My Experience: Developing With Ilford Ilfosol 3

Developing your own film is one of the biggest upsides to shooting film – or downside – depending on how you feel about it. It’s an aspect that makes you more involved and attached to the photos you create. With many different developers and methods out there, the options are endless to your own creativity.

After using Cinestill’s Monobath for a couple years, I figured it was time to try a proper black and white developer. Again, with the vast amount of options available, Ilfosol 3 seemed to be the simplest option and my photo lab had a bottle of it sitting on the counter.

Many developers are mixed from a powder, giving them long life in the cabinet. For some irrational reason this intimidated me, thinking I couldn’t get mixers right. Ilfosol 3 is a liquid developer that is diluted with water, sounding much easier for my to get started with.

Ilfosol 3

So like I just mentioned, Ilfosol 3 is a liquid developer that mixes to the proper ratios with water, usually 1:9 and is generally considered a one-shot use. Being liquid, the chemicals are already mixed and are consistent everytime, making them ideal for a newbie to developing and are just easy to use. This does give it a big downside, which is it doesn’t last long, but we’ll talk more about this later.

It’s a pretty baseline developer, giving you a natural representation of the film by not increase nor decrease characteristics of a film – be it the grain or the contrast, giving you all the information you want for editing in post if that’s something you like to do. It works great with sharp films like FP4, because it let’s that natural sharpness come through (all the photos in my FP4 Review were developed in Ilfosol 3).

I prefer getting a very flat and sharp image from a scan because I like to edit my photos in post to get them to look the way I intend when I took the picture. Ilfosol 3 has been a great developer for this as it doesn’t add or take away from the image. Especially for a relative amateur as myself, it’s a good starting point.

Ilford HP5

HP5 is probably the film I’ve developed the most in Ilfosol 3. It’s certainly the film I’ve shot the most of, and I really like how it looks in this developer. Again, with nothing being added or taken away, I get a very nice clean photo, yet still with the decent grain that HP5 has.

Ilford HP5 35mm, developed in Ilfosol 3. Canon AE1

Ilford HP5 is probably the most common film you see everyone shooting or testing in different developers. It’s just a great all-round film, and in a developer like Ilfosol 3, you really can’t go wrong with this combination for either a beginner or an experienced photographer. You’re going to get great results everytime.

There’s not really much to say about this combination other than it’s very reliable and I’ve been very happy with it. I’ll never stop shooting HP5, and if I have Ilfosol 3 on the shelf, I won’t hesitate to use it.

Kodak Tri-X

Well, if you’ve read much of this blog, you’ll probably know that I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Tri-X. I’ve wanted to love this film so much because of its reputation and history, but so far I’ve yet to get consistent and pleasing results. I realize that I’m not using the typical and preferred developers on this film, but what I HAVE used, isn’t great.

In Ilfosol 3, Kodak Tri-X is messy: there’s not many other ways to other than that. The grain is aggressive and I feel I’ve lost alot of detail in many of the photos, though this isn’t always a bad thing depending on the photo.

If I’m using Tri-X for my more abstract and quirky compositions, I think it’s a good choice. In photos like these, detail and  clarity isn’t the #1 concern and having a fair amount of grain and some muddy detail can add to the atmosphere of the photo.

Perhaps it’s not the developer causing this and more the photographer, but this is my experience.

It’s not all bad though: I’ve been happy with many photos using this film/developer combination. But I have had enough problems with it that makes it a difficult decision to continue using Ilfosol 3 for Tri-X. Unlike HP5, there is definitely a hesitation when I consider using this again.

Fomapan 100

Now this is a really fun film to develop with Ilfosol 3. While it certainly isn’t the bulletproof recipe the HP5 is, it has enough character that makes me excited to see my final results and work with the photos in post.

Fomapan is naturally an interesting film with so much character, and as mentioned earlier, Ilfosol 3 doesn’t really add or taking anything away from film, so it let’s all it’s quirks be seen.

In my experience, Fomapan 100 is a pretty contrasty film: it has a lovely fine grain and just has beautiful feel to it. This developer really let’s us see all that and gives a really fun image to play with in post. So far I’ve only shot this film in 35mm, but I would really love to get my hands on some 120 some day and run it through Ilfosol 3. That will undoubtedly be a future article.

Consistent definitely isn’t the term I would use to describe this combination. Sometimes it’s crisp and sharp, other times it can be soft and glowy and that’s something I really love about it. Unlike Tri-X that can just be messy, Fomapan 100 always has a pleasant and exciting look.

A fun aspect that I have found with Fomapan in any developer is highlights have a lovely glow, especially clouds. When I have Fomapan 100 loaded in a camera, I get so excited when I find some beautiful clouds.

Fomapan 100 developed in Ilfosol 3 has probably been one of my favorite combinations so far. While not as consistent as HP5 or sharp and clear as FP4, I’ve loved the look the images so much, I have an easier time in post getting the photos to look that way I want them to.

Most of the photos I enjoy taking don’t require ultra sharp and grain free results, so Fomapan is a great option for me. While being slightly grainy and soft, it retains the right amount of detail to not feel muddy or messy – and there’s always a chance you’ll get a super sharp and crisp photo as well.

Ilfosol 3 Pros

So the Pros to this film have already mentioned above; it’s easy, simple to use, and is a consistent chemistry mix everytime. It’s also very affordable too. It comes in a smaller bottle so you don’t have to worry about having a liter of developer constantly mixed or that you have to use up before it expires.

In a normal Patterson 2reel tank, I always mix 600ml just to make sure the the film is fully submerged. With a 1:9 ratio and a 500ml bottle, I can mix 600ml of developer about 8 times. Thats 8 rolls of 120, or 16 rolls of 35mm, so it’s pretty cost effective.

Ilfosol 3 is considered a one-shot developer, so when you mix a working solution and develop a roll, you dump it and don’t reuse it. Makes it simple in not having to keep track of how many rolls you’ve put through the developer and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

I’ve really appreciated the ease of Ilfosol 3 – it’s a very stress feel developer and simple to store, only pouring out what you need and that’s that.

Ilfosol 3 Cons

Of course, there’s always gives and takes – always a sacrifice for something. With all it’s simplicity and ease, the biggest con of Ilfosol 3 is it’s life span. Once the concentrate bottle is opened, it starts to expire. A little yellowing in the developer is normal but when it becomes a dark yellow, it’s probably no longer usable. Generally once opened, the concentrate should last about 3months.

As long as you’re regularly shooting and developing quickly, this isn’t much of a problem. But if you’re like me and can go months without shooting a roll of BnW film, this can be a bit difficult. I try to wait till I have enough film shot before opening the bottle and start developing.

Unfortunately what usually happens is I have about half the amount of rolls ready that the bottle can do, and I tell myself I’ll have more shot before the bottle expires. This, of course, never happens and I end up wasting about a quarter to a half a bottle. Thankful the developer is affordable enough that is doesn’t feel like I’m pouring dollars down the drain, but it still feels very wasteful.

So to avoid this con, simply shoot more film.

Lastly, it’s not a “do everything” developer. Ilfosol 3 isn’t designed for pushing or pulling, rather it’s meant for developing film that’s been shot at box speed. It CAN be done, but generally not recommend with this developer.

Also, while there’s a wide range of films it can be used on, there are some that it cannot be – such as Ortho Plus. Pan F is on The list, but it requires heavy dilution with water in a 1:14 ratio. So it technically can be done, but there are better developers for these films.

Conclusion

I guess there’s not much more I can say regarding Ilfosol 3 other than it’s a solid and reliable developer. I have one more bottle of Ilfosol 3, and I will start to experiment with other developers once it’s gone. However, I’m sure I will return to it one day. Especially for a film like FP4, it’s just so good. I recommend this developer for anyone.

One thought on “My Experience: Developing With Ilford Ilfosol 3”

  1. Thanks for the article. Just to let you know, you can get more life out of Ilfosol 3 once opened. I have a bunch of 60ml bottles – usually used for chemistry – which I fill to the top to keep the air out. That way it stays fresher because it doesn’t get oxidised. I do about I roll per week which means about 4 months to use up. That last 60ml bottle is still really clear and I don’t see yellow. Works fine when I use it.

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