Developing Ilford XP2 in Black & White Chemicals / by Sarah Li

Okay, so I recently had my first experience of a darkroom, along with first time learning chemicals and agitating a development tank. It was through the amazing Film Is Not Dead along with Peckham’s new The Bright Rooms. I wanted to share a little of what I learnt. 

Besides the process of developing and that when shooting film you never change the ISO (obvious now but not so much when you have learnt in digital!).  There is one thing, however, that I wanted to focus in on as I don’t think it had been done much before - developing the Ilford XP2 in B&W chemistry. What I came to learn is that the Ilford XP2 is a colour film, at least when it comes to developing. It shoots black and white but you cannot develop it in the regular way you develop black and white film. It is made to be developed in the C-41 process. When I brought the film from Reel Photo in Manchester it was sold to me as a black and white film, so when shooting the images in Hyderabad’s Old City this is what I had in mind. The guys at Reel Photo are not wrong, and in all honesty, if I had gone down the conventional route of taking it to a local Snappy Snaps they would have been able to develop it for me. The thing that they, nor I, knew at that point was that I wanted to develop it myself.

I learned about the “You Push The Button We Do The Rest” pop up though Tori at Film Is Not Dead. They were running a week long shop/workshops with Kodak and The Bright Rooms in The Truman Brewery. It was dedicated solely to analogue photography - the name of the pop up named after Kodak’s original slogan! There was a "develop your own black and white film" workshop which I signed up to and took my Ilford XP2 along. Immediately upon seeing the film, the wonderful Eddie Otchere, who was taking the workshop, informed me that this was not a film we could develop. Instead, I watched everyone else’s negatives come to life. As time went on and I got to see Eddie at work, he convinced me to try and develop the XP2 in black and white chemicals. So we did. And I wanted to share the results.

Developing the negative.


1:100 ratio of Rodinal. We used 2ml of Rodinal in 200ml ionised water.

Development time : 1 hour; agitation for first minute then again at 30 minutes for one minute.

Normal stop, fix and rinse.

The results: The negatives are fairly pink and transparent with a certain amount of contrast.

It was thought that have done with more time in the development tank, more like two hours. 

The fun came in developing the contact sheet. The particular enlarger that I was using seemed to need more time than others, but as I learnt this can be due to a number of factors and the result comes down to testing.

I was working with @noamika in the darkroom, she was guiding my hand and pushing my knowledge. We started out with 15 seconds and it was way too light.


Ilford XP2


Time: 20 seconds

We were looking for more contrast so added magenta. This, Noam taught me, is the trick to adding contact to black and white images. If you want a more uniform look with less contrast then you increase the yellow. No need to touch the cyan. When you add magenta, you are effectively adding a layer of glass for the light to burn though so you have to increase the time. We started with: T 20 / M: 40. It still looked like it had a film over it. 


Ilford XP2

contact sheet. Time: 20 seconds; magenta: 40.

So we moved to T: 45  / M: 70. This was pretty spot on.   


Ilford XP2

Time:45 seconds; magenta: 70.

But to push it a bit more we went T: 50 / M: 100. This was dark but did work with certain images.  


Ilford XP2

Time: 50 seconds; magenta 100

Summary: If you develop XP2 in black and white chemistry and are looking for contrast, I would say the negative needs to develop for 2 hours (when using Rodinal Stand Development). If you want to print a contact sheet; adding 70 magenta gave us a wonderful contrast and also details in the shadows. 100 magenta also gave nice contrasts but in some instances it was too dark and so detail was lost - whilst this can be good for some photos, it really depends on what it is you are looking for. But overall don’t be disheartened by what the negatives might give you as there is so much variability when it comes to printing them that you can achieve some awesome things. I am not sure what the negatives would look like if they were digitally scanned, but that’s why the contact sheet is such a vital stage.

Note: I shot this film on a Canon 3000 with a 50mm lens. When I shot the film, I was not aware that with film you have to keep the ISO consistent for each individual film, so it was obviously difficult to determine the exact developing time. However as it is very hot and bright in India and the majority of these photos were taken outside, it is likely that most of these photos were a low ISO, so we didn’t push the film. The case might be different for a couple of the interior shots. Also the photos of the negatives and contact sheets are taken straight from my mobile phone.

I hope you found this useful and I will continue to post other things about the development process now I have my own tank and chemicals.

Peace and processing…