It's not just black and white.

My film journey has been a winding path, but, that's nothing compared to my B&W developer journey!

First, there was colour film. It was easy and expensive. Expensive, because by the time I bought a roll of low-end film, paid to develop it, and included low-res scanning in the developing, I was around $20 - $25 CAD per roll of 36, depending on which film I bought. At 39 shots from a roll of 36 (I shoot the film-leader), That's 50 cents a shot...assuming I'm buying cheap film! Don't forget that all I've got to show for it after are film negatives and *low-res* scans - only good for social media sharing.

For 35mm film, that's just stupid. And sadly, it's just the law of supply and demand in action. Prices go up when there's scarcity, just like they do if there's plenty, but excessive demand. (Or greedy Realtors - like the central Ontario housing market.) :P

First step was getting rid of the scanning process. I bought a cheap mirrorless camera, adapted my Takumar 35mm macro lens to it, rigged up my own light table setup, and I instantly dropped the price per roll by around 40%. Not bad. Not bad at all - and for $120 for the camera, it was paid for in around 15 rolls of film - much less if I paid for scans at higher resolutions! Which is, again, a ridiculous reflection on the industry.

But, I'm still rocking out $12/roll, if I get really budget film. ($7.50 to develop.) Still very expensive, unless you only shoot a roll every month. Puts me at around 30 cents per shot. Yikes... :/

Enter Black and White.

I'll be honest, I'm really more of a colour guy. For instance, I love taking long-exposure, colour, digital shots at dusk or after dark. They're amazing, and one example of where digital is perfect for the job. But, one example isn't a majority for me, and I love far more about film than I do about digital. Leaps and bounds, my friends. But, that's another story.

Going back to B&W. The budget versions are more expensive than budget C41-process colour film...but...there are at-home film developers without increasingly difficult-to-ship, expensive, chemicals. I started with a single bottle of Ilfosol 3, Kodak Photo-flo, and a bottle of Ilford rapid fixer. We should talk about rapid fixer sometime, but, again, another story.

Before that bottle of Ilfosol 3 was done, I started researching chemicals and developer recipes. I initially wanted completely non-toxic, which lead me to caffenol and soap/vinegar instead of Photo-flo. Oh man...that Caffenol can turn into some rabbit hole, but let's talk price. By building my own Caffenol developers, I cut the cost of developing a single roll of B&W film to...wait for it...under 30 cents per roll. I kid you not.

So now, I'm down to $5 - $6.50 for a roll of budget B&W, and much less than half the price of a plastic-tasting chocolate bar to develop and scan. Around 17 cents per shot. we're living the film life! Let's put that in perspective. I'm saving 33 cents per shot from my starting film days - assuming budget film. Sounds like nothing, on the surface, so let's bump it to 1,000 shots. Oops - that's $330. And only 25 rolls of 36-exposure film (shooting the leader).

Again, if you shoot a roll every four to eight weeks, you might as well spring for expensive film, expensive scanning, and get incredible-looking results. But, if you're like me, and you eat/sleep/breath the wonder that is film's logarithmic response to light - instead of a hard, linear, cutoff point - and you enjoy dabbling in the physical sciences...well then. I can justify shooting multiple rolls a month with a meager budget, and I get to revel in the physical medium which is film. (You can keep your electron-only experience!) ;)

Of course, Caffenol only went so far, and after a year I began to wander off the 100% non-toxic path. With apologies to vehement Caffenol-proponents, coffee can't hold a candle to metol. Not even slightly. And I experimented with/created literally dozens of variants of caffenol. Some fantastic. Some complete failures. I'm not saying that I didn't have some great developing experiences, because I did, but the first time I made a metol-only developer, the shadow detail literally took my breath away. By that, I mean that I actually said, "THIS is what's been missing." And, as I stay away from excessively toxic or expensive ingredients, not to mention that developing chemicals typically require very low amounts per roll, my costs have not risen per roll. (I seldom build traditional fine-grain/high sulfite developers. There are other ways to get fine grain.)

So, I shoot primarily B&W now. Not for the absolute love of monochrome, as stated previously, but because I DO love creating with film, and money doesn't grow on trees. Not to mention that some of my favourite people shots are B&W, which is where I think the medium especially shines.

Shoot film. Write to your favourite camera manufacturer and tell them to stop being afraid. It's not like digital is saving their collapsing industry. They might as well make another proper film camera for under $1000 - the R&D on film bodies has already been done.



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