Those well-versed in black and white techniques often avoid side-stepping into the colour world and all of its differing technicalities. In truth, processing colour film, specifically C41, is arguably easier than a traditional black and white process. With minilabs closing down and a prevalence of C41 chemistry kits readily available, home processing of C41 is quickly becoming an option which is both time-saving and cost-saving.
The primary convenience in colour processing is that C41 films are generally processed at the same temperature for the same periods regardless of film speed. 100, 200, 400 and 800 speed films can be processed together, saving both time and money. This is rarely the case with different speed monochrome films.
A minor obstacle is maintaining an optimum temperature during the C41 process. Generally, domestic tap water is between 18C and 22C and can be easily balanced to meet the optimal 21C for black and white film processing. C41 has the added complexity of demanding a specific temperature during processing of 38C with very narrow margins for error; inconsistencies during processing can cause colour shifts within the dyes, necessitating tricky post-processing grading.
The most convenient, if not somewhat expensive option for regulation of temperature is using a thermostatic controlled processing unit. The most popular are manufactured by Jobo with modern, high-end models carrying a price tag running into the thousands. Essentially a heated tank, it maintains chemistry in a water bath for consistent temperature control, with automatic processing pot agitation and sometimes a built-in timer. A simple and cheap alternative is a large bucket or plastic crate, topped off with warm water and a thermometer, providing a bath for chemistry which should maintain the optimum 38C for the duration of processing.
C41 processing doesn't get much simpler than the 1 litre Tetenal Colortec C41 Rapid Negative Kit. Comprising six bottled solutions, in combination the kit provides you with a Colour Developer, A Blix and a Stabilizer which can be cycled for up to sixteen films. Costing in the region of £15, the kit provides excellent value for money compared to minilab processing. The basic stages are as follows:
Pre-heat and rinse: Several minutes of prewash will displace and dirt on the film and bring the temperature of the tank and film to 38C ready for development.
Colour Developer: The most time and temperature critical process. Generally between 3’15” to 4’00” dependant on the number of films processed.
Blix (Bleach & Fix): A combined solution which is sometimes a two-stage process with other kits. Bleaching converts metallic silvers into halides; the Fix then then removes the halides revealing the colour dyes.
Stabilizer: A solution which protects the surface of the film. Unlike traditional black and white this should remain on the film during the drying process. Usually I wipe off the excess between thumb and finger.
C41 film bases often come out of the stabilizer looking a little creamy and fogged up, as if they have been improperly fixed. When drying they soon become transparent and are ready for scanning. I generally only use colour during the Summer and Autumnal seasons, when colour is subjectively more integral to the picture as opposed to light and shade.
To coin the famous Konica tagline, if colours are calling you, developing with the Colortec C41 Rapid Negative Kit is a simple and economic option providing the home developer with independence and consistent reliability.
Instructing film photography, developing and printing in the darkroom. © Samuel Payne 2016