When I first started with film development, my world consisted of Kodak products, D-76 and HC-110. The only other developer I used outside of Kodak was Rodinal and Ilfosol 3 (at least at first). Then in 2015, I started reviewing cameras and decided at the same time to explore Ilford more both in film stocks and developers. I stumbled upon two developers that soon became favourites, one of them is Perceptol (which I will review next month) the second is Microphen. While not a developer I use often, it offers fine grain, neutral contrast, and works for both push and pull processing.
Primary Developer: Hydroquinone
Type: Reusable, One-Shot
Mix From: Powder
If you can easily mix powdered developers, then mixing up the developer from the powder is easy. Each box will have enough powder to create a litre of stock solution. Unlike Kodak chemistry, Ilford has a Part A and Part B pouches. In powder form, the stuff lasts forever as long as the pouches are not compromised. In stock form, it will last a few months as long as it remains near airtight, the stock solution will last at least ten rolls of film of 35mm or equivalent surface area. And personally, that is the way I tend to use the developer, but you can also dilute it 1+1 and 1+2. The one downside is that Ilford only releases Microphen in one-litre kits, but when you’re dealing with limited storage space, it’s far easier to handle a one-litre bottle than a five-litre jerry can of Xtol.
While I wouldn’t call Microphen a general use developer, for me, it has replaced Xtol as the developer of choice for push-processing and taming grain. I’ve taken Microphen to films like Berlin 400 (ORWO N74) and Streetcandy ATM and noticed a marked reduction in the grain. And to be honest, in my review of the film, Streetcandy looked the best in Microphen. But that’s not all that Microphen does well when it comes to push-processing your film it will help reduce grain and even out your contrast. I’ve used it on several occasions in this capacity when pushing both Tri-X and HP5+. And finally, there’s the use on slower films, now not my first choice (I prefer Perceptol for slow films), Microphen does an excellent job on slower films like Pan F+ as it not only maintains the fine-grain nature but also does a decent job taming the contrast. One of my favourite applications is using the developer with the high-speed films such as Delta 3200 and Kodak TMax P3200 where it does a fantastic job making these films usable when shot at close to actual box speed. Plus the developer works well with both classic cubic-grained and modern T(Delta)-grained films, a plus for sure!
According to Ilford, Microphen allows for push-processing without any significant increase in grain, something that has certainly attracted me to the developer. And where some developers do this by reducing film speed, Microphen does this and gives a marked increase in film speed. While designed for faster film (ASA-400 and up), it does well with slower films. When it comes to sharpness, Microphen does a good job and does this without any noted increase in grain. As for grain, it does little to change the inherent grain of any film that is developed in the film. And it’s that fact that draws me into working more with Microphen. When it comes to contrast, Microphen is reasonably neutral with low and medium contrast films, but it does an excellent job in taming the contrast in high-contrast films and when push-processing.
I wish that Microphen was available in larger volume packages, thinking about a 3.8-litre kit (1 Gallon) and honestly I could see this as a general-purpose developer like Kodak D-76 or Kodak Xtol. I would get on board with that idea. But these days Microphen is one developer I like to keep on hand at least one box in powder form especially in the winter months and the dull grey of early spring and late fall when I’m more likely to shoot faster film and often pushing it at the same time. Surprisingly, Microphen is affordable at 12$ for a box of powder and is readily available at most speciality camera stores; Downtown Camera is the store I can always count on have it in stock. If you love pushing film but hate grain, then Microphen will be a developer that certainly will be a good fit for your chemical kit.
Don’t just take my word on Microphen check out these other blogs on the subject!
Ilfordphoto.com – Microphen Product Page