Leica Two-Bath Developer | James Jasek

In 1938, the “Leica News and Technique” published the article “More Factors Adversely Affecting Sharpness”,  the July-August, number 34, issue written by Heinrich Stöcker, a technician working in the Leica Wetzlar Factory. He developed a new developer for the 35mm miniature film that he called the Leica Two-Bath Developer. By the way,  Leica is the only camera to have its own developer.

The idea of the two bath developer is an interesting concept.  When the film is placed in solution A, containing the developer, the film absorbs the developer proportional to the exposure,  the highlight exposure absorbs more developer than the shadows. Since the film is only in Solution A, with the Metol, for a short time, no developing starts until it is placed in Solution B.   When the film is placed in solution B, the developing is starts instantly as film is wet from being in Solution A.  The highlights develop first and stop when the developer is exhausted, preventing blocked up highlights,  then the developer continues to work bringing out detail in the shadows.

The Leica Two-Bath  developer produces negatives with no overexposed highlights, good shadow detail, very low grain, and no loss of film speed.

Solution A

Water  125 degrees F                750 ml
Metol                                         3 grams
Sodium Sulfite, anhydrous       30 grams
Water to make                          1 liter

Solution B

Water                                                 750 ml
Sodium Carbonate, anhydrous         14.0 grams
Sodium Sulfite, anhydrous                3.24 grams
Waco to make                                   1 liter

The film is soaked in Solution A for 6 minutes, with full addition, then without rinsing, the film is placed directly into Solution B  for 3 minutes, again with full agitation,  at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. A water rinse for a few seconds after developing can be used to extend the life of the fixer. Then the film is transferred directly into Rapid Fixer, with constant agitation; do not use a stop bath for the required time to fix and harden the film.  Wash the film normally.

Using the Two-Bath developer requires a change in the developing technique. There is not enough time to pour in and pour out to empty a film tank, so the film needs to be developed in the dark with open tanks.  The film, on the developing reel, is physically placed in Solution A, with constant agitation (such as in a circulating motion in  both direction and slightly up and down) to prevent uneven development. Then at the end of 6 minutes the film reel is drained for a few seconds and placed in Solution B, again with full agitation for 3 minutes, then placed directly into the Rapid Fixer. Do not use a stop bath, but it is okay to use a water bath for a few seconds to rinse the developer off the film before inserting into the Fixer. This extends the life of the Fixer. Rapid Fix is recommended as the emulsion is hardened. It is critical that Solution A, Solution B, water rinse (if used), and the fixer all need to be at 65 degrees. The stainless steel developing tanks in a water bath make it easy to control the temperature of the three solutions.

Lift Rods

Some might not be aware of the lift rods that come with stainless steel tanks that hold four 35mm reels or two 120 reels. The lift rods make it easy to remove the film from the tank after processing. If you do not have a lift rod, it is simple to make from from a metal coat hanger. Make sure the loop a the top of the rod is small enough to fit though the center for the film reel. Also ones made from a coat hanger will rust. Keep if washed dry and it will last a long time.

The Leica New Two-Bath Developer (Stöcker)

Then in the 1938,  March-April, number 38, issue of the Leica News and Technique   Heinrich Stöcker, modified the Leica Two-Bath Developer formula to match the improved films.

The New Stöcker Two-Bath Developer

Solution A

Water, 125 degrees F               750 ml
Metol                                        5 grams
Sodium Sulfite Anhydrous      100 grams

Solution B

Borax            1% solution  (1% solution is 3.815 grams of Borax  in 1 liter of water)

The added amount of sodium sulfite in Solution A produces  increased dissolving on the silver bromide in the negative for finer grain. The Borax, a milder alkali, in place of the sulfite and carbonate, contributes to the finer grain but with some film speed loss. The time in Solution A has been reduced to 3 to 4 minutes, and 3 minutes in Solution B. Developing times are included to indicate the Leica developer is a fast acting developer. A personal time in Solution A needs to be determined by experiment by the photographer. The time in Solution B is 3 minutes.

Solutions  A and B can be reused four times, four 36 exposures rolls, before the solutions need to be replaced.

Around 1950, William, Willie, Beautler, published a fine grain developer, a variation on the Leica Two-Bath Developer, producing full tonal range negatives, with exceptional resolution and high emulsion speed. He also developed Neofin Blue, a surface developer that hardens the emulsion, but the formula was proprietary and never published.

The Beautler Formula  is a very simple  and easy to mix and has a very  long lone shelf life.

Solution A

Water                                   1000 ml
Metol                                    10 grams
Sodium Sulfite                     50 grams

Solution B

Water                                     1000 ml
Sodium Carbonate                50 grams

The Beautler Developer can be used a  two part like the Leica Two-Bath or mixed A and B with water and used as a single shot develop. Mix 1 part A,  to 1 part B, to 10 parts water. Develop at 65 degree F.

The developer works best for film speeds from ISO 50 to ISO 200. Develop 4 to 5  minutes. For the faster films like Tri-X, ISO 400, develop 6 minutes as a one shot developer.

I have pushed Tri-X, ISO 400 to ISO 2000 using Beutler’s as a two-part developer: 8 minutes in Solution A and 8 minutes in Solution B. The negatives have a fair density, medium grain, with some loss of shadow detail.

Using the Leica Two-Bath and the Beautler developers, careful attention to exacting developing technique is mandatory to obtain highest quality negatives. Time and temperature are critical. Check your timer against another know accurate timer, and compare the thermometer with another one for accuracy. Agitation is also important. Work out a method that is repeatable. If you choose the Two-Bath method, it must be done in the dark as the short developing times are not good with pour in and pour out. Once the developing time has been completed, development must be stopped immediately. This is done by going directly into the Rapid Fixer.

Bridge Print

In 1969,  Waco, Texas was about the raze the down town area to comply with money the city received for Urban Renewal, and this street, Bridge Street, was to be leveled along with the rest of the 100 year old Historic downtown. I stood in the middle of the street using my Nikon F shot a hand held two shot panoramic. Processed in the Leica Developer and enlarged to two 16x20 prints and matted as two prints butted together. James Jasek, 1969, Nikon F, 50mm f1.4 lens, Tri-X, ISO 400,  processed in New Bath Leica developer to provide fine grain and sharpness.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge, Waco, Texas, 65mm Super Angulon lens, K2 filter, on 120 Tri-X roll film. Processed in Beautler Developer.

Temperature Control

Using an 8x10 developing try filled with water to control the temperate of the developer, water bath, and Rapid Fixer. The stainless steel tanks make it easy to control the temperature to 65 degrees F.

Arrange the tanks to you own liking, but do so in way you know the oder of the chemicals in in the dark as to not make any mistakes. The arrangement here make is easy to go form Solution A to Solution B then to water and finally to fix.


Film photographer James Jasek is based in Texas.  See more of his work here on our website.