For some time now, I’ve been reading on the Internet about the use of instant coffee as a film developer. I’ve seen some impressive results with different films, so I thought to give it a try myself.
A visit to the Caffenol blog helped me understanding the way it’s done.
Basically, the Caffenol developer is composed from instant coffee, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in powder form, and washing soda. I decided to try the Delta-STD recipe since I was going to test an Ilford Delta film.
Using 350ml of water I diluted 6 rounded teaspoons of instant coffee (Nescafé classic which I already had in my home), 4 leveled teaspoons of washing soda (bought from super market) and one rounded teaspoon of Vitamin C (which was easy to find in a drugstore).
I diluted the coffee and washing soda separately (as suggested from the Caffenol site) and then poured them in my container (in which I had previously mixed the Vitamin C).
The instructions quoted for 9 minutes development at 20 Celsius. When I mixed my developer the temperature was 25C, so I decided to cut the time to 7:45 min. It was really a decision based on my previous film developing experience and luck, since I don’t really know how this developer behaves.
Another thing I discovered while I was taking images, was hat the recipe was for the Delta 400 film and not the Delta 100 that I had accidentally loaded in the camera. So I did some bracketing by shooting the same image twice, one at ISO 80 and the second at ISO 320 (I am always overexposing b&w film by at least 1/3 stop).
The developing process was similar to chemical developers. I agitated for the first 30 seconds, then four inversions every two minutes (instead of one minute I do with DD-X), stop bath with tab water and then fix for five minutes with Ilford Rapid Fixer. I rinsed the film for about 10 minutes and decided not to use a wetting agent (for no particular reason).
Then the magic moment came. I really didn’t expect to see a properly developed film, maybe some foggy underdeveloped or overdeveloped frames, but to my own surprise, every single frame was developed nicely !!! Talking about beginner’s luck !!!
I was really in a hurry, so I did a fast batch at 2400dpi with my old Epson V500 scanner. After all, these were test pictures of boring subjects.
What I immediately noticed, was that both ISO 80 and ISO 320 setting worked fine. There were images that looked better when shot at ISO 80 and other images which looked better at ISO 320. The “pushed” images (ISO 320) had much more contrast and fewer tones, which in some subjects had a better result. The ISO 80 images were more flat with great tones. The one thing that I really liked was the”pure film” look of the photos, which I find it very hard to reproduce with b&w conversion of a digital image.
On the two images above you can clearly see the difference in contrast and tone between ISO 80 and 320.
In conclusion, I was really surprised from the results. This is not just a weird cross process developing formula for creating experimental images, this is a normal developer able of producing beautiful negatives !! It will sure take some effort experimenting with different times, films and recipes to master Caffenol developing, but I really enjoyed the whole process (and results), so I am definitely going to use Caffenol as a developer at the future.
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