Over the previous year, I worked hard to expand my knowledge of black & white film developers and find myself down a deep rabbit hole. Some good, some meh. Some I didn’t care for or I found them to be too specialised for average use. And while I have several up for review later this year and you can check those out later, here are seven that have stood out in my head as worthy of using again and of getting you out of the rut of using the more vanilla developers like D-76/ID-11, HC-110/Ilfotec HC, and Rodinal.

1 – Adox FX-39 II
Based on an improved version of Willi Beutler’s Neofin Red, Adox FX-39 II became a fast favourite after discovering the stuff. First mentioned by a reader of my review of Kodak Xtol. I quickly found that my local chemistry shop (Argentix.ca) carried the property and being at the height of last year’s lockdown. I wanted something new to play with, so I bought a bottle. I ended up going through the stuff way too quickly but was worth the effort. It’s the perfect blend between a general-purpose and speciality purpose developer that loves every film it develops. Plus it has standard times, and dilutions will work on films shot at box speed and are unlisted on the development chart.

FRB No. 62 - Ilford SFX 200 - Roll 03 (Adox FX-39 II)
Minolta Maxxum 9 – Minolta Maxxum AF 28mm 1:2.8 (Yellow-12) – Ilford SFX 200 @ ASA-200 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 7:30 @ 20C
FP4Party - June 2020 - Over Here
Mamiya m645 – Mamiya-Sekor C 150mm 1:3.5 N – Ilford FP4+ @ ASA-125 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 6:00 @ 20C
Fergusson
Mamiya m645 – Mamiya-Sekor C 1:2.8 f=80mm – Fomapan 400 @ ASA-200 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 10:45 @ 20C
Mountain Access
Mamiya m645 – Mamiya-Sekor C 45mm 1:2.8 N – Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox FX-39 II (1+9) 6:30 @ 20C

2 – Adox Atomal 49
Another excellent developer from Adox and a classic Agfa developer that saw continued production through ORWO. Atomal 49 is based on the post-war formula (1949) and is again a new-to-me developer. It uses two familiar developers, hydroquinone and phinodione, which you find in D-76 and Rodinal respectively. Atomal produces dynamic tones, fine-grain, and retains sharpness. And it’s fairly economical being able to develop ten rolls of film per litre. You can easily purchase it in 1L or 5L kits depending on how much film. While the shelf life is only six weeks, but for volume processing, you can’t beat Atomal.

Small Library
Minolta Maxxum 9 – Minolta Maxxum AF 28-135mm 1:4-4.5 (Yellow-12) – Efke KB100 @ ASA-100 – Adox Atomal 49 (Stock) 8:00 @ 20C
The Old One
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Fuji Neopan Acros 100 @ ASA-100 – Adox Atomol 49 (Stock) 7:15 @ 20C
Stone
Minolta XE-7 – Minolta W.Rokkor-X 28mm 1:2.8 – Ilford FP4+ @ ASA-125 – Adox Atomol 49 (Stock) 8:00 @ 20C
Credit Valley Railroad
Minolta Maxxum 9 – Minolta Maxxum AF 28-135mm 1:4-4.5 (Yellow-12) – Kodak Tri-X 400 @ ASA-400 – Adox Atomol 49 (Stock) 8:00 @ 22C

3 – Pyrocat-HD
Pyrocat-HD is not for the faint of heart; it is based on one of the oldest developers out there for photography. Pyrocat-HD is a modern formulation by Sandy King, and offers less toxicity (but it’s still super-toxic), with shorter development times and better film speeds. While mainly aimed at large-format photographers who need a highly compensating developer. I often use Pyrocat-HD as my magic bullet. It offers excellent highlight and shadow details, lovely contrast and tone while maintaining mostly fine-grain and improved sharpness. Plus the chemical has a decent shelf life, more if you go with the glycol version. Note that the developing times are fairly long, I’ve only seen one under nine minutes. It also comes in two parts and is generally mixed 1+1+100 so a 500mL bottle will last you!

HomeTown - 17 - Trophies
Crown Graphic – Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar-S 1:5.6/210 – Ilford FP4+ @ ASA-64 -Pyrocat-HD (1+1+100) 8:00 @ 20C
Project:1867 - Canadian Pacific Railroad
Mamiya m645 – Mamiya-Sekor C – Ilford HP5+ @ ASA-200 – Pyrocat-HD (1+1+100) 9:00 @ 20C
52:500c - Week 44 - Disillusionment
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Distagon 50mm 1:4 – Rollei RPX 400 @ ASA-320 – Pyrocat-HD (1+1+100) 18:00 @ 20C
Tucker
Zeiss Ikon Contax IIIa – Zeiss-Opton 1:1,5 f=50mm – Kodak TMax 400 @ ASA-200 – Pyrocat-HD (1+1+100) 15:00 @ 20C

4 – Clayton F76+
Known to many traditional film labs as the magic juice, Clayton F76+ also known as FA-1027 and Aristia Premium Liquid. Is an amazing developer that will work well on almost all films that you throw it at. Designed as a fine-art developer to provide the best results out of your Ilford HP5+ the developer offers up dynamic tonality good edge sharpness and decent grain reproduction. Great for those who practice the zone system as the developer is also compensating. And as an added benefit, it will help reduce fog in expired films.

Camera Review Blog No. 49 - Minolta Maxxum 700si
Minolta Maxxum 700si – Maxxum Zoom AF 35-70mm 1:4 – Eastman Double-X (5222) @ ASA-200 – FA-1027 (1+19) 10:00 @ 20C
52:500c - Week 43 - Make No Little Plans
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Distagon 50mm 1:4 – Rollei RPX 100 @ ASA-100 – FA-1027 (1+14) 9:30 @ 20C
Fur Trade Museum
Intrepid 4×5 Camera – Fuji Fujinon-W 1:5.6/125 (Orange) – Kodak TMax 100 @ ASA-100 – FA-1027 (1+14) 9:30 @ 20C
The County Court
Graflex Crown Graphic – Fuji Fujinon-W 1:5.6/125 – Ilford HP5+ @ ASA-400 – FA-1027 (1+14) 9:00 @ 20C

5 – Rollei Supergrain
Rollei Supergrain surprised me, before Supergrain I had only tried RPX-D designed specifically for RPX 100 and RPX 400 films, and I found it a little bit of a one-trick pony. But the results I got out of Supergrain made be look again at the Rollei brand of developers. It’s a modern update on the AM74 developer that offers up fine grain and a universal set of times and dilutions for unlisted film, and it does work. It will certainly be one that I will try again mainly because it did a great job with any film I souped in the chemistry.

Rattlesnake Point - August 2020
Rolleiflex 2.8F – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Fuji Neopan Acros 100 @ ASA-100 – Rollei Supergrain (1+15) 7:30 @ 20C
Optical Review Blog No. 12 - Nikon AI Nikkor 135mm 1:2.8
Nikon FE – AI Nikkor 135mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Delta 400 @ ASA-400 – Rollei Supergrain (1+9) 6:00 @ 20C
The Town Bell
Graflex Crown Graphic – Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar-S 1:5.6/210 – Agfa APX 100 @ ASA-100 – Rollei Supergrain (1+15) 7:00 @ 20C
Burst
Minolta Maxxum 9 – Minolta Maxxum AF 100mm 1:2.8 MACRO – Rollei RPX 400 @ ASA-400 – Rollei Supergrain (1+12) 7:00 @ 20C

6 – Acufine
If your photography requires a large amount of film torture and constant under-exposure but hate how the film looks when push processed? Well, let me tell you about Acufine, the lesser-known cousin to Diafine, and slightly cheaper in the long run. It is clearly the most compensating developer out there because you can develop your underexposed film and not get the increased contrast, grain, softness, and all the downsides to push-processing. But it doesn’t work well on every film, your films that are already fast (Delta 3200, TMax P3200) or slow film like Rollei Retro 80s. You will want to use your medium (100, 200, 400) speed films to use as your base.

Foma:52 - Week 03 - Daily Grind
Nikon FM – AI-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 – Fomapan 400 @ ASA-400 – Acufine (Stock) 6:00 @ 20C
Fresh Snow - January 2021
Rolleiflex 2.8F – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Rollei RPX 400 @ ASA-800 – Acufine (Stock) 6:30 @ 20C
Rainy Sunday Morning
Minolta XE-7 – Minolta MD W.Rokkor-X 28mm 1:2.8 – Ilford HP5+ @ ASA-800 – Acufine (Stock) 6:30 @ 20C
Three Eyes
Minolta Maxxum 9 – Minolta Maxxum AF 28-135mm 1:4-4.5 – Kodak Tri-X 400 @ ASA-1000 – Acufine (Stock) 5:00 @ 21C

7 – Ilford Perceptol
After a large number of exotic film developers, I bet you didn’t expect to see Ilford Perceptol on the list! But while most people will go to Ilford Microphen, which is designed for push processing, Perceptol is designed for pull processing. And you know, it does an excellent job at what it does. You lose a bit of film speed and need to over-expose your film when shooting, but the results are spectacular, and I would take Perceptol over Rollei Low-Speed. Sadly it is not an economic developer; you only get four rolls per litre of stock solution, which is pricey. But then again most people did not get into film photography to save money.

Optical Review Blog No. 07 - Nikon AI-S Nikkor 35mm 1:2.8
Nikon FE – AI-S Nikkor 35mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Delta 100 @ ASA-100 – Ilford Perceptol (1+1) 17:00 @ 20C
FRB No. 59 - Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 II - Roll 04 (Perceptol)
Minolta Maxxum 9 – Minolta Maxxum AF 50mm 1:1.7 – Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 II @ ASA-80 – Ilford Perceptol (Stock) 12:30 @ 20C
52:500c - Week 50 - Burlington Races
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Rollei RPX 25 @ ASA-25 – Ilford Perceptol (1+1) 10:00 @ 20C
TFSM - Fall '16
Nikon F5 – AF DC-Nikkor 105mm 1:2D – JCH Streetpan 400 @ ASA-400 – Ilford Perceptol (1+1) 10:00 @ 20C

I apologize for this article’s click-bait style; it is a bit of an experiment to write a click-bait list article. I also stand by the developers I’ve listed above. That’s not to say you should go and pick these things up to replace your standard run-of-the-mill developers with these specialised ones. If anything, the two developers that I feel would make the most sense to replace your everyday developers are the two Adox offerings. Since they also make Rodinal, you can run an entire black & white film developing Adox chemistry operation. I love HC-110, D-76, and Rodinal but sometimes you want to get away from the meat and potatoes and try something a little bit different with a different flavour pallet. Like anything with photography, try stuff that you think can deliver what you’re looking for in the final product. And if you like it, stick with it, if you don’t leave it alone.

6 Comments

  1. Great article. I’m especially taken by the photos you developed in Adox FX-39 II. They look fantastic.

  2. Thank you for the valuable and in depth article! I bookmarked this to come back to once I have a separate developing space without children or animals given the toxicity of some of these options!

  3. Great “write up” I enjoy reading about the gear you use as much as the rest! 😉

  4. I will definitely try to get my hands on some of the Adox for my Efke KB 100.

  5. Very nice presentation of developers.
    Must specify that Acufine has grain almost like Rodinal.
    Don’t think Perceptol aka Kodak Microdol-X is better than Rollei RLS aka CG512 wich is a masterpiece of these type of developers.
    Also slow film works great in FX39 II, way better than old Rodinal or Acufine as fast film work well in Atomal 49 (ORWO 49)- Rollei RLS – Perceptol.
    A really nice and versatile developer should be Diafine.

    1. Author

      I have yet to try Diafine, but it is on my list for a future review!

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