Saturday, January 14, 2017

Caffenol Developing - my process

Over the Christmas/New Year break I've been experimenting again with Caffenol developing. I've outlined something of the process before, but I thought I'd do an up-date (refresher) and go a bit more in-depth with how I do it.

Before we start, I would like to state for the record that there are numerous resources and recipes on-line for Caffenol film development. Many are very similar, and you really need to do your own experimentation to find out what works for you and the film stock you use. Do some research first, and base your own development process on the successful results of others - but try not to take what they (or I ) say as the gospel truth. When you are developing with household products like Coffee, the variables will be almost endless. So experimentation (and a few wasted films) will be the order of the day. And, quite frankly, a large part of the fun of it all.

So, having said all that, here's how I do it - for successful negatives using Ilford Delta 100 as the film stock.

All the required equipment. Photo: Joshua Lorimer
First, let's do a quick run over the 'chemicals' that you will need.

No.1 is Coffee. Get the strongest, granulated, instant coffee you can buy. No De-caff rubbish either. You need the full caffeine hit if you're going to develop film in the stuff.

No.2 is Washing Soda (Soda Ash). This needs to be the dehydrated powder form, not the soda crystals (which have water). I get mine from our local bulk-buy store, for the princely sum of $0.40c per 100 grams.

No.3 is Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) Powder. I get mine from our Health Food store, although chemists and some larger supermarkets will also stock it. This tends to be the most expensive item, but it's also the one you use the least of - so a packet should last a while.

No.4 is Film Fixer - the only 'real' photo chemical you need for the process. Any fixer will do (I use Ilford's Ilfofix) to make up a stock solution that you keep to use for several films. If you get an indicator fixer then it will start to turn a dark colour when it is exhausted and you need to make up more.

No.5 is Wetting Agent. This helps the film dry evenly, without any water marks. You know how I said that Film Fixer was the only real photo chemical you needed for this? Well, that's because Wetting Agent is optional, although I do like to use it. Life will go on, and you should be fine without it.

No.6 is measuring jugs - at least two of them. One of them should be able to measure mls (or the equivalent wherever you are) reasonably precisely (although it doesn't need to be too precise).

No.7 is a daylight Developing Tank for the film. I use a Paterson tank, but there are others. You will also need a way of loading the film into the tank - either in a completely dark room, or by using a light-tight film changing bag (probably the better option). If you've got a clever wife like I have, she may even make you a film changing bag 💑

And that's it really. Obviously a teaspoon for measuring out the quantities, and a couple of sticks for stirring, round out the equipment. At the end of the development you'll want somewhere to hang the film so it can dry. I have rigged some string across the laundry and threaded heavy-duty bulldog clips through to hold the film (with some clips on the bottom too so the film is stretched out to dry). Not a massive outlay, and once you've got everything, it works out to be a very economical way of developing film (I think I read somewhere it works out at about $0.75c per roll?).

Pre-soak, Mix and Develop.... Photos: Joshua Lorimer

Once you've got all the materials you'll need, lets look at the actual process.

Caffenol Delta 100 Recipe (for 1 roll)
6 heaped tsps Coffee in 150mls water
4 level tsps Washing Soda in 200mls water
1 heaped tsp Vitamin C added to above solution
Development: 12 minutes with 30 secs agitation and then 3 agitations every minute

Some people get hung up on measuring exact amounts of chemical and freaking out over water temperature... not me. 'Heaped' teaspoon is good enough for me, and I use whatever comes out of the tap for the water temperature. That's the whole fun of this process. Others may disagree. I guess if you wanted absolutely predictable results every time, then temperature and measurements become important. But hey, were developing film with coffee here people! The above recipe has given me consistent results. Use it as a starting point, and go from there...

In each measuring jug, fill with the required water quantity (and again, cold water straight from the tap is probably fine - unless you know your tap water is not the cleanest, in which case bottled water would be better). Add the coffee granules to the 150mls and stir until dissolved. Add the Washing soda to the 200mls and dissolve. Be patient with this, as the washing soda tends to clump together and form large lumps. Keep stirring, break the bigger lumps up, and eventually it will all dissolve. Once both are dissolved, pour the two together (I usually add the coffee to the washing soda) and then add the tsp of vitamin c. This will fizz a little on contact, but quickly settles down and after a few minutes stirring will be dissolved. FYI - the final solution smells gross!

Leave this to settle for 5 minutes, at which point I do a pre-soak of the film that's in the developing tank. Apparently both Kodak and Ilford don't recommend pre-soaking film (don't ask me why), but I read on some Caffenol blog that it was a good idea, so I have been. And it's been fine so far.

After the 5 minutes is up, pour out all the water from the pre-soak, and pour in the 'developer'. Agitate for the first 30 seconds (my Patterson tank came with a swizzle stick for agitation) and then 3 times at the end of every minute until the 12 minutes is up. Dump the developer down the sink (it's only coffee and washing soda), and then do a quick stop bath wash with plain water from the tap. I fill up the tank, agitate a little, and then pour out the water about three times, so that the water is running clear and there's no coffee developer residue left. Pour in the fixer of you choice, fix for the recommended time (usually about 5 minutes), and then pour the fixer back into the bottle for re-using (until it's exhausted). Then a final water wash to remove the fixer (I use the agitation method), and the developed film can be washed in a little wetting agent (optional) before being hung up to dry.

Here's a tip for drying your film: Dip two fingers in the water and run the film through them like a squeegee to get rid of any excess water. I used to be a bit worried about this process, thinking that I would scratch the wet negatives. I used a real squeegee instead - and did end up scratching the negatives! Turns out small particles of heavy metals dry on the squeegee blades and end up scratching your negatives 😠  Use your fingers instead. Since moving to this method, I've never had a scratched negative.

And there you have it. If you're using Ilford Delta 100 (or something else like Fomapan 100), then you should have a whole film of beautifully developed negatives!? Given, of course, that your exposures were correct and your camera was working properly.

It seems like a lot to begin with initially. But if you work through step-by-step, and have everything organised beforehand, then it should work out as planned. And if it doesn't, then figure out where you went wrong, and do it again! As I said in the beginning, that's half the fun!

The first time I processed a film in Caffenol it was a complete disaster. My times were wrong, the recipe was wrong, and I was lucky to get anything on the negatives at all. But I did get something - from developing in Coffee - and that was enough to make me want to try again until I got it right.

Truck for Sale. Ilford Delta 100 shot with Yashica 35-70mm lens. Developed in Caffenol for 12 minutes
When you do get it right, the results can be amazing. The negatives scan well, have loads of detail, and plenty of dynamic range. They print just like any other negative developed in standard photo chemicals would. Some images I've seen on-line from Caffenol development have a definite sepia tone to them, but I presume this is from some of the other stand-development processes where the film is simply left to 'sit' in the caffenol for over an hour, with no agitation? I haven't been game to try stand-development yet, but some people swear by it.

In the end, it should be about having fun. Go ahead, experiment with it all, and find out what works best for you. Sure, you may 'ruin' a few films in the process - but be sensible about that as well. Don't use your once-in-a-lifetime shot of your encounter with Bigfoot as the first film you try Caffenol development with! Shoot a few 'test' rolls in the back yard and develop these first. Get some consistency first before developing those films from the family vacation to Venice 😎

Drop me a line and let me know how you get on if/when you give Caffenol a go. I'd love to see some results.

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