I'm not the world's biggest color freak. I enjoy shooting black-and-white, and I enjoy processing it -- as much, I guess, as anyone can enjoy darkroom work. So when the big boom in home color-processing hit a few years back, I looked into it half-heartedly. I tried several different manufacturers' methods for producing color prints directly from slides. Cute, but not for me.
But then, about six months ago or so, I started shooting more color slide film and as a natural extension, I began to get genuinely interested in what happened to the film after exposure. I began experimenting.
The first place I looked was at slide-film developers. I found it's not only cheaper to develop and mount your own slide film, it's also faster. Even with special handling, the fastest turn-around I can get from a lab is usually one day. By doing it myself, I can have slides processed and mounted and ready to pop into the projector or send off for publication in less than two hours.
So the task: Test several different chrome developing kits for quality and convenience. I began with Unicolor's E-6, then tried Beseler's E-6, followed by Kodak's E-6/Slide Developers. All three were fiarly easy to use with type E-6 color slide film. Unicolor, though, took up to half an hour just to mix the schemicals, some of which are powders.
I soon settled on Kodak's chemistry. All chemicals are liquid (and there's a chemical reversal, too). All can be mixed with 40 degree to 110 degree water, the recommended processing temperature. By maintaining the water bath at 100 defree F, I could keep the temperatures of the seven chemicals constant.
By the time the last chemical was mixed and set into the water bath, the first developer (chemical No. 1) was just about at the 100 degree processing temperature. I numbered each of the seven graduates, lined them up in order of use inside the water bath tray, and followed complete processing instructions that came with the chemistry. Here, in a nutshell, they are.
After loading the film in the developing tank in total darkness, the lights can be turned on. First comes the first developer (makes sense) for 7 minutes, followed by a water wash for 2 minutes. The next step is the reversal bath (2 minutes), during which I checked the temperature of the next chemical to be sure it was within the 2 degree tolerance. I added some hot water to the tray to raise the temperature slightly.
The color developer was next in line, followed by a conditioner (2 minutes), bleach (7 minutes), and fixer (4 minutes). A 6-minute running-water wash prepared the film for the 1-minute treatment to stabilizer -- the last step.
That was it. Total elapsed processing time: 37 minutes. The film was then hung up to dry minutes. The film was then hung up to dry (times vary, depending on humidity and temperature). If that sounds easy, it's because it is. Capacity for the Kodak pint-size kit is 8 rolls of 36-exposure film or 12 of 20-exposures. Total cost: under $2 a roll.
If you've done black-and-white processing, you already have most of the equipment required. You may need a few more one-pint graduates and an accurate thermometer for maintaining that critical 100 degree temperature at least through the color developer step.