On June 19, 2018, CineStill Film released the Df96 Monobath developer. As soon as it was available, I placed the order. The Brothers Wright put out a great article reviewing 16 different emulsions developed with Df96. However, I wanted to take it to a different approach. I wanted to develop this film in 4×5, large format. For the purpose of this review, the specifics on how this developer works and all of the technical nitty-gritty can be found in our news announcement.
One of the biggest pains when it comes to developing at home is the fact that different black and white emulsions have different development times for different developers. As somebody that shoots large format photography, I often feel restricted in the film choices when it comes to doing a shoot. Simply put, a lot of time goes into the development phase; different development dilutions leading to more time and restarting the whole different process with a different emulsion. In the fast-paced world we live in now, ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that!’
When I decided to do this review I wanted to take several emulsions and compare them in the large format space. Initially, when the package arrived, the developer arrived in a 1L bottle that CineStill Film did an excellent marketing job making it seem much bigger. In actuality, the developer arrived in a small box that fit my standard mailbox.
I found the packaging lacked instructions, which one would commonly find inside the product labeling. I think CineStill Film should consider including some paper instructions in addition to providing a link or a QR code that leads the customer to read the instructions on their website. The reason I mention this, I believe this developer is ideally targeted for photographers just starting to learn how to develop film. I particularly do not think this film is targeted for expert photographers with intricate setups for developing. Ideally, veteran photographers want more control in the development process for their legitimate reasons.
Upon preparing for the shoot I had realized that my 12-sheet Yankee tank is 55 Oz (1.63L) and would not fill to a capacity that would submerge the emulsion. I ultimately had to order a new tank that would allow me to develop as many negatives possible in a 1 L tank. I ended up purchasing the Patterson PTP116 – 3 reel tank with the Mod54 adapter. This adapter can hold six sheets of 4×5 film. I found it very easy to load in the dark. It does take a bit of practice, like any new piece of equipment. I would recommend taking a few burner sheets and practice in daylight before loading in the dark.
For this review I developed across three 4×5 emulsions:
- Ilford Delta 100
- Ilford HP5+
- TMAX 400
For purposes at the end of this article two additional emulsions in 6×7 cm were processed:
- Ilford SFX 200 (Infrared)
- Ilford FP4+
Each of these emulsions have their own characteristics. While the focus of this review does evaluate contrast and grain, it is assumed each of the film characteristics are common knowledge. To read more about the characteristics of each of these emulsions, I recommend heading over to Emulsive.org and a simple search will provide excellent explanations of these emulsions.
Setting Up the Shot
My large format camera is the Shen Hao PTB-45 and the lens used was the Fujinon SWD 90mm f/5.6. A 6×6 ft. full stop scrim to diffuse the window light. A light meter registered an exposure of f/5.6, 1/30, ISO 400. Since the 4×5 depth of field is very shallow the exposure was adjusted to f/22, 3 Sec., ISO 400. This adjustment includes + 1/3 stop light falloff for an extended bellows.
The process to develop is quite simple. However, it’s not all that clear on the bottle. The instructions make it seem to be too simplified. For an inexperienced person in developing film, they may not know to pre-wash the film and wash it afterwards. In all fairness, this documentation is on their website. However, a bit more direction would be helpful.
According to CineStill Film, pre-wash is not necessary for all emulsions. However, for common practice, I personally always run a prewash to remove the anti-halation dye layer and to break the surface tension of the film.
Since I live in Hotlanta, I preemptively placed the Df96 bottle in the garage for a few hours and it warmed up to 80 °F (26.6 °C).
The chemicals were poured into the development tank through a funnel and constantly agitated for 4 minutes by spinning the reel. I did not conduct any tank inversions for agitating.
After the 4 minute alarm sounded, the chemicals were poured right back into the bottle and immediately sealed. Note: Once the bottle has been opened, there is a 2 month window before the chemicals exhaust.
The film went through a rinse cycle; dumping the water out as it got full for 5 minutes. I added Photo Flo to the final rinse.
The film was then hung for roughly an hour, the negatives are ready for scanning!
HP5+ (above) scanned at 2400 DPI on the Epson V850. No adjustments were made to the images. Spot healing was used to clean dust away from the scan.
For the Delta 100 shot (above) scanned at 2400 DPI on the Epson V850. The meter called for an 8 second exposure which resulted in adjustments for reciprocity failure and bellows extension light fall off. The final exposure for Delta 100: f/22, 15 Secs., ISO 100. No adjustments to the scan except for spot healing for dust.
The third emulsion is Kodak TMAX 400 (above) scanned at 2400 DPI on the Epson V850. All settings remained the same as the HP5+ shot. However as the exposure took place, the sun went behind the clouds and resulted in a slightly under exposed image. No adjustments were made. Spot healing was used to clean the dust off the scan.
Medium Format Images:
I went to a small town in Georgia and met a gentleman on a biking trip and stopped off this coffee shop. I was photographing the town with a Red 25A filter. Unfortunately, the filter was defective and resulted very soft edges and were not included in this review. This image was shot without a filter on Ilford SFX 200 black and white infrared film on the Mamiya 7 50mm f/4.5.
I had a left over roll of FP4 Plus in my bag and decided to shoot the roll. Unfortunately, due to the red filter defect, sharpness was lost. The entire roll had the same results and I ultimately threw this filter out.
Comparison to Another Developer
Due to time constraints I was unable to do a comparison to the same set of images in a different developer. However, for demonstration purposes I selected another HP5 Plus negative which was developed in Ilfosol 3 1:9 dilution. Crops include different zones from shadows to highlights.
Comparison of 100% crops of both HP5+. The left image (below) was developed in Df96 and the right image was developed in Ilfosol 3 1:9.
Overall, I am quite impressed. Having the ability to develop different emulsions souped together in a single batch is pretty awesome. It makes the development process less of a pain. This is my first time developing with a monobath solution. I am aware there are other monobath solutions available and the idea of it goes as far back as the late 1880’s. I wouldn’t say this is a ‘game changer’, however, CineStill Film claims this solution is archival in comparison to others on the market. How to test that, I honestly don’t have a clue. I’ll leave that test to much smarter people.
One thing to note, because of the sheer size of these negatives, I have been noticing that fixing time needed to be increased significantly. While the recommendation to develop this film is 80 °F (26.6 °C) at 3:30. I found myself leaving it in for nearly a minute longer than the 15 second per roll increments to ensure the negatives fix. To also note, according to CineStill Film, two sheets of 4×5 film equates to one chemically processed 35mm film.
Grain in the monobath solution is more apparent in Df96 than a traditional three step bath. However, for a 4×5 negative, if you intend to print large the grain at this point may not be a concern. In Delta 100, the Df96 grain is still incredibly fine and I would be comfortable using Df96 to print.
As mentioned earlier in the review, there was a lack of documentation in the packaging. The instructions on the bottle seemed a bit glossed over. The ‘meat and potatoes’ can be found on their website. A card with a pamphlet or a QR code card taking me to a dedicated page, rather than scrolling under the check out button on the website would be ideal. I did have to send an email to CineStill film for clarification for pre-washing and post-washing. However, with that being said, their customer service consists of sending an email of any questions and concerns and their reply was quite prompt and I have to say that goes a long way. CineStill Film has great customer service.
I will close with this. This is a great developer. I will be using this more often. Yes, this film does produce a bit more grain than the traditional three step solution. You also have much more control in determining your final result with traditional three step developing. However, I would said the Df96 solution is a great contender and perfect for people looking to get into developing film in their homes for the first time.