Refining My Development Technique with Df96 and Ultrafine Xtreme 400

I have had good results with Ultrafine Xtreme 100. The grain is always pleasant and the images sharp. The same has been true of HP5+ and Tri-X.  However, I had begun to avoid Ultrafine Xtreme 400 because the grain was so pronounced that it had become distracting.  

I use CineStill Df96 for B&W development, and I have been pleased with the results except for Ultrafine Xtreme 400. Many photography bloggers like the 400 ISO version. But, for some reason, I seemed to be the only one who got poor or inconsistent results from Ultrafine 400. Of course, I had been using only Df96 monobath, so it occurred to me that maybe the Df96 was the problem.  

I began using Df96 in early 2020, and it has exceeded expectations in many ways. The first batch I used was the pre-mixed liquid form. That batch lasted for at least nine months and 17 rolls—not bad, and longer than CineStill states it should. I experienced the same longevity with the c41 2-step chemistry. A batch I mixed from powder lasted for an entire year. In the post, A Comedy of Errors, I stated that some blame for the poor outcome lay with the c41 chemistry. After writing that post, I discovered that the chemistry was still good but full of sediment (the blix). The sediment was my fault. I read somewhere about extending the use of Df96 by straining it with a coffee filter after each use, which I typically do. I strained the c41 developer before using it but forgot to do so with the blix.  

The three images above all have more grain than I would like, especially compared to HP5+ and Tri-X

For Tri-x, HP5+, and both Ultrafine films, I develop in Df96 for six minutes at 70 degrees with minimal agitation. CineStill defines minimal agitation as 10 seconds of inversions to start, then five seconds of inversions every minute until done. Color processing is slightly different. Initial inversions (four) are 10 seconds, but the remaining inversions are every 30 seconds. Realizing that I frequently go back and forth between color and B&W, it struck me that my inconsistent results could be due to me incorrectly following the processing instructions.

As a test case, I decided to review my agitation process. I don’t do inversions. Instead, I use the tank rod to swirl the negatives in the solution. My practice was to do swirls for 10 seconds and then do five swirls once each minute until finished. Yesterday, I loaded two rolls of Ultrafine 400 and timed the swirls. Five seconds was only enough time to do two swirls—I have been over-agitating!!! I adjusted my agitation method to two swirls per minute, and the scans showed far less grain.    Color is different as well.  Four long swirls and four inversions seem to be about the same amount of time/agitation, so from now on, B&W will be two swirls once per minute and color, four swirls every 30 seconds.  

The two images above were processed with less agitation (2 swirls) and have more pleasing grain. These are test shots taken with a Minolta ER!! The meter doesn’t work, so both images are f5.6, 1/125.

For some reason, I assumed five swirls would take five seconds without ever testing that assumption. Of course, this means I have been over-agitating color negatives as well—yikes!!! I was worried that I might have been agitating B&W every 30 seconds as I did with color. Looking at the much improved Ultrafine 400 negatives, my using five swirls instead of two fully accounts for the inconsistent outcomes. 

It isn’t clear why HP5+ or Tri-X were not affected as much by over-agitation, but looking over old negatives, they all look pretty good. Oh well, problem solved! Once again—live and learn.

*** Two spellings exist for Ultrafine “Extreme”: eXtreme and Xtreme. Both versions occur on the product’s website. I chose to go with Xtreme because it is easier to type.


  1. Your UX400 looks way better in Df96 than mine does in L110 (HC-110). I don’t like this film in L110 at all.

    1. Yeah, Ultra 400 is temperamental–I was ready to give up on it. But since so many others like it, I decided to see if I could improve my results. I use the 12 exposure rolls for testing new-to-me cameras, and even then, I didn’t like the results. Now, I may use it for images I want to keep. Having tried traditional developers, I will stick with Df96 until I start getting unacceptable results.

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