Recipes I like (III)

In previous posts with a very similar title, I described two combinations of film and developer that I like. One my general purpose recipe, one a specialised recipe aiming for specific results.

This post covers another combination I’ve grown to like a lot. Compared to the previous two, I have a bit less experience with this one, so perhaps it’s better to consider it a half-time report. Even so, it’s one I will continue to use as it gets a lot right.

My wishlist of what I look for in a film, and what I look for in a developer was described in the first post of this kind. No change in what I want, and the combination that is subject here satisfies the wishlist, albeit in its own way.

The previous recipe was a slower T-grain film, rendering sharp, contrasty negatives with plenty bite, yet keeping grain very well under control. And despite packing enough contrast, it also keeps a wide tonal range when exposed well. All in all, it looks quite modern: the kind of result you also expect from a digital camera with a modern high quality lens.

Today, its twin brother that is trying to do it all differently: traditional grain ISO 100 film, with a developer that helps it make look ‘old school’.

So, what do we eat today?

Cheap and cheerful: Fomapan 100 Classic. And where cheap often means “not that cheerful” and cheerful often means “not that cheap”, this time it’s true. It’s both.

The developer is similarly cheap, and yields cheerful results: Caffenol. Yes, we’re brewing coffee today.

Leica M4, Summicron-M 50mm

There are plenty sites and pages dedicated to Caffenol, and I’m not going to pretend being a specialist. I’ve tried the simplest default recipe and found it working. I stuck with it.

Ingredients

Fomapan 100 is found online in plenty European stores, and it’s generally the cheapest film available. The price is around 65-75% of the price of Ilford films, so it’s a considerable saving. The downside for that saving? As far as my experience so far goes: ….. nothing significant, really.

Caffenol was simply something I wanted to try. The concept of using very simple ingredients as developer was making me curious. As I wasn’t too convinced that it would work, I tried it first on the cheapest film I had available myself. That happened to be Fomapan 100. And so this combination between Fomapan 100 and Caffenol was born, a natural match.

Prepared caffenol does not have a long shelf life at all; quite the opposite. But its seperate ingredients keep well, long and are cheap. So rather than having developer ready, or a strong stock solution you need to dilute, I just mix up the needed amount when I need it. Caffenol is one-shot developer, so there is no value in doing it different.

Nikon FM2n, 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S

It adds a bit of time to prepare the developer, but it’s very easy.

Preparation

I use a Patterson development tank, and stick to 300ml for a 35mm film (600ml for 2 rolls or for 120 film). Strictly 290ml should suffice, but 300 makes things easier to calculate.

For 300ml developer, I use the following ingredients:

  • 16,2 grams of waterfree soda
  • 4,8 grams of Ascorbic acid
  • 12 grams of instant coffee (the cheapest available, and with caffeine)

The second ingredient sounds a bit exotic maybe, but its common name is Vitamin C. A lot of sports shops sells Vitamin C as a pure powder – this is what you need to get.

For the soda, the same story applies as for Beutler developer:  the normal soda you can get in supermarkets and convenience stores is not water-free. However, you can use supermarket soda just fine, but you will need to adjust the weight. There are two sorts of cleaning soda available: one which is very fine crystalline and one which is larger blobs. (The third option is baking soda, which is the wrong one to have). The fine crystal soda is 1,2 times heavier, the more crude crystals are 2,7 times heavier.

Practically, I use the fine crystalline from the supermarket, and use 19,4 grams of that.

Nikon FM2n, 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S

Mixing it up

Preparing the developer is really easy. Get a good sized beaker, 300ml of water and a stirring rod. Add the soda, and stir until it is completely dissolved. This can take quite long when the water is normal temperature (around 20 degrees Celsius). Just keep stirring.

When there are no visible soda crystals left, add the Vitamin C powder. And continue to stir. It will form air bubbles, just keep going until those are gone. Now start adding the instant coffee and continue to stir.

The solution now becomes smelly and dark, so it’s somewhat difficult to see when all coffee has completely dissolved, but typically you can check on the stirring rod: if there still are residuals on it, keep stirring. When it comes out clean, it should be good to go.

You now will need to use the developer fairly soon: it does not stay well.

Leica M4, Summicron-M 50mm

Finding the right development times for home-made developers like this can be a bit more difficult. The indispensable Massive Dev Chart to the rescue once more.

Ooops. There is a heading called ‘Caffenol Devs’ there, and it lists different types of Caffenol. That is correct, there are different options. The one listed here is the simplest and cheapest to make. Its more technical name is Caffenol C-M. And hooray, that is listed…. but for Fomapan 100 exposed at ISO200. I tend to use it at box speed, so development times will be shorter. A bit of trial and error left me with 12 minutes, at 20 degrees Celsius – that is usually working well for me. If the film is exposed in cloudy conditions or flat light, one minute less. Stop, fix, wash – nothing strange there, you can use your usual selection of chemicals for that.

Nikon FM2n, 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S

The result

Despite being very much a Do-It-Yourself affair, if you take care to measure your ingredients well, you can get really quite consistent results. It’s not the chemical equivalent of using expired colour film in a Holga, and hope for the best. It is a serious developer despite its humble origin.

That said, there are some points to note. Caffenol is a staining developer, so it may leave a colour cast across your negatives. There is nothing wrong with that; the stain will not affect the quality of the image you can get out of it.
But this developer may also fog your negatives, resulting in much darker film base than you may be used to. Where Fomapan 100 normally has a slight blue transparent film base, with Caffenol it’s closer to a mid-grey.

Leica M4, Summicron-M 50mm

This fog isn’t an issue for scanning. In fact, it scans really well. The resulting look is to me distinct different from Delta 100/Beutler. It is also very sharp and detailed (the above image is added to show that, otherwise it’s a boring photo). The grain is hardly visible, but up close clearly different from the T-grain Delta 100. Overall, Fomapan is a bit more gentle, less biting-sharp, a bit less harsh in the edges between dark and light. This gives it the slightly softer and more old-fashioned look.

This difference is the reason why I keep both Delta 100 and Fomapan 100 ready. They’re both lovely films, with different esthetics for different subjects and results.

Printing

Whilst still a novice printer, I have printed one of these negatives. The fog means it needs a bit more exposure, and it tends to be a bit more flat than wanted. I haven’t tried it yet, but next attempts will be with a stronger filter to get more contrast out of it. That said, the print wasn’t a failure, it just needs a bit more effort and learning from my side.

Leica M4, Summicron-M 50mm

Discovering this recipe

The reason why I tried Fomapan 100 in the first place is very simple: price. If it would do as good a job as other films, why not enjoy the saving? As it happened, I tried Fomapan 100 with several different developers, with varying success.

Perceptol – which I adore with Delta 100 – worked well, but the results were not something that wow-ed me particularly.

Beutler…. Unfortunately, those results were very inconsistent, and a number of photos seem to have tiny holes in the emulsion (strokes of black dots across the scanned negatvie). For some exposures, it worked really great, but the majority was far from good. I tried it a lot, but ultimately gave up on this combination completely.

Pyrocat HD, now those were really nice results. If you don’t mind using Pyrocat, then the combination is sound. Two problems only with it: results with FP4 and Pyrocat are nicer – a clear step up. And more importantly, I didn’t much like having Pyrocat in my house and I didn’t like handling it. With safe and smart use, it is safe, but it’s a lot more toxic than most others. You have to be a lot more careful with it.

There are two strange ommissions here: Rodinal and HC110. I use Rodinal very sparingly but for slower films, it tends to deliver; HC110 is the kind of fool-proof developer that will nearly always deliver something usable. I should try both of these to see how they work.

Anyway, the results with the above developers were all a bit underwhelming to me – it worked, but other films worked better. So Fomapan 100 dropped a bit of my radar, and some rolls remained unused waiting for better days.

Caffenol was something that interested me ever since I read about it. Yet it took me quite some time to finally try it. I wanted to be a bit more sure of my own competencies in developing film. It is still a DIY solution – harder to troubleshoot if it doesn’t work. Having tried multiple commercial developers on different emulsions, at some point I felt OK trying Caffenol.

Kiev-2, Helios-103

The first attempt was pretty dire. Part because the camera used (a Kiev-2 that I’ll cover some day) was throwing curveballs all the time, part because the developed negatives mainly looked crap. Out of the entire 38 exposures, 2 showed promise. The one just above, which convinced me there was good tonality and low grain to be found. And the below, which made it pass my litmus test for highlights in the water.

Kiev-2, Helios-103

As it turned out, development had been way too long and the above two images had been underexposed. Everything that was properly exposed was flat, dull obviously overdeveloped.
So, I tried again, adjusting development time by a lot, ending up with the above written 12 minutes at 20 degrees. That second attempt was much, much nicer.

Alternatives

The whole point about this recipe is being an alternative. It’s the cheapest film used with cheap chemicals. Why would you need an alternative to this recipe?

I’m not going to think about alternatives for Caffenol. There is no point. The only thing could be that you might want to try the more advanced versions of Caffenol, like adding potassium bromide (KBr). But to me, that ruins the point of it being a developer of house-hold chemicals.

Leica M4, Summicron-M 50mm

Alternatives to Fomapan 100, given the price, it is logical to look at Kentmere 100 or Ilford Pan-100 (which is much harder to get though). I haven’t tried those two myself yet. Its brother Fomapan 200 Creative is a nice alternative too – it is a different film, but pricewise close and result wise not too vastly different. The more expensive option is Ilford FP4+; I used that a couple of times only, so I’m not great judge.

To my eye, Fomapan 100 really gives different results than a T-grain film like Delta 100, so I don’t see that class of films as a real alternative.

In short

Cheap and cheerful, that is really what this combination is. It doesn’t need to cost you much, as the film is the cheapest you will find, the developer is hugely economic and all other chemicals are the same ones you always need anyway. Cheerful because the results just work, and show some character that sets this combination apart from the previous recipe. In terms of results, it’s in a way closer to HP5/HC110; but clearly lower grain and a bit less contrasty.

Using Caffenol is just fun; even now I still find it marvellous how those three simple ingredients actually really work. Each time I open the container, there is more doubt whether it worked, and more joy when I see it did. Some day, that novelty may wear out…. till then, this is a fun recipe.

Leica M4, Summicron-M 50mm

Fomapan 100 is here to stay, and while I never ever drink instant coffee, I will keep buying it.

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