Mixing It Up With Caffenol

Run out of your usual black and white developer? No longer have a traditional film store in your local high street? Annoyed by people asking you rhetorical questions? Then pop in to town and pick up a jar of cheap instant coffee, some soda crystals, and a dash of powdered vitamin C. Mix with water and voilà : you have caffenol.

Here’s What You’ll Need

Instant Coffee: Coffee contains caffeic acid, which acts as the developing agent. Any old cheap rubbish will do by all accounts. I bought the cheapest and nastiest stuff I could find.

Soda Crystals: A developer needs to be alkaline to work, but coffee is fairly acidic. That’s where soda crystals come in. Adding them to the mix raises the PH and allows the development process to kick in.

One thing I found from my research that you don’t often see mentioned, is the different types of soda crystals. Most recipes you find online assume the soda crystals are anhydrous (i.e. water free). However, here in the UK the most common brand you’re likely to come across is Dri-Pack Crystals. These are not anhydrous, and people who are smarter and have more time on their hands than me have worked out you should multiply the amount by 2.7 to compensate for this.

Powdered Vitamin C: This considerably speeds up the developing time, making the process more practical. You should be able to pick this up from a pharmacist or health food store like Holland & Bollocks. Strictly speaking what I’m making here is known as caffenol-C. You can make plain old vanilla caffenol without the vitamin C – the only difference is you’ll be hanging around for a lot longer.

The Quantities

To make 1 litre:

  • 150g Dri-Pak Soda Crystals
  • 16g Vitamin-C powder
  • 40g Instant Coffee
  • Water to make 1000ml of solution

I don’t think this stuff really keeps, so it’s best to mix only what you need. Here are the minimum amounts to process a single roll of 35mm and 120 in a paterson tank:

35mm

  • 45g Dri-Pak Soda Crystals
  • 4.8g Vitamin-C powder
  • 12g Instant Coffee
  • Water to make 300ml of solution

120

  • 90g Dri-Pak Soda Crystals
  • 9.6g Vitamin-C powder
  • 24g Instant Coffee
  • Water to make 600ml of solution

The Method

  • Fill the beaker with half the target amount of water. In other words, 300ml if you want to create 600ml of developer.
  • Add in the soda crystals and stir for a good few minutes until dissolved. This seems to quickly lower the temperature by about 10℃. If I had a clue about chemistry I might be able to tell you why.
  • Vitamin C next; make sure it’s properly stirred-in.
  • Repeat as above with the coffee. Things don’t look or smell too good at this stage.
  • Top up with water to the desired level; 600ml in this example. Mix.
  • It’s probably a good idea to let it rest for 5 minutes or so, just to let the bubbles settle. You can use this time to get it to the pre-requiste 20℃ whilst you’re waiting. Putting the beaker in a bowl of hot water is good for raising the temperature. To lower the temperature of my developer I always use the genius invention that is plastic ice cubes.
  • From here on you can develop as normal, at the usual temperature of 20℃. For this roll of Tri-X 12 minutes worked well for me. After emptying the developer down the sink, give the tank a good rinse with water rather than using stop (I rarely use stop these days), and fix and rinse as normal.

In was really surprised how well these pictures came out. I thought they’d be some compromise; that they wouldn’t be particularly sharp or perhaps too grainy. But this seems to work as well as any other developer. I don’t know how often I’ll be using Caffenol in the future, but I’ll certainly keep the ingredients handy in the cupboard in case of emergencies.

All photos taken with Yashica Mat on Kodak Tri-X. Developed in Caffenol-C for 12 minutes

Olympus Trip 35

I was looking through some old photos this week and realised how many pictures I’ve taken over the years with my Olympus Trip 35, the deceptively simple and fiendishly designed iconic 35mm compact. It’s the one camera I’ve nearly always got with me, and I even managed to sneak a few pictures at the David Bailey exhibition last year. You have to be of a certain age to understand the significance of that.

I picked out 45 photos that I’m fond of:

xx

xx

xx

xx


Found Film: SEM Semflex / Ilford FP3

February, and so far I’ve managed to keep at least one of my New Year’s Resolutions; I haven’t bought any any more cameras. I really have all the ones I need. However, I did spend some money getting one of my Mats and both my Mamiya 645s repaired, and as a result can wholeheartedly recommend Miles Whitehead.

The last camera I bought was towards the end of 2014, a SEM Semflex Standard II. There’s not a great deal of information available about Semflex cameras, and they seem largely unknown outside of France. That may have been one of the reasons why I bought it, but the main reason was that I’m a cheapskate and the price was low. An unusual TLR for £25 was just too tempting for me. Anyway, with the help of this page, I’m pretty confident I’ve correctly identified it as the Standard T950 Type 2, which dates it to 1950-1955.

Now, my life is empty enough that getting a camera that’s over fifty years old is very exciting. I can’t help thinking about all the pictures that it might have taken, the family events that have been recorded with it, and of course what circumstances led to it being abandoned and sold to me.

But there was more excitement to come….

What I hadn’t initially realised and couldn’t tell until I opened the back was that that there was a roll of medium format film inside. Fortunately, it was fully wound on to the take- up spool, and the sticky tape thingy (does that have a name?) had been stuck down. It turned out to be a roll of Ilford FP3, and a quick google revealed that FP3 was discontinued in 1968. So chances are the film was exposed before that. OK, now I was really excited, although when I thought about it seemed that the chances of any images surviving were remote. Roll film is a lot easier to ruin than 35mm, and who knows when in the last fifty years the roll was wound on to the take-up spool, and how many times the back may have been opened mid-roll before that.

Shot with Yaschica Mat / Kodak Tri-X

When it came to developing, it seemed obvious that stand development in Rodinal was the way to go. Who even knows what the standard development time for FP3 should be? And on top of that, this roll of film was at least fifty years old and had been shot in a meter-less camera, probably by an amateur with little skill at guessing exposures. Stand development is a technique I nearly always use for Tri-X in my Yashica Mat, always with excellent results, and it seemed like the best chance to get something out of this roll.

SEM Semflex Standard II / Ilford FP3 / Developed in 1+99 for 60 mins

Of the twelve potential frames, the above three shots were the only images I retrieved. The rest of the film was completely blank. It could that be only three shots were ever taken, but who knows?

Nevertheless, these three images are very exciting to me. It’s hard to say (and I’m certainly no expert) but I’d hazard a guess they date from the early sixties. I see a family resemblance and my guess is the first photo shows the parents and their son, and the second picture his wife. From the third photo, it would seem there’s some sort of sailing regatta going on. I have no idea where these photos were taken, (possibly France given the origin of the camera) but I’m sure that anyone who does know this place would recognise it, particularly from the background details in the first two shots.

What I find incredible is that the people, these moments, have for the last fifty years been neither real nor unreal, and now they’ve been brought fully to live. In my mind I think of them like Schrodinger’s Cat, and developing the film has collapsed the wave function and made them solid.