Beutler Film Developer Formula Review
The formula published by Willi Beutler in the first edition of his book “Mein Dunklekammer Praxis” in the 1950s is an excellent developer originally designed for use with the thinner films being produced at that time by Agfa and perhaps a few others.
Originally there were 4 different solutions, Parts A, B, C and D, which could be combined in various ways to prepare different film and paper developing formulas. By the time that my copy of The Ilford Manual of Photography, 7th Edition was published (January 1978) most photographers were only aware of two solutions, parts A and C from the original. The other combinations had disappeared into history.
The Beutler formula is considered to be an acutance or high definition formula. As such it does not effect the appearance of grain in the final negative. Since this developing formula is typically used on lower speed films that already have fine grain this is not usually a problem for most users. The developer does result in enhanced adjacency effects. The result is that the acutance of the image is increased because the development rate is increased in highlight areas while in adjoining shadow areas it is decreased. This results in the edges of bright areas appearing brighter while the edges of dark areas appear darker. This type of effect is also attributed to Rodinal, particularly when you use the higher dilutions to develop your film.
Beutler also imparts a speed increase to most films. This can mean that an ISO 50 film can be shot at EI 100 if it will be developed in Beutler. Alternatively, if ISO 50 film is exposed at box speed then Beutler will increase shadow separation at the toe of the curve. This has the added effect of helping to reduce overall contrast.
I first became aware of this formula when I was experimenting with different developers for the newly produced film, JCH Streetpan 400. Tom Abramson from Rangefinderforum suggested that I try the Beutler formula as he had experienced success using it with a similar film that had been produced in the past. In the case of this film Beutler had the effect of helping to control contrast. I will always be grateful for Tom’s suggestion as it turned out to be my preferred developer for this film.
I liked the developer so much that I began experimenting with it on other films and soon learned that it was an excellent choice for Kodak TMAX 100, Ilford Delta 100 and Efke 25. Of course Efke 25 is no longer produced though I still have a fairly large stockpile left. As for the previous two films, the Beutler formula is by far my preferred developer. I also use it exclusively with Rollei Retro 400S which is very similar in response to JCH Streetpan 400.
The formula I currently use is found in the Ilford Manual of Photography 7th Edition.
Beutler Developer –
STOCK SOLUTION A
- Metol – 5g
- Sodium Sulphite – 25g
- Water to make 500ml
STOCK SOLUTION B
- Sodium Carbonate, anhyd – 25g
- Water to make 500ml
(In this case I typically only mix up 500ml of each solution each time. The Ilford Manual of Photography formula shows the amounts to make a full litre of each solution. I have a history of being a bit of a klutz so having only 500ml of solution in a 1000ml bottle makes spillage less of a problem for me.)
Mixing the Stock Solution –
I use my balance scale to weigh out all my ingredients into small paper cups before starting. It seems a bit low tech but the scale is very accurate and it isn’t costing me any money. No batteries to replace either. Once I am done the scale and chemicals are all put away.
I heat a bit over 1 liter of distilled water to boiling in my electric teapot which I then allow to cool down somewhat. Geoffrey Crawley in his articles recommended cooling to about 86F but I am not usually that picky about the exact temperature. I am happy with anything between 90F and 80F. I know that this attitude can be a bit frustrating for the technical crowd but fortunately it seems that there is enough room in photography for all of us, including the laissez faire people like me.
I start with 400ml of warm water in a 1 liter plastic water pitcher (which I use only for mixing photo chemicals such as developers, fixers, etc.) I then add a small pinch of sodium sulfite which is mixed in. At this point I mix the metol into solution. The pinch of sulfite is supposed to encourage the metol to dissolve easier. Once the metol is visibly dissolved then I add in the Sodium Sulfite which is also completely mixed into solution until dissolved. When everything is dissolved in solution I add enough additional water to bring the entire mix to 500ml which I then pour into a brown, 1 liter, glass bottle that is clearly labeled “SOLUTION A.”
Though it may not be necessary I then rinse everything well in clean water before starting on Solution B.
Again, I start with 400ml of warm water in my 1 liter plastic water pitcher. To this I add my 25 grams of Sodium Carbonate. The sodium carbonate usually takes a bit of mixing to get it to completely dissolve and I always seem to be left with a very small amount of carbonate sand in the bottom of the pitcher. Once mixed I add enough additional water to bring the mix up to a full 500ml. This is then poured into a second brown, 1 liter, glass bottle which is clearly labeled “SOLUTION B.”
Again, I rinse everything well in anticipation of the next time.
Really pretty simple. I now have liquid solutions that can be mixed together to prepare working solutions of Beutler Film Developer.
I have no idea how long these stock solutions will save, I would assume that there is some time limit but everything I have researched indicates that these stock solutions have a pretty long shelf life although no one gives any idea what “long” means. Since I almost always use up my small 500ml bottles of stock solution within 6 months, usually quicker, I have minimal experience to guide me. I just mixed up a batch today (one of the triggers to prepare this post) and the previous batch had been prepared in mid-March. Since it is the very beginning of August that means that this last batch lasted 3 and a half months. Previously I was mixing and using 1 liter batches and had one of these last a bit over a year.
Mixing the Working Solution –
Once you have prepared the stock solutions you will need to use those solutions to mix up the working solution you will actually use to develop film. There appear to be different dilutions that can be used. One practice is to mix the formula 1 part A, 1 part B and 8 parts water. This was the original dilution described by Willi Beutler in his book and this is the dilution I presently use for JCH Streetpan 400.
It can also be mixed 1 part A, 1 part B and 10 parts water. This dilution is frequently described for various films in the Massive Development Chart that is published online at DigitalTruth.com. I use this dilution for TMAX 100, Delta 100 and Efke 25.
Recently I have become aware that it can also be mixed 1 part A, 1 part B and 12 parts water. Obviously this greater dilution will require longer development times. I have not personally used this dilution myself so cannot provide any advice on using it. And a quick search on the Massive Development Chart doesn’t provide any guidance either since there are no films or times listed for this dilution.
Working solutions are single use and are disposed of after use. I never save it for additional use, even on the same day. I use this with a 250ml Jobo tank for 35mm so I would guess that 1 liter of working solution in a tray would probably be good for at least 16 sheet of 4×5 film or 4 sheets of 8×10. Likewise I could probably reuse this developer two or three times in a single session when developing 4 sheets of 4×5 film in my Stearman Press SP-445 daylight developing tank. In reality this developer is very inexpensive so reusing it is probably false economy. Using it as a one shot developer ensures consistently high quality results and that quality may drop if you try reusing it.
Developing Technique –
At present I use this film to develop 35mm, 120 roll film and 4×5 sheet film. In all of these cases I am using daylight developing tanks.
After loading the film into the tank I introduce the Beutler developer at a temperature as close to 68F or 20C as possible. The original recommendations were for development at 65F or 18C so I prefer to keep the solution temperature as low as possible. Although it is technically feasible to use temperature charts to adjust the development time I feel I get better results using Beutler around 68F. However I have no objective evidence to prove this.
Development times are typically dependent on the speed of the film with slower speed films. As mentioned, Beutler development times are listed for several films on the Massive Development Chart. If you are looking to work up some times for a film where developing times cannot be found then the following general guidelines may help. ISO 25 to 50 films should be processed anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. ISO 64 to 125 films should be processed between 7 to 10 minutes. ISO 400 films should be processed for about 12 minutes. Of course these are very general guidelines and you should do your own testing to determine an appropriate development time for your film. I know for a fact that the times for ISO 100 and ISO 125 films vary quite a bit from these guidelines. Ilford’s Delta Pro 100 is typically developed for around 14 minutes. Kodak’s TMAX 100 is developed for 12 minutes and Ilford’s FP4+ is developed for only 6 minutes and 45 seconds. This is quite a large range of development times but they do apply to different dilutions. The first two films are developed for longer times with the lower dilution of 1+1+10 while FP4+ is developed for a shorter time with the original dilution of 1+1+8.
My agitation regime keeps the frequency and time of agitations low. I get pretty good results with agitating for 30 to 45 seconds to start and then two slow agitations each minute after that. It would appear that the development action is not dependent on frequent and/or vigorous agitation and in fact vigorous agitation may not be recommended. Likewise, though I do use continuous agitation in Jobo tanks with other developers, as a rule I don’t do that with Beutler. There are researchers and a number of others on the internet who believe that continuous agitation will result in reduced adjacency effects which, in turn, would reduce the apparent sharpness or acutance of the resulting negative. This is a bit counter to the reason for using it in the first place so I just don’t do it.
Following development I use a mild acetic acid stop for around a minute followed by fixing but I expect a simple water rinse between developing and fixing would probably be acceptable. Since none of the films I use require a hardener in the fixer I don’t use one. With the exception of TMAX 100 I usually fix for 3 to 4 minutes depending on the age of the fixer. Of course I usually increase that to 7 to 8 minutes with TMAX 100 to improve fixing and to help remove the magenta stain on the film and to ensure full fixing.
I follow this with the a normal Ilford wash and then a dip into Photoflow or Mirasol and hang to dry.
As a rule Beutler has been recommended for slower speed films but not higher speed films. However, my own experience with Beutler indicates that it can also be successfully used with higher speed films.
It is very useful for slower speed films if you are wishing high acutance, or high definition, from your film. Whenever using film slower than ISO 125 I consider this a good developer. I love the results I get from using this developer with TMAX 100, Delta 100 and Efke 25 so much that I consider this my primary developer for these films.
I also use this developer if I am interested in taming contrast, regardless of the ISO speed of the film I am using. This is certainly the case with JCH Streetpan 400. Before using this developer I had inconsistent results from this film and high contrast was a big problem. Now this has become my go-to film and I love the results I get when developed in Beutler. I use the slightly higher 1+1+8 dilution for 11 minutes and have not been disappointed. Since Rollei Retro 400S is a similar film I use this same process with that film as well.
But even though there are good technical reasons for using this developer there are also other good reasons, though these reasons can apply to any developer you mix yourself. The first one that everyone likes to consider is lower cost. I bought a 55 oz box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda for about $5 from my local grocery store a couple of years ago. I can get 5 pounds of Sodium Sulfite for around $20 and 1 pound of Metol for $70 (by far the most expensive commodity on the list.) Each gallon of distilled water I use costs me around 80 cents each. What this all works out to is about $1.30 per batch of stock solution. The price of the working solutions will vary depending on the amount of stock solution used but if we assume the 500ml is a representative working solution then we use 84ml of stock solution (42ml of Part A and 42ml of Part B) in each batch. At this rate of consumption we can easily get 10 batches of working solution out of our stock solution. If each batch of stock solution costs $1.30 then each batch of working solution is 1/10th of that or 13 cents. That is pretty inexpensive development.
But even beyond cost there is at least are other good reasons for mixing your own developers. One is consistency. It is a well known fact that the Rodinal, D-76 or HC-110 you are using today is not the same formula that was being sold even just a few years ago. In fact, HC-110 has just recently gone through a reformulation. This means that you are not getting the same developer and the same developing action that you were getting a few years ago. And though we do know that HC-110 was recently reformulated, other changes that are being made may not be quite so well publicized. If you are mixing your own developers from the basic chemicals then you can be pretty certain that the developing action you were getting from this solution last year is not the same one that you are getting today.
Finally there is at least one more good reason to mix your own. You know exactly how fresh your developer is. I mixed up my last batch of Beutler on March 18. I used it up yesterday and mixed another batch today. So I know that my developer is pretty fresh. How fresh was the last batch of D-76 you mixed up last? Obviously you know when you mixed it into solution but when were the dry chemicals combined? You probably can’t tell when that happened so you really have no idea how fresh your chemicals are. This holds especially true for liquid developers like Rodinal and HC-110. These particular developers are pretty well known for having very long shelf lives but this is not true of other liquid developers. Ilfotec DDX is a great example. It is typically considered to be good for 24 months in a full, tightly capped bottle. But once you start using it that shelf life drops quickly. A half full bottle is good for only 6 months. The bottle of Ilfotec DDX I am currently using was manufactured in September 2017. It is just short of 1 year old. I opened it in June so if it is used up by the end of December it will be good. These are things I do not have to worry about when I mix my own chemicals.
Final Disclaimer –
Even though I love this developer and sincerely recommend it, there are obviously other good developers out there, many of which I also use. As you can tell, Ilfotec DDX is one. Rodinal and HC-110 are a couple of others. The reality is that my results with any of these other developers would probably be very hard to distinguish from the results I am getting from Beutler.
There really are no magic bullets when it comes to developers. Though there certainly are small differences they are often so small that minor changes in your own technique can easily overcome and mask any differences you see between developers. Changes in how you agitate your film, changes in the temperature you are using, changes in how you mixed up your working solutions; any and all of these will have a much larger effect on your negatives then the developer you used. In fact, all by itself the exposure you provided for the film you are developing right now will have a far larger impact on your results then anything else you do during developing.
Finally, though the negative is important, the most important part of the entire process is how you print. Certainly you need the sharpest and best exposed and developed negative you can get to get the best results from your printing, but how you print will have a huge bearing on your final result and any small differences in your developing process may not even be visible in your final print.
So, though I enjoy using Beutler, and I do feel that the results I am getting in certain cases are obvious, measurable and important to me, you may or may not get the same results from Beutler that I do. My exposures and my developing techniques will almost certainly differ from what you are doing. So, feel free to mix up some Beutler and I hope that you decide to do just that. But you need to do your own testing to decide whether or not it benefits you or not.
With all this being said, I hope that you enjoyed this review of Beutler and that you get some value from the information that I have provided here. Moreover I wish you good light and good shooting.