I've been developing my own black and white film for the best part of a year now, and it's been a blast, if a slightly steep learning curve. When it comes to black and white, I know what I like, and it's meant months of fine-tuning to get to a result I've been happy with.
From a slightly shaky start with Fomadon R09 (aka Rodinal) and its unruly amount of grain, to D76 which gave sooty blacks and a finer grain, it's been fun to shoot a roll and have it dried and scanned by the end of the same day.
Colour film hasn't been so easy, with regular trips to Jessops or my local lab eating up both time and money. With B&W under my belt it felt like a natural conclusion that I'd eventually succumb to the call of home development - partly because I'm famously tight and hate the idea of paying someone else to do what I could try to do myself.
Enter the Bellini Fotokit, a C41 development kit described by Nik and Trick as "the best c41 kit available anywhere". Not one to be taken in by clever marketing, I bought it immediately in order to test their claim. Take that, suckers!
Mixing The Chemicals
I'll be straight with you, I had no idea what I was doing. I followed the incredibly simple instructions, mixing the chemicals with water from my hot tap (this wasn't specified, but I just went for it and it seemed to turn out ok) and filling some discarded 1l plastic bottles I had lying around with the resulting solution. I'm sure glass would be a better option, but I'm not some kind of millionaire. I've given the amber glass bottle industry far too much of my money already.
*** At this point I should probably point out I wore gloves both while mixing and developing. I've heard the C41 chemicals are a lot nastier than b&w, and don't want to take any risks. ***
Getting the Chemicals Up To Temperature
Now this is the part where things got a little tricky. The developer needs to be at *exactly* 38 degrees in order to avoid any unpleasant colour shifts in your resulting negatives. The other chems aren't as fussy, but all need to be within the 30-38 range to work their magic. To sort this, I stuck the bottles in a hot bath in the kitchen sink, and waited for the temperatures to rise. They rose quickly, FAR too high, and the next 30 mins was spent with them cooling down outside of the bath.
Throwing a tantrum, I immediately ordered a sous vide machine on eBay - partly so my next water bath will be the perfect temperature, and partly so I can reward my second successful C41 development with a perfectly cook steak.
While I waited, I stuck the developing tank (with film in, I hope that'd be obvious) into the sink to warm both, and avoid any sudden drop of temperature when the developer was poured in.
With the developer at 38 degrees, and the other chemicals slowly cooling on the side, I began the dev process, which was VERY EASY INDEED. As someone used to 15-20 minutes developing times, with another 15 for fixing and washing, the whole C41 process was so quick it's easy to feel like you must have forgotten something.
A Couple of Observations:
My heart stopped the moment I poured the fix out of the tank and saw the colour it had turned. It must have mixed with the remaining bleach, but I'm assuming this is fine and nothing to worry about. I hope.
The instructions aren't particularly clear when it comes to stabilizing, so I'll be doing a bit more experimentation. I might also add some Photoflo to the mix to avoid drying marks.
My negatives were perfectly exposed and lovely in their contrast and colour rendering. That's the good news. The bad news was that no matter how long they dried for, little white dots were showing up on the scans. They were wipeable, but left smeary marks across the image. Next time, I'll make sure to squeegee the wet negatives, which will hopefully stop this from happening.
While I have nothing to compare it to, I will say that developing with the Bellini kit was a simple and (dare I say it) enjoyable process. I found it a little more stressful than black and white developing, but that was mostly due to regulating temperatures and hopefully nothing that a sous vide and a perfectly cooked steak won't fix.
The second roll might be a disaster, but for a first go I was incredibly encouraged. While colour still hasn't won my heart in the way the b&w has, I'm looking forward to delving into the world of motion picture films like Kodak Vision3. Exciting times.
Some examples (including with weird white dots) below. Unedited test shots taken with Yashica T3 on Kodak Colorplus 200.