What’s up with Kodak Alaris photo products?

Back in January 2020, I bought two one gallon packages of Kodak Dektol.  I noticed the new Dektol was packaged in poly bags rather than the original foil layered packaging that we’re all used to.  When I tried to mix it up a few months later, it was as as brown as coffee.   I opened a second package and got the same result.  Something was terribly wrong.  There was no way I was going to use this stuff.

Fresh Kodak Dektol is as brown as coffee

Apparently, the manufacture and marketing of Kodak darkroom chemicals is now managed by a UK company called Kodak Alaris.  Wikipedia has an entry for Kodak Alaris and how they came to be able to use the Kodak name.

Under the chemicals section of their website, Kodak Alaris has this statement about the Dektol problem:

Luckily, I had the raw chemicals to mix up some D72.  I discarded the Dektol without using it.  I posted about this on Phototrio, where there were various theories about how this could have happened.

While I am no expert in chemical manufacturing, I worked for decades as an engineer for several high tech manufacturing companies and find it impossible to believe a defect of this magnitude could make it out the door of any company with effective quality control processes in place.  It would have to mean that they didn’t sample the quality of their own products.  Even if they contracted the manufacturing out, as is the case here, it doesn’t relieve them of the responsibility to verify the quality of the products that carry their name.

Aside from reviews about the “new” Dektol on B&H Photo, I have now seen reviews and forum posts complaining about recently manufactured Kodak HC-110 having crystals in it and Kodak Xtol producing thin negatives.  Interestingly, Dektol and Xtol have been backordered on B&H and Adorama for some time now.  Kodak Alaris claims they are having trouble meeting supply because of the coronavirus, but I wonder if the shortage may be a result of purging defective inventory.

If that weren’t enough, I shot ten rolls of Kodak 35mm TMax-400 during a November 2019 trip to Italy, every one of which had emulsion damage to the last frame on the roll which I attribute to the process of spooling the film onto 35mm cassettes during production.  I shoot a lot of TMax-400, but have never previously seen that issue.  In fact, during the trip, I alternated every two rolls, between Ilford HP5+ and TMax-400.    There was no such damage to the HP5+.  All the film was shot with the same Nikon F6 camera and developed using the same equipment.  My suspicion is that Kodak US supplies Kodak Alaris with high quality bulk film that Alaris then damages when they spool and package it as 35mm cassettes.

I contacted Kodak Alaris about the Dektol and TMax-400 film back when I discovered the problems, but they never responded.

The Dektol and TMax-400 problems that I experienced, along with the other complaints, seem to indicate a trend of lax quality control with Kodak film and chemical products.  For me, continuing to use them now carries an unacceptably high risk of failure.  I have always liked Kodak products.  No one else makes a film in the same class as TMax and, as far as I know, Dektol is the only low cost prepackaged M-Q paper developer.  But I will not use products that I have to test before using in order to have confidence that they are not defective.

As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

[UPDATE 9/25/20]

Apparently the list of Kodak Alaris B&W darkroom chemicals with manufacturing defects has grown to include D-76.  Kodak Professional posted this notice on their Facebook page: