Monthly Archives: December 2014

In Other News…

I’ve had some free time over the last few days to get a bit of work done on my camera. I machined up the struts and hinge mechanism for the rear standard and put it all together. It works quite nicely!




I have been worried that the base of the camera would intrude into the image when focusing a wide lens. To check this, I mounted up my 90mm lens (the 150mm is shown in the photos) and tried to get the base to appear on the ground glass. I couldn’t do it. Much relief!

The end of this project is in sight! I just need to build the struts, hinges and knobs for the front standard and I’m done with the actual building part. Then I need completely disassemble the whole thing to apply the finish to the wooden parts and possibly have the brass parts plated to match the aluminum. Then I get to take pictures!


pH Meter Fun!

The pH meter showed up today, so I mixed up a few solutions and got checking.

Calibrating the meter took a few minutes and I was off to the races.

I started with a 40g/L Borax solution


Basically as advertised (supposed to be 9.2, but I imagine this meter isn’t ultra-precise).

I then added 10g/L of Vitamin C


Big drop there. I haven’t found any precise data, but I think that 8.8 is too low to get development. This is before adding more acid in the form of instant coffee, so I think that for the moment Borax is out as a suitable alkali, at least in a dilute solution with long development times such as Caffenol C-L. It might work in a mix with more Coffee and Vitamin C such as Caffenol C-M or C-H.

I next turned my attention to Washing Soda, a 16g/L solution as specified in the Caffenol C-L recipe


Very nice, and right where it is supposed to be

Next came the Vitamin C


Whoah! Really big drop there! The Borax solution only dropped about 0.5 while the Washing Soda dropped over 1.0. I guess that Borax does have a greater buffering capacity, even though its pH is too low to begin with.

I then added 50g/L sodium sulfite. I didn’t take a picture, but I think the pH fell to about 9.8. Next came the Coffee and…


A final pH of 9.4 is pretty low, but a test strip proves that it does in fact have good developer activity.

I want to now expose a roll of film and put this developer head-to-head with non-Sulfite Caffenol C-L.

A Little Further Testing

As a continuation of my current experiments, I tried mixing up some “standard” Caffenol C-L with 40g/L Borax rather than the usual Washing Soda. I didn’t add any Sulfite or Bromine so there should have been nothing hindering development. A test strip failed to develop after 45 minutes. It did take on a gray color, roughly equivalent to a sunglass lens (dark but definitely transparent), yet nowhere near the density that fully exposed film usually attains.

As a control, I developed another test strip in Rodinal for about five minutes.


This doesn’t show up very well, but the Rodinal strip is on the left, Caffenol C-L with Borax center, and fixed film base on the right. If you squint a little (or zoom in) you can make out the lines beneath the Borax strip, but nothing through the Rodinal. In hand, the difference in density is quite obvious.

I believe this singles the Borax out as the problem since it was the only alteration to a mix that had been working well previously. I’m guessing that for some reason I’m not reaching the published pH of 9.2 and the developers aren’t being activated sufficiently – it’s just not alkaline enough. This is purely a guess on my part. I ordered a pH meter and I’ll continue tests when it gets here.

In the mean time I’m thinking about further trials with standard C-L with Sodium Sulfite added. Wikipedia lists the pH of a saturated Sodium Sulfite solution at “about 9” so it shouldn’t cause too much trouble, though it apparently slows development somewhat – 30min rather than 15min for the “normally” agitated mixes. I think I’ll need to run test strips with at least 1hr development times.

Next Phase – Part 2

I had already shot up a roll of FP4+ especially for this test. Turns out I had 32 exposures worth of film in the canister (I have been loading 20) that should work out fairly well. Roughly 16 shots per test film.

Of course cutting the film in two and loading it into two separate developing tanks requires stuffing a bunch of gear into the changing tent. I have mentioned how nice it is to have the big Fujifilm tent. Here is photographic evidence:


There is almost too much room! I occasionally find myself reaching around trying to find an item that has rolled away from me. But, I will definitely not complain! This is no problem compared to the mess it would be trying to use my other, comparatively tiny changing bags.

I pre-soaked the films with water for a minute or so then carefully poured in the respective developers. Standard Caffenol C-L in the black tank, Caffenol-BS in the stainless Nikor. Both then get agitated for fifteen seconds, then stand for sixty minutes.


Solubility of the Borax – or the lack thereof – became apparent again, as some crystals had settled to the bottom of the beaker after pouring everything into the developing tank. Only a few crystals – probably less than a gram – were left. I don’t think it will have any effect.

I easily mixed 47g of Borax into one liter of hot water yesterday, just to see if it would be an issue. It wasn’t. All of it dissovled with relative ease. Again, I think using hot water is the answer here.

The results? Ahh, yes…

Well, see for yourself.

Here is what the Caffenol C-L negatives looked like:


And here are the Caffenol-BS negatives:


Not what I anticipated. But in retrospect it was probably a bad idea to change multiple variables in one go. I think I’ll repeat the procedure but omit the sulfite and see if I’m able to get useable negatives with C-L using Borax rather than Washing Soda. If that works, I’ll start adding sulfite and see where it goes.

And I’m going to start using a test strip of film to see if there is any developer activity before I commit an entire roll to the experiment. I will probably also get an inexpensive pH meter just to confirm that my solution is as alkaline as I think it is. They are about $13 on Amazon.

Live and learn!

The Next Phase!

So I have been reading various sources I have dug up on the internet regarding the use of Sulfite for the aforementioned silver-solvent property it provides when added in concentrations up to 100g/L. I also ran across discussion of using Borax as the alkali rather than Sodium Carbonate (washing soda).

In a discussion on Flickr, Molder2906 seems to have had very nice results using Caffenol C with Borax rather than washing soda. This makes some sense in light of Eirik Roberts’ reports about his Caffenol C-LS recipes (LS for low soda). He reduced the amount of alkali (decreasing the pH of his developer) and got reduced grain. It appears that lowering pH reduces the developer’s activity and thus results in “slower development” and apparenty finer grain.

Twenty Mule Team Borax is readily available, so I bought a box ($5.99 for four pounds of the stuff!)

My Sodium Sulfite arrived so I am going to attempt another head-to-head comparison between two developer recipes.

I will mix up 500ml of standard Caffenol C-L and 500ml of Caffenol-BS (that’s Borax and Sulfite…)

Here is the recipe for the first trial of Caffenol-BS:

Borax 40g/L
Sodium Sulfite 50g/L
Vitamin C 10g/L
KBr 1g/L
Instant Coffee 40g/L

A very nice reference paper on the chemical properties of Borax has been prepared by the Twenty Mule Team people.

I decided on 40g/L of Borax because it is a bit below the listed maximum solubility of Borax in water of 47g/L. Borax has a slightly lower pH (9.2) than washing soda (11.5). Borax is also a much more effective buffer than washing soda, meaning that the solution will stay at a constant pH as acid is added to (or removed from) the mix via the development process, solution oxidation, etc.

Borax is a good bit more difficult to dissolve compared to washing soda. I confirmed this fact just now as I mixed up my two developers. I think that using HOT water to make the developer will be the ticket. Then I’ll just let it cool for hours/days prior to use. This should be fine since the sulfite’s preservative action will keep it springtime fresh!

I had planned to shoot two rolls of film at a time with near-identical cameras, as I mentioned in my last post. I subsequently realized that this is totally unneccessary. I just shot one nice long roll of film in one camera and I’ll snip it in half when I load it onto reels. One half will be developed in each developer! Simple, simple, simple!

I have to run some errands for a few hours, so the developers will just have to sit for a while before I can dive in but it is going to be stand development for 60min @ 20º C.

Here are my two beakers, ready to roll:


I Admit, I Was Wrong!

I haven’t posted results of my Caffenol C-L with and without Rodinal experiment. I couldn’t see any difference between the two. One possible explanation is that my whole premise was flawed – Rodinal does contain sulfite, but nowhere near enough. No wonder it didn’t do what I hoped it would.

Further, sodium sulfite needs to be added in fairly large quantities to get the silver-solvent effect I’m looking for. I understand that D-76 contains 100g/mL and one Caffenol recipe calls for 50g/L. I would never have gotten the results I want with a tiny bit of Rodinal added.

Therefore, I have ordered some actual sodium sulfite and will repeat the experiment when it is in hand. As it turns out this will be fairly easy to do as I will have another Nikon FE in my collection – probably tomorrow. I have two 50mm f1.4 Nikkors also, so I will load both cameras up with FP4+, shoot identical scenes with both, develop one roll in each solution and see what I get.

I can’t say that I got bad images out of this experiment though! I think that the high contrast, high detail scenes I’ve been shooting lately have worked pretty well with a bit more grain.

Level 6-1

Broken Tree-1

Old Metal Barn-1

Reno and Sierras at Sunrise-1

Tree and Storm Clouds-1

Two Trees-1

Some Experimentation

Last post I whined and cried about the quality of my pictures. Well no more of that! I am taking steps! Steps I say! And I am taking them!

I have been searching around the web to see if there is a tweak to the Caffenol C recipe that might result in finer grained negatives. I re-read a few posts on Reinhold’s blog about his Parodinal experiments. It seems that Parodinal is a home-brew substitute for commercial Rodinal using acetaminophen (Tylenol) as its main agent. Both Rodinal and Cardinal also contain sulfite which I understand is thought to exert a solvent effect upon the developing silver crystals. This slight dissolution of the crystals is supposed to reduce the size of individual grains, thereby reducing (you guessed it!) the apparent graininess of the negative.

Ok, I’m interested.

I saw another author questioning whether or not this sulfite “solvent” business is real, but it’s worth a try at least. Sodium Sulfite is a very common food preservative and is readily obtained. I could simply add a bit of it to my developer and see what happens. And I may do just that in the future, but I had two rolls of exposed FP4+ at the ready and didn’t feel like waiting for another Amazon order to arrive, so I resolved to try a similar but different approach.

I had a bottle of sulfite-containing Rodinal sitting on my shelf. Why not just add a bit of it to Caffenol C-L and see what happens.


Stand development with Rodinal calls for a 1+100 dilution, meaning 10mL of Rodinal in 1L water. I didn’t want to use Rodinal as a “full-strength” developer, but as an additive to the Caffenol, so I decided to use 3mL/L for a start.

This seems almost laughably dilute, but it is only a few mL less than the standard mix. And only a single gram per liter of potassium bromide is called for. Apparently these “homeopathic” concentrations are enough to get the job done.

Since I had two rolls ready for processing, I put together a head-to-head competition between regular Caffenol C-L and my Rodinal-added version. The subject material of both rolls was very similar so some kind of comparison between them should be useful.

I mixed up a full liter of C-L and divided it into two 500ml portions [I am fighting the urge to use the term “aliquots” here, it’s a word I almost never get to use…].

In my usual style, I proceeded to make a silly error. In order to make a 3ml per liter dilution I needed to add 1.5 mL to one of the 500 mL portions. Instead I added the full 3 mL, so my experiment went forward with a 6 mL per liter solution. Ah well, no big deal.

I processed the films side-by-side in two separate tanks. Stand development for 60 minutes at 20°C with gentle agitation for the first thirty seconds, then no agitation for the remainder of the time.

I went with 60 minutes rather than 70 because I feel like I have been over developing all my negatives up to this point. The next time I use “regular” development I’m going to go with 12 minutes rather than 15.


Both rolls came out of the tanks looking very nice, so there doesn’t seem to have been any huge difference between the two developers (neither was visibly over or under developed compared to the other). Hopefully the scans will reveal something.

At present I have only scanned the C-L+Rodinal negatives. I should be able to get the others scanned and posted this afternoon. I’ll wait to comment on the quality of the first ones until I have something objective to compare them to.