The Magic of Rodinal

Onancock, VA (Ilford Delta 400)

24 and 36.

These are important numbers to 35mm film shooters. These are the most common number of frames on a roll of film. Depending on a few factors, it is possible and common to squeeze out an extra frame or two from a roll but for the most part, 24 and 36. One roll, one ISO/ASA, one general set of lighting conditions. So what happens when you are out of inspiration at frame number 20? Still more shots on the roll but the conditions have changed, maybe the remaining frames of ASA 100 roll of Acros already loaded up isn’t going to work for the nighttime street shooting that lies in front of you. Do you wind up the roll and load something else? Do you leave a bit of the leader out of the Acros and make a mental note of how many frames are left and try to shoot it up at a later date? I went through that stage, it never worked for me because my desk would end up littered with half shot rolls, how many left on each a long forgotten mystery. So the only path is to shoot the whole roll and hope for the best.

Karaoke Night (Kodak Tri-X 1600)

Enter the magic of Rodinal.

Onancock, VA (Ilford Delta 400)

The images that you see on this page were all developed in the same tank at the same time using Rodinal and Stand Development (technically I used semi-stand but I’ll get to that) and came from two rolls of film, Ilford Delta 400, and Kodak Tri-X 400. The entire roll of Ilford was shot in about 30 minutes during sunny day in Onancock, VA. The Tri-X got loaded into my F6 at mid afternoon when it was mostly sunny, however all but 6 frames ended up getting shot well into nighttime hours. Mocha the Dog graciously volunteered to serve as my model for the 6 full sun Tri-X shots, a few nightlife spots around Virginia Beach and Norfolk were the setting for the rest.

Mocha the Dog (Tri-X 400)

I knew that I would soup these rolls in Rodinal, mostly because I haven’t taken the time to mix up another batch of D-76 and the Rodinal is a concentrated liquid that is easy to mix up as a one-shot. I needed to do both rolls in the same Patterson two-reel tank though, because the fixer was starting to get that sulfur smell and needed more and more time to clear lately. And I’m just not in the mood to mix up another batch in this rain so whatever fixer was on hand would go into the tank for its final hurrah. So Rodinal it was. But… order to have anything even resembling proper shutter speeds for the night shots, I underexposed by 2 full stops (in essence rating the film at ISO 1600. There are technical reasons why this isn’t a totally correct statement but that is a topic for another day) and decided to use the stand development method to even out the exposures on the Tri-X while letting the Delta develop unaltered.

1608 Crafthouse (Kodak Tri-X 1600)

The keys to Stand Developing are: 1. The dilution of the developer mix is 100:1 (100 parts water, 1 part Rodinal), 2. The film is allowed to soup until the developer is exhausted (about one hour in my case), and 3. Agitation is kept to a minimum, gentle inversions for the first 5 minutes then let it sit untouched for the duration. To counter something called Bromide Effect, I gave my Patterson tank a very gentle inversion halfway through the hour which technically makes this a Semi-Stand. Then stop bath (tap water), fix, wash, and hang to dry.

Social Media (Kodak Tri-X 1600)

I’ve used this method a few times before but this is the first time that I’ve done two rolls at the same time with such vastly different exposure latitudes, especially on the Tri-X which started off being rated at ISO 400 and ended up being rated at ISO 1600. Never mind the fact that I was actually able to get usable images from the Tri-X, the images from that roll really pop! Rodinal gave it some extra vibe and contrast, really bringing out the best in Tri-X. Truth be told, I’m more of an Ilford HP5 and Delta 400 guy but souping Tri-X in Rodinal really can recreate the iconic look of Tri-X, the look that has been the narrative of photojournalists for decades.

Beer Tap (Kodak Tri-X 1600)

All images on this page are exactly how they came out of the tank (other than the sharpening that my Epson V600 flatbed scanner applies to everything whether asked to or not). I really like how the lighting makes the image below, it is my favorite of the roll.

1608 Crafthouse (Kodak Tri-X 1600)

2 thoughts on “The Magic of Rodinal”

  1. Good article James. I love Rodinal, I use it with Kodak XX (5222) for 9 minutes at 1+50, with fantastic results. With Delta 400 I see a one stop speed loss, but maybe it’s my fault at some point. I’m thinking of shooting it at ISO 200.
    I haven’t tried stand development, but your results look great. I think Rodinal doesn’t get much love in our D76 grain free world, but to me the grain and tonality is why I love film.

    1. Thanks for the observations, I’ve had the same thoughts about Delta as well. And since I have a bunch of it in the freezer it might be a good time for some experiments.
      I’ve had a bag or two of D76 to mix up for awhile now but you are so right about the grain and tonality of Rodinal that the chemicals will stay in the bag for a bit longer. Between Rodinal Stand Dev and Diafine I’m really enjoying some of these historical ‘under any conditions’ ways of creating black and white negatives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.