Everything is getting more expensive these days; there seems no escaping that every day you run into something that costs more than you cared to remember.
Shortage on electronic components sure drove prices for digital cameras and lenses up. Increasing popularity of film photography drove prices for old gear up in many cases. As I already mentioned some time ago, prices for film consumables (film and chemistry) have also gone up.
As I mentioned in that linked post, I’ve been trying some different combinations of film and developers. Part to try bring down cost, part curiosity. Today I want to provide some more findings on one of the two combinations I mentioned there.
It’s a very old-skool combination. Fomapan 100, which already appeared in a previous recipe. But this time in Rodinal – one of the oldest photography products that has been available continuously ever since it hit the market. In 1891. Yes, it’s a classic.
In that previous recipe – Fomapan 100 in Caffenol CM – I already explained what is attractive about the emulsion. So I’ll keep this short: a fine-grained classic cubic grain film, which happens to be very cheap. It’s still amongst the cheapest films you will find. Like all emulsions, it has gone up in price, but not all that much. Foma may be cheap, but it’s good quality. I never had issues with it that I could attribute to the quality of the product.
So, today it’s all about the developer.
The difference a developer can make
The previous recipe with Fomapan 100 was all about getting a sort of vintage look; sharp but not biting sharp. In a way it yields a relatively low contrast. Lots of details, but in a subdued way. Rodinal, on the other hand, is biting sharp, and much higher contrast. It is a sharpness developer, which will relentlessly get every ounce of detail out of your film, including its grain.
To my eyes, results are really quite different. With Rodinal, the results are closer to what I go out of Delta 100 and Beutler. As such, I do find it a more all-round combination. It is what I’d expect from low(ish) ISO film. Caffenol is still very nice, but a bit more niche.
In fact, I like it so much that ever since trying it, I haven’t bothered with Caffenol. I think this combination just gives awesome results.
The actual recipe
It’s very simple this time; the film is shot at box speed ISO 100. The developer is R09 One Shot (a Rodinal clone, strictly speaking), mixed 1:50 with water. Development time is 9 minutes for 20 degrees Celsius. Stop, fix is all the usual cycle.
And that’s almost it. Very straightforward. Well, almost.
Handle with Care
Rodinal was the very first developer I ever used. When I started developing film at home, I started with one of those classis starter kits. It included the development tank, graduated cylinders, and some more. And a 120ml bottle of R09 One Shot.
My first film was Ilford FP4. I was over the moon with the results. Not because they were all that great, but because there were results at all. But I found the grain much more noticable than I expected. After that I used with plenty of different films, and grain remained an issue. With HP5 it was horrid golf balls, Tri-X 400 outspoken, but pleasant. Delta 100 was pretty OK, though still visible some graininess.
So I turned to the internet wisdom. Advantage is that Rodinal is widely used, and has a fair share of fans. There were two things I took from the avalanche of experiences available:
- Agitate little, and gently.
Usual advice is a 10 seconds of agitation per minute. For Rodinal, cut down severly. I use half that (5sec/minute), and swirl very calm and gently.
- Lower temperatures are fine. Rodinal is perfectly happy at 16 degrees Celsius for example, and actually gives lower grain with these lower temperatures. In any case, I try to avoid using temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius.
The first one is really the key point. The “standard” lessons you learn for developing film work with Rodinal, but you won’t get the best possible results. Slow it down, and it gets a lot better.
Cost, and the downside of that
I’d like to quickly come back to the point of cost. Rodinal isn’t expensive, and being dilluted 1:50 means you don’t need much (6ml to prepare 300ml of working solution). Undilluted Rodinal stays good for a very long time. So, it won’t break the bank.
That said, Caffenol is even cheaper; a bit more laborious but its ingredients do not need to cost much. So this recipe isn’t strictly for cost saving actually. Yes, it’s quite low-cost, but it is possible to go cheaper.
Part of me also dislikes this cost-conscious approach. Not because I love to waste money. Rather, it is that “not buying Delta 100” feels a bit like stabbing Ilford in the back. Yes, it’s a bit silly, perhaps. But they deserve support as I very much would want them to stay around and continue to deliver their products. For this reason, I stopped looking for alternatives to HP5. That will remain my go-to medium speed film. And in any case: Foma is equally worthy of the support. Apart from their film, I use their chemicals (stop, fix, paper developer) as it is great value for money.
A bit more on Rodinal
As I mentioned in this short post, the reason why I bought Rodinal again was a flash of sentiment. The old bottle expired, and I wanted to have Rodinal available. It wasn’t “the first, the last, my everything” kind of sentiment, though. It was more the sentiment that I wanted a bomb-proof developer in the cupboard.
Much as I like Caffenol and Beutler, as home-brewed solutions, they’re not bomb-proof. Kodak HC110 comes a lot closer. But Rodinal…. let’s put it simple: it’ll develop anything. Result may be grainy, but you will get results.
Some claim that Rodinal should be your first developer ever. Its reliability sure makes a good case for that. But at the same time, I don’t believe it should be. My reason is only the fact that it does require some thought during development, as mentioned above.
It should however be your second. And you should use it at some point in your life, with something ISO100-ish. It is not a developer for faster films in general, as this will emphasise grain too much. But for the slower films, it really is one of the best developers out there.
Based on limited attempts, but so far these negatives didn’t create particular issues in printing. They were easier than the ones developed in Caffenol. But take all of that with a huge grain of salt; my experience level remains very limited.
If the light permits to use ISO100 films, than this combination won’t disappoint. Easy to use, easy on the wallet, and solid results. What’s not to like?