CineStill Df96 and 2-Step Color Kit, Two Years On

Df96 has an official shelf life of three months, but experience indicates that’s an underestimate. I began using Df96 right before the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Before then, I had access to a fully-equipped darkroom. I was just getting used to doing B&W darkroom development and printing when the city shut down.

My first order of Df96 was the pre-mixed liquid. I got it for 16.99 and bought only one because I had no idea whether it would work well. I used that batch to develop 20 rolls of 12-exposure film and 120 format (Tri-x, HP5+, and Ultrafine 100 and 400). The first roll was in March 2020 and the last in October 2020, and all came out fine. The Df96 had gotten darker, but nothing else. I did not attempt any further B&W development until April 2021, at which time the solution had deteriorated, so I know that Df96 lasted at least seven months after being opened.

I mixed my second batch of Df96 in May 2021. So far, I have developed the equivalent of 8.5 36-exposure rolls, the last being three weeks ago. And this current batch of Df96 is barely discolored. That is nine months of shelf life, and it’s still going strong.

The story for the 2-step color kit is about the same. The first batch, mixed from powder, lasted from June 2020 until May 2021. I developed about 15 rolls (mixture of 120 and 35mm 24 and 12-exposure rolls), the last three were in May 2021, and they came out fine.  The 2-step color kit has handled Portra 400 and 160, UltraMax, Kodak Gold 200, Fuji 100 and 200, Ektar 120 and 35mm, and Lomo 400 with ease. I had one batch of negatives that came out underexposed, which I initially mistook for underdevelopment. However, later research showed that the problem was a bad meter—the negatives were underexposed, not underdeveloped. My most recent batch of 2-step chemicals went bad after nine months, May 2021 until January 2022.

The takeaway from all this? The CineStill chemicals have a much longer storage life than advertised! This is very good news since I shoot these days sporadically. The unmixed powder seems to have an indeterminate shelf life if stored properly. About 10% of the B&W images on this site were developed in the traditional way with Ilford chemicals.  Another 10% are lab-processed XP2, and the rest were done with Df96. About 50%  of the color images were developed with CineStill chemicals–all of those since June 2020. Obviously, there are emulsions that require special tweaking with various dilutions of Rodinal or microphen or another developer, but I have none of those emulsions.

So far, I am pleased with the way Df96 has handled Tri-X, TMax, FP4+, HP5+, and Ultrafine 100 and 400. Of course, darkroom printing is a different animal altogether from scanning. Perhaps once I have access to a darkroom again, and I can print the old-fashioned way, I will try other developers. (Or if I decide to try and get a few prints on the wall of the Guggenheim.) But, until then, it is CineStill for sure. And there is no way I will switch to a traditional c41 process until I have a darkroom to store the chemicals.

Df96 also saves time. I have read on forums that monobath solutions save no time over the regular process. I’ve done it both ways, and the monobath is definitely faster for me. Df96 can be used at different temps. At 70 degrees, development takes 6 minutes; at 80 degrees, it takes three. More importantly, no mixing is needed, and I have only one bottle to store. Many days when the monobath is at room temp, 70-72 degrees, all I do is pour it in the dev tank, do two inversions/minute for 6 minutes, and I’m done. The chemicals then go back into the bottle. It’s not better than sliced bread, but it’s close—at least for me.

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