Thursday, February 12, 2009

E-2 slide film home processing!!!

I don't think I've ever done posts two days in a row, but yesterday was a rather productive day for photography related projects! Not for much else, as I sat around and did nothing most of the day...but it was a great day for photography! Not only did I finally fix my 195, but I successfully developed color slide film from 1968!
I bought a bunch of expired film for cheap on eBay last year...

I grabbed a roll of the Ektachrome last week and shot it through my Great Wall, not realizing until I got home that it isn't E-6 slide film, which is the current chemistry for color reversal film. Older formats include E-2, E-3 and E-4. This was labeled as E-2 on the paper roll, but the tab and instructions state that it can be developed as E-2 or E-4. Here is a copy of the instruction sheet.

I found this interesting in itself, because I've read that E-2 and E-4, while similar, have different coatings on the film...E-4 being the film that no one wants to run through modern systems because it has a nasty, goopy emulsion. Besides wanting to do everything myself (and not wanting to spend $42 for the only place in the country that develops the stuff), I was intrigued by what I read on the sheet. It's on the sheet, but I will repeat:

You Can Process the Film Yourself: This film should be processed by either Process E-2 or Process E-4. Process E-4 is intended primarily for laboratory use, but you can process this film yourself by using the KODAK EKTACHROME Film Processing Kit, Processes E-2 and E-3, and following the instructions for E-2.

I've cross processed slide film before using a home C-41 kit, and thought it should be possible to do the same for E-2. Encouraged, I did a little research on the Web. Amazingly, while I found a few discussions on the topic, I could not find a single example of this type of processing. Lots of theory, but mostly a lot of, "It probably won't work, but maybe this and this will work." I ended up working out a process that involved both black-and-white and color development.
I decided to use black and white chemicals based on a few basic theories. Number one being that you can develop color film in black-and-white chemicals. I figured that if nothing else worked, I could at least pull some of the silver out and get an image, however faded. Number two being that I've read that the first part of E-2 development is actually black and white development, and the second part is color. I actually found an interesting article here by Kodak stating that you can save color prints afterward if you accidentally develop them in BW chemicals. So the two processes are separate on the same sheet of film. I chose Diafine because it is super easy to use and always yields something, as long as there is something to develop.
As for the color part of development, I have a C-41 development kit. It's a couple months old, but I figured what the hell. I was working on the assumption that either the film would be dead or the developer would be dead, or both.
The biggest issue with current development and past processes is temperature. Current film is developed with very hot water...98-102 degrees F. This would strip the emulsion right off of the older films. The obvious answer to that is to develop at lower temps, which was confirmed in some online discussions. Colder water, about 70F, and longer development times. I figured that if the color developer did nothing, it would at least remove the orange layer from the film (I hoped), allowing for a less dense negative.
One last chemical I added, on a whim. Still worried about the emulsion coming off, I read about hardening agents. A few people suggested pre-hardeners for the film. I decided to go simple and avoid toxic: Sodium Sulfate. This is the stuff used to clear Polaroid 665 and 85 negatives. Reading about it, though, it seems what it does is prevent the gelatin layers from swelling and softening. So, what the heck, I threw in some of that as well.
Okay, so here's my actual process. Even though I had read that the BW development was the first step in E-2 processing, I did the color development first. I did this because I figured there was less of a chance of damaging the color layer if I took care of that first, and I knew it would have little effect on the sliver. And I figured that maybe the Diafine would stand a better chance at pulling the silver if the thick layer was already gone (though maybe this is part of what Blix does, not sure about the exact process).
Here was my actual process. Some of the steps may have been redundant...I have no idea. I'm not really a chemistry person at all, so I wanted to cover all my bases just in I have no idea which steps could have been omitted.

Step 1: pre-rinse
Step 2: 20cc Unicolor C-41 developer at 70F (with 2 tablespoons Sodium Sulfate added) for 10 minutes (about 3x regular development time), agitated 4 cycles every 30 seconds.
Step 3: Diafine Part A (room temp) for 3 minutes
Step 4: Diafine Part B (room temp) for 3 minutes.
Step 5: Color Blix for 6.5 minutes, agitating same as above.
Step 6: Kodak Fixer for 8 minutes, usual agitation.
Step 7: Rinse for 30 minutes.
Step 8 and beyond: Photo-flo, hang, dry, scan, etc.

I didn't save my chemicals, though I probably could have saved the color developer and Blix. I wasn't sure what the color chemicals would do to the Diafine and didn't want to contaminate my supply, so I tossed that.
So I did the development and was first of all surprised and delighted to see images on my negatives! I wasn't sure if the film had lost sensitivity to light, as color film in particular tends to die as it gets older. The negative was gray but not dense and orange, so I wasn't sure if I was looking at BW images or if there was color present. You can't always tell by looking at a negative...sometimes it's amazing what colors are present on a dull looking negative. So, after cutting and scanning, I was double surprised that not only did I have images, but I had usable color images! Sure, the film is old and the processing was odd, so color accuracy wasn't expected...but I honestly didn't expect any image, let alone actual color images. I mean, there just aren't any examples that I could find anywhere of someone doing this successfully. I'm sure it's been done, but with all the people in the world and on the Web messing about with film development, you'd thing that someone would have examples. Guess it's up to me, again! So I present to you E-2 Ektachrome color slide film, expired December 1968, developed with C-41 and Diafine chemicals.

"My god, it's full of stars." Nice! Faded, of course, but a lovely subtle color. I think that using the Diafine helped bring up the contrast in the images. Without it, the slide probably would have been very faded and low(er) contrast. The above image was the most 'true to life' in terms of color. A few more images...

Blues and greens seemed to have fared well...possibly just because they are different from the overall violet cast of the film that other colors might blend into.

Some images had very obvious color, while others seemed to be mostly black-and-white images. This may just be the source material...lots of browns, not a lot of color in the desert in winter.

So there you have it! Makes me wonder what else is possible. I'd like to try this with Kodachrome film, which is another outdated format that can only be developed by a couple places in the world. The general consensus is impossible or at least not ideal, but what's ideal? If it works, and you can get some lovely images out of it, that is ideal. If I want accurate colors and high-quality imaging, I'll get a boring digital camera and do what everyone else is doing. I think I prefer my way.
Okay, two in a row, soak it in for awhile! I may not post again within the month!

SHORT UPDATE: A couple more images from E-2 film, shot with a Rolleiflex. Left out the sodium sulfate this time, and the color developer was fresh.

And just to show that it can be done (and there are also examples on Flickr), here is some Kodacolor-X developed with the same method. Low quality, and the film is pretty bad (expired in 1976 I think), but there is color.


  1. Anonymous11:55 AM

    Nice results. Nice dog too :-)

  2. Hi Sean! great post! I'm Mattia from Italy, and you've saved my life with the two posts about peel-apart polas...

    I want to do my best compliments to you, you're a great person to share such a good stuff like this!

    I was an electronic and now a graphic designer... but polas have found me... and now I've got to go to that path, I know that you can understand me! ;)

    well this is only a big THANK YOU! and a see ya :)


  3. Anonymous6:29 PM

    very cool

  4. Anonymous11:08 PM

    Thanks so much for posting your process. I've got some of the same film (maybe even from the same year) that I've been holding off on shooting and developing until after I order more color chems (I'm also going to get an E-6 kit since I haven't tried that yet). Anyway, this post will come in extremely useful when I bust out the old slide film. This is such a fantastic blog, and I look forward to your updates because I know I'll always learn something. :)

  5. nice! I'll be curious if you manage with kodachrome - I've got some 120 kodachrome that even Dwayne's can't do. But they do still do 35 and maybe even 126, at about $10/roll.

  6. very helpful entry! thanks.... maybe you try C-22 at home? i have some old Kodak color films, but C-41 change C-22 in 1973:)

  7. Anonymous7:18 AM

    artistic pictures...good work.

  8. Color is introduced to the Kodachrom K-14 process during development. There is no color dyes preset in any K-14 film. Kodachrome is B&W until it is processed properly. I don't think you can recover any color. But they make pretty good B&W images that way.

  9. Anonymous5:49 AM

    Heya, Just thought I'd let you know that the Diafine will have had no effect on the final image - Diafine will bring out a silver image, you're correct, but the blix afterwards will have removed it. Essentially what you did was run the film through C41 for 10min at 70F. The Kodak Fix probably didn't do anything either.
    It's really interesting to see what you've done. I've got a bunch of old slide film and a C41 kit at home, which I bought after being inspired by what I saw on here. Hopefully I'll get as good results as you!

  10. this is wicked article! thankyou so much.

  11. wow, amazing, so cool!

  12. sus fotos son fantásticas! tienes talento ... Soy un diseñador gráfico e ilustrador. Algún día os envío mis diseños. Gracias por explicar todo el proceso de tus fotos!

  13. Laura7:13 AM

    beautiful article!
    just a you think I could use the same process to develop an agfacolor cns (expired 1983) ?
    thanks a lot

  14. i have no idea! i've read it has a special processing, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't be able to get something from it. sounds like it requires a low temp developer like kodacolor-x.

  15. Hello. What a fascinating post. We will be using one roll of Ektachrome coming up for a very special occasion so I am trying to come up with a foolproof plan.

    Did you ever consider the "anonymous" poster who said:

    "Heya, Just thought I'd let you know that the Diafine will have had no effect on the final image - Diafine will bring out a silver image, you're correct, but the blix afterwards will have removed it. Essentially what you did was run the film through C41 for 10min at 70F. The Kodak Fix probably didn't do anything either.
    It's really interesting to see what you've done. I've got a bunch of old slide film and a C41 kit at home, which I bought after being inspired by what I saw on here. Hopefully I'll get as good results as you! "

  16. i assumed he was correct, but a couple months ago i developed a roll of the old ektachrome in c41 developer alone (same as above without diafine) and my negs were barely visible and unscannable. very dense negs. it's kind of difficult to experiment as i lose a roll of film every time it doesn't work, but that left me with some feeling that the diafine is doing 'something'. not sure what it's role is but it didn't work without.

  17. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Nice results!

    Hey, your process doesn't make any sense :). The B&W step is completely unnecessary and does nothing in your process. You are just developing it as a color negative; Then, you continue developing it as a B&W negative, and then you blix the B&W part away. You can just leave the B&W part away. ... well, at least in theory. The chances are, the blix may not be powerful enough and it may leave some silver to the image. Then, the B&W step would help increasing contrast and lowering color saturation.

    The color developer will develop you a B&W image anyway, alongside with the color image. Now, if you skipped blix and used an ordinary fix instead, you would have both, and you could use your process to control color saturation -- from "50% saturation" with full color developer time and no bw developer, to "0% saturation" with no color developer and full bw developer time. But when you use the blix, you have 100% saturation and the color developer is the only thing that matters, as you remove any results of a BW developer by using a blix.

    But please note that this is a REVERSAL film, that is, a SLIDE film, a film that is designed for a reversal process to yield a POSITIVE image. There is no orange mask. And, as you have noticed, it can be developed as a negative film. It is usually called cross-processing.

    REVERSAL processing includes B&W development first, then a fogging step, either by light or a chemical one, and then a color developer. This exact sequence is a must if you want a POSITIVE image, which clearly isn't what you are looking for.

    For a color negative, it works like you did, but if you want to add a BW developer step "just to be sure you get at least a B&W image", then you must not use a blix but a standard fix. Then, you can later blix it to increase color saturation by removing the silver image.

    Keep on experimenting!

  18. yeah it doesn't seem like it should matter at all, but i've developed rolls with just color developer and no diafine and i just got a very dense negative. maybe some particular effect of the two step diafine process? e-6 isn't supposed to work with c41 developer anyway, so no idea why it works with the diafine and not without, and multiple times?

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Ha, that was me above who removed my comment. I just wanted to edit it, sorry. Anyway, thanks for the information in your post, you had great success I'd say.

    I recently developed some E4 film this same basic way, and have been researching how to perfect the process. Yesterday I hit what might be a jackpot, straight from the mouth of Kodak. I think that you too would benefit from reading this Kodak data sheet I found, the whole topic is exactly what you are discussing here, reprocessing Ektachrome in C41 after B&W chems. It also has some great info on using Kodachrome to get b&w negatives. I will try the reprocessing soon, using the bleach and flood-lamp method as described. It's definitely worth a shot and might get rid of some of the nasty color cast later...I don't know.

    I really want to find a source that describes, in detail, what happens chemically at each step of color developing, which reactions are time-based and which are reactions that can be performed "to completion". If you have any sources please let me know.

    Here's that Kodak Data Sheet

    And here is the discussion at where someone provided that link. It has some other good info on the old processes.

    Also, I am pretty sure that if the B&W process is done first, a non-hardening fixer is important to use.

    Despite what the previous commenter stated, I'm pretty sure that I've read that a B&W process first will increase contrast, which might help some of these images get a little but more "punch". I've read so much crap about this lately, everyone disagrees, or agrees differently....I guess experimentation and note keeping is the real key. This is why I was so pleased to get some info from Kodak themselves. I hope this long comment is helpful, even if a little bit.

    1. you can click on my name to link to my flickr account where the first image is my favorite E4 result so far. I am going to post some more very soon though, as my second roll came out quite nicely.

  21. Anonymous10:40 AM

    I would attempt to process the film with a normal sequence of B&W developer (Diafine) and then rinse it well and do the color developer step followed by the blix. I think you might achieve better contrast and detail that way. If you get a positive you can always reverse it in another generation (negative film or digitally). I think the B&W image somehow controls the extent of the color image formation but I'm not sure of that since I read details of the process 30-some years ago. At that time I developed some E-3 film in E-4 chemistry and got some dense negative images IIRC. I also found out that you do need to use much cooler temperatures than that for modern films.

    One correction to your original post: the chemical that clears Polaroid negatives is sodium sulfite, not sodium sulfAte. Sodium sulfite is a common developer additive to prevent oxidation and it also makes up the bulk of Kodak Hypo Clearing Agent.