These days I will rarely work with Ilfosol 3, but it remains a developer that I always keep in the back of my mind. After learning how to develop my own black & white film from my good friend Julie using Kodak D-76, it would be a few more years before I started taking on the process full time. When I went into Burlington Camera to get all the equipment I needed to take on the daunting task some eight years ago, Joan pointed me towards Ilfosol 3 as a good starting point when you didn’t want to keep a large quantity of developer mixed up. Ilfosol 3 is a newer version of Ilfosol S, a developer known to have a ‘sudden death’ Ilfosol 3 doesn’t suffer the same fate as easily or as quickly. But for a developer to get your feet wet with one-shot liquid developers, Ilfosol 3 provides both and is an inexpensive way to develop your own black & white film when space is at a premium.
Name: Ilfosol 3
Primary Developer: Dimezone and Hydroquinone
Mix From: Liquid
While some liquid developers can be reused after being mixed up to a working solution, Ilfosol 3 like Rodinal is a one-shot developer no matter what dilution you mix. The developer is available in only a single size of 500mL, and that is enough to run through ten developing cycles (ten rolls of 120 or twenty of 35mm) at the 1+9 dilution, more if you go to 1+14. This is assuming you mix up 500mL per roll of film. The stuff pours like a dream, which makes handling it easy. Two dilutions can be used, most films will perform well with 1+9 and is an excellent place to start as it’s a nice easy ratio if you’re just getting used to mixing up one-shot developers. If you want to stretch the life of your concentrate, you can run with 1+14, but you will lose a bit of image quality. Now the storage life is where you might see some trouble with Ilfosol 3, in a full factory sealed bottle the stuff will last about two years (24 months) once you start using it the datasheets indicate that it will last four months. Unless you plan on using it quickly, I would recommend keeping it sealed, and working through it as soon as possible. One thing you will notice is that the stuff yellows after about a month of being open, the longer you let it sit, the less effective the developer becomes. A pale yellow won’t have any effect, but a deep yellow it’s best to dispose of it properly. If you do only need to develop a couple of rolls with Ilfosol 3, the Ilford simplicity packs of the developer are Ilfosol 3 which have enough for a single 500mL working solution at 1+9; I know that I have a couple of films to review next year that need Ilfosol 3 and I’ll be going that way. Once you have it mixed up to a working solution, use immediately.
I would describe Ilfosol 3 as a good baseline developer. It neither adds nor removes anything from the inherent nature of the film. It also does well with both traditional (FP4+) and cubic grained films (Delta). As for film speeds, I’ve used it with mostly slower films, Ilford Pan F+, Delta 100, FP4+, RPX 100, and Plus-X and even a faster film, Ilford HP5+. And it does an excellent job with all of them. It doesn’t have a preference, so you can just have some fun. But the biggest application is as a developer to learn with as it comes in a small amount of concentrated developer and a single bottle as I mentioned earlier can develop plenty of films using the 1+9 dilution (which I honestly believe is the better dilution). The small format makes it easy to store if you don’t have a large amount of space in which to work. Even my chemistry is religated to a container in a broom closet. Plus with the stuff being a part of the simplicity pack from Ilford, it can easily be a gateway into the broader world of film developers.
There isn’t much to say, Ilfosol 3 is an excellent developer if you’re just starting because it doesn’t add or subtract anything from the films you’re developing in the stuff. I prefer to develop films that are slow to mid-speed (25-200) for the best results out of the film. It brings out excellent sharpness from the films, especially in Delta 100 and Pan F+. When it comes to contrast it doesn’t add anything, so if you’re shooting a film that already has high-contrast don’t expect anything to change, or for low contrast film it won’t add to the contrast either making it an excellent baseline developer. As for the grain, it does a decent job in improving grain, so an already fine-grain film won’t be any finer. If you’re shooting a fast film, such as Ilford HP5+ even with a one-stop pull, it didn’t a little to suppress the grain but nothing overly impressive. But the one thing you can do with the slower films is that you get full box speed, no loss here. I find the best results come when using the standard 1+9 dilution, I wasn’t overly pleased with the 1+14 results I got from FP4+, but they were decent with Pan F+. But unless you have a sharp eye, it’ll be difficult to spot the differences.
When it comes to having an easy way to get your feet wet with film developing and a sustainable cost of chemistry, Ilfosol 3 is a good developer. On average, you’re looking at 15$ (CAD) for a full 500mL bottle. While not as inexpensive as D-76, not everyone can keep a gallon of chemistry around all the time. While it is no longer the developer, I automatically reach for all the time. I still keep it at the back of my mind as something easily used, achieved for, and will provide excellent performance in a pinch. Just watch out for that yellowing, it might be a scare at first, but don’t let it go much longer or you’ll be disappointed at that blank roll you just pulled from the tank.
Don’t just take my word on Ilfosol 3 check out these other blogs on the subject!
Ilford Photo – Ilfosol 3 Product Page