Introduction: 40,000 Rolls of Film Developed From 50 Grams of Phenidone

As I have stated in previous tutorials, photography *can* be an expensive hobby but it doesn't *have* to be. Developers can be costly like Perceptol running about $1.50 a roll in just chemical costs down to .18 cents a roll for store bought Rodinal. It can also be cheaper--a LOT cheaper.

This tutorial showcases a developing agent called Phenidone. As of this writing 50 grams of it sells for $12 at ArtCraft Chemicals in NY. It's a very powerful developing agent and we are going to be using it sparingly. A group of photographers would be wise to "kick in" and split a bottle and not for the cost factor.

The photo on this step was shot with Arista EDU 100 developed in this chemistry

Materials Needed:


Sodium Hydroxide (lye drain cleaner available at Ace Hardware or on Amazon from soap-making suppliers)

NOTE: Less risky liquid versions of drain cleaner are not nearly as nasty to work with as anhydrous Sodium Hydroxide. The are normally a 30% to 50% solution-check the MSDS from the makers website for the stated concentration. Make sure they only contain Sodium or Potassium Hydroxide and NOT Sodium Hypochlorite.

The bottle pictured above is a 30% variety. So if a formula calls for 5 grams to 50Ml water you would use 15ML of the drain cleaner amd 35ml of water

Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda--arm & hammer or grocery store generic)

Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C from nutrition stores or Amazon--do NOT mistake it with Citric Acid)

91% Isopropyl or Denatured Alcohol (marine stove fuel, shellac thinner--check the label)

2- 50ml amber glass "boston round" bottles--available online or from container stores

Digital scale (about $8 on Amazon or from Harbor Freight)

Eye dropper calibrated for 1ml or clean insulin syringe with needle cut off & disposed of properly

pyrex measuring cup

small funnel

Step 1: Mixing the Concentrates From Which We Will Extract Batch Quantities

Take the pyrex measuring cup and add 50ml of the denatured alcohol or the 91% isopropyl alcohol to it. Take a small square of paper approx 2" and fold a crease into it. Place it on the digital scale & turn it on. It will zero out adding the weight of the paper. Open the 50gr bottle of Phenidone and put .4gr (4/10ths of a gram) onto the creased paper. Remove from the scale. Using the creased paper as a "trough" put the phenidone into the alcohol and stir it. Put the small funnel into the first 50ml amber bottle and pour the phenidone/alcohol mix in. Cap the bottle and label it.

If you divide the .4 gram into the 50grams we will eventually get 125 of these 50 ml vials from the Phenidone

Rinse everything well & dry with a paper towel

Next take the pyrex cup and put in 50ml of cold water--bottled drinking water preferred. Using the scale and a clean 2" square piece of paper like we did above, measure out 5 grams of Sodium Hydroxide and slowly add it to the water. Stir gently and keep cup away from face & eyes--protective goggles would likely be advised as well as gloves, It will produce heat from chemical reaction. Allow to cool and place this in the 2nd Amber bottle--cap & label it.

NOTE: As mentioned in the previous step liquid drain openers containing Sodium & Potassium Hydroxide can be used instead of powdered lye. They vary in concentration, some being 30% , others 50%. If you are using a 30% version like the product pictured then you would use 15ML of that to 35ml water. If you are using 50% then it would be 10ML to 40ML water

The other chemicals are added as powders to our working batch

The photos in this step were shot with Plux X expired for 25 years developed in this chemistry

Step 2: Mixing the Working Batch

Take a 500ml bottle and place 400ml of water in it. Tap water is fine. Add the chemicals in the following order capping and shaking to dissolve before adding the next chemical. Water at room temperature

1.4 grams Sodium Bicarbonate

8ml of the Sodium Hydroxide concentrate (using the 1ml eye dropper or insulin syringe rinse after use)

1 gram Ascorbic Acid (weiging on the scale on a creased piece of paper and sliding it into the bottle)

1.25ml of the Phenidone/Alcohol concentrate.

Top off to 500ml cap it and mark it Working Batch

The photos in this step were shot on color film & cross processed as B&W with this chemistry

Step 3: Using the Developer

From the working batch of 500ml we will extract 2 oz (approx 50ml) and add it to 6oz water to make a 250ml (8oz) single roll 1-shot & toss developer. At this extreme dilution the processing times ar 2.5 to 3 hours with occaisional inversions every 30 minutes or so, Stop Bath & Fix/wash as normal

You might find that some films don't like long "stand" times, you can simply adjust the dilution & cut the time, The cover page photo of the old Zorki camera was straight solution for 19 mins.

So--lets do the math:

a 500ml working batch does 8 rolls of film

Taking 1.25ml of phenidone/alcohol from a 50ml bottle gives 40 batches . 8 rolls x40 batches =320 rolls from a 50ml vial

From the earlier step we derived that dividing 50 grams by .4gr gave us 125 of the 50ml vials

125x320= 40,000 rolls total ---If you shoot a roll of film a DAY you'll run out in 109 years


Phenidone $12

Sodium Hydroxide $5.50 for a 1lb bottle

Sodium Bicarbonate $3 for a pound if even that

Ascorbic Acid $8 for 100 grams on amazon

~~~~~~~~ Total $28.50~~~~~~

The photos in this step were shot on Tasma Mikrat300 expired soviet microfilm 35 years old

Step 4: Safer Substitute for Sodium Hydroxide--Sodium Metasilicate

Some of my friends in photography chat lines and forums are very cautious about encouraging the use of strong caustics like Sodium Hydroxide. Everyone has heard anecdotal stories of disfigured people trying to clear drains and having the lye drain cleaner come back up on them in their faces & eyes,

Since the original penning of this Instructable I have experimented with likely substitutes for the Sodium Hydroxide and I have come upon such a replacement, Lewis/Red Devil makes what is known as "TSP/90 Cleaner & Degreaser". This was made to replace Trisodium Phosphate as a general cleaner (commonly used to prep before interior house painting). It's chemical composition is Sodium Metasilicate and it's a strong base/alkalai. It does NOT react like Sodium Hydroxide but you should still wear gloves & normal cleaning supply handling.

To use this instead of the Sodium hydroxide:

Make the alcohol /phenidone solution as before

No need for a 2nd amber glass bottle for the Sodium Hydroxide/water component

To make 250ml of working solution:

250ml tap water at room temp

.7gr Sodium Bicarbonate (arm & hammer baking soda)

1gr of Sodium Metasilicate ( TSP90 cleaner/degreaser from Lowes or Home Depot, Walmart)

.5gr Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C powder from the nutrition store)

.65ml of the Phenidone/Alcohol mix from above ( an insulin syringe with needle removed is ideal for measuring)

20 minutes at room temp 10 sec agitations every 5 minutes if using the stock solution . Or dilute 1+3 and stand process for 2.5 hours agitate 10 secs every 30 minutes.

Samples in this step were done using the TSP/90 ingredient and were shot on sprocketless microfilm (high contrast shots) and Arista EDU100 (normal tone shots)

Epilog Challenge 9

Participated in the
Epilog Challenge 9