Comparing old film developers – DDX and Aculux 2

May 12, 2014

While doing a darkroom clean-up during the last holidays I was wondering what to do with some old bottles of film developer. There was a one litre container of Ilford DDX with about 200ml left that was first opened five or six years ago when I used it to develop Delta 3200.  I’ve read several times that it doesn’t last well once opened, so the obvious thing to do seemed to be to get rid of it; I certainly wouldn’t risk it on any important film. It occurred to me that it might be an interesting exercise to expose some test sheets of 4×5 to ascertain the state of the dev. I also had a bottle of Aculux 2 that I had opened in 2006, as well as an unopened bottle of the same. My first test showed that the opened Aculux 2 was completely inactive – the film I processed came out clear. This didn’t surprise me as there was a lot of dark sediment in the base of the bottle. The DDX worked very well, it seemed to be full strength and reminded me of what a good developer it is. I tested another film in the previously unopened bottle of Aculux 2 and found that it was working well, the results looked similar to Rodinal in regard to shadow and highlight density.

4x5 test bed ddx vs aculux2 blog

The photo above is from the next test. It is a sheet of Tmax 400 that expired in 2007 but is good, with some base fog. The exposed sheet was cut in half and the pieces processed in the separate developers. The bottom half is DDX and the top half Aculux 2. Considering that the exposure was identical it shows how the DDX can increase shadow detail and boost the highlights. These qualities are why DDX is well regarded for push films such as Delta 3200. Not only was this from a bottle that was opened at least 5 years ago, it was the very end of the bottle. I had meant to process it at 1+9 but ended up at 1+12 as the bottle was emptied.  There is no guarantee that all old DDX will keep well but this does show that the keeping properties are not as bad as some people claim. DDX would also probably be a good developer for alternative processes such as salt printing that require a negative with a lot of shadow detail and a long tonal range.

The Aculux 2 was processed for 13 minutes at 1+9 as per the instruction sheet. The results are quite acceptable, perhaps a bit under in the highlights. if I was going to use this dev regularly I would probably develop for a bit longer than the suggested time. Likewise, if I was going to carry on with DDX I would shorten the dev time slightly for normal negatives.

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