There are many film developers for all sorts of film and developer combinations, for results like fine grain, high contrast, low contrast, and course grain to fit the needs of the photographer. Kodak and Ilford, after may years of experiment, finally settled on the best all purpose developers: D-76 and ID-11. Essentially they are the same formulas with some exceptions.
Both developers are referred to as MQ Developers, meaning Metol and Hydoguinone. Chemically Metol is monomethly-para-aminophenol-hemisulfate. This developing agent is also known as Pictol, Metol, Elon, Genol, and Rhodol, which are all manufacturer names meaning about the same chemical composition, but Metol and Elon are the only ones still on the market.
It is the MQ ratio in the developer that creates the right balance of sharpness and contrast to product the best over all negative with good highlight and shadow detail. Both ID-11 and D-76 will produce images with fine grain, excellent sharpness and good contrast. I have used D-76 as my developer of choice for over 50 years, and can routinely enlarge 35mm negatives larger than 16x20 with no loss in sharpness or grain increase.
Regardless of what developer is used, my feelings are that the only way to obtain the best results is to use only one developer and never switch from one developer to another. This way you will get to know and understand what the developer will do for you under any lighting situations.
D-76 and ID-11 chemical formula:
Metol 2 grams
Sodium Sulfite (anhydrous) 100 grams
Hydroguinone 5 grams
Borax (sodium tetraborate) 2 grams
Water to make 1 Liter
As you can see the formulas are very simple and easy to mix. The developer can be used full strength, diluted 1:1, 1:2 and 1:3. Full strength is supposed to yield negatives with slightly more edge sharpness, but there does not seem to be much difference between full strength and 1:1.
Since there are many charts for developing times, I will not suggest any times or dilutions as this needs to be determined though experiment by the photographer.
If you chose to use ID-11 or D-76 full strength, there is something you can do to cut down on the cost: replenishment. Using D-76R or ID-11R it is possible to use and reuse the developer over for as much as one year, but over a year is not recommended. The replenisher adds in MQ and Borax that is used up during development, and is very easy to do.
ID-11R and D-76R chemical formula:
Metol 3 grams
Sodium Sulfite (anhydrous) 100 grams
Hydroquinone 7.5 grams
Borax (sodium tetraborate) 20 grams
Water to make 1 liter
If you plan to replenish, I suggest mixing enough chemistry to make one gallon, or 3.8 liters, of developer and replenisher.
Replenishing is very easy. For every 80 square inches of film developed, one ounce / 30 ml of replenisher is added to the developer. One 36 exposure roll of film, one roll of 120, four 4x5 negatives, two sheets of 5x7, and one sheet of 8x10 film are 80 square inches of film.
Carefully mark the full bottle of developer with a line indicating one gallon or 3.8 liters. After developing the film, pour out a quantity of developer into a container. For example, if four rolls of 35mm, 36 exposures are developed, add in four ounces of replenisher, then add back in the old developer to bring the volume back up to the one gallon / liter mark on the bottle. Then dump out the excess.
This way, you can use and reuse the same developer time after time and it will remain full strength. Replenishment takes very careful use of the chemistry. One mistake and it will be necessary to dump out the developer and start over.
It is not recommended to replenish past one liter of replenisher, but I have gone way past one liter with no bad results. I used replenishment, and I was able to use D-76 at full strength for a year without any problems. The longer the developer is replenished, the finer the grain.
D-76 or ID-11 used full strength is a very good choice for 4x5 sheet film as it produces negatives with good contrast and density,
Mixing your own developers from the individual chemicals is very easy and cost effective. Metol is the most expensive chemical costing $45 for one pound, but will mix hundreds of gallons of developer. The same chemicals used for film are the same chemicals for paper developers. Having the individual chemicals enables the photographer to mix a wide variety of film and paper developers at a very low cost.
By adding Potassium Bromide and Sodium Carbonate to your chemical list you will be able to mix many different paper developers, like Kodak D-72. It is very similar to Dektol and has have a very long tray life. I use it all the time and the tone values equal to Dektol.
Here in America, the two best places to buy bulk photographic chemicals are Photographers Formulary and Art Craft Chemicals. Art Craft is dollars less and this helps on shipping.
Many photographic chemicals are used in other industries, and are often very inexpensive. For example, Swimming Pool Suppliers sell a pH balancer to raise the pH that is 100% Sodium Carbonate for less then $3.00 for two pounds. The Swimming pool suppliers also sell Sodium Thiosulfate (Hypo).
Borax or Sodium Metaborate (Kodalk) is sold in grocery stores as Borax. Photographic chemicals bought locally will save a lot of money on shipping as 25 pounds of dry chemicals is expensive.
One thing to note is that these over the counter chemicals are not anhydrous, meaning water molecules are attached to the chemical. I have never worried about this and just mix the developers according to the formula. As long as you mix the same way and set up your times, I have never noticed any difference. Anhydrous chemicals cost a lot more money.
Now back to D-76 and ID-11, I have looked in many of my books dating back to 1954 and there is no difference in the two developers; there are variations of ID-11 on the amount of Metol, but I have not been able to find where 3 grams is used rather than 2 grams as in D-76.
When it comes to D-76, Kodak has substituted Bis (4-Hydroxy N) methylailanium sulfate for Metol to make D-76 a proprietary developer, and is not identical to the above formula for D-76. Metol is Monometh-p-aminophenol hemisulfate. Chemically they are both very close and probably work the same way as a developer.
I am not sure it would be possible to Replenish the packaged D-76 using Metol in place of the chemical now used by Kodak. To Replenish D-76 I recommend mixing your own chemistry from the individual chemicals as in the formulas above.
In mixing powdered chemicals, many use the teaspoon measure method and find it very workable, but using a chemical balance is more accurate. I have noticed the US Post Office sells an electronic postage scale for around $20. There are many chemical balances sold on eBay. The darkroom Cookbook by Stephen G Anchell has a very complete listing of teaspoon measurement.
Avid film photographer James Jasek lives in Waco, Texas. See more of his work on his profile page here on our website.