My Caffenol Experiment

Stuart Hall
Stuart Hall

It’s no secret to my friends that I like to try new things and I’m not afraid of trying new things. When I first read about Caffenol a few years ago, I was definitely captivated. I grew up shooting film and when I was in college, I spent most of my free time either shooting or in the darkroom developing and printing. I still love shooting film! If you have read any of my posts on film, you’ll see that I develop my film mostly using Ilford DDX developer. I’ll admit, I tried Caffenol a couple years ago and it was an epic fail. First, I didn’t have enough developer to cover the film in the tank so only half of the roll got developed plus I was missing a key ingredient – Vitamin C powder. Of course it’s not going to turn out! Fast forward to last week. I started reading about Caffenol again and decided that I would not be defeated by it again.

I loaded my trusty Leica MP with a roll of Fuji Acros 100 film and put on my favorite Voigtlander 35mm lens and took off for downtown Kansas City. It was a gorgeous day for May, sunny, not too cool, not too hot, just perfect. Plus I figured if the roll didn’t turn out, I could always go out again later. First I stopped at Natural Grocer’s and found the vitamin C powder then stopped at the grocery store to get the Folger’s instant coffee and washing soda. Ingredients – check! When I got home from shooting, I loaded the film on the reel and in the tank it went. Now to mix the Caffenol.

There are a lot of recipes out there for Caffenol. CM, CH, and CL are the basic recipes with the differences being salt, no salt, amounts of ingredients and agitation times, etc. I think the best resource I found is the Caffenol Cookbook. You can Google Caffenol and find a lot more information but the Cookbook is a great starting point. The recipe I chose was the volumetric recipe since it gave teaspoons and tablespoons instead of grams. It’s a CM-RS recipe and the RS means reduced soda.

Here it is:

  • 500 mls tap water 68°F
  • 4 tsp. Washing Soda (I used Arm & Hammer)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. Vitamin C powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Iodized salt
  • 5 rounded tsp. Coffee (Folger’s Instant)

I did change the temperature from 70°F to 68°F mainly because the stop and fixer needed to be at 68°F and I wanted to keep things the same across the board. Since I changed the temperature, I also changed the developing time from 11 minutes to 15 minutes to make up for the temperature change. I inverted the tank about 12 times during the first 30 seconds then 2 inversions every minute after that. I have to admit that the mixture didn’t smell real good either, kind of like dirty socks.

After the 15 minutes, I used Ilfostop at the 1-19 mix for 1 minute then followed that with Ilford Rapid Fix 1-4 mix for 5 minutes. I washed the film in clean running water at 68°F for 10 minutes then added a bit of Kodak Photo-Flo just because. By this point, I was getting pretty anxious to see the film, keeping my fingers crossed that it turned out and I at least got something to look at on the film. Here is where it got interesting – I took the film off the reel and could see that it worked and as I was putting the clip on the end of the film to hang it, I dropped the wet film on the floor. Shit! No what do I do? Should I wash it again? 5 second rule? No, I’m not eating the film, silly. Well, I picked it up and went ahead and attached the other clip and hung it. I wet the squeegee and ran it down the film hoping that all would be OK. Waiting for the film to dry seemed like an eternity! Did I scratch it? Should I have washed it again?…………….

Well, after it was dry, I cut the negatives and scanned them. The first one I scanned had dust spots all over it. Crap, I should have washed the film again but too late. Fortunately only the first 5 or 6 negatives were spotted. The others had just a few spots that were easily taken out in Photoshop. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the results and I’m looking forward to doing the next roll. Check it out for yourself.

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