Caffenol and the Minolta X-370

As an avid coffee drinker, I don’t have much in the way of time for instant coffee. As a film photographer of black and white photos, however, instant coffee has become a friend of mind in the way of caffenol.

(We are in no way affiliated with Maxwell House)

Caffenol is a fascinating and innovative alternative developing agent used in film photography. It is a homemade, environmentally friendly concoction that combines three readily available and inexpensive ingredients: coffee (instant), sodium carbonate (commonly known as washing soda), and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Caffenol provides a cost-effective and accessible option for developing black and white films, particularly for enthusiasts and photographers seeking a unique and experimental approach to their craft.

The process of developing film with caffenol involves several chemical reactions that work together to bring out the latent image captured on the film: the caffeine in the coffee acts as a developing agent; the alkaline properties of sodium carbonate help maintain the necessary pH levels for proper development; and the Vitamin C, a powerful reducing agent, aids in the oxidation-reduction reactions by preventing the film’s silver halides from reattaching to the unexposed grains.

Caffenol is very much an experimental development technique, and there are more than a few different and unique “recipes” for mixing a concoction that will develop film. Some of them even have names:

  • Caffenol-C: The standard recipe that uses instant coffee, washing soda and vitamin C. It works well with most films and gives good contrast and sharpness.
  • Caffenol-CM: A variation of Caffenol-C that uses less washing soda and adds potassium bromide as a restrainer. It reduces fogging and graininess and gives finer details.
  • Caffenol-CL: A low-contrast recipe that uses less instant coffee and vitamin C than Caffenol-C. It is suitable for high-contrast films or scenes.
  • Caffenol-C-H: A high-speed recipe that uses more instant coffee and vitamin C than Caffenol-C. It is suitable for low-light situations or pushing film.
  • Caffenol-Delta: A recipe that uses decaffeinated instant coffee instead of regular instant coffee. It gives lower contrast and softer tones than Caffenol-C.
  • Caffenol-T: A recipe that uses black tea instead of coffee. It gives warmer tones and more grain than Caffenol-C.
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There is no “one size fits all” approach to caffenol. Here at Blind Skeleton, we’ve shed many a tear as entire rolls of film have been ruined, under-developed, or vastly over-developed. Experimentation of not only the ingredients, but the amount of developing time as well as agitation are key.

Over-developed caffenol result from an Argus C-44

The above image is the result of a high coffee concentrate caffenol recipe with an 11 minute developing time. It was so over developed it took some editing just to get that image. Previous attempts were more disastrous, so retrieving an image at all was positive progress!

Ultimately we worked out this solution for Ilford Delta 100 film:

  • Coffee – 2 tablespoons
  • Washing soda – 4 teaspoons
  • Vitamin C – 4 teaspoons
  • Slightly-warmer-than-room-temperature Water – 4 cups

Develop for 7.5 minutes with agitation every 60-90 seconds.

Photos below were all taken with a Minolta X-370 camera, a completely manual camera. Film was Ilford Delta 100.

Directions

Ingredients

  • Coffee – 2 tablespoons
  • Washing soda – 4 teaspoons
  • Vitamin C – 4 teaspoons
  • Slightly-warmer-than-room-temperature Water – 4 cups

Step 1: The Caffenol Symphony

Embark on a journey of creative discovery with the Caffenol Symphony—a captivating method that combines the rich notes of coffee, the harmonious alkalinity of washing soda, and the rejuvenating touch of vitamin C. Begin by preparing a symphony of flavors using this exquisite caffenol recipe.

Step 2: Brewing Artistry

Gently gather the ingredients required for this artistic endeavor. Measure 2 tablespoons of instant coffee, selecting a variety that entices your taste buds. Barring that, any instant coffee will do, provided it is not decaffeinated.

Step 3: Alchemical Alchemy

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In a container of ample proportions, combine the measured coffee with 4 teaspoons of washing soda, ensuring the perfect balance of alkalinity. Allow these elements to embrace, setting the stage for a chemical ballet that will unfold.

Step 4: Vitamin C Cadence

Introduce 4 teaspoons of vitamin C powder to the mixture, infusing it with the power of reduction and oxidizing dance moves. Watch as the vitamin C sweeps across the stage, orchestrating the transformation of silver halides into a visual masterpiece.

Step 5: A Melodic Brew

Compose the perfect temperature for your symphony by utilizing 4 cups of slightly-warmer-than-room-temperature water. This subtle variation in warmth sets the tempo for the development process, awakening the latent image with finesse.

Step 6: The Maestro’s Touch

Stir the concoction with finesse, allowing each ingredient to meld together in perfect harmony. Listen attentively to the gentle whispers of the mixture, ensuring that the composition achieves a seamless unity.

Step 7: Embrace the Reel

In a darkened room or within the embrace of a changing bag, load your exposed black and white film onto the film development reel—an intricate dance that requires utmost precision. Allow the film to become one with the reel, preparing it for its moment in the spotlight.

Step 8: A Prelude Rinse

Before immersing the film into the caffenol symphony, provide it with a delicate prelude rinse. Envelop the film in clean water, caressing it with gentle movements to remove any lingering impurities or distractions.

Step 9: A Performance Unveiled

Pour the prepared caffenol solution into the film development tank, carefully cradling the film within its depths. Embrace the essence of patience as you begin the development process, allowing the symphony to work its magic for 7.5 minutes.

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Step 10: Choreograph the Agitation

Every 60 to 90 seconds, perform a mesmerizing dance with the film development tank, gently agitating the contents. This rhythmic movement ensures an enchanting performance, as each frame develops with grace and finesse.

Step 11: An Interlude of Rest

As the development time reaches its crescendo, bid farewell to the caffenol solution by pouring it out of the tank. Allow the film to rest momentarily, embracing the stillness and anticipation of the next act.

Step 12: The Final Flourish

Commence the post-development steps with a stop bath, fixing, and a thorough rinse. Each movement must be executed with precision, ensuring that the symphony concludes with a resounding applause.

Step 13: Unveiling the Masterpiece

Once the film is entirely dry, the moment of revelation arrives. Scan or print your negatives to witness the visual opus that has emerged from the caffenol symphony. Marvel at the distinctive grain structures, the captivating tonal variations, and the nostalgic charm that only caffenol can produce.

Step 14: A Standing Ovation

As you raise your cup of Skeleton Brew coffee to celebrate the fruits of your labor, savor the artistic journey you’ve embarked upon. Caffenol has not only developed your film but also kindled the flames of creativity and experimentation. Cheers to the moments captured, the memories preserved, and the artistic spirit that forever dances within your soul.