The Monobath Experience

Developing Kodak Tri-X With CineStill Df96

6 min read by Kent. Published in Film, Photography.
Double exposure. Mayaro beach, Trinidad.

I watched countless hours of film development videos on YouTube to prepare for when the time comes to do my own. I’ve learned a lot and felt ready to dunk my first roll into chemicals with hopes of seeing the images come out.

Coincidentally, CineStill announced their B&W Monobath Df96 developer. Intoxicated by my anticipation to finally see my own film develop, I placed the preorder. This was highly unusual due to my fears of having a terrible experience, as I read from others’ preordering mishaps. Thankfully, the powder came just over a week later — much better than expected.

I was very excited to try it but there was no black and white film in the fridge to combine it with. So I bought some “freshly expired” Kodak Tri-X on eBay. Usually, I try to buy it new, but eight rolls for $25USD felt like an irresistible deal.

It took me another four months to finish shooting the film in my Canon EOS-1N.

The process.

Double exposure with my sister.

My distilled water seemed to be contaminated with oil so I used bottled water. It was room temperature, somewhere between 31 and 33 degrees Celsius.

The first pack, Part A got mixed with 650ml of water. Part B went in right after.

Unfortunately, some visible crystals remained and refused to break down. Puzzled, I’ve added the remaining 350ml of water to make for a litre; the crystals remained unchanged.

I’ve considered that perhaps I should have mixed the stuff at a higher temperature. Only one way to see whether I really messed up was to go ahead, disregarding the crystal situation.

Without a thermometer, which was still in the mail, I soaked the film for 4 minutes. Agitated for 30 seconds in the first minute, 10 seconds every other minute.

CineStill recommends that you spend a few gallons of water to wash film – I found that to be unnecessary. I ended up filling and emptying the tank about 5 times with 20 inversions of the tank. Once finished, I took the film out.

The images appeared! I was beyond pleased.

I hung my film to dry and wiped it with a clean cloth, as prescribed. This is when I noticed how sticky the film was. Later, I was told that this does happen and it is not a problem.

Forest point beach, Toco, Trinidad.

An hour or so later the film dried and was no longer sticky. I used an antistatic cloth and rocket blower to remove as much dust as possible. I then scanned it with my Epson v600 at 2400 DPI using Epson Scan software.

Concerns.

Next morning I woke up to a cloudy brownish mess that my beautiful chems have turned into.

I went online for answers, thankfully to be reassured by fellow Redditors that nothing indeed went wrong.

As told, the monobath has retained silver oxide from the film, turning it into something that looked like contamination.

I was recommended to use coffee filters after developing film to remove the residue.

There were also some shots that didn’t leave me happy with the exposure, though it probably had nothing to do with the developer.

One of the shots that didn’t leave me too happy with the exposure results.

The experience and learnings.

Other than with Polaroid or Instax, film photography doesn’t come with instant gratification. It takes days to ship chemicals, days to shoot the film and some work to develop the negatives. Needless to say, being the first time ever, I couldn’t wait to see my photos appear. And so they did.

I was very satisfied with the overall process of developing my own film.

Portrait of my uncle.

It turned out that monobath developers are super easy to use. However, it’s also very easy to over- or under-develop the film if the time or the temperature are off.

With film development time is everything, so a good darkroom clock can go a long way. There are also apps for that.

I wish CineStill wrote somewhere about filtering chemicals after each development. As a newbie to the process, it’s not obvious. A piece of mind knowing that the strange cloudy colour is normal and preventable would have been appreciated.

Nothing beats using D-76 or HC-110 developers in the long run in terms of the shelf life and pricing. But a monobath gives a wonderful introduction and a confidence booster. Plus, it makes more sense financially at first, since it’s cheaper than buying three sets of chemicals for “grown-up” black and white film development.

Some quick math. A gallon or a 3.785-litre pack of developer, fixer and stop bath go for around $14USD each, which is $42 in total. Per litre, you pay about $3.69 per chem set, versus $19.99 for CineStill Df96 monobath. You get to develop more for less money but the effort and the initial investment for the non-monobath method are higher.

Would I use CineStill Df96 Monobath again? Probably not. A standard three-step process doesn’t seem so daunting after the monobath; it also seems to be more practical.

I’ve read this article by Micah Walter on film development using Kodak D-76. I found it really useful and definitely would be using his method in the future. It’s a bit more work but seems to be worth the effort as it’ll cost less than any monobath per roll.

CineStill Df96 Monobath is a great product but I think its better suited for someone who doesn’t mind spending the extra cash for an easier process. Or someone who just wants to shoot a few rolls of film and develop them once.