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Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

All articles from Digital Photography Review
Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)
  1. Canon's EOS M6 Mark II finally gets a 24p video mode via new firmware update

    As it had assured consumers back in October 2019, Canon has released a firmware update for its EOS M6 Mark II camera that adds a 24p (23.98fps) mode that was inexplicably missing from the camera until now.

    Canon has already released firmware for the other camera systems it promised 24p modes for, including the EOS 90D and EOS RP, so the new 1.1.0 update for the EOS M6 Mark II wraps up its response to customer feedback regarding the lack of a 24p mode when shooting video.

    In addition to adding the 24p mode, the update also fixes an issue wherein the focus position of the lens returns to the home position if the camera powers off while in ‘Auto Power Off’ is turned on during ‘Interval Timing’ shooting as well as an issue that, ‘in rare cases’ would cause the camera to not focus at the edges of the image area.

    The 1.1.0 firmware update is currently available to download (40MB) for both macOS and Windows computers on Canon’s EOS M6 Mark II product page.


    Firmware Version 1.1.0 incorporates the following enhancement and fixes:

    1. The option to capture movies in the frame rate of 23.98p has been added.
    2. Fixes the phenomenon where the focus position of the lens returns to the home position if the camera powers off due to the “Auto Power Off” setting during Interval Timing shooting.
    3. Fixes the phenomenon in which, in rare cases, the camera may not autofocus at the edges of the image area.

    Firmware Version 1.1.0 is for cameras with firmware up to Version 1.0.1. If the camera’s firmware is already Version 1.1.0, it is not necessary to update the firmware.

    When updating the firmware of the camera, please review the instructions thoroughly before you download the firmware.

    Notes: You can download the latest version of the instruction manual from our Web site.

    Q&A: Preparations for a firmware update: After the downloaded compressed file (.dmg file) is extracted, a firmware folder is created.

    *Extracting the downloaded file: The downloaded folder is automatically extracted, and a firmware folder is created. If the download folder cannot be automatically extracted, double-click the folder.

    The extracted folder contains the firmware (File name: M6200110.FIR, File size: 37,013,792 bytes) and instructions on the firmware update procedures (a PDF file in five languages: Japanese, English, French, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese).

    Before starting the firmware update operations, please confirm the contents of the download, and carefully read through the firmware update procedures.

    (The following is the history of past firmware updates) Changes in Version 1.0.1:

    1. Corrects a PTP communications vulnerability.
    2. Corrects a vulnerability related to firmware update.
  2. DPReview TV: How to look good and sound great on videos (and video conferences) from home

    Lots of people are suddenly working from home. For many, that means creating online videos for others to watch or logging time on video calls. We review some simple techniques to make your videos look and sound great, so you'll look more professional.

    Subscribe to our YouTube channel to get new episodes of DPReview TV every week.

    For more tips, watch Chris and Jordan's earlier video about coverage on The Camera Store TV.

  3. Fujifilm X-A7 review


    The Fujifilm X-A7 is an entry-level APS-C camera with a 24-megapixel sensor, a fully-articulating 2.76M dot 3.5” touchscreen, a hybrid autofocus system with nearly 100 percent coverage, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity inside a lightweight and compact body that comes in a variety of colors. It replaces the X-A5 and although the camera bodies may look very similar, the X-A7 features some substantial upgrades on the inside and out.

    Key specifications:

    • 24 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
    • Fully-articulating 2.76M dot 3.5” touchscreen
    • 4K/30p video capture, uncropped with 10 minute time limit
    • Mic input, but no headphone jack
    • Hybrid autofocus system with 425 autofocus points, 8.5 times the phase detection points as the X-A5
    • Can shoot bursts at 6 fps with continuous autofocus
    • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for image transfer
    • Rated at 270 shots per charge
    • Can be charged via USB

    What is it?

    If we look at the X-A7 compared against its immediate peers, you can see its specification is competitive with similarly priced cameras. The Sony offers a viewfinder and simpler/more powerful autofocus for around $150 more. If it's the viewfinder you need, Fujifilm's own X-T200 adds one to an otherwise similar spec at a $100 premium over the X-A7.

    Fujifilm X-A7 Canon EOS M200 Olympus PEN E-PL10 Sony a6100
    List price $699 with 15-45mm $599 with 15-45mm $699 with 14-42mm $850 with 16-50mm
    Pixel count 24MP 24MP 16MP 24MP
    Sensor size APS-C
    (369 sq mm)
    (332 sq mm)
    Four Thirds
    (225 sq mm)
    (367 sq mm)
    Autofocus system Phase detection Dual Pixel Contrast detection Phase detection
    Image stabilization In-lens only In-lens only In-body stabilization In-lens only
    Video Full-width 4K up to 30p Full-width 4K up to 24p Full-width 4K up to 30p

    Up to 30p
    Full-width at 24p

    Yes/No No/No No/No Yes/No
    Viewfinder No No No Yes
    Rear screen 2.76M dots
    1.04M dots
    1.04M dots
    0.92M dots
    Battery life 270 315 350 420
    Weight 320g 299g 380g 396g

    This entry-level APS-C camera is a low-priced option with a 24 Megapixel sensor and a pretty impressive hybrid autofocus system. It has a large fully-articulating touchscreen interface for beginners that is bright and 1/2 inch larger than the screens found on other cameras in this class. It's much closer to the look and feel you'd get from a modern smartphone.

    Without an EVF, the X-A7's touchscreen becomes extra important because it doubles as the camera’s viewfinder. The body also features twin command dials on the top plate and an 8-way joystick on the back right side of the camera if you prefer to navigate menus and settings the old fashioned way.

    The X-A7's large, high resolution touchscreen is the primary way for interacting with the camera but, unusually for this class of camera, there are twin control dials and a joystick for more direct control.

    There's a pop-up flash that does a decent job in low-light situations and the ability to attach an external flash via hot shoe. The camera features a mic input, a USB-C port for charging, and an HDMI port. But, like its peers, there’s no headphone input for monitoring audio.

    Out-of-camera JPEG
    Fujinon XC15-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS PZ @ 45mm | ISO 3200 | 1/1000 sec | F5.6
    Photo: Jeanette D. Moses

    The body is made of plastic, but the control dials have the same tactile feel as higher-end Fujifilm bodies. Although the X-A7 is certainly a budget camera, it doesn’t feel overly cheap.

    We’ve spent the last month using the X-A7 with the Fujinon XC15-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS PZ lens and the XF 23mm F2 R WR lens. The XF 23mm is a mid-priced fixed focal length lens and its fairly bright maximum aperture lets you exploit more of the camera's capabilities.

    What’s new?

    Out-of-camera JPEG
    Fujinon XC15-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS PZ @ 15mm | IS0 3200 | 1/40 sec | f/3.5
    Photo: Jeanette D. Moses

    The Fujifilm X-A7 got a major design overhaul on the inside and out, but the 16:9 aspect ratio fully-articulating touchscreen display is the most obvious change to the camera. This is the first entry-level Fujifilm ILC to feature a fully-articulating screen, which is often favored by videographers and makes it easier to snap selfies. At 2.76m dots, that large screen is substantially higher resolution than its competitors.

    The 24 Megapixel sensor is new, too. According to Fujifilm, its copper wiring reduces digital noise and is the reason that the camera is capable of shooting uncropped 4K/30p video. The X-A7 features 425 autofocus points spread out across the frame. The algorithms for face and eye detection have been improved and, while not class-leading, the AF is significantly faster and more reliable than previous X-A cameras.

    The dials on the camera’s top plate also see an overhaul. The camera now features front control and rear control dials flat to the top of the camera, for easy thumb and forefinger control. The four-way control found on the X-A5 has been replaced with a smaller 8-way joystick to make room for the larger LCD screen.

    The fully articulating rear screen has the advantage that it can be turned-in for protection. Note also the easily accessible twin control dials on the camera's top plate: something usually reserved for more expensive cameras.

    The battery is the same NP-W126S version found in the X-A5, but only has a CIPA rating of 270 shots per charge – a substantial drop from the 440 rating of the X-A5. The X-A7 can achieve 440 shots in an economy mode that darkens and slows the image preview after a few seconds, so you can get the long-lasting but less pleasant X-A5 experience if you wish.

    Either way, if you are planning to be shooting stills for a full day you will definitely need to bring a spare battery along. If you are taking advantage of the camera's 4K capabilities expect that battery to drain even faster. You can at least charge the camera over USB, though, so there's also the option to top the camera up using an external battery pack while traveling.

    The X-A7 has a built-in flash. It's not especially powerful but can make for a good fill-flash: helping to balance out a nearby, backlit subject.

    The new 4K/30p video mode is smooth and good looking. A new feature called Countdown Video mode records footage in 15, 30 or 60 second durations, making it easy to get something shot and uploaded to social media. Unfortunately there isn't a way to transfer those video clips directly from the camera to your phone so you will still need a laptop for social sharing.

    What stands out about the camera?

    The camera’s redesigned articulating touchscreen is one of its biggest strengths. A 20MP 16:9 (widescreen) ratio is default and if you want to take advantage of the full width of the screen you'll want to shoot your stills at that size. You still have the option to use the full 24MP 3:2 region of the sensor if you prefer.

    Like most modern ILCs, we found the image quality to be extremely high. The pictures it produces generally look very good with color response being a particular strong point: even in the pale light of March in New York, the X-A7 produced attractive, vibrant images. Detail capture levels are high and well-judged sharpening and noise reduction make the most of this.

    In general you can leave the camera to do its own thing, with white balance generally giving a fairly natural-looking result without obliterating all the 'atmosphere' of the scene. Our only real concern was that Face Detection mode prioritizes the exposure of faces rather heavily. It means the people you're photographing look good but you'll need to stop to think about where the sun is, or which DR mode you're in, if you don't want to risk over-exposing the background.

    Click here to see how the Fujifilm X-A7 compares in our studio test scene

    The touch interface is the quickest way to access and change settings while shooting and is incredibly responsive. It takes just two swipes to access settings like focus mode, the Q menu, white balance, and film simulation modes. When selecting a film simulation mode, the camera offers a side-by-side comparison of what the film simulation will look like before you commit to making a change. A slider in the middle of the screen lets you move the simulation back and forth over your frame.

    It’s a handy feature that we never asked for, but found to be particularly useful when shooting with the X-A7. The menu system on the back of the camera is well-organized and responsive as well.

    The camera's simplified user interface is very visual in its representation. When you change Film Simulation mode the camera lets you preview the effect it will have.

    During our time with the X-A7 we found the face and eye detection to be responsive with human and animal subjects. Although it’s typically easier to use these features with a viewfinder, the screen on the X-A7 is large enough and bright enough that it was easy to tell when the camera had detected a face or an eye in the frame. The touch-to-focus feature on the X-A7 is also speedy and accurate.

    Skin-softening, depth of field effects, exposure compensation and a feature called Bright Mode that tries to stop highlights and shadows getting overwhelmed, can all be accessed through the touchscreen and give images quick in-camera enhancements that would usually be found on a smartphone.

    Even at full intensity the skin softening has a subtle and realistic look.

    We have slightly mixed feeling about the Fujinon XC 15-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS PZ that often comes bundled with the X-A7. We find the zoom control to be a bit too sensitive – even with the slightest touch of the zoom ring the lens tends to zoom to its full 45mm or back to its widest 15mm view. This makes it difficult to precisely frame an image using focal lengths in the middle of the spectrum. We really appreciate the focal length coverage, though: it's appreciably wider than you usually get in this type of camera. The results are impressively sharp, too.

    Using the X-A7 with the XF 23mm F2 R WR lens is generally a more engaging, pleasant and tactile experience. We especially liked the dedicated aperture ring that it offers, which the XC lens lacks.

    The X-A7 has a USB-C port that can be used for off-loading movies or battery charging. Unlike the slightly more expensive X-T200, it can't be used with an adapter to connect headphones.

    The camera features both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and transferring images through the Fujifilm Camera Remote app was a breeze on iOS. As this is a camera aimed at entry-level users, the ability to shoot and quickly share is very important.

    One of our favorite aspects of the X-A7 is how it handles color. The film simulation modes inside the camera make it easy to capture cinematic-looking stills and video, while settings like skin softening and depth of field control make it easy to shoot and share without ever having to drop the files into an editing program.


    Our early impressions of the X-A7 were overwhelmingly positive and now that we’ve spent time shooting with a production model of the camera we are happy to say that this is in fact the best entry-level mirrorless ILC that Fujifilm has released. This is enough to make it one of the stand-out cameras in its class. Although having the option of an EVF accessory would have been nice, the LCD is large and bright making it perfectly capable for capturing friends and family.

    The new sensor inside the camera helps deliver best-in-class video and, combined with an updated processor, substantial improvements to face and eye detection autofocus.

    The redesigned top plate, the variety of color choices and the compact form factor make it a lot of fun to shoot with as well, with twin dials giving you some room to grow into, if you want to learn the basics of photography. That may seem frivolous, but given the target market for this camera, the fun factor is actually quite important. The best camera is the one that you have with you, and the X-A7 is stylish, easy to use, and small enough that it won’t weigh you down on vacation or when you are out with friends.


    Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

    Fujifilm X-A7
    Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
    Build quality
    Ergonomics & handling
    Metering & focus accuracy
    Image quality (raw)
    Image quality (jpeg)
    Low light / high ISO performance
    Viewfinder / screen rating
    Movie / video mode
    The X-A7 is a small, affordable mirrorless camera whose interface makes it easy and enjoyable to use.
    Good for
    Selfies, video and learning photography
    Not so good for
    Composing shots in bright light (where a viewfinder helps)
    Overall score

  4. ProGrade Digital releases new Thunderbolt 3 CFexpress/XQD, updated CFexpress/SD card readers

    ProGrade Digital has announced the release of the PG04 and PG05.5, a pair of memory card readers designed to make the most of their respective compatible media formats.

    First up is the PG04, a single-slot Thunderbolt 3 reader for CFexpress Type B and XQD cards that offers max transfer speeds up to 40Gb/s (5GB/s). The PG04 comes with a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 3 cable as well as ProGrade’s patent-pending adhesive metal plate for attaching the magnetic reader to various surfaces.

    Next up is the dual-slot PG05.5, a replacement for ProGrade Digital’s PG05 that features a CFexpress Type B (not compatible with XQD cards) and SD card slot (UHS-II). The updated reader uses a USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface that offers speeds upwards of 10Gb/s (1.25GB/s). The PG05.5 comes with a USB Type C to USB Type C cable, a USB Type C to USB A cable and ProGrade’s patent-pending adhesive metal plate.

    The PG04 and PG05.5 are currently available to purchase for $129.99 (Adorama, B&H) and $79.99 (Adorama, B&H), respectively.

  5. A behind-the-scenes look at filming a Bugatti Chiron at 250mph/400kph

    Al Clark, an award-winning automotive filmmaker, captured a record-breaking event over 2 years ago. Professional race car driver Juan Pablo Montoya accelerated a Bugatti Chiron 1,500 PS super car from 0 to 400 km/h (250 mph), and back down to standstill, in less than 42 seconds. As of now, the impressive feat has been viewed over 40,000,000 times on YouTube and possibly up to 100,000,000, on other social media channels, according to Clark.

    He recently created a behind-the-scenes feature explaining his inspiration for the clip along with how he managed to film that 0-400-0 km/h maneuver – which took place on parent company Volkswagen Group’s test track facility in Ehra-Lessien, Germany. Regarding the choice to use a helicopter for capturing aerial sections of the footage, Clark says ‘you would never be able to shoot this film with a drone. A drone would be not only too slow, but just not able to stay in the air long enough.’

    Unlike a drone, a helicopter can stay in the air for up to an hour and more. This is what Clark needed to get the perfect aerial footage.

    While a drone wasn’t deployed, DJI’s Zenmuse X5 camera, typically used on its Inspire models, played a key role in capturing the Chiron as it approached its highest speeds. The footage turned out to be so smooth that the team added in a bit of shaking during post-production to make it look more natural. While you’ll have to watch the video, above, to find out Clark managed to pull this stunt off, he insists that ‘it wasn’t a (Toyota) Supra.’ Viewers are encouraged to fast forward to the 7:11 minute mark if they can’t wait for the big reveal.

    Due to popular demand, Clark plans on adding more behind-the-scenes stories to his YouTube channel. You can also follow him, and other key members involved in the shoot, on Instagram at @outrunfilms, @alclark, and @michaelrockperring.

  6. Video: How to make film developing chemicals using supplies in your home

    Photographer Brendan Barry has published a new video instructing viewers on how to make their own caffenol developer and salt-based fixer using common household items and ingredients. The process is very simple with the most expensive item being the photo paper. The new tutorial follows a video Barry published last week showing how to turn an entire bedroom into a massive camera obscura.

    The new video is around 15 minutes long and it guides viewers through the entire process, starting from the ingredients and items needed all the way through the development of a photo captured using Barry's giant room camera. The recipe is the result of experimentation, according to Barry, who points out that these ingredients may be easier to acquire at the moment compared to more traditional products.

    The developer requires washing soda, granulated coffee and vitamin C powder -- Barry notes that vitamin C with zinc didn't appear to have a negative impact compared to vitamin C alone. Ordinary inexpensive table salt is used for the fixer. Mixing the two products requires only a mortar and pestle for grinding the vitamin C tablets, a small container and a measuring cup for mixing the developer and a separate container for mixing the salt fixer. A digital scale is used to weigh some of the ingredients.

    Once the developer and fixer are mixed and poured in the trays, the exposed photographic paper is put in the developer for 'about three minutes,' according to Barry, who explains that it needs to be left in a bit longer than would be typical with a normal developer. The coffee stain on the paper produces a slight sepia tone in the resulting image, he notes, also explaining that the vitamin C is what produces the contrast in the photo. Leaving out the vitamin C will reduce the contrast.

    After the developed paper is rinsed in the tray that contains plain water, it is transferred to the tray with fix, which highlights the one big disadvantage to this process. Barry explains that the photo paper must be left in the fix for 'quite a long time,' which equates to around 12 to 24 hours, though the lights can be turned back on after an hour.

    Barry demonstrates how to quickly create a positive print from the resulting negative, though he notes that more detailed information on this process is provided in the camera obscura tutorial video from last week.

    'This is obviously just a basic, simple introduction to caffenol and making your own developer and fixer,' Barry explains. 'I like to make things as accessible as possible and encourage other people to have a go at these things. Sometimes they can seem a bit intimidating and complicated [...] but it's really, really simple.'

  7. The gear that changed my (photographic) life: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
    Looking back, the LX3's clever use of its sensor wasn't the aspect that had most impact on me.

    In terms of my own photography, probably the most significant camera I’ve owned is my first SLR: a Pentax P30 (P3 in the US). It was a birthday present, bought second-hand when I was in my early teens and it introduced me to many of the basic concepts of photography. It’s the camera I shot with when I tried my hand in the darkroom and it still holds a special place in my heart. I’ve not used it for many years, but it was still working quite happily the last time I tried.

    But the one that has perhaps ended up having most effect on me was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. I’d only been formally reviewing cameras for sixth months and the LX3 was the eighth camera I was asked to cover. All had been compacts, some had been better than others, but I recognized there was something different about the LX3.

    The most significant camera I've ever owned is my Pentax P30 but the camera that's had most impact on me is perhaps the Panasonic LX3

    I’d enjoyed using the camera, which is always a good start, but it was when I got to selecting images for the gallery that it really hit home that this was something a bit special. Part of it was that the aspect ratio switch on the top of the lens had prompted me to make greater use of the camera’s multi-aspect sensor. But more than this, the pictures just looked better.

    Looking back, there’s not a good shot in there, not amongst my images, at least. But the general image quality was so much higher than I’d got used to, from the middling IXUSes and woeful superzooms I’d owned and reviewed up to that point. It was the first time that it really sank in to me just how much difference sensor size and lens brightness could make.

    Obscure but important details

    Up until that point, when filling in that part of the spec sheet I’d rather glazed over, not fully appreciating the difference between the small sensor formats. And I suspect it’s not just me that struggles to mentally conjure the size differences between 1/2.3”-type and 1/1.7”-type sensors.

    The LX3 uses a series of crops from a 11.3MP 1/1.63" sensor. The largest of these crops is 66% larger than the 1/2.5" sensor in the Canon A720 IS that I'd reviewed just beforehand. This is not something I was able to work out in my head.

    I’m not great at fractions at the best of times but mix in some decimals, add an unfamiliarity with inches, demand the mental gymnastics of relating diagonals to area and garnish with some inherent inconsistencies of the naming system, and I won't be able to spontaneously comprehend the impact.

    But that difference was there to be seen.

    Exponents of √2

    Then there was the brighter lens. F2.0-2.8 won’t get you much in the way of shallow depth-of-field in most circumstances, but it gets you a lot more light than the F2.8-4.8 lenses that had become typical elsewhere. Again, it’s not necessarily easy to think in exponents of the square root of two, but there are few enough commonly quoted F-stops that you quickly learn that F2.0 is a whole stop faster than F2.8 and that doubling the number would give a two-stop difference, so it’s easier to at least get a feel for the magnitude of the numbers.

    Camera Lens Lens
    (full frame equiv. terms)
    Canon Powershot A720 IS 5.8 – 34.8mm
    F2.8 – 4.9
    35 – 210mm
    F17 – 30
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 (4:3 sensor region) 5.1 – 12.8mm
    F2.0 – 2.8
    24 – 60mm
    F9 – 13
    Olympus E-510
    with kit zoom
    14 – 42mm
    F3.5 – 5.6
    28 – 84mm
    F7 – 11
    It has its detractors, but the idea of equivalence can help overcome the ambiguity of sensor size and aperture impact, by reporting everything on a common basis. Here it's clear that the LX3 offered capabilities closer to a contemporary DLSR costing twice as much, rather than a conventional compact.

    The LX3 helped me see the light, if you’ll excuse the tenuous pun. There are a great many other things that make one camera enjoyable and another one less so, but so much of image quality stems from how much light you can capture. The LX3 did well on both fronts.

    It would be another couple of years until I really understood how that additional light delivers the additional quality, but the LX3 was the camera that made me really recognize and appreciate the differences a bigger sensor and a brighter lens can make to almost any type of camera.

    Straightening out a wrinkle

    The LX3 was also interesting in that its lens required distortion correction and, when we first processed the Raw files from a pre-production sample, these corrections weren’t being applied. At a stroke it became clear how, almost overnight, compact cameras had gone from offering zooms that started at 35 or 36mm equiv., to suddenly gaining 28 and 24mm wide-angle capabilities: we’d just not encountered enough of these cameras with Raw to be able to see behind the curtain.

    Wide-angle lenses had just started to become commonplace in compact cameras, but the LX3's Raw output finally gave away how the change had come about.

    With its limited 24-60mm equivalent focal length range, the LX3 also teaches a valuable lesson about the trade-offs required to create a camera that’s small, offers good image quality and could be launched at a comparatively affordable $500/£399.

    Looking back, the LX3 was a great camera. Its JPEG color wasn’t a patch on the output of any modern camera but it helped inspire a resurgence of enthusiast compacts with short, bright lenses, before the 1” sensor rendering the whole lot obsolete. Back before equivalence simplified things, it was a camera that helped me cut through the fog of obscure sensor size terminology, learn the value of a lens that stays bright across its range, and appreciate that maths can provide a more compact alternative to extra glass when you’re designing a lens. None of us as individuals get to decide whether it’s seen as a classic, but it was a hugely significant camera to me.

    If you have a piece of gear that you'd like to write about, we'd love to hear from you – and you might even get featured on the DPReview homepage. Leave us a short note in the comments and if you have a longer story to tell, send it to us, and we'll take it from there.

  8. Developing film at home: everything you need to know to get started


    If you're lucky enough to have some free hours in these uncertain times, there are a lot of ways you could spend them. How about learning how to develop your own film? Or maybe developing film is an activity you tried long ago and one you'd like to jump back into. After all, the smell of fixer singeing the nostrils can be quite an intoxicating/nostalgic aroma (Please do not smell the fixer).

    What follows is a quick and easy home developing guide that'll cover everything from supplies, to chemistry dilutions, to proper cleanup. So turn down your record player and grab a good old fashioned pencil and paper to take notes [glances at the sun dial] – it's developing time!

    Reasons to develop at home

    But first, if you still need convincing, here's are some solid reasons to take the plunge into the wild DIY world of home developing:

    1. It's cheaper to set up a home developing kit than you may think. I was able to get everything I needed from a local brick and mortar store for ~$150. Obviously a lot of stores are closed right now, but you may pay even less sourcing items online, or second hand.

    2. Home developing is a hands-on experience that makes you better appreciate both the magic of photography and the wonder of chemistry. There's something really cool about seeing the image creation process from start to end. In short, you'll feel a bit like a mad scientist.

    3. If you are paying a lab to develop and scan your images right now, setting up a home lab can be a cheaper option in the long run. And even if labs are closed (as many are at the present time), you'll still be able to process your own images.

    4. It feels good to learn something new / do it yourself.

    Best films to start with

    For the sake of this article, we'll concentrate on developing B&W film, as the process is easier to learn than it is for color. B&W film also tends to be more forgiving to exposure errors than color... not that you'll make any!

    Some good B&W films to start with include Kodak Tri-X, Kodak T-Max, Ilford HP-5 Plus and Ilford Delta 400. Be aware, there are B&W film stocks out there that are meant to be developed in color chemistry, like Ilford XP2. Avoid these.

    Chemistry 101: The developing basics

    The process of developing film is actually quite straightforward. We'll go into more detail further into this article, but the basic steps go like this: Load your film into a lightproof tank and pour a series of chemicals in one after another, then wash, dry and scan.

    The two main chemicals involved in the process are developer, which does exactly what it sounds like, and fixer, which stabilizes the film after development. A stop bath rinse is done between the developing and fixing stage and a water rinse is done at the end.

    What you'll need to assemble your home mini lab

    Here's what you'll need to set up your home developing kit: Concentrated developer, fixer and stop bath (optional - plain old water also works). Liquid concentration is easier to work with than powder and is also safer as there's no chance of particulate inhalation. You'll also want a wetting agent like Kodak Photo-flo (this is also optional but I find it helps negatives dry without watermarks), a developing tank with reels*, several plastic bottles to mix your dilutions in, measuring beakers, a funnel, a thermometer, a stop-watch/timer and a film squeegee. Many photography stores carry all these items.

    You'll also want a light-proof bag to load your reels, as well as a bottle opener and a sharp pair of scissors. The former is to pry open the film canister the latter is to cut the film (both while in the bag). Film clips are great for drying, but clothespins work well too. You'll also want plastic sleeves to store your negatives in once dried.

    *For those wishing to avoid the developing tank, all-in-one options like the the Lab-Box, may be your cup of tea. We can't vouch for its ease of use, but our pals over at Pop Photo seem to like it.

    Loading film onto reels

    There are a handful of companies that make film tanks and reels. In general though the plastic reels are MUCH easier to load than the metal ones. Of the popular plastic brands, I've found that Paterson Universal makes the easiest to load reels (avoid Omega brand reels).

    Once you've got your tank, I recommend practicing loading your reel with the lights on. Yes you will need to sacrifice a roll of film to do this, but it's worth it. Here are the basic steps/tips for loading:

    1. Pop open your film canister from the bottom using a bottle opener. It should not take much to pry the bottom cap off.

    2. Pull the film and spool out of the canister and trim off the film leader so that the roll ends in a straight cut line.

    3. Insert the freshly-cut end of the film roll into the reel. On a Paterson Universal reel the side in which you load the film is flat and the side it feeds out of is rounded; this makes it easy to load correctly in the dark. Once inserted, hold each side of the reel in either hand and gently twist the opposite direction until the reel hits a stopping point, then twist back; this should advance the film onto your reel one frame at a time.

    4. Count in your head how many times you do the above twisting action. When you get to 32 (assuming you're loading a 36 roll frame) unroll the rest of the film from your spool and cut it free - there's usually a small piece of tape attaching it.

    5. Proceed to load the last of the film.

    6. Insert the reel onto the tank's center column. Remember if you're only developing one reel to still use two reels in the tank with the loaded one on bottom.

    The developing process - mixing up the chemistry

    Mixing up photo chemistry requires very little knowledge of chemistry itself. If you can follow the directions required to bake a cake, you can certainly mix up these chemical dilutions with no trouble.

    As mentioned, we recommend purchasing concentrated liquid chemicals and some plastic containers to store your dilution in (make sure the containers are photo chemical safe). Most chemistry comes with basic dilution guidelines printed on the bottle. For example I use Ilford Ilfotec DDX Developer, which requires a 1:4 dilution. Conveniently, this is the same dilution as the Ilford Rapid Fixer I use.

    When mixing up chemistry I like to make 60 fl oz of diluted developer, fixer and stop bath. This is roughly 3x times the amount of each chemical I need to process two rolls in my Paterson tank. Because I don't develop too often, I just pour the dilute chemistry back into its respective container after I'm done. The chemistry eventually expires, but it takes many rolls to get there. I also find it extremely helpful to write down the date and dilution of each chemical on its container.

    Once you have all your chemicals mixed up and in separate jugs, it's time to bust out the timer and get processing!

    Developing, stopping, and fixing

    Printed on the bottom of most film tanks is how much fluid is required, depending on the number and/or type of film you are processing. My tank requires about 22 fl oz for two 35mm rolls of film.

    It's also important to figure how long you'll need to develop your film for. Many manufacturers include a list of developing agents and developing times on the inside of the film box. But if you tossed the box, worry not, the Massive Dev Chart is here to help. The temperature of the chemicals also affects developing time, so it's good thing you got that thermometer!

    Below are the basic steps for processing your roll:

    1. Pre-wash: This isn't completely necessary but there's no harm in washing your film before moving on to the chemistry.

    2. Developing time: Measure out your developer into a beaker and use the thermometer to find its temperature. The colder the developer, the longer the processing time. For instance if I'm processing a roll of Ilford HP-5 Plus in the aforementioned developer/dilution, I'm looking at nine minutes of developing time if the chemistry is 20 C / 68 F and closer to seven minutes if its 24 C / 75 F. Obviously if it's warmer or colder than that range, you can estimate your development time accordingly.

    3. Developing: Start your timer, pour in the developer, attach the tank's cap and shake gently for 30 seconds. After the first 30 seconds let the tank sit on the table, then shake for ten seconds at the start of each minute of developing. Tap the tank on the table after shaking each time to ensure there are no air bubbles.

    4. Stop-bath: Pour out your developer, pour in your stop bath dilution and replace the cap to the tank. Shake the tank for about ten seconds and then let it rest on the table for an additional 30 seconds (don't forget to tap for air bubbles). Pour the stop bath out and pour in your fixer.

    5. Fixer: Repeat the same shaking, tapping and resting process as you did with the developer for the fixer for 4-5 minutes. Then pour out the spent fixer and fill your tank with fresh water...

    Washing, drying and storing negatives

    6. Washing part 1: Once filled with fresh water, give the tank a good two minutes of shaking, then pour out the water. Repeat this process several times. Note: your film is fully-developed and light-safe at this point.

    7. Washing part 2: Twist off the top of the tank and let water run into it for five to ten minutes.

    8. Wetting agent: Dump out a little water, add a few drops of a wetting agent to the tank and screw the top back on (with cap attached). Shake for about five seconds and remove the screw top.

    9. Removing the film and squeegeeing: Remove your reels from the center column of the tank and twist in the same way you did when loading them, but do so beyond the initial stopping point. This should allow you to pull either side apart. Grab one end of the film and run a wet squeegee over it once or twice.

    10. Drying: Hang your film using clothespins or clips somewhere it won't be disturbed. Give the negatives about 12 hours to dry before cutting and inserting it into plastic film sleeves.

    Cleaning up

    It probably goes without saying, but photo chemicals are toxic and you should avoid dumping them down the drain at all costs. Likewise, it's important to keep your work space clean and tidy. I personally like to work on a piece of plywood on saw horses that I break down each time after I'm done processing. This avoids getting chemistry on my work desk or kitchen table.

    Of the chemicals used for home developing, photo fixer presents the most environmental issues. Fortunately there are places happy to take it off your hands (for a small fee). Spent fixer contains valuable liquid silver which can be removed and recycled. Spent developer and stop bath can be taken to most household hazard waste processing locations. If you're unsure of the best way to dispose of chemicals, contact a local photo lab and ask for their recommendations.


    Once your negatives are dried it's time to digitize them. There are numerous ways to scan film and varying opinions about which methods are best. I personally use an Epson V-series scanner that can do 12 frames of 35mm in one go. These scanners are reasonably-priced, fairly quick to scan and offer decent output - read our Epson V600 review.

    Another fairly-easy scanning methods involves using a camera and macro lens, diffused light source and some sort of film holder like the Pixl-latr or Nikons's ES-2.

    Conclusion: Tips for success

    As is the case with anything DIY, there's going to be a large degree of trial and error involved in your process. I've tried my best to lay out all the basics that I've learned over the years, but it should got without saying that your mileage may vary.

    That said, here's a few final tips to help you succeed, based on my own trial and error:

    1. Write down each step of the developing process as it pertains to your chemistry and the kinds of film you shoot. You'll find yourself referencing this every time you go to develop.

    2. Try your best to avoid getting finger prints on the film while loading and opt to load in a proper lightproof bag over a seemingly dark room.

    3. Don't be skimpy with the fixing time. If the film spends a little too much time in the fixer it won't have any real negative impact, but too little will.

    4. Give your film enough time to dry or it'll get stuck in the plastic film sleeves.

    5. Accept dust as a natural part of the life of a film shooter.

    6. Consider wearing gloves unless you like the smell of fixer on your fingers for days (I do).

    That pretty much sums up our home developing guide! If there's something crucial you feel we've left out, or if you have any additional tips, feel free to mention them in the comments below. Happy developing!

    Want more analog fun? Check out the DPReview Film Photography Forum.