Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Strange Brew

The first batch Hey, it worked!

Not that I should be too surprised. Despite the unlikely-sounding recipe, the chemistry is founded on some solid science, published in a few places besides the interwebs. But still, seeing is believing, as they say. And now I'm sure you're burdened with questions, which I will attempt to address:

Q: What am I looking at here?

A bunch of firsts. I recently bought a 100-foot roll of inexpensive black-and-white 35mm film from Freestyle photo and wound it onto recycled cartridges from Walgreens, using a bulk film loader from the thrift store. First time I'd ever used a bulk loader, or handled that much film in one go. I just finished shooting my first homemade roll of the stuff today.

In the true retro-tech DIY spirit, I also made a batch of Caffenol C developer out of mostly-common household ingredients, and following the spotty and conflicting directions on the Internet, developed this roll tonight.

Q: Caffe-whatnow?

"Caffenol," a jokey name for this particular blend. Recipes are varied, and some call for the addition of vitamin C -- hence Caffenol C --to speed up the development process and give clearer negatives. My Super-Sekrit Recipe (don't tell!) is:

For one roll of 35mm film:
  • 1 round teaspoon of vitamin C powder (acetic acid, from the health food store)
  • 2 round teaspoons of washing soda (a.k.a. soda ash, or sodium carbonate) This is not baking soda.
  • 4 round teaspoons of the cheapest instant coffee available (regular, not decaf)
  • 8 oz. of water at 68 degrees F/20 degrees C
  1. Mix coffee with about half of the water in a container.
  2. Mix vitamin C and soda ash with remaining water in another container. Caution: this becomes fizzy
  3. Stir both until all powder/coffee is totally mixed into the water
  4. Combine both mixtures and let stand 10-15 minutes for "micro-bubbles" to settle
  5. Develop 12 minutes, agitating twice per minute for about ten seconds per cycle. Without the vitamin C this step reportedly takes 20-30 minutes, and the negatives come out a tad foggy.
  6. Use a water stop bath, um, until the water is clear? Didn't time this step.
  7. Use commercial film fixer for recommended time (I did 3 min.)
  8. Wash in water, add drop of Jet Dry and hang in shower to dry overnight (see above pic)
Q: While you were talking, I Google'd Caffenol. I hear that it smells bad. Really?

You really need to experience it for yourself. My initial reaction was "Ugh. Oh God. Ugh." It smells so reasonable before it's all mixed together.

I think it smells like coffee and old grease. My son said it smelled like "liquid [explicative]" right before he was sent to his room. It's bad, but not clear-the-house bad. Next time, I'm going to mix it up before I roll my film onto the spools, so I'm not in the same room during its 10-15 minute "breathing time." Phew.

Q: What's the science behind this?

Something about the caffeic acid in the coffee being the developing agent, which is in a higher ratio in instant coffee, due to the cheaper beans used and the roasting process. The soda ash helps goose it along, and the vitamin C boosts it a bit more. Keebler-elf magic and chicken entrails, as far as I'm concerned. But it works. Those negatives look great, certainly on par with the stuff I developed years ago in D-76, or whatever it was we used in class.

Q: Speaking of D-76, why not just buy commercial developer? It's faster, more consistent, and cheaper.

Oh, come on. I use typewriters and fountain pens. Why do anything easy? Besides, it's insanely cool, not just unrolling the film from the spool, but knowing that every part of that process was controlled by me.

Just try it.

Q: What's next?

Once the negatives are dry, I'll put them into some sleeves and see if I can rig up a digital-camera-scanner setup. There's a cereal box near me right now that might make a great daylight lightbox. Stay tuned, coffee achievers.

UPDATE: A few results...

Shape and shadow The old mattress Thrift shopping
click to embiggen

All softness in these edges of these images is due to my terrible "handoscan" technique (aka, negatives up against the window). I'm amazed how good these look. As a whole, they're a bit dense, but I think that's due to operator error, not the developing process.


Mike Speegle said...

Stupid question time: Does this only work for true B&W film? I think you addressed this once already, but I wanted to be sure. Also, how does one go about scanning a negative?

I know that I could probably figure it out w/ a Google search, but I think going satriahg tto the experts is better.

Mike Speegle said...

Lord. "Satriahg tto?" Looks like I need to reacquaint myself with Old Man Proofreading.

mpclemens said...

Re: "Satriahg tto." I thought you just sneezed in Welsh.

You can do color film and faux B&W (chromogenic) film with Caffenol, or with any black-and-white chemistry, for that matter. You won't get color results -- that requires a different process entirely. Also, the backing material of color film is typically tinted, so the scanning/reversal process will look wonky. Inverting color film with its typical orange backing gives you a very bluish print (blue being the color opposite of orange. Remember your color wheel?)

It can be done, especially if you're looking more for more artsy results. The reason I went to bulk-loading black-and-white, though, is that it drove the price-per-roll down to about $1.25 for 36 exposures. It's all about the Benjamins for me (or in this case, the Washingtons and the Lincolns.)

As to scanning negatives, you can be really, really cheap and hold them up to your window, and photograph them with a digital camera. Results are... well, you can see the results, since that's what I did. Keeping the negatives flat is key, and something I did not do well, so the negatives are very soft (blurry) around the edges.

I have a crafty solution in mind, though, and I'm going to play with it.

Ted said...

Sweet! Didn't know you'd done this already or I woulda picked your brain before starting. :D