Developing Color at Home with the CineStill 2-Bath Cs41 Kit

By May 2020, I had a few rolls of exposed color film that had been lying around for a while. Usually, I would shoot three or four rolls of color film, then drive out to The PhotoSpot in Douglasville and have them processed. The PhotoSpot is an old-fashioned film lab that can do close to one-hour processing. Since Douglasville is a 25-minute drive, typically, I drop off my film, do some shopping, have lunch, then pick up my CDs and head home. It makes for a pleasant outing. COVID brought a halt to this routine. 

When COVID popped up in March, I assumed it would disappear by summer. Once it became clear that was unlikely, I had to figure out how to get my film processed. I investigated mail-in processing but, having been spoiled by the PhotoSpot, I decided against that option. Yes, I could have driven to Douglasville, dropped off the film, and returned a day or two later, but that seemed to be too much of a hassle. At this point, I looked at my developing tanks and said, “Why not color?”

Color is more complicated than black and white mainly due to temperature constraints. Color has to be developed at 102 degrees, and maintaining that temperature is the hard part. I had heard of CineStill’s 2-step color process, but I didn’t want to deal with temperature issues, even with only two steps. When it became apparent The PhotoSpot was no longer a workable solution, I watched the CineStill tutorial.  

Kid’s scissors and can opener work great for removing and cutting film

As I mentioned before, maintaining the temperature is the main hurdle for color processing. In the video, the guy suggested using a heated spa foot bath to control the temperature. That seemed simple enough, so I went searching on Amazon. There were a few available at widely varied prices, but I found one on sale for a little more than 48.00. Mixing jars are required, so I ordered two quart-sized mason jars. At this point, the cost of doing home development hit. I needed storage jars, a graduated cylinder, stirrer, and funnel. Finally, I ordered the CineStill 2-step kit from B&H Photo. It took longer to get started than I had hoped because of a COVID-caused shipping delay of about three weeks.  

Once everything arrived, the first thing I did was mix a batch of chemicals. All the advice I read on mixing said use distilled water; none was available, so I used filtered water from the fridge. Mixing was dirt simple. I heated the water to 110F or so in the microwave, then filled the mason jars with a portion of it. Next, I placed the jars in the spa bath, filled the bath with hot tap water, and set the temp for 103F. From here, I mixed the developer and blix in the mason jars. The instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. The entire process went quickly.

heated foot bath, hanger with clips for drying

After mixing both solutions, I grabbed my changing bag and a test roll (expired, 12-exposure Fuji 100 color film to experiment with, just in case I botched mixing the chemicals). There was no need to prewash the film, so I didn’t bother. (Usually, I sit the developing tank in the bath for a few seconds before adding the developer.)

Development is 3.5 minutes at 102F. After that, the second step is in blix for 8 minutes. In both cases, I did minimal agitation—10 seconds initially, then four inversions/rotations every 30 seconds until done. The final step is washing for 3 minutes, during which I added Kodak Photo-Flo and swirled a couple of times. Done! (Blix and wash can be done from 75-102F.)

The negatives looked fine on first inspection— a little darker than expected—but the film was ten years old, so I didn’t sweat it. I used the guest bathroom for drying, which usually takes about an hour. Having sat through a three-hour color development class using the regular c41 process, I can definitely say, unless you really want the experience, the CineStill 2-step process is a no-brainer. Both color and black and white chemicals are available in powder form with long shelf lives. 

Storage is more straightforward with the CineStill kit as well. In my studio, I have a box with four bottles: one with black and white monobath, two for color developer and blix, and the Photo-Flo. A second box has the equipment. Life is good; development, easy. The powders are in a drawer with legal pads and pens. No way I’m ever going to do the regular c41 process at home. Buying separate chemicals may be cheaper, but I can develop 25 rolls of 35mm color with one kit for 25.00 (black and white is 15-20 rolls per kit). That’s more than I would shoot in six months. To slow down oxidation, I squeeze the air out of the storage bottles.

So far, developing has gone well. And having developed 13 rolls of 35mm and one roll of 120 Ektar, to-date, I’m not likely to return to Douglasville unless I have an important roll to develop. CineStill chemicals are wonderful products. Don’t be intimidated; it’s easy.

4 Comments

  1. Ok, you’ve convinced me this isn’t hard. And the foot bath thing to heat everything is genius. I’m not ready to take the plunge yet as I’m still getting my b/w techniques down, but at least now I have a path forward when I’m ready.

    1. Author

      The biggest problem I’ve run into is the curliness of Fuji color film. I have to press it in a book for a week before scanning. The Ultrafine film is a breeze to scan.

      1. Developing my own film has absolutely changed which films I use, because any film that curls is a pain to scan. I’ve left Tri-X behind for HP5+ because HP5+ dries flat.

        1. Author

          Same here. Unfortunately, I still rolls of Tri-X and Fuji 100, which I will now use solely for testing purposes.

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