Film Friday: Is 510 Pyro the next great film developer?

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The developer is crucial to any film photography workflow. The developer not only produces a visible image, but the chemical composition of the developer affects the overall look of your photos. James Lane from Zone Imaging, a London-based photochemical specialist, wrote on Kosmo Foto asking if a new developer, 510 Pyro, is the developer ‘you’ve been waiting for?’

What distinguishes 510 Pyro is that it can render film grain much finer than previous developers, requires tiny dilutions and has a long shelf life (about six years). A small bottle can develop as many as 100 rolls of film using weaker dilutions.

Of Pyro 510, Lane writes, ‘It’s a modern staining and tanning developer which offers extreme fine grain, high acutance, very long tonal range and has a very long shelf life. It is compatible with Jobo rotary processors, which has made it popular with labs looking for higher quality development.’ Pyro 510’s performance earned it the Silvergrain Classics Awards 2021, and it’s been championed by Ilford Master Andrew Sanderson.

Last year, Lane sent a bottle of Pyro 510 to Roger from the YouTube channel Shoot Film Like a Boss. You can check out Roger’s first impressions of Pyro 510 in the video below.

The story behind Pyro 510 is an interesting one. Its creator, Jay DeFehr, started by creating a ‘rather crude’ developer, 110-Pyro. Nearly all the ingredients were listed in quantities of 1s and 10s, such as 1g of sodium sulfite, 10g of pyrogallol, 1ml of BZT 10% solution, and so on. It worked well, but DeFehr thought it could be improved with more precision. So, he built a sensitometer and went back into his tiny darkroom to formulate a developer that offered: maximum proportional stain, minimum general stain, maximum file speed, pyro gradation, fine grain, even development, the potential for very high contrast, and could be used for rotary processing. Those are some lofty goals.

After extensive testing and development, 510 Pyro ditched some of 110-Pyro’s ingredients, including sodium sulfite and BZT, and changed the concentrations of others. The final formula is 70ml of TEA, 5g of ascorbic acid, 10g of pyrogallol, 0.25g of phenidone for TEA to 100ml.

Pyro 510 is used at dilutions of 1:100 but can be used down to 1:500. It’s suitable for semi-stand processing and is recommended alongside the industry-standard Ilford agitation scheme. It’s a versatile, easy-to-use developer. As a few notes, you shouldn’t use acidic stop baths and fixers, as they can remove some of the staining. Zone Imaging recommends using water as a stop bath and an odorless or alkaline fixer.

510 Pyro is available in 100ml and 500ml bottles. It’s used at a 1:100 to 1:500 dilution. The 100ml bottle is just over £25, or about $32.

Pyro 510 is available for purchase through Zone Imaging, Firstcall Photographic, Parallax Photographic, Process Supplies and Silverprint. Northeast Photographic in the US will begin stocking it later this month. If you don’t develop your own film but want to experience what Pyro 510 offers, the following labs use it: North East Photographic (US), Analog Space (Netherlands), Silverpan (UK), Lowestoft Camera (UK), Traia (UK), Come Through Lab (UK), East Coast Developing (UK) and Zone Imaging (UK), with more labs likely joining the others soon.

For detailed technical information about Pyro 510, including instructions for development times, click here. Refer here for safety information.

To see sample images developed using Pyro 510, visit Kosmo Foto, Parallax Photographic and Pictorial Planet.

About Film Fridays: We’ve launched an analog forum and in a continuing effort to promote the fun of the medium, we’ll be sharing film-related content on Fridays, including articles from our friends at 35mmc and KosmoFoto.

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