I love to cook.
More accurately, I love when people enjoy my cooking. It brings me a tremendous sense of accomplishment to see people I love eat a meal I've prepared. It's a very intimate experience, is cooking. It really connects you with those you care about.
One of my favourite foods to prepare is a nice mushroom and shrimp risotto. Now, you might think this somewhat pedestrian; after all, it's just rice. But there's a dark secret to risotto; a secret so sinister, that I really ought not let you in on it. But I'm going to. The secret to risotto is this:
It's ridiculous easy to make.
Or more appropriately, it's ridiculous easy to make, but people *think* it's hard to make, thereby increasing the "Wow!" factor once I've prepared it for them.
You see, risotto really is stupidly simple to make, but there's a catch. All you need is some good arborio rice (maratelli or carnaroli rice are also great choices), some butter, onions, and a few litres of chicken stock. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a large pot. Next, sautée the rice, onions, and mushrooms in butter until the rice is nicely coated and the onions start to caramelize. Now comes the part that looks hard: you ladle in hot chicken stock one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and adding a pinch of salt. Do not add more stock until the previous stock has been absorbed into the rice. Repeat this until the rice is slightly al dente (NOTE: overcooking the rice is really the only thing you can do wrong...see, I told you it was easy). Fry your shrimp in a bit of butter, and stir them into the risotto. Top with grated parmigiano-Reggiano, basil, and a bit more butter, and serve.
Total time: 25 min. See easy.
So what's the catch? Well, it only took a few ingredients, and the instructions are simple. BUT...you were working at 100% capacity for 25min while adding stock. That's the thing about risotto: you don't have to work at it for long, but you need to be 100% focused while you're cooking it. If you follow this plan, you too can fool your friends and family into thinking risotto is hard to make. Suckers.
Now, that was, obviously, just one huge digression on the topic of developing slide (E6) film at home. What's the link, you ask? Well, E6 developing is almost exactly like making risotto; it's not hard, but you need to be 100% focused for about 25 minutes. If you do that, you too can fool your friends and family into thinking developing slide film is difficult. Suckers.
First, you need E6 chemistry. This is probably the hardest part of all, since you need to find a source that will ship to you at a reasonable price and that sells quantities that are appropriate for home use (i.e. not industrial-scale). I got a 5L kit from macodirect.de, which is rated for 60 rolls of 35mm or 120. The chemistry plus shipping to Canada was about $190, which, if I do get 60 rolls, works out to just over $3 per roll. By contrast, my local pro lab charges $10.35 for 35mm and $6.90 for 120. Suffice it to say, this is a significant cost savings. The chemistry ships as stock concentrates, which you mix into working solutions according to the amount of solution you need. I made 1L working stocks, since my largest tank is a Paterson Multi-Reel 3, which needs just less than 1L for 3 rolls of 35mm or 2 rolls of 120. The remaining concentrate can be stored for later use (Tetenal claims up to 24 weeks after opening).
This particular E6 kit contains 3 baths: first developer, colour developer, and Blix (bleach + fix). My approach to E6 developing is more or less the same as with C41 film. First, I place 2 developers and blix in a box like this, which I then fill with a mixture of boiling water and very hot tap water. This brings the chemicals up to the required 100F (NOTE: this is different than C41, which requires 102C). I place a digital thermometer into the first developer bottle to watch as the temperature rises (IMPORTANT: DO NOT USE THIS THERMOMETER IN ANY OTHER BATH; DOING SO WILL CONTAMINATE THE FIRST DEVELOPER THE NEXT TIME YOU PUT IT IN THAT BATH).
While the chemicals are coming up to temperature, I run tap water at 100F (checking with a simple alcohol thermometer), and then presoak my film and tank for 5 minutes in running 100F water (NOTE: this protocol uses a lot more water than the C41 protocol). If you've done things right, the chemicals should be coming up to 100F at about the 5 minute mark, at which point I remove the chemicals from the box, empty the box of the hot water, and refill it with 100F water from the tap and (importantly) leave the tap water running into the box, in order to maintain a constantly replenished supply of 100F water. Once I've added my first developer to the tank, I close the tank and put it AND the colour developer and blix bottles back into the water bath filled with (running) 100F water.
Now, for the risotto-esque part: agitation is constant for the first 15 seconds (basically the time it takes to pour in the chemistry) and 1 agitation every 15 seconds for the entire 6:30 first developer. Yes, every 15 seconds. So it's a constant process of removing the tank from the water bath, agitating once, and then putting it back into the water bath until the next 15 seconds is up.
After 6:30 is up, pour the first developer back into the bottle (which can be reused) and wash for 2:30 in running water, changing the wash every 30 seconds (see, I told you it was a lot of work). While the film is washing, seal up the first developer bottle and put it away; you don't want to contaminate it with liquid (or even fumes) from the colour developer or blix.
Next, pour in the colour developer, and follow the same procedure (including agitation) as the first developer. Time: 6 minutes
Wash for 2:30
Pour in the blix and repeat the procedure, including agitation, for 6:15 (a little extra Blix-ing is ok).
After you've blixed, it's safe to remove the top of the tank (the film is now insensitive to light). Wash in running water for 4 min, emptying the tank every 30-45 seconds in order to replenish the wash.
Pour in the stabilizer (which contains a wetting agent...yay! No PhotoFlo required!) for 1 min, and then hang to dry.
Pretty good, I'd say.
So what can go wrong?
First, temperature control is more important with E6 than with either B&W or C41. This is simply because you are making a positive; temperature shifts result in colour shifts, and with a positive, you can't correct this in the print making process as you can with C41 and B&W film. If you're scanning your slides, it's not as much of an issue because you can colour correct later**, but if you're projecting, what you develop is what you get. So keep your temperature under control, especially for the first developer, which is the really crucial step.
** - Note that even this has limits, especially if you get crossed curves, where you will never be able to colour correct accurately in both the highlights and shadows.
Other than that, this is really not that hard to do. It's positively simple, just like making risotto. BUT, just like with risotto, you will be working non-stop for 25 minutes.
So there you have it: developing E6 film at home is easy, and I highly recommend it to anyone shooting E6 film regularly. If you're only shooting it once in a while, then you might be better off going with a pro lab OR batch processing your film all in one go. This is simply because the chemicals have a shorter shelf life than with C41, and colour accuracy is so important with slides.
The other question is: is anyone still shooting slides? I personally love them, and I've recently bought 100 rolls of expired (circa 2001-2003) Fuji slide film for about $2 per roll, which I'm now using as my standard street photography film. All of the film was cold (freezer) stored, and is <100 ISO, and so far has proved to be excellent. If you can find a source of expired, well-stored slide film, go for it; it's a great deal. On the other hand, if you have to buy new film, it can get a bit pricey. One good option is Agfaphoto Precisa CT 100, of which I bought 20 rolls, with shipping, for about $7 per roll; this film is re-branded Provia 100F (likely Provia 100F that failed Fuji's quality control), and provides wonderful results.
With all the pro shooters (even the landscape guys) moving to digital, the clock is ticking for transparency film. Do yourself a favour: go out and shoot some, and experience the joy of slides while you can. You wont regret it.