Saturday, June 28, 2014

Caffenol Development Part 3 - Delta 100

I found a few rolls of shot film in the bottom of my dresser draw recently, and one of them just happened to be a roll of Black and White Ilford Delta 100. Don't know when I shot it, but it must have been a few years ago.

Spurred on by my recent success developing Fuji Across 100 in Caffenol, I figured I may as well keep going and try it out with the Delta 100. Until recently I didn't even know I'd shot the film, so I had nothing to loose even if it didn't turn out.

I couldn't find any development times for Delta 100 on the web (400, but not 100 - go figure), but through my experience with Kodak TMax and 'thin' negs, I decided to continue following the 'longer is better' train of thought. So I chose 15mins as a development time (don't ask me why), and adjusted the Caffenol recipe for a single 35mm roll.

Ilford Delta 100 Caffenol Recipe: Add 3 level teaspoons of Washing Soda to 125mls tap water, 2 heap teaspoons of coffee to 125mls of tap water, and 1 heap teaspoon of vitamin C to 100mls of tap water. Mix them all separately, and then add them together  - making sure all have dissolved completely.

Just a quick note on the dissolving technique. The coffee dissolves really easily and quickly - no surprises there. The Vitamin C takes a little stirring, but eventually all dissolves as well. The Washing Soda, however, is a stubborn powder that takes quite some stirring to dissolve completely. Initially it will clump together quite badly, but persevere. It will dissolve completely after a while - it just takes a lot longer than the other two powders.

The Marmite Kid. Ilford Delta 100 in Caffenol
After I've mixed all three liquids together, I let it sit for 5 minutes, while the film is pre-soaking in running water (through the top of the developing tank). Don't ask me why I'm pre-soaking the film, I just am. I think I read somewhere that it helped? I've never pre-soaked film in my life, but with Caffenol I am. And it's working, so I'm not going to stop :-) Your own results may vary.

Anyway, after the five minutes is up I rinse out the water and pour in the Caffenol. Agitate for 30 seconds, and then 3 times each minute. After the 15 minutes was up, out with the Caffenol (down the sink), and in with a few water rinses as a stop bath. Then fix the film with the fixer of your choice for the recommended time (usually about 5 minutes) - and a final wash, rinse and squeegee in wetting agent-soaked water. The results this time with Delta 100? Just look for yourself. Crazy beautiful!

'Emily'. Ilford Delta 100 in Caffenol
The negatives are amazing - and scan beautifully (just like the Fuji Acros 100). The grain of the Delta 100 is smooth and negligible (as it should be), and the tonal range is superb. What more could you want from a developer!?

I'm only three films in - two successful and one not so much - but I have to say I'm hooked (and sold) on Caffenol. For a developer that you 'make' yourself out of household products, it's truly astounding. I live in a very small, rural town, with no access to photo chemicals - so being able to develop film with a few store-bought products is a great advantage. Yes, I still have to use a photochemical fixer - but that's it.

'Home James'. Delta 100 developed in Caffenol.
I'm really digging the 'hybrid' workflow at the moment. I get to shoot with film on some amazing cameras, process at home in Caffenol (as long as you only want black and white) - or alternatively get the film developed at a local photo lab (process only), and then scan at home and import into the image software of my choice. It's so much more hands-on than a full digital workflow and I'm finding that I am 'connecting' with the images more this way.

Hey, I appreciate it might not be for everyone. And maybe if I was a working 'pro' I might think differently? But then again, there are quite a few working pros who have either stuck with film, or who have moved back to film for aesthetic/lifestyle/workflow choices. Jose Villa springs to mind as a well known photographer who still shoots his weddings on film (he probably doesn't process his film in Caffenol though).

So yes, I am very happy still shooting film. And more than happy with the results it's giving me. Can't ask for any more than that.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Caffenol Development Part2

Ok, so my first foray into developing film with Caffenol (Coffee) wasn't a huge success. The negatives were too thin, there were strange blotches all over the images, and getting a halfway decent photo out of the scanner was a long, slow process. So I'm giving up on Caffenol, right?

Let's not be too hasty. With any home film development there is a spirit of experimentation required and you're not always going to get it right. Even with the brand name developers, things can go wrong. Start developing your film in coffee and washing soda, and things can go horribly wrong! But, I had also seen enough beautiful images and read enough positive experiences on the net to know that it can also be a resounding success. So I wasn't about to give up just yet. And besides, I still had a full bag of coffee, washing soda and vitamin c to get through :-)

So undeterred, I decided to give it another go. I also decided to up the ante and expose my first roll of 120 medium format black and white film at home as well. In for a penny, in for a pound (as they say).

Pentax 67 with Fuji Acros 100 developed in Caffenol.
I had shot a roll of 120 Fuji Acros 100 black and white film in anticipation of needing more experimentation with Caffenol, with one particular blog mentioning it as a film that gave very good results. I changes the development time to 17 minutes, and the recipe to include more Washing Soda and less Coffee. For the Kodak TMax development I had used 6 tsps of coffee and 4 of washing soda, but this time I swapped that around.

Fuji Across 100 film recipe: 4 heap tsps Coffee in 250mls tap water. 6 level tsps Washing Soda in 250mls water. 2 heap tsps Vitamin C in 200mls water. Dev: 17mins.

I mixed all the ingredients separately, then poured them together and let them settle for 5 mins. During this time I pre-soaked the film under tap water in the developing tank (I loaded the roll of 120 in a film changing bag). Pour out the water, pour in the developer and develop for 17mins; agitating for first 30secs and then 3 times per minute. Pour this out, then a couple of water rinses as a stop bath. Pour in the Ilfofix and fix for 10 minutes (my fixer is quite old, so I doubled the usual fixing time). Final agitation wash in water to get rid of the fixer, and a soak in wetting agent. Squeegee the film between my fingers soaked in wetting agent (I must admit I worry about scratching the neg doing this, but it seems to work ok), and then hang the film up to dry. Final results - AMAZING!

Wow! The resulting negs are gorgeous! Beautiful! Perfect. Clean, clear and contrasty. And an absolute dream to scan. After my initial mishap with the Kodak TMax, I must admit I wasn't expecting much. But the results this time around blew me away.

Pentax 67 with Fuji Acros 100 developed in Caffenol.
Some Caffenol enthusiasts have written that they believe Caffenol to be the equal of some of the best commercial film developers out there, and have started using it exclusively to develop their films. When I read this on the internet I thought "Yeah, right. Not going to happen". But one look at the negatives from the Acros 100 and I'm fast becoming a believer. Many skeptics have asked 'why' when Caffenol is mentioned as a film developer. I'm looking at these negs and thinking 'why not'?

Maybe the grain is a little more pronounced with Caffenol - maybe. But maybe that's not such a bad thing? It gives a definite 'film grain' look to the final image and the neg is still amazingly sharp - even scanned on a flatbed scanner like the Epson V700.

It's still early days. But I must admit, I never really expected Caffenol to be that good. But is it. And I'm very excited about processing my own films at home again, now that I know how good it truly can be. Now that I've had success with developing 120 medium format film, can I translate that back into success with 35mm? Let the experiments continue...

From the Mind of Minolta

I've written on this, and other blogs, about my love affair with Minolta. For such a progressive, inventive and productive camera manufacturer, it still amazes me how it all went so horribly wrong. Yes, they played second fiddle to Canon and Nikon. But there was really no reason why they needed to do that. The had the products, they had the innovation, and they had the complete system. As far as I can tell, they just didn't have the same marketing budget?

Even though they are now gone (Sony's products notwithstanding), they have left behind a range of really great film cameras that are alive and kicking. New Sony/Zeiss lenses will work on them, not to mention the plethora of older Minolta lenses readily available on the used market.

I own a Sigma 50-500mm f4/6.3 Minolta A-mount lens, and have access to plenty of others, including a 16mm f2.8 fisheye, 24-105mm f3.5/4.5D and 70-200 f2.8. Not to mention a 5400xi Program flash. Mmmm. Maybe I need to seriously re-think this whole Pentax camera thing?

A couple of weeks ago I bought a Ricoh KR-5 Super fully manual film camera that uses the Pentax K-Mount. I own a couple of Pentax K10D digital bodies, so figured I should go the Pentax route as well and stick to the one system.

But the more I get back into shooting film, the more I think that I might end up shooting it pretty much exclusively. I might not get rid of the digital cameras altogether, but I can foresee a time in the not too distant future where they are relegated to my quick snapshot or web-shot cameras. My 'real' work will probably be with film. And yes, I am writing this in 2014!

Minolta 700si 'serious' film camera
Today I had a big clean out of my camera cupboard, ending up with practically everything on Trademe (NZ's version of ebay). I've sold a couple of things already (an Olympus Trip 35 and a Yashica Mat 6x6), and with my first sale I pulled the trigger on a Minolta 700si.

The 700si was a return to the serious-amateur fold for Minolta after they got it horribly wrong with the whole 'program cards' full-auto concept of the 7xi. The 7xi took control away from the photographer - the 700si gave it back.

This was followed by the even better 800si, and amazing 600si Classic - a camera I owned and loved (and have often regretted selling). I bought the 700si for peanuts ($40NZ delivered), and wouldn't be surprised if I eventually pick up the 800si and 600si for around the same money. That would be a truly amazing system of cameras.

But my 'ultimate' film camera - the one that I lust after the most - the crowning glory, would have to be the Minolta Dynax 7. Forget your Nikon F100's or Canon 1v's. For me, the pinnacle of film camera design has to be the Dynax (Maxxum in the USA) 7.

Minolta Maxxum 7. The ultimate film camera?
Unfortunately I've never owned one of these amazing machines - but a friend of mine has, so I have use one (briefly) before. Hopefully, that will change in the future and my Minolta system will be complete with a Dynax 7.

The 7 was such a design pinnacle for Minolta, (based as it was on the 600si), that when they joined forces with Konica to produce a digital camera, they used the shell of the Dynax 7 and shoehorned a digital sensor into it. And that is no bad thing. The resulting 7'D' was an equally amazing camera. But in its 'purest' form, it was a film camera. An incredible film camera. And one that I hope to own in the future.

But for now, the Dynax 700si will arrive soon and I'm really looking forward to using it. Who'd have thought that film photography could be so exciting!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Caffenol Film Developing Part 1

One of the really exciting spin-offs of getting back into film shooting is the many 'alternative' processes that you can explore. Let's face it, half the fun of film is that it's 'hands-on' and encourages experimentation.

If you shoot film for any period of time, you will eventually want to develop your own. Black & White film development was an institution for the hobbyist photographer - almost a right of passage - and a magical experience if you've ever actually done it yourself. And really, it's dead easy. Some water, a few chemicals, a blacked-out room or film changing bag, a film developing tank, some measuring jugs, and hey-presto, you've developed film!

In fact, it is so easy that it wasn't long before inquisitive photographers and amateur chemists began to concoct their own developers. One of the more intriguing (for me at least), is Caffenol - and yes, the clue to one of the main ingredients is in its name. Caffenol is a developer made from Coffee (together with  two other main ingredients), although this isn't your regular shot of early morning expresso. What you need is caffeine, and plenty of it! None of your wimpy de-caf brews here thank you very much. Make it strong, and make it pure. The cheapest (strongest) instant coffee you can find at the supermarket should do the trick.

There are dozens of recipes for Caffenol on the interweb, all of them probably as successful as each other. What varies, it appears to me (and hence why you will need to experiment for yourself), are the differing brands involved in making a successful formula. We all know that not all coffee is created equal. So it would seem that to a certain extent, hitting upon a successful 'brew' for you will be dependent on the brand of the coffee you use - as well as the purity of the second main ingredient; washing soda.

Washing Soda (Soda Ash, or Sodium Carbonate) comes in various guises as well, but will usually either be in a powder, or crystal form. What you need is the powdered form. The crystal form indicates that it contains water (is hydrated), and apparently this is a no-no. So powdered it is then. And fortunately, this can be found fairly readily at most supermarkets or laundry retailers (I got it at my local bulk goods store).

The third ingredient is Vitamin C powder - ascorbid acid. Again, many supermarkets or health food stores should have it. If not, the chemist is another option.

And that's it. Coffee (the strong cheap stuff), Washing Soda (water free), and Vitamin C powder. The only 'real' photo chemical you actually still need is fixer to 'fix' the image permanently to the emulsion.

Kodak TMax 400 developed in Caffenol
I recently brought a Ricoh KR-5 Super (see last post), and had loaded it with Kodak TMax 400 B&W film. I was experimenting with cameras and film, so I thought 'what the heck', why not experiment with developing as well?

After checking out a few blogs, I came up with a recipe I wanted to try - and a development time to begin with. I used 150mls of tap water (I didn't bother to check the temperature) with 6 heap teaspoons of coffee, 200mls of tap water with 4 level teaspoons of washing soda - mixed these both separately, then added them together and stirred in 2 heap teaspoons of Vitamin C. Watch out for the smell (not terrible, but not great either), and the frothing up of the 'soup' when you add the vitamin c powder.

I let this mixture sit for 5mins, and pre-soaked the film with continuous running water in a Patterson Developing tank. When the 5 minutes was up, I poured the water out, and the Caffenol developer in. Then I developed for 11mins - agitation for the first 30 seconds, then 3 times each minute. Caffenol is a one shot developer, so when time was up I poured it down the sink (it's non-toxic), and gave the film a water rinse a few times until it ran clear. Then I fixed for 5 minutes (same agitation routine as the developer) in Ilfofix, poured that back in the bottle to be re-used and did a final agitation wash cycle. Then I used some Acuwet washing agent, squeegeed the film partly dry between my fingers dunked in the wetting agent solution, and hung the film up to dry on a clothes rack in the lounge :-)

That was the process. And for my troubles I got... very thin negatives :-(

Kodak TMax400 in Caffenol for 11mins
I wouldn't say that the negatives are unusable (see images above) - but they required a heck of a lot of work to get anything halfway decent out of them. They also had some pretty awful 'scale' type of pattern through them - which may be a combination of things. It could be that minerals in the tap water somehow reacted with the Caffenol developer? Or maybe it was simply the lack of development time? Or maybe the Ilfofix I'm using is too old (it is really old - maybe 10 years over its 'use by' date)? Whatever the cause, it doesn't look great on the negatives.

Was I disappointed? Well, yes - and no. I would like to say that my first foray into using Coffee as a developer worked out perfectly. But it didn't. I'd like to say I was thrilled with the results. But I wasn't.

But I wasn't discouraged either. Because, thin or not, I did actually get an image from the films - and to begin with I wasn't even sure I was going to get that! So it had worked. I just needed to figure out a way to make it work better next time. And anyway, I had said right from the start that this was going to be experimental - so I certainly wasn't about to give up.

With thin negs, what I figured I needed was more development time. So, armed with a freshly shot roll of Fuji Acros B&W 120 medium format film, it was on to Caffenol experiment part two...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ricoh KR-5 Super

I'm getting back into shooting film more and more, so I'm at the stage of deciding which 'brand' to settle with. As per usual, I'm looking to go with the biggest bang for my buck - trying to find a system that has a great range of manual lenses for the cheapest price possible.

Unfortunately, the 'golden age' of getting great manual lenses dirt cheap on auction sites has passed, as digital photographers are now snapping these manual lenses up to shoot video with, or to use on their new micro/retro digital bodies with an appropriate adapter (curse you damn digital shooters)!

If I'm going to shoot film, I really want to get the full manual experience. One of the great things about shooting with a film camera, for me, is that it slows me down and makes me really think about my photography. And while shooting with a big 'pro' film camera like a Canon EOS 1V or Nikon F100 is definitely appealing, they are just too much like today's digital offerings for it to be an attractive prospect at the moment. Maybe later.

I've always loved the Canon FD range of cameras, and I already own a T70, T50 and 50mm f1.8 FD lens (with a little fungus thrown in for good measure). So I could go that way - get a few more FD primes, and maybe an AE1 or F1 and jump back into the Canon camp. But remember what I said earlier about digital shooters snapping up all those manual lenses. This is more true of Canon that any other brand, so there goes the 'bang for buck' option.

And anyway, I actually shoot with Pentax digital bodies now, so it would really make sense to head in the Pentax direction. In fact, it makes even more sense when you consider that the Pentax K mount hasn't changed in over 50 years, so any manual k-mount lens I buy today will work (in manual mode) with my Pentax digital cameras. Bonus!

Pentax lenses (Takumar) are some of the sharpest (and smallest) primes ever made. And fortunately, they are still reasonably priced on the used market. So Pentax/Takumar it is then. Let the search begin...

Research on-line quickly led me to discover another exciting spin-off with my decision to head in the Pentax direction... they weren't the only camera manufacturer using the K-mount. Other brands like Ricoh and Cosina licensed the bayonet K-mount system from Pentax, so it seems that I would have even more gear to choose from, at even cheaper prices! Yay

I started watching a couple of very cheap auctions for some Ricoh manual camera bodies, eventually pulling the trigger on a very clean KR-5 Super with Riconar 55mm f2.2 lens.

The Ricoh KR-5 Super is an all-manual camera, with a battery used only for the match-needle metering system, It's a 'classic' 70s designed, chunky camera with a very simple layout and basic operation. The 'Super' version is superior to the standard KR-5 in that the shutter speed goes up to 1/1000th (instead of only 1/500th in the KR-5), and the maximum flash synch speed on the Super is 1/125th.

 ISO/ASA is set on the large ring around the film crank (top left), and then you simply set your aperture and shutter speed in a combination suitable for the subject you are shooting. Line up the two needles on the right hand side of the large, bright viewfinder, and press the threaded shutter release to take the picture. Couldn't be simpler.

"But why", I hear you say, "when I push the shutter button down, does nothing happen?"
That's a very good question. And I will tell you why. Unlike the Pentax K1000 (I bleieve), which has a battery operated through-the-lens meter which is always 'on' (unless you put the lens cap on, which basically turns the meter off), the Ricoh KR-5 Super (and other variants), turns the meter off when the film winder arm (on the right side of the camera) is snug up against the body in the 'off' position. Move the winder arm out to about 35 degrees - where an orange dot appears on the camera body (hidden by the arm in the 'off' position), and the camera is now turned 'on' and the meter and shutter will now work, allowing you to take a picture. Quite a simple 'on-off' switch - you just have to remember to bring the crank arm out to turn it 'on'. I found it comfortable to shoot with in either the vertical or horizontal orientation, and is a well balanced, yet light camera to use - especially with the 55mm Riconar prime attached.

Ricoh KR-5 Super with Riconar 55mm @ f5.6
I used the camera last week, with a roll of Kodak TMax 400 B&W film, and I have to say it was a joy to use. I'm an aperture priority shooter normally, and although you don't have the option to shoot in automatic aperture priority mode on a camera like the KR-5, this isn't really an issue. Just dial in the aperture you want to use on the lens manually, and then match up the needle in the viewfinder by changing the shutter speed dial on the camera. Make sure the resulting shutter speed is hand-holdable, and bingo, you're off and racing :-)

The mechanically controlled metal shutter curtain gives a nice solid feel to the camera, with a beautiful 'thunk' to the shutter release that certainly lets you know you're taking a photo (not like the asthmatic 'snip' shutter sound you get from many modern digital slrs).

The Riconar lens itself is nice and smooth to focus, and the optics are ok - nothing stellar, but nothing disastrous either. The same can't be said for a 28mm prime I got for the camera in another auction though. It was a cheap brand I'd never heard of (Vitacon), but it only cost me $4.50NZ so I thought 'what the heck'. I needn't have bothered. Even $4.50 was too much to pay for this rubbish. Looking through it was like looking through goggles underwater - and the images came out looking like that as well! Lesson learnt - I'll stick to Riconar, or better still, Takumar lenses only in the future - no matter how cheap the others may be going for. You don't always get what you pay for with old manual lenses - but sometimes you do.

Ricoh KR-5 Super with Riconar 55mm @ f5.6
Anyway, long story short, the Ricoh KR-5 Super is definitely a keeper. A simple, straight forward, solid little camera that I know with the right lenses will produce beautiful photos. I will be on the lookout for more Ricoh bodies in the future (a KR-10 or KR-20 would be nice), as well as lenses to go with them. I also hope to grab a couple of Manual Pentax bodies as well; a cheap LX or MX would be nice :-) But in the meantime, the Ricoh KR-5 Super will do me nicely.