Dark Room In-A-Box

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the blog, but a lot has been happening since this summer. We’re still in the pandemic, but I’ve been making the most of it by editing my next novel and working on a system to develop my own film at home.

For all the upsides of film photography, the main drawback for me (and many others I’m sure) is the cost.

Film is expensive, and prices are only going up. The few remaining labs near me charge roughly what a major mail-away provider does, and the cost of developing color film has turned it into a periodic luxury. This has sent me back in the direction of black & white photography, which I’m totally OK with. I originally started on black & white with my father’s Canon FTb way back in a high school photography class. I enjoy the look and the challenges inherent in black & white photography, so I’m alright with that being my main film output.

I also recently acquired a Canon Rebel EOS T7 DSLR, but that’s a story for another post.

I do not have a lot of free space or the budget to create a home darkroom, so I wanted to try and put together a “dark room in-a-box” for under $100. I managed to accomplish that goal and I’ll outline what I purchased here for any of you that might want to start developing film in your own home.

Step 1: Put Your Film in The Box

That’s not actually step 1.

As I mentioned before, I wanted to do this on a budget of $100 and ensure it didn’t take up a lot of space, so here’s what I came up with.

  • Sterilite Locking box ($7 at Walmart)
  • Clothes pins ($2 at Walmart)
  • Distilled water ($1 at Walmart)
  • Can opener ($1 at Walmart)
  • Scissors ($3 at Walmart)
  • Measuring cup & funnels ($4 at Walmart)
  • Thermometer ($9 on Amazon)
  • Changing Bag ($18 on Amazon)
  • Cinestill B&W develop-at-home kit ($35 on sale from Cinestill)
  • Kodak Photo-Flo ($8 from B&H Photo)
  • Coat hangar (salvaged)

Total Cost: $88 (enough left to buy some rolls of film!)

The big break I got when it came to building this kit was the Cinestill “DF-96 monobath Develop-At-Home kit”. This kit came with the Cinestill monobath, a two-reel Patterson tank, and a couple rolls of their BWXX black and white film. Thirty five bucks is a steal considering every Patterson or Jobo tank I saw online was around $30 or more just by itself.


This is a very simple workflow. The Cinestill monobath is a one-step developer and fixer, and quite easy to use. It has a somewhat short shelf life, but it gave me the confidence to start developing again after having been out of the game for over twenty years.

I load all my equipment and film into the Patterson tank, and then developed some Kentmere 400 (also going budget on film) in the tank. Unfortunately, my negatives came out a bit thin since my monobath had been punctured during delivery and was somewhat spoiled.

Luckily, the fine folks at Cinestill provided me a replacement and sent it in powdered form, which is the form I’ll purchase it in going forward.

Once I had developed the negatives, I tried out my Pixl Latr. It’s a nifty device (review is forthcoming) but didn’t deliver the exact results I wanted, so I’m looking to get a flatbed scanner sometime soon.

Thoughts on Home Development

I enjoy the process of home development. I’m happy to continue building out a little “home lab” as I find deals on equipment, since I’m still a bit nervous about the long-term sustainability of film. Black and white is simple, which I assume means it will be around for quite a while even if it’s produced by smaller companies. Plus, COVID has put a lot of strain on film labs, and I like having the piece of mind that my beloved film cameras won’t become paperweights as long as I can get my hands on some cheap B&W film and have the skills to develop and scan it myself. I consider this “Dark room in-a-box” and investment as this should all pay for itself in under twenty rolls of film shot.

Do you develop you own film at home? Let me know down in the comments I’d love to hear from you about your setup and any mishaps or triumphs you’ve had with this always intriguing process!