Saturday, March 26, 2011

Caffenol, Flash, & Neopan400 @ 1600EI

It's been about a week since I did anything with my ongoing Caffenol experimentations. Yesterday I loaded up another roll of Neopan400 and shot it indoor at 1600EI with a flash. The film was developed using the same Caffenol C-L formula and stand processed for 75 minutes.

I'm not sure just how I like it with the higher key lighting and fill flash -still thinking about it I suppose. The grain started to show up, and the sharpness dropped off a bit while the tonal graduation also suffered a bit compared to the same push in Xtol.

Overall, the end result is acceptable, but not stellar like the low-key lighting I previously shot. The low-key results were amazing to me, whereas this I think shows some limitation. Perhaps limitation isn't the best description of these results. I mean after all, this is a two stop push for the film, and anytime you underexpose by two stops quality begins to fall off.

In the photo of the child there are bright whites, but the skin tones didn't produce the same as the photo of the man. I think that is mainly the fault of the indirect fill flash judging by the photo above where the knit cap has brilliant high-key tones.

Sometimes when testing a film/developer combination the result can be confusing. There have been times when I have been confused by the reaction the tested film/developer combination has responded to different lighting situations. With this film/developer combination I received some of that confusion. The snapshots of family were taken indoor with flash, and the results are pretty similar.

Today we had a nice little snow storm roll through, and so I loaded up another short roll to see how this combination would react to the high-key snow and ambient lighting. Now we lean back towards the stellar end of the spectrum with this combination and push speed. I almost couldn't believe how well it held the high-key tones, lack of visible grain, and still produced nice low-key tones. I am impressed with the sharpness of this scene in ambient light. That's pretty sharp for a 400 speed film pushed to 1600. The photograph is of my Tiger Lily beds that started to spring up last week when the temps were 70 degrees.

I think Neopan400 does quite well in Caffenol, and I will continue to use this combination in the future. Now I need to start testing some other films with Caffenol....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Coffee, Film & The Evironment

I'm a film Junkie. I'm a film hoarder. I don't want a cure. It's a hopeless disease.
Film isn't dead, it's just becoming harder to find in some cases. Such is the case with Fuji Neopan 400 film. They absolutely stopped producing it in 120 format over a year ago. Then over the past six months the 35mm version seems to disappear, then reappear from supply chains. Recently I found a retailer who was discounting their re-branded Neopan400 so I picked up two 100' bulk rolls. I love all film, but some films are truly remarkable in what they can do. I've used this film pushed to 1600 EI on a regular basis for the past several years, and love the results. Developed in Xtol there is almost no grain in the 120 format, and very tame grain in the 35mm format. With my photographic style, I enjoy shooting at the upper end of the f-stop range to give really long DoF. Using this Fuji film has made that very easy to do given the latitude it has. So now that I am set for a while with stock of this film, I decided to do some experimenting with it.

Enter Caffenol and the environment. I am not what anyone could label "eco freak", but I do believe in being responsible in life. If there is a way to go about my daily life that induces less hazard waste into the environment, then I do it. A month or so ago I was reading about using coffee based film developers and was intrigued to say the least. My thought was that this could be a nice alternative and eco-friendly method to enjoy my hobby. My first couple attempts using Caffenol were not what I would get excited about. I was using it with short dev times in the neighborhood of 15 minutes. The results were okay, but not spectacular. In other words, I would be disappointed to have to use it all the time.

What I like about the Caffenol theory is the very low toxicity it presents. The main ingredients are all common household items with the exception of one optional ingredient. Those ingredients are Arm&Hammer washing soda (sodium carbonate) Vitamin C, Potassium Bromide (used widely in veterinary practices to prevent seizures) and finally, instant coffee. The potassium bromide is optional as it's main effect is to reduce the amount of fog left on the film after development. With my first attempt at Caffenol I ended up with a lot of base fog. That could be a result of a couple different things I was doing at the time, but since then I decided to just add 1gram of potassium bromide and ensure there is no fog. For me personally this decision was in part due to the film scanner I have not coping well with the fog.

All was not lost in my adventures with Caffenol though. I saw that a popular method was to use it in a full stand develop method. Today I decided to do that very thing, and do it with one of my favorite films Fuji Neopan400. I rolled up a short 12 exposure roll, setup one of my X-700 Minolta twins with a 100mm macro lens, and started shooting. I pushed the film 2 stops to EI 1600. I mean if I was going to experiment, why not see if Caffenol can produce the results I would expect from Xtol pushing it to 1600? Sounded good to me, off I went. For the development I used the below formula, and developed for 75 minutes at 20c. For the first 30 seconds I inverted the tank, and then dropped it into my water temp bath for the rest of the time. For the stop bath I used tap water for one minute, and then used my normal fixer. The results really impressed me. There was amazing amounts of very sharp detail, and the grain was less than I get using Xtol on the 35mm version of Neopan400. In keeping with the environmentally sound mindset, lets talk about the fixer. I am currently unaware of any fixers that do not use commercial chemicals, however, the Kodafix fixer is good. After it is exhausted it can be completely neutralized by dropping a wad of steelwool into the jug for a week. This chemically changes the fixer and it is then safe for normal disposal. So, at the end of the day, it is possible to use environmentally sound practices to develop film, and enjoy spectacular results at the same time. I am a believer in Caffenol now.

Arm&Hammer Washing Soda 16g
Vitamin C 10g
Potassium Bromide 1g
Folgers Instant Coffee 40g
75 minute stand development 20c
Water to make 1 litre.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Film Developers & A Legend

When I contemplate a film-developer combination that I haven't already tried, I think of Geoffrey W. Crawley. Mr. Crawley passed away last year, but his legacy of photographic contributions will live on for a very long time. He spent a very large part of his life devoted to formulating film developers that would optimize different emulsions with predictable results. He worked with all the different types, or groups, of developers that we have today. He was largely known for his different FX type developers, but there were many others he touched and improved upon. For his work and devotion to film I am personally grateful as developing film still holds a unique pleasure for me that I cannot imagine living without.

What's the relevance between Mr. Crawley and what I do? Simple. It seems that I am never content with the film-developer combinations that I have tried over the years, and I continue to tinker with new combinations. No, I am not the formulary genius that Mr. Crawley was, but I do enjoy seeing what variations I can reach. Sure, I have already established a nice collection of favorite combinations, but sometimes the pleasure is in the journey of something new.

What drives me to try new combinations is simply the "look" that each one gives different than the next. One film emulsion can look completely different in two different developers. For example Tri-X developed in high concentrations of Rodinal (1+25) will have massive grain. That same Tri-X developed in HC-110 in the very dilute F-G will have very tame and unnoticeable grain.

Another good example of getting two uniquely different "looks" from the same emulsion is Fomapan 400. I really love Foma films, and feel their emulsions are very good. With their Fomapan 400 speed emulsion, that film leans toward a natural high noticeable grain. In Rodinal it has very large grain and that doesn't seem to matter which dilution is used either. Now, if you take that same film and develop it in Microphen, there is a whole new world to this film. All the sudden the grain is just gone, and perceived sharpness is very high.

How this all ties together with Mr. Crawley is that he promoted individuals learning to mix and use a wide variety of developers. With an understanding of how the different types of developers work on an emulsion, and with some basic chemistry equipment a person can mix from scratch their own formulas custom suited to their needs. I like this idea. Not only can developers be mixed from scratch, but the cost significantly drops when doing so.

So recently I set out on a venture to do some night photography and I used some Fomapan 400 film. When I picked Fomapan 400 for my project it was mainly because I have a gross hoard of the stuff that I just haven't been shooting. After the first night roll of Fomapan I experimented with developing it in HC-110 at 1+100 semi-stand. That experiment worked pretty well. The grain of that film was significantly reduced, but it did lose some speed. This got me thinking again about what I was doing, and why. After a while I decided to get back to my favorite developer for that film which is Ilfords Microphen. The problem with that is cost. Microphen comes in a powder mix for 1 litre of stock developer and the cost is about $7 plus shipping. Hummm. So if I develop at 1+1 dilutions I will get a whopping six 120 rolls per litre. That's over a buck a roll for developer. Sure, that doesn't seem bad, but multiplied by some 80 rolls of the stuff and the cost is noticeable.

The solution? Mix my own equivalent formula to Microphen. Buying the bulk chemicals -which are readily available- I am able to mix 1 litre of stock formula for $2.32 That translates to a more palatable .39 cents for developer per roll of 120 film. Suddenly the smile comes back to my face, and off I go looking for ways to use up some 80 rolls of a film I love in a developer that makes it shine.