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Developing 16mm motion film

William Davis , Oct 13, 1999; 05:16 a.m.

I am thinking of buying an Arri 16mm camera and was wondering if it is possible to develop the film in a darkroom. I will probably use B&W film. I have a darkroom set up for B&W still film. Is there anything I should be aware of before I get into this? Can I buy reels for the f


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Jeff Polaski , Oct 13, 1999; 09:31 a.m.

Wow! I used to shoot 16mm B&W. Thought it was a lost art, what with all these folks running around calling themselves videographers. It's a reversal film, so the process is different from B&W negative. I always had a commercial lab do the processing, so I'm not familar with the darkroom side, but I imagine it requires some machinery to run the film through the various processes. I edited the developed film. Which is fun, but brings up another question. After 16mm film is edited, you've got a reel of film with lots of splices that should be copied onto a master. Another expensive piece of machinery can be imagined here. I don't want to discourage you, B&W film is a rewarding art form. Check out Eisenstein's Potemkin, and Wells' Third Man, and you'll see stuff that can't be done in color. Good luck!

Attachment: thirdMan1.jpg

Sean Yates , Oct 13, 1999; 11:41 a.m.

16mm film is available from Kodak in both negtive and positive (or reversal) film.

Trying to develop movie film in a home darkroom is asking for trouble. Unless you're doing something really really alternative and want an unusal look. Really realy really alternative.


How would you handle 400 feet of film in a darkroom without a processor?

Outside of Washington, D.C. is Bono Films. They have processed B&W for years and have done Bruce Weber's movie film. Don't recall the number, but I'm sure you could find out on the web.

John MacPherson , Oct 13, 1999; 11:59 a.m.

William - my patner and I use an Arri SR (25 years old) and shoot colour negative stock (for wildlife/natural history). <P> I note you intend to shoot black & white. One thing to consider is the cost of film. Here in the UK for Kodak colour stock it costs around #200 to buy and (get the pro labs to) process a 400 foot roll, and have returned as rushes (work print - we edit on an old mechanical Steenbeck desk). A roll of 400 feet will give you 12 minutes running at normal frame rate (24/25 fps). That is around 45 cents a second for normal operation. Not cheap. <P> I have no idea what the cost of black and white stock is - cheaper than colour I would imagine, but the hassles and risk involved in home processing make it seem like an absolute nightmare. To lose a roll through a darkroom mixup is enough to have one reach for the revolver. <P> Unless you have a commercial oulet for your work, or are very wealthy, consider your next move very very carefully!!

Martin Davidson , Oct 13, 1999; 12:53 p.m.

Having seen the sorts of machinery involved in processing 16mm I cannot believe anyone could do it at home. We are talking major insallations! Pulleys, reels, chemical tanks, taking up a lot of space.

I only know of labs in the UK, so wont bother giving you any phone numbers (though you're welcome to EMail me if you want them); I assume you could get more technical advice from the facilities houses in either NYC or LA.

But as a sidebar, I quite often shoot black and white 16mm, and it is lovely, lovely film, completely different from colour stock destaturated in post-production (thin and grey). It is still freely available. If you get a chance to see UNZIPPED, a profile of fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, then you will see how nice it can look.

I have also been shooting my own stuff, on a Bolex H16 Super 16 film camera, and I wish now I had stumped up the extra for an Arri or an Aaton; a million times easier to use! Also, 16mm lenses are remarkably good value; a good T2 Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 10-100 (THE workhorse lens) can be got for as little as a few hundred quid here. It'll be twenty years old, and, if you are lucky, absolutely pin sharp. If you are happy with standard 16 (4:3), then there are bargains aplenty.

Good luck!

John Lehman , Oct 13, 1999; 04:01 p.m.

What you need is a Morse processor. I bought one from my local used photo dealer; another sold on Ebay within the last week for ~$40. It handles up to about 400 feet of either 8mm or 16mm film, altho I suspect 100 feet is the practical limit. Kodak's web site has information on reversal processing for their current line of cinema films.

Reels and other accessories are available. If you decide to go the commercial route, B&H sells 16mm B&W and handles processing; I don't have the catalog handy, but I remember that film and processing run to something in the neighborhood of $50 per four minutes (100 feet).

Joe Cordaro , Oct 14, 1999; 11:41 a.m.


Why do you want to buy an Arriflex? They typically aren't good 1st cameras to buy. Maybe you have a good price on it or something. Regardless, both Kodak and Ilford make 16mm film in 100ft reels. You want Ilford because their films are finer-grained, have more silver in them, and are cheaper (around $16/roll vs. $24), but negative only. Until you gain experience, I rec. sending the film to a lab for development and printing. When you are ready to develop at home, don't buy a Morse tank. They suck. You are winding 100ft of film back and forth through the solution. Since the film is in contact with the developer for a few seconds each wind, you have to do this forever. It's boring, causes uneven development and will scratch up your film. You need to find a 16" 100ft film reel (Nikor made one - there are others) and a 16" diameter SS tank. It's pretty much the same as developing 35mm film & in fact, produce superior results than a commercial lab. There are improvised methods for printing your negs at home, but I just send it to a lab (Bono or Alpha). Also, B&H now sells Kodak 16mm film and pre-paid developing - might be something to start our with.


John Lehman , Oct 14, 1999; 11:47 p.m.

If you are interested in the Morse developer, there is one of Ebay at the moment (NOT mine) item #180154178 ending 10/18 19:36. The key to avoiding uneven development is following Kodak's recommended prewetting technique (from their aerial film reference book)

Michael Carter , Dec 10, 2002; 09:56 a.m.

Here is a link to a spiral tank for 16mm worth getting. http://www.geocities.com/cinetank/ My own rewind tank holds 200 feet and is motorized. You will need a film dryer. 100 feet of film looping around your room tends to get dirty. Have a look as some of my equipment, read up on links, and have a go at it. I hope the saveings will be worth it. http://www.16mmoviemaking.com/lab http://www.16mmoviemaking.com/film_drier.htm Don't give up. I've been trying to start doing this for years. Michael

Jason Burlingame , Oct 13, 2007; 07:55 p.m.

To William Davis,


I am glad that your interested in the art and inspiration of 16mm film.

If you have the money get the desired camera.

If you know how to develope 35mm B&W picture film, than you can most definately can develope 16mm B&W white film. It just requires more chemicals for a longer length of film.

I'm runnig out of time.

P.S. I shall return to tell you and all the non believers how to process 16mm B&W negative film.

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