Monthly Archives: October 2014

Out Of The Gate

Here follows the account of my first Caffenol C experiment…

As previously mentioned, I have run across several sources of information and recipes for Caffenol C. I decided that the source most likely to be reliable was the most highly-polished one, The Caffenol Cookbook & Bible.

The Caffenol Cookbook & Bible

I assembled my equipment and ingredients on the kitchen counter and started mixing. I began with about 700ml of water in my 1000ml grad just to make things a little less splash-prone while stirring. Here is the mixture after adding the washing soda and vitamin C – both carefully weighed on my wife’s electronic kitchen scale (it worked very nicely).


I had read reports of the washing soda being difficult to dissolve completely – sometimes leaving solid particles behind. This did not appear to be the case with the Arm & Hammer product, but maybe I just got lucky. At any rate I planned to filter the final mix through (how appropriate) a coffee filter in order to catch any pesky crumbs before they could wreak havoc upon my precious negatives. Turns out this may be unnecessary.

When the ascorbic acid went in a nice rush of bubbles formed which was somehow rather satisfying – kind of like “if it hurts that means its working…” The bubbles cleared after ten or twenty seconds leaving behind the faintly yellow liquid you see above.

I had selected the Caffenol C-H recipe, which utilizes potassium bromide as an anti-fogging agent. Why did I choose this rather than Caffenol C-M, you may ask? Well, fogging is bad right? I mean – it sounds bad doesn’t it? If given the option I wouldn’t say “Yes, fog my film please!” now would I?

But truthfully, the REAL reason is that I bought Potassium Bromide and by damn, I’m going to use it!

Regardless of my motives the potassium bromide should have gone in next, but in my mad scientist zeal I overlooked it and went straight on into the real fun – adding the instant coffee! In went a good heap of sparkling, crystallized joe. It dissolved readily and the mixture turned a rather appetizing deep brown color.


I then remembered the potassium bromide, cursed liberally at my foolishness, and dumped it into the brew. I can’t think of any reasons why it would matter when it was added, but I was trying to follow the directions as closely as possible. I pre-weighed out the KBr using my trusty old Hornady powder scale. I purchased this scale years ago when I was reloading my own rifle ammunition. It is a balance-beam type of scale and is calibrated in thenths of a grain. One gram is 15.4 grains, so the scale is accurate to around one-hundred-fiftieth of a gram. That ought to do it!

That’s it for the active ingredients.

After mixing well, I added more water to bring the total volume up to 1000ml. This is a slight departure from the recipe I believe, as it calls for 1000ml water from the outset and adding the ingredients to that. I used what might be called “quantity sufficient” for 1000ml. Adding stuff to the brew increases its total volume, so you would end up with a bit more than 1000ml doing it “their way.” I had exactly 1000ml.

It probably matters not at all.

Next I ran the mix through a coffee filter.


I couldn’t see any particulate in the liquid and after it had all run through I couldn’t see any in the filter either. I’ll probably skip this step if it doesn’t seem to be useful – it takes too stinking long! It seemed to be a good ten minutes before it all made it through. Painful! (On the other hand, there were no “spots” on my negatives).

Setting the developer aside, I turned my attention to the changing tent. I don’t have a darkroom, so all my film unloading/loading procedures must be done either in a changing bag or my slick changing tent.

In the tent’s total darkness I crack open my 35mm cassettes and load the film into the reels of my Patterson-style El Cheepo developing tank (I think this was $12 on EBay).

Loading my Ilford FP4+ is drastically easier than the color negative and slide film I’ve been working with recently. The color films seem to have a lot more “memory” to them and don’t want to unroll after being wound tightly inside a teensy little canister. I took one roll right out of my Canon 7 with only about twenty exposures on a thirty-six exposure roll. That sucker had curls running in opposite directions! What a pain…

The rest of the processing consists of pouring stuff into the tank then pouring it out a while later. Not awfully photogenic, so I didn’t bother with any images.

Suffice to say that I ran a sink-full of water at 20C and kept all the relevant containers in that bath throughout development. I monitored the water temp with the thermocouple that came along with a multimeter I bought several years ago. It gives me a nice digital readout and (best of all) was totally free!

I had to run a little more water into the sink a few times along the way to maintain the temperature and because the drain plug is a little leaky.

Game time!

I pre-soaked the film in clear water for a minute or two, poured that out, took a deep breath and decanted my lovely developer into the tank. Inital agitation for 15sec followed by three “agitations” per minute for fifteen minutes.

I had discovered that my Spanish-made developing tank is quite effective in the agitation department. It is the type with a little tube that can be inserted through the pour-spout and engages teeth on the tank’s center spindle. This arrangement allows the film to be sloshed around inside the tank by simply turning the little tube back and forth. It works VERY well. I ended up with sprocket hole streaks all over two rolls of color film I developed a while back – a sure sign of over agitation. So for this endeavor I decided that rather than three to five vigorous cranks on the tube, I would use exactly three very gentle turns each minute.

Fifteen minutes and forty-five turns later, I poured the developer back into the graduate and poured in 20deg water from a pitcher I had standing in the sink also. This is the stop bath. I debated whether or not to use an acid stop bath (which I would have made using white vinegar and water) but ultimately decided to skip it.

A minute of gentle agitation and several water changes later, it was time for fixing.

At present it seems that one fixer is as good as another. This is another way of saying that I haven’t looked into it much. Until I have better information to guide me, I’ll keep it as simple as possible.

I had mixed the fixer up earlier that morning and after loading the films into the tank I used the little bits of leader I tore off to perform a clearing time test of the fixer. This consists of dunking a scrap of exposed (but not developed) film into fixer and timing how long it takes for the film to clear. This gives you two bits of useful information. First, it tells you how long your fixer bath needs to be – at least twice the clearing time. Second, it tells you when your fixer is becoming exhausted – when it takes about twice as long to clear the film as it initially did.

In my case it took four to five minutes to clear the film (I did it twice to confirm the result), so I fixed the film for ten minutes with constant, very gentle agitation. The information I read said that there was no harm in over-fixing, but under-fixing is disastrous.

Finally, I rinsed some wetting agent through and went into the bathroom where I would open the tank and hang the negatives to dry in the shower. I even invited my wife to come in and see what miraculous pictures would emerge! Curious about these goings-on, our six-year old son followed. The excitement was palpable!

I nervously opened the tank’s lid and poured the two reels out into the sink. I removed the first strip of film from the reel and held it up to the light!


Completely blank.

Not the least hint of shadow on the entire roll.

I had read that most problems with Caffenol stem from using poor ingredients in the mix, and my mind raced back and forth trying to reason out what the culprit may have been – I had selected them so carefully!

“Are they all like that?” our son asked.

“I’m sure they are all exactly the same,” I replied as I started pulling the second film off its reel.

To my amazement the second film was filled with perfectly developed little rectangles of joy! They looked incredible!

After some consideration I realized that the first roll was not completely blank. The leader and trailer sections, which had been exposed to light during the cassette loading process were solid black while the rest was perfectly clear.

The film had been developed perfectly, the problem was that it had never been exposed!

I think the leader slipped off the take-up spool when I loaded it into my camera and none of the film was ever wound out of the cassette.

So here is a sample of what I got. I’m quite pleased with the results!

Bridge Trees and Sky

Mill Wheel BW

Grass Valley Skyline BW

Fence and Brush 1 BW

Cut Branches 2 BW


Vague Recollections

I am not sure when I first heard about developing film with instant coffee – and it’s been driving me crazy that I can’t remember where or when it was.

The best I can recollect is that I was telling somebody about the crazy home-made view camera project I was undertaking and how I would eventually be developing my own film, etc. Unknown individual said something like:

“Are you going to develop your films in coffee?”

To which I replied, “Uhhh…”

“No, really,” said anonymous, “I just read an article about it! You can actually use instant coffee to develop black and white film. It’s kind of the new thing in Lomo-type photography…”

My lack of enthusiasm spoke volumes.

Inside, I silently mocked this poor individual.

No. No, I would not be using some trendy, double-latte mocha homebrew to develop my fine art images! Neither would I be growing an unkempt beard, wearing sweaters or playing an acoustic set at Starbucks in the near future. My photography will be SERIOUS dammit! Not some hippy-dippy kid stuff! What – Oh, what? – would Ansel say to this?

I put this coffee developer foolishness out of my mind completely and continued with loftier pursuits.

Several months transpired.

I had been posting a few of my digital photos on Flickr and had even created a group there in order to post photos of my camera build. I had invited several others who I had noticed A) made their own cameras, and B) posted photos of said cameras, or at least photos made with them.

One of these folks was a fellow by the name of Eirik Russel Roberts. He kindly took the invitation to join my fledgling group and even posted a few photos.

I was looking at one of his pictures, admiring how great it looked and happened to glance down at the information displayed beneath the image (which I routinely ignore). It listed the camera, lens, and film used as well as the development information. It said something like “developed in coffee 14min, 20deg C.”


Did I read that right? It must have been some kind of joke! That makes it sound as if film could be developed in something as random as… Coffee!?!

Incredulous, I began looking into this strange new concept – having completely forgotten about the earlier conversation (as well as the identity of the informant). Online I discovered several sites demonstrating that indeed film CAN be developed using coffee. What is more, the results are pretty darn good. Excellent in fact – in the right hands. People are getting negatives with very rich tones and fine grain – with coffee!

My researches eventually led me to a Caffenol C guidebook – The Caffenol Cookbook & Bible – which I downloaded and began reading.

Lo and behold! Who should be one of the authors of said book? Why, none other than my pal Eirik Russel Roberts!

Who knew?

Ok, enough witty vamping. I’ll get some actual pictures put up very soon showing what I have done thus far.

Stay tuned!

Why Caffenol C?

It’s a fair question. Why bother with some kind of wacky “home brew” developer when plenty of perfectly fine commercial developers are out there – really good ones – really inexpensive?

For me, I just love the novelty of a “do-it-yourself” developer. It puts me in control of yet another aspect of the photographic process. I really like that.

And it fits in with my current motto of “make your own.” That’s why I’m building my own view camera. That’s why I want to develop my own film. That’s why I want to make my own developer. I don’t need commercial stop bath, as water works just fine. The only store-bought chemical I need is fixer. I’d make that too if I knew how.

When the camera is finished essentially every aspect of the process will be “in house.” Exposure made with a camera I built, film developed in my own chemistry (mostly), negatives scanned by me, digital post-processing as I see fit. I love it!

Down the road, I’m hoping to conduct a little experimentation and “adjustment” of the Caffenol C recipes to suit my needs – ¬†push/pull processing, different emulsions, etc. It should be fun.