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.


  1. awesome blog--I'm following now....


  2. I think it's great that you are looking for ways to continue your love of film and are mindful of the environment also.

  3. Thanks Bridget!

    Yes Maureen it is quite satisfying to reduce the harsh chemical usage. Hopefully it will encourage others to give development a try since it's possible to do without the commercial type chemicals. I understand that could be a serious concern for photographers with small children....