Caffenol Basics (Developing w/ Instant Coffee, Washing Soda & Vitamin C)

Tags: photography, film, film development, caffenol

I was introduced to the joy of Caffenol development by a good friend and have to say that I couldn't be more impressed with the results.  Typically black and white film development is done with a commercially produced liquid that is then distilled with water to form the development solution.  Unfortunately these chemicals are quite toxic and not too friendly to your skin - they also need to be disposed of very carefully which can be a bit of a pain.  This is what I was using in my home darkroom based on my original training at BCPA.

Then along came Caffenol, and in the interests of continuing a cancer-free existence, I decided it might be a good idea to give this crazy concept a whirl.  It is "crazy" the first time because it involves placing a film in a soup constituted by the cheapest instant coffee available, washing soda, vitamin C and some water to slosh around in.  In my case it is also likely to be a film that I recall putting a lot of love and attention into but can't quite remember where or when the pictures were shot... a concerning prospect if the film doesn't actually develop.

Somehow I found the gumption to follow through with that first development and I couldn't be more happy with the results that I've been having with all of my films since - consistent and, although a little denser, I haven't had any trouble generating nice prints from those films.  I suspect it would have been pretty unlikely that I would just trusted the process without the benefit of the Caffenol Blog developed by a German chap called Reinhold.  He's pulled together some really easy to use resources and guides as well as offering great examples of how well Caffenol development can turn out (although anyone wanting to give it a whirl should start at the very first entry and work backwards).

The only issue I did have was translating the suggested ingredients to something specifically available in Queensland, Australia.  This was by no means difficult given Reinhold's excellent directions but rather a cause for concern given the absolute nature of film development. I tend to exercise my four-letter vocabulary quite loudly if I turn on the lights and find out I have a blank film.

For the benefit of anyone else in Queensland and maybe wider Australia who wants to use a tried and tested formula with known ingredients, this is the soup that I've used successfully on a number of FP 4 films (ISO 125) at around 20-23 degrees Celsius:

  • 3.0 tablespoons of Lectric washing soda;
  • 0.6 tablespoons of Nature's Own Vitamin C powder;
  • 4.8 tablespoons of Woolies Homebrand Instant Coffee; and
  • distilled or bottled water to make up to 600mL.

Prost to Herr Reinhold and his blog!

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