scarce and so I am happy that I can shoot some B/W negatives every now and then. And here's the problem: the chemicals don't keep indefinitely. And they are rather expensive. For that reason, I'm trying out just how long each and every mixture will keep and yield "good" results.

Here's what I found out today:

Ilford ID-11 developer. It says something like "the stock solution keeps for a few days, the 1:1 version keeps only for hours and can only be used once". Ummm... talk about understatement. I keep correcting the developing time as instructed for the stock solution (2nd film +10%, 3rd +20% and so on) and easily got ten films out of the two liters that the 1l pack diluted 1:1 gives me... over two or three months even! Today I was a bit annoyed though: I found out that my last batch was from November 2013 - well over six months ago. But: perfect result... yay!

Ilford multigrade paper developer. It says something like "1:9 working solution keeps only days and the bottle only months after opeining". Hmm... tried the batch that I made up in September 2013... and no, the result was clearly underwhelming: barely any reaction at all: just a reddish mist and not even slightly gray. Had to throw that one out. But the fresh batch with the bottle that I broke open in 2011(?) still worked perfectly.

On a side note: I keep the liquids (the solutions) in folding bottles - i.e. without any air in them.

Why does the manual say otherwise? Two reasons: 1.: nobody (especially not the manufacturer or me) will give any warranty as to the success of any "spent chemicals" use. And 2.: Conspiracy theorists say that it forces you to buy more of the chemicals than what you really need.
Personally, I don't believe in the 2nd reason. But the first one is still valid: if you somehow DEPEND on the pictures turning out good, follow the instructions! If you (like me) use that stuff mostly for recreational purposes: save a few bucks and buy less but better chemicals for the same amount instead of cheap ones :P


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2014 09:43 am (UTC)
I used to keep my (paper) chemicals until they just stopped working... :> ... Stop and Fix last a pretty good long time, but yep.. developer is more critical... Especially film developer.. you want to make sure that is healthy every time.
May. 27th, 2014 10:00 pm (UTC)
...see my comment below: Do you have a trick up your wing for testing film developer?
May. 27th, 2014 06:25 pm (UTC)
Am not sure since I just started experimenting myself recently with B/W film photography but currently using R-09 Oneshot which was formerly known as Rodinal and according to what I can find on the internet the undiluted shelf life of that stuff if virtually for ever. Stop shouldn't be a problem since it is actually just an acid (I think/have heard that vinegar can be used in practice) and I think Fix is also relative simple (and stable) chemically speaking.

Don't really do print since I scan the negatives...

Although I have to agree to the conclusions it is better to buy small batches of the better chemicals then large batches of cheap ones especially for recreational use (and not only for the shelf life IMHO!)
May. 27th, 2014 09:59 pm (UTC)
Stop is just the acid part of vinegar, yes. And yes, storebought vinegar *will* work, but it's hard to get some that doesn't have any additives (like seasonings) added... And you don't want the slimy stuff on your film :)

Fix has the advantage that you can test it rather easy. It's called "Klärprobe" in German - "clearing test" might be a reasonable translation. Drop a piece of raw film into a sample of your fixer and watch how long it takes to "clear" (i.e. become see-throug) - that's half of the time you need to fix your film. With the one I'm using it's a matter of seconds when it's fresh, so I get a good idea of how "spent" it is.

The problem is that you can't really "test" the developer without potentially wasting a trial piece. With paper, that's easy: during processing, the first thing to do is create a sample to set up exposure. If that doesn't take, the developer is stale. But how do we test with film developer? Where do I get a well-exposed piece of film to try the batch without potentially ruining dozens of pictures? Because it's not enough to test for "yes, it creates black areas" - it also has to "create nice grays and whites". And exposed film doesn't keep very long either, so shooting a few gradients and cutting up the film will not help for very long.

I checked the manual for the ID-11 developer again. It says: "We do not recommend reusing diluted developers, 1+1 and 1+3, always use fresh solutions on each occasion." - and like I said: I never had any problems with the 1+1 solution being reused. But I *did* increase the developing time with each film according to the table.
They also set the shelf life for the stock solution to "6 months in a full capped container" and say that "1+1 or 1+3 should not be kept for more than 24 hours". My latest test has shown that at least the last part isn't entirely true ;) - but I do keep the developer in full capped bottles (like these: long link...)

With today's chemicals and films, prestine results are almost always top notch unless you manage to do something completely wrong. All the "don't do this or that" is (mostly!) from older photographers who used not-so-well prepared stuff of the dark(room) ages :P
May. 28th, 2014 06:24 am (UTC)
*chuckles about the wing above* ..hehheh... I was still a cat (cat+bird=griffin!) in my photo days, so luckily it was easy to keep the paws clear... :D

Cool to hear you've had good results stretching out the chemicals a bit longer!... *tailwags*
May. 28th, 2014 12:13 pm (UTC)
Heard about that test for fix before and stop should also be relative easily (just use a test for acidity/Ph indicator). So indeed the developer is the problematic one here.

And thanks for the info!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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