While today it’s been several years since its introduction, Xtol marks the last developer to come out of Kodak. And as developers go, it is the least toxic of all the ones available on the general market. The reason is that it uses Ascorbic Acid as one of the active ingredients. It not only allows for sharpness but also reducing visible grain in the process. But Xtol is also a developer with a flawed history; you need to mix up a lot to maintain its stability. And while I no longer keep Xtol in my toolkit, it remains a beautiful developer that is perfect if you’re doing a large volume of developing or a lot of push-processing and don’t want to spend money on a developer like Diafine.
Primary Developer: Ascorbic Acid & Phenidone
Type: Reusuable & One Shot
Mix From: Powder
When Kodak first released Xtol, they produced it in one-litre volumes but soon discovered that there were stability issues once mixed up. Today the standard size is five-litre volumes which makes up a lot of stock developer. Mixing from powder is simple, ensure that when you get your powder that you have both an A and B package. If you follow the instructions, especially the temperature of your water, mixing will take a short time. Get the first volume of water, mix in Package A, which will turn the water orange, almost looks like the McDonald’s Orange Drink. Once all the powered is dissolved, add-in package B, and the mixture will turn clear again. When it comes to storage, there are a couple of schools of thought. I went with storing all five-litres in one bottle, a Jerry Can from Canadian Tire did the trick. I think that can is still at my parent’s house as I don’t have room where I currently live. Others will get five one-litre bottles and then use them up that way. If I were to take up Xtol again, I would use the second method. While in the powdered form, you can keep Xtol almost indefinitely. Once mixed to stock, as long as the bottle is airtight, it will last about one year. Of course, as soon as you start using the stuff, it will eventually oxidise. And while you technically can reuse the stock developer, most other photographers I know will ditch it after a single use and work through their stock formula quickly. In general use, Xtol is best used in either Stock or 1+1 dilution, and while some times will dilute it further to 1+2 or even 1+3 but once you go beyond 1+1 there is a greater chance is instability.
Xtol makes for an excellent general-purpose developer. If you have a great deal of film to process over a year or so, then it is a far better option than D-76 and also far less toxic. It also works better when you’re working with faster films or doing a lot of push processing. Xtol will work well with compensating nature and the ability to reduce inherent grain. It also works well with slower films but making their grain even further while enhancing the sharpness. But it’s not just push-processing, it also works well for pull-processing. It was in Xtol that I first discovered my Panatomic-X trick with Kodak TMax 100. It’s a developer that is good for both classic and modern films. In all my adventures, there is only one film that did not respond well, and that’s Fomapan 200.
If there is one thing that stands out about Xtol is that it is consistent, no matter if you’re using the developer stock or diluted, it produces that same results. There’s no general effect on sharpness or contrast. The developer will tame the grain in most films, even in fast film pushed to their limits. I’ve used the developer on Tri-X pushed to ASA-1250 and even ASA-1600. Xtol will show the film as it truly would be, it is, a neutral developer. If anything, it does reduce native grain.
While I’m one who likes to have a lot of chemicals in my toolkit, if you want a jack of all trade, yet master of none and generally shoot for box speed in mid-speed films, then Xtol is a developer that you’ll want. It is readily available from almost all photography stores both physical and online, and at the cost of about 10-20$, it will reduce the cost of home developing by a lot. Either way, while I would like to keep working with Xtol, I have found other developers that do the job, but if you need just one, Xtol is your chemical of choice.
Don’t just take my word on Xtol check out these other blogs on the subject!
Film Photography Project – My Favourite BW Developer