My Experience: Developing With Cinestill Df96 Monobath
As I’ve meantioned multiple times on the site, I’ve been developing my black and white film with Cinestill’s monobath: Df96.
For many, including myself, this developer has been such a blessing for dipping into the self-developing world. There are so many developers out there, it can be overwhelming to know which to choose. When I was looking to start developing my own film, all the classic developers seemed intimidating and complicated. I was going to have to purchase a fair bit of equipment just to see if I enjoyed developing or not. So being a beginner, a solution like a monobath was the perfect, uh, solution.
Something I really do love about this developer is just how little you really need. Whether you’re a minimalist or a beginner like me, you don’t want to buy a lot of equipment just to find out developing film isn’t for you. With a monobath, it’s basically an All-In-One chemical and the amount of required gear is greatly reduced.
• Developing tank
That’s pretty much it. I chose to use a film squeegee because it helps with water marks. The water in my area is very hard and while I should be using some sort of washing agent, I just don’t. So a few swipes with the squeegee has certainly been a help.
Many people would include a changing bag in this list. However, you don’t NEED one. I load my film into the tank by going into a totally dark bathroom where I have all the room I want. While they may be handy, they’re not completely necessary.
I’m not going to bother giving a detailed procedure of how to use this developer. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that explain much better than I ever could. So if you’re considering Cinestill’s Df96, I absolutely recommend watching as many videos as you can.
For this article, I’d like to share my experience in using this developer over the last 36 rolls. I’ll show you what kind of results I’ve had from it and maybe share some tips on how certain films react with this particular solution. So first off, let’s start with the classic; Ilford HP5 Plus.
Ilford HP5 Plus
HP5 has been a really solid film stock when developed in Df96. However, Ilford HP5 is notoriously grainy. So when paired with a developer that’s known for it’s increased grain and contrast; it’s grain for days and I love it.
While you may get really grainy images from this film using Df96, they’re still really nice. It can certainly be used to your advantage depending on what the subject matter is. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed that grainy and gritty look, so this combination has been great for me.
Ilford HP5 Plus is just such a bulletproof film at such a great price. I can’t ever imagine my arsenal without it. After all, it HAS won the Sunny16 Podcast’s Sunnies “Film of the Year” Awards 4 times in a row! So that’s gotta say something for it right?
Ok, so I’ve waffled on about this film to a fair extent on the site already. I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to develop Fomapan 400 with Df96 for a while and I think I’ve figured it out.
As mentioned in previous articles, I don’t think Fomapan 400 is actually 400 iso. When shot at 400 iso and developed normally, the negatives are always very thin. This could quite possibly be the film not playing nice with the developer. However, I’ve heard multiple accounts of this very issue even when using other developers.
I then tried over exposing by a stop. This seemed to give me somewhat denser negatives, but I still wasn’t quite happy. This could be due to the crazy lighting conditions that day with blinding snow on an overcast day, but I felt I could still do better. Hoping for better results, I tried pushing the film in developing and I think this did the trick.
Now with Cinestill Df96, pushing is based on temperature. The base temperature that most films develop at is 80°F. There are instructions on the bottle for doing 60° and 65° as well. But for pushing, you increase the temperature by 10°F for every stop. As you can imagine, you probably don’t want to be going hotter than 90°F so you’re really only limited to one, maybe two stops. So after shooting my last 2 rolls of Fomapan 400 @ 400, I cranked the temperature up to 90° and I got the best results I’ve ever had from this film.
So far, I’ve only shot 2 rolls of this film. There’s not a ton I can say about it yet except that I was extremely impressed. This is definitely a film I’d love to get more familiar with. The grain and constrast is quite beautiful. I imagine this would be a great film for portraits. Until I have more experience with it, here are some results I’ve got from it with Cinestill Df96.
Developing Tri-X with Cinestill Df96 has been quite a trial. The first 2 or 3 rolls I ever developed with Df96 all reticulated badly. I kept assuming it was something I was doing in developing with my temperatures. And this very well may have been the case, though I became suspicious of the quality of the particular batch when I developed a roll of HP5 and Tri-x in the tank together. The Tri-x reticulated while the HP5 was perfectly fine.
After that, I ordered a new batch of Tri-x and the results were beautiful. But eventually another roll reticulated on me, and I was seeing signs of it in others. So I began developing the next few rolls while carefully watching my developer/rinse temperatures and I haven’t seen any reticulation.
Do keep in mind that I have been developing numerous rolls of other films with this developer and Tri-x is the ONLY film to have reticulation. After much research (short of contacting Cinestill directly), I haven’t found any explanations as to why this would be. The only thing that would make any sense is that the solution is somehow weakening the emulsion, making it more sensitive to temperature changes than it should be.
This, of course, may not be the case, and I’m certainly no authority on the matter. However, due to the lack of information I’ve been able to find, it’s the only thing I can come up with. I will greatly appreciate if anyone wants to contact me with info regarding this! So for now, I’m just going to assume that’s the problem.
So amidst the trials and disappointments this combination has given me, there has been hope. When all goes well, Kodak Tri-x has given me some of my best results; making it probably my favorite film I’ve developed so far.
What Are The Drawbacks To Using A Monobath?
Given that it’s a one-step developer, it’s not without it’s compromises. For one, it greatly increases the grain and contrast. This, to me, doesn’t seem like much of a compromise as I tend to like this effect. However, if you are the type that doesn’t like too much grain, then this would definitely be seen as a drawback.
Another issue with this developer is that it’s not ideal for certain films. On Cinestill’s website, they have a list of multiple films and their recommendations for how to develop them. You will notice that some films (mainly T-grain films) require extra time, higher temperatures or both. These are films such as the Ilford’s Delta and Kodak’s Tmax lines.
Truth be told, this isn’t much of an issue as many developers aren’t suited for certain films. To me Cinestill Df96 has been an excellent developer. It made it so easy for me to set into the self-developing world and cut my costs dramatically.
Final Thoughts On Cinestill Df96
So, now that I’ve developed a total of 36 rolls with this developer, I feel I have a pretty good understanding of what to expect from it. While I haven’t done too many experiments with it as far as using different temperatures and agitations, I’m pretty happy with my results. I’ve gone through 2 jugs of Df96 and it was really tempting to get a 3rd. While I’m going to try a different developer now, I’m sure I’ll be seeing more Df96 in the future.
Df96 is an incredibly affordable solution, and stress free. It cuts down on the amount of equipment required and gives surprisingly good results! I think this is a great developer for either a beginner or an experienced photographer.
It really has it’s place in film photographic world and has made film developing so accessible to many a new comer. If you’ve been hesitant to try developing for yourself for the same reasons I was, give Cinestill Df96 a try! It has made developing your first roll of film so easy and I can’t recommend it enough.
Please let me know in the comments below if you’ve tried this developer and what you thought! Or if you’ve been hesitant and have any questions! Thanks for reading.