The Film Photographer’s Guide to Managing Fixer Exhaustion

If you want to check if your fixer is still good, you can keep track of the total film surface area it has been used on. Typically, a 1-liter stock solution (1+3) for most fixers will be used up after about 20 uses. Refer to the chart below for the area value for your film sizes.

DETERMINING FILM SURFACE AREA

FILM SIZE PER ROLL OR SHEET

FILM SURFACE AREA EQUIVALENT

135

1

120

1

4×5

0.25

8×10

1

11×14

2

 

Let’s do some math to ensure that everyone reading this article grasps the significance of the numbers mentioned. We have several options to reach the final number of 20. If we stay with a single film format, we could fix 20 rolls of 135 or 120, where each roll would equal 1, resulting in a total of 20. Alternatively, we could fix 80 sheets of 4×5, where each sheet would be equivalent to 0.25, thus resulting in a total of 20. Another option would be to fix 20 sheets of 8×10, where each sheet would equal 1. Lastly, we could fix ten sheets of 11×14, each equivalent to 2, resulting in a total of 20.

As shown below, we can mix film sizes if we do not exceed 20.

(1× 135) + (2× 120) + (12× 4x5) + (4× 8x10) + (5× 11x14) = 20
   (1)       (2)         (3)         (4)         (10)    = 20

 

Next is the tally sheet I designed to monitor my usage of fixer efficiently.

Film Surface Area Tally Sheet

HOW TO PREVENT FIXER EXHAUSTION SCREW-UPS

[ BECAUSE I USE A STAINING DEVELOPER, MY REUSED FIXER IS A SHADE OF BROWN ]

On the right (or below, depending upon your viewing device), you can see an example of the tally sheet I made to keep track of my fixer’s usage.

Since I do not shoot films larger than 4×5, this sheet reflects that.

If you want a clean copy to save or print, here are individual sheets for 135-120-4×5 films & 120-4×5-8×10 films.

Whenever I make a fresh batch of fixer, I find it best to print a new sheet, fold it and wrap it around the bottle with a rubber band. This helps me keep track of the fixer and ensures I use the latest batch.

I write with a pencil on the sheet and find the extra writing space convenient for recording film and development notes.The tally sheet can be printed and laminated for reuse with a dry eraser or china marker.

Fixer Tally Sheet-filled example

Keep Your Fixer Clean

Do you notice specs in your film negatives or prints? If you answered yes to this question, it’s time to look over your fixer solution for any suspended particles.

Over time, my fixer accumulates these particles due to repeated use. Fortunately, there’s a straightforward solution: when you spot these particles, it’s time to filter your fixer. Based on my experience, I’ve observed that these particles typically start appearing around the seventh roll of 120 film. Therefore, after developing the sixth roll (or its equivalent), I employ a dedicated plastic coffee filter funnel like the one shown here, along with a filter, to remove any debris floating in the fixer.

I place a filter in the cone and place the cone over one of my graduated pitchers. Then, I slowly pour the fixer through the filter and into the pitcher. When the fixer empties 100% into the pitcher, I rinse the fixer bottle before refilling it. Once the fixer is back in its bottle, I visually inspect it for particles again, and I have never found them after filtering. It is crucial to ensure that your fixer remains free from particles.

Please store all your film development equipment, including your filter cone, separately from other uses. My red plastic filter cone has FIXER written on the front and back and is stowed in my darkroom cabinet.