Mistakes in developing color reversal films (with ORWO C-9165 process)

Few years ago, after a quick encounter with black and white development processes, trying not to be one-trick pony and without proper preparation I jumped to color reversal process ORWO C-9165. This is an old, pre-E-6 process applicable to many color reversal films, but mainly intended for ORWO UT (Umkehrfilm für Tageslicht) and UK (Umkehrfilm für Kunstlicht) type of emulsions.

My under-preparation yielded mistakes that lead to experience, further enriched by spending time and time browsing old photo books to analyze what went wrong and understand better the process.

ORWO C-9165 is a hectic (by nowadays standards), long (>120 min.) process that follows the following steps:

  1. First (black and white) developer
  2. Stop bath
  3. Wash
  4. Re-exposure to light (500W bulb at 1 m. from film, 2 min. each side)
  5. Color developer
  6. Wash
  7. Bleach
  8. Wash
  9. Fix
  10. Wash
  11. Drying

Here is a leaflet from the original ORWO C-9165 chemicals kit:

Details about this process and its recipes I have posted here. Quite similar is AGFA Process 41, my experience with it is described here.

The most important step in ORWO C-9165 process is the first development (FD). Also, this is the step where you push or pull the film. 10-20% of over-development (depending on your film and its box speed) equals one stop of a push.

During the FD, the chemical agents create latent black and white image that is used during the second exposure step. Simply you create a fogged mask that will allow light to reach certain layers’ parts during the re-exposure step. This black and white fog/image is removed by the bleach bath later in the process.

Proper image, under this process, is created as a combination between first exposure, first developer and color developer. The rest of the steps are simply “process to completion”, e.g. you may not over-expose during second exposure (but you can under-expose during it!), over-bleach, over-fix, etc.

Few things I learned by trial and error and from old books about ORWO C-9165 are:

  • you should not overexpose color reversal films — the rule of thumb you’ve heard “a decade after expiration date equals a stop slower” is not applicable with these films. If you overexpose (pull the film) you shall decrease the time of the FD. Color reversal films have small exposure latitude, compared to color negatives;
  • you should not overdevelop in the FD — if you do this, FD will develop more silver salts, so less will remain for the color developer and thus you will get faint colors and low contrast;
  • such old materials (mine are 30+ years old) are already fogged (heat, light, radiation…), so over-exposing or over-developing them in FD would yield more fog;
  • washing between the steps of the process is very important — wash at least as prescribed, especially after color development.

So now, let’s have a look at the mistakes and their causes.

1. Solid, dense dark image with non-clear and non transparent dark colors

a.) cold first developer
b.) short first development time
c.) exhausted first developer
d.) insufficient agitation

However, if perforation and the space between exposures is normal black — film is underexposed.


2. Light, transparent image with underdeveloped light areas and unsaturated colors, areas without exposure are light

a.) over-development in the first developer
b.) exhausted, expired or cold color developer
c.) short color development time
d.) short second exposure

However, if non-exposed area is normal black film is overexposed.


3. Small pink/red circles with light center

There were small water drops during second exposure that acted like magnifying glass.


4. High color contrast and dense black color of not exposed areas

a.) color developer too warm
b.) color development time too long


5. Emulsion layer detachment

a.) factory hardening was bad
b.) if your water is too soft, you shall make an additional bath with magnesium sulfate

6. Yellow color shifted

a.) emulsion swell during second exposure — bulb was too close to the film
b.) drying was done in very high temperature


7. Red spots or overall red tone of the image

a.) color developer was not washed-off and remained in the bleach bath
b.) interaction with acid chemical


8. The image is normally dense, but the colors are not sharp

a.) bleaching was not enough, bleach again with fresh bath

10. Overall milky look of the image, green spots

a.) fixing was not enough, fix again with fresh bath

11. Dark concentric spots

a.) air bubbles in the first developer

12. Light concentric spots

a.) air bubbles in the color developer

13. Concentric spots with image when looked at reflected light

a.) if dark or gray on the back — bubbles in the bleach
b.) if green on the back — bubbles in the fix

re-bleach or re-fix to solve

14. Red-brown shift of the colors

a.) short second exposure

15. Dark brown even fog

a.) film developed as b/w negative

16. Fine grain structure of the image (reticulation)

a.) Big difference of baths’ temperature or pH

17. Blue-green image, with normal black unexposed areas

a.) Very old or poorly kept material

ORWO UT-18. Hence the fog here, you may see the space between the exposures.

18. Transparent film with no images

a.) film lit

19. Dense, black film with no images

a.) film is not exposed

20. White deposits or spots

a.) washing not enough or water too hard

After all these wound-licking above, you may wonder what happens when you got a well-kept roll, expose it right and none of these misfortunes happen?


ORWO C-9165 is a great process, if:

  • you have enough time and enthusiasm to learn methods of visual creating that are not so instant (I said nothing against Instagram, right?);
  • you don’t easily get despondent — I did around 60 rolls of ORWO films under this process to get may be 20 with good results.

Proceed at your own peril.

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