Over the past couple of years, I've tried a number of developers for B&W film. Here is my top three picks that each have their own role one of which might fit your needs:
Rodinal, an Adox product, is the longest continuously produced developer in existence having been patented in 1891! Why is it still so popular? As Ed Buffaloe says, Rodinal "produces little fog and no stain even at high temperatures, is relatively fast-working, is less temperature-dependent than other agents, can be mixed and stored in very high concentrations, and retains developing potential even at very high dilutions." It’s not a fine grain developer so best not used with 135 or 120 format.
Xtol, a Kodak Alaris product, is IMHO, the king of B&W developers. As Mark Covington says "Xtol is one of the few developers that do not contain hydroquinone. It uses derivatives of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and Phenidone as developing agents. Claimed advantages include low toxicity (important for environmental reasons as well as occupational safety), easy mixing (but see below), and an unusual combination of fine grain with high film speed (true shadow speed, not just push-processing)." Its a true fine grain developer and can be used with push or pull developing. The only pain is that it comes as two powders which have to be mixed with water (not so easy in fact) to make 5 liters of developer solution that then must be stored in airtight containers. I use 0.75l wine bottles with Vacu Vin wine stoppers to do the job.
Pyrocat-HD, "is a semi-compensating, high-definition developer, formulated by Sandy King. The advantages of formula include greater effective film speed, shorter development times, consistent staining action, lower toxicity, and no streaking or mottling with reduced agitation. Users have reported reduced printing times with UV light sources due to the different stain color, as well as reduced base plus fog density in rotary processors." If you plan to contact print your large format negatives in silver, as well as, platinum this is the go to choice. Silver development with visible light ignores the stain and gives a thinner negative. Platinum development with UV light recognizes the stain and gives a thicker negative needed for this kind of printing. Make sure to get the version with the B solution using Glycol. It's less toxic than alternatives. Pyrocat comes in many flavors, none of them drinkable! Pyrocat-HD is particularly good with rotary processors. Pyrocat-MC might be the other version to consider.
Now if you are stuck in some remote place and can't access regular developers why not mix up some Caffenol? I kid you not, you can develop film in instant coffee, baking soda and vitamin C!
|Rodinal / Adonal||Xtol||Pyrocat-HD|
|Shelf Life when unmixed||
As a powder - long (years)
|Unmixed liquids A and B - long (years)|
|Shelf Life when mixed||One shot - use right away||When mixed and in airtight containers - months||One shot - use right away|
|Toxicity||Low||Low||Medium - use nitrile gloves|
|Features||Some grain, best with large format||Very fine grain, box speed, can be used with 135, 120 and large format||Staining developer, can use the same negatives for Ag and Pt printing|
|Where to buy||Freestyle||B&H, Freestyle||Photographers' Formulary|