Have you ever read something before and been left with a nagging feeling that what you read discounted what you knew and made you feel like you weren’t doing as good as you could? And then did you spend months trying to rationalize that what you were doing was just fine and didn’t need to be improved?
If you have ever felt that way, then you’ll know how I felt when I first came across comparison statements made by a former Kodak-Eastman employee on the difference in C-41 with blix versus separate bleach/fix. This particular employee goes by the moniker “PE” on the popular site APUG (Analog Photography Users’ Group), which has recently been acquired by Photorio. He has made a lot of statements on this subject on this site, including such gems as this:
” However, I can say that use of a blix instead of a real bleach then fix cycle is the root of many problems.” (Comment #356 at https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/list-of-color-chemicals-and-where-to-get-them.79069/page-15)
The following discussion that another forum member started was very interesting to me:
“I used up developer from a tetenal kit I had on the go, so the biggest difference was using separate bleach and fix. After using blix for the last two years, I’m dumbfounded. These results are superior in every way. The biggest difference is the reduction in grain and increase in sharpness. It’s beautiful. 35mm almost seemed unusable before, but the results I just got here have true life. I even sense a larger tonal range, and deeper blacks. Very happy. Thank you all. ” (Comment #351 from Kuby at https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/list-of-color-chemicals-and-where-to-get-them.79069/page-15
to which PE responded:
” Thank you for posting this. It is what I have been saying all along!” (Comment #352 at https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/list-of-color-chemicals-and-where-to-get-them.79069/page-15)
There are many, many more places where PE and others tout the benefits of a separate bleach/fix over blix.
So what’s the dilemma? The dilemma is that most C-41 kits targeted to the home developer come with Blix. In fact, I can’t find a single site selling a kit with separate bleach and fix in the United States. (There are rumors that the Rollei separate bleach/fix kit can be purchased in Europe. Stateside, Rollei’s kit has blix. Everyone seems to use blix.)
So after sitting on this nagging bit of information that somehow separate bleach and fix is better than blix for months, I finally figured out how to move from using Blix to a separate bleach/fix combination. This post is about the how and some examples of my results of actually doing this.
DISCLAIMER: I cannot be held responsible for anything that you do as a result of following any infomation in or linked from this post. This post is about conducting a chemical process which could cause harm to you and others if not conducted appropriately. Please read all safety and MSDS specification sheets for any chemicals that you purchase for this and other chemical processes that you may decide to undertake.
To start with, I knew I’d need a lot more bottles than what I had. I ended up needing six 1L glass bottles plus 1 500mL glass bottle to store my C-41 chemistry in.
Here is the 1L bottle that I use:
and here is the 500mL bottle:
Here is how I use my bottles:
- C41 Developer
- Bleach (1+1)
- Bleach (Stock)
1 500mL Bottle:
- Bleach (Stock)
Starting out, I had a Unicolor kit ready to go, and since you can still use the developer and stabilizer from those, I simply mixed my developer and stabilizer per the instructions of the Unicolor kit.
For the stop bath, the formula is 5% white distilled vinegar at a 1+4 mix with distilled water.
For the bleach and fixer, I purchased the F2 kit from Unique Photo available here:
And this is where things get interesting because what you get is this:
So here you have Part 1 and Part 2 and because this is meant to go in a processing machine, there aren’t any real instructions for how to turn this F2 kit into a home developing kit.
Part 1 is 1L of C-41 bleach to be used as is. Part 2 is just over 2L of C-41 Fixer that has to be diluted at 1+1. Here are pictures of the unboxing:
As you can see, we have two tanks with chemicals. The green chemical (and smaller tank) is the bleach and the larger tank has the fixer. In getting the chemicals out, you’ll run into this:
That is the spout and chemistry will not come out of that unless you depress the piece in the middle. This is a terrible way to try and get the chemistry out unless you want chemicals all over you. This is not the way to go.
Instead, you’ll need to carefully cut the spout off of the bottle so that you have a place that you can carefully pour the chemicals into a graduated cylinder. See:
With a hole cut in the top, removing the spout, you can now pour the chemistry into a graduated cylinder and from there into your bottles.
For the C-41 bleach, this is straightforward. 1L of bleach in the bag goes into the cylinder and into a 1L bottle.
For the C-41 fixer, pour 1L into the cylinder and into one of the two 1L bottles for fixer. Repeat for the second liter. For what is left over, consult with your municipality’s regulations on chemical disposal. I have to take mine to the county waste processing facility along with my other used photochemistry.
At the end of this process, you should now have 3 1L bottles of chemistry:
Now when it’s time to actually start development, you can do the following per chemical:
Developer – Mix as the Unicolor kit instructs and take the finished liter into a bottle.
Stop Bath – I’ve used this a few times and it’s not really needed with C-41 developer, plus it can cause the bleach to not work correctly, so I’m discontinuing this recommendation.
Bleach – Use existing 1L bottle of Bleach
Fixer – Pour 500mL of Fixer into a graduated cylinder and move that to your 500mL bottle. Then pour the remaining 500mL from the bottle into a graduated cylinder, add 500mL of distilled water and pour that back into the 1L bottle. Relabel this bottle as Fixer (1+1).
Stabilizer – Mix as the Unicolor kit instructs and take the finished liter into a bottle.
When you have mixed these five chemicals, you should have something like:
and you are now ready to run C-41 with separate bleach and fix.
For development, you need to have a method to keep the temeperature of the development constant. C-41 developer has a 0.5F degree range, meaning that you can have the developer anywhere between 101.5F and 102.5F and be fine, but outside of that range, you will get color shifts and other issues. Keeping color chemistry at a stable temperature is beyond the scope of this particular blog post.
Here are the instructions and temperatures that the chemistry must be at:
- Developer – 3.5 minutes at 102F (range 101.5-102.5 F)
- Stop Bath – 1 minute at 75-105F — see above, discontinuing this recommendation.
- Bleach – 6.5 minutes at 75-105F
- Wash – 1.5 minutes at 75-105F (should be very agressive – enough to turn over the water in the tank four times.)
- Fixer – 6.5 minutes at 75-105F
- Wash – 3.25 minutes at 75-105F (should be just as agressive as the wash in step 4.)
- Stabilizer – 1.5 minutes at 75-105F
As for an agitation scheme, on the developer, stop bath, bleach, and fixer, I use 10 seconds initially followed by 10 seconds of agitation every 30 seconds. For the Stabilizer, I agitate for the first 10 seconds and then leave it alone.
You will need to burp the stop bath. “Burping” refers to opening and re-sealing the lid between agitations. If you don’t burp the stop bath, the pressure will blow the lid off and you’ll have a warm vinegar bath. In my experience, neither the bleach nor the fixer needed “burping” even though I did burp them a few times. This is in stark contrast to blix, which needs to be burped regularly as well.
One more note — I have not put a pre-wash in here as I have read that pre-washing C-41 film removes protective layers that are intended to be interacted first by the developer. Previouly I have pre-washed C-41 film, but this time I did not. I held my tank down in my water bath from the point that the developer reached 100F until it was at 102F. At 102F, I poured the developer into the tank, closed the tank, started the timer, and began the agitation. Afterwards, the tank went immediately back into the water bath.
Once you have done all of this, hang your negatives to dry and you can do a squeegee to get rid of excess stabilizer or use your fingers. If you use your fingers, you may wish to wear a glove and should definitely wash your hands and all of your equipment after this process. My film is usually ready to be sleeved at the 3 hour mark.
So having gone to all this effort, what are my thoughts on the process? Honestly, these negatives actually feel cleaner to the touch than those that have gone through blix. The reduction in grain and increase in sharpness are definitely there throughout the negatives. 35mm is a joy to shoot on with this method and they are absolutely the best 35mm film results I’ve ever gotten.
So here is the proof. I am going to show you two examples for two films: Portra 400 and Natura 1600. One with Blix and one that went through the separate bleach/fix process. Do bear in mind that I had not planned on going down this path when I developed film with blix and as such, I don’t have a picture of the exact same thing that was developed with blix and then developed with the separate bleach/fix process. That said, the results that I am sharing with you are not one-off. The examples that went through blix are indicative of my other work with blix and the examples from the separate bleach/fix process are indicative of what all that work looks like.
Both of these Portra 400 examples are 100% enlargements from a V700 using Silverfast to scan and process. They both were properly exposed with adequate light.
Fuji Natura 1600
The scanning settings for the Natura examples are the same as the Portra examples.
Effectively, with a separate bleach/fix, you do get sharper negatives, less grain, and better tonal qualities. The next set of negatives that I develop will definitely be with this method and then after that Unicolor kit is gone, it’s time to start looking at other C-41 delevopers! Stay tuned!