The Caffenol Project. Developing film with Coffee. By Brandon Huff.

The Caffenol Project. Developing film with Coffee.

By Brandon Huff

The Beginning of an Adventure 

A couple months ago I was browsing the internet and decided to do my yearly look at vintage cameras and film photography equipment at the usual used online shops. Upon my various website visits and investigations of different camera setups I began to get the photography itch we all know and love. I particularly have a special love for film, I love the look it gives, the soft tones, the contrasty black and whites, the sometimes hazy color, and dreamlike appeal of traditional photography methods. To me the whole process is euphoric, calming yet enticing and a little frightening. You generally have 36 exposures with 35mm film and 16 with medium format. This not only causes the human mind to think more about their shots but in my humble opinion greatly helps you improve your photography skills. Why? Because its expensive and limited, with these digital cameras I feel we have lost an appreciation for fine art and the difficulty with getting that *perfect* photo, I mean its easy when you have essentially unlimited pictures right? Wrong! Now im not a great photographer and have many years of improvement to come. For me my first major step was getting friendly with film.  Ahh Enough about my opinion on film!  Lets get to the topic of this article! 

Holga 120N W/ Kodack Tri-X 400 – Developed in Caffenol

Holga 120N W/ Kodack Tri-X 400 – Developed in Caffenol

Prologue 

As stated above I have a bit of gasoline in the photography tank which has led me to get out on the weekends and take photos of the city I reside. Unfortunately all of us film lovers know that it costs money and time, time to not only buy film but to develop it as well. Im not sure about your city/town. But where I live we only have one film lab open which is 40 minutes away… This led me to search google, which not too long after I found a lovely recipe called “Caffenol”. This recipe is described as using Instant coffee, Vitamin-C powder, and Washing soda. When I first read about this method I was very skeptical but very soon realized it had a bit of a following… I HAD to try it. Naturally I teleported through the interwebs and landed in a place I like to call B&H Photo and ordered some supplies such as the – Patterson Super System 4 Developing Tank, Ilford Rapid Fixer, and some Ilford HP5+ 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400. I went out on the weekend wielding my weapons of choice, the Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII and the Holga 120N Plastic camera. Im not going to go into detail about these cameras at this moment but I will say I LOVE the operation of the Minolta. I purchased it on Craigslist for 30 Dollars, With a bit of lens cleaning the camera was good to go. Smooth film advance and a pretty good rangefinder inspired me, unfortunately I soon found out my light meter didn’t work so I used the trusty Sunny 16 Rule.  Here are my photos below 🙂 

Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII – Ilford HP5+ 400 Developed in Caffenol 

Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII – Ilford HP5+ 400 – Developed in Caffenol

Holga 120N – Kodak Tri-X 400 – Developed in Caffenol

The Reveal 

When I got home I quickly took out the film and got my darkroom setup, Which happens to be my closet. I prepared the tank, sat down, turned off the lights, and fiddled about with out vision for about 30 minutes.. Ill tell ya ladies and gents its MUCH harder to do in the dark then it may seem. After I got the film secured in the tank I watched one last youtube video to determine what my recipe was going to be and I prepared my ingredients. Now i’m not gonna go over what my recipe was or the entire process, maybe ill do that in a youtube video later on if people want to see that. After Developing, Rinsing, and Fixing I cautiously opened the tank and revealed light once more to the the negatives. I was scared unraveling the thin strips off the reels but was greeted by DEVELOPED photos, photos I took and developed myself in my kitchen! It felt SO GOOD to know the hard work I put in actually paid off and by my surprise it worked well! 

Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII – Ilford HP5+ 400 Developed in Caffenol 

Holga 120N – Kodak Tri-X 400 – Developed in Caffenol

These photos were scanned on an Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner and I did adjust the blacks and whites a bit. Here’s an example of one of these photos straight from the scanner – No post-processing of any kind.

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17 Comments

  1. Hi, Brandon – great article – thx!

    In lieu of the infamous “closet darkroom” (which we’ve all used at one time or another), might I suggest a film changing bag. Patterson makes a nice one that’s inexpensive – it’s like a little light-tight tent that’s used for loading film into a developing tank. You put the unopened film canister and your tank and reel inside the bag and zip it up; there are light-tight cuffs for inserting your hands into the bag while loading the film into the tank. You can do it all while sitting comfortably at your kitchen table!

    • I’ll have to give that method a try, I find it interesting how long he is letting it develop, I personally only develop my film for about 7-8 minutes, When I tried over 10 minutes my film was wayyyy over developed.

  2. Great story Brandon! Please give us your recipe. I would like to try this. Sounds like an inexpensive way to develop B&W.
    I develop color at home sometimes but would like to try B&W.
    Well done!

    • Thank you!
      I’m most likely going to make a video about the process and will go over the recipie in their 🙂

  3. Interesting post, I’ve always been curious about cafenol, but it does sound like you’re struggling in the darkroom a bit! The best tip I ever had was to make sure you reel is bone dry before you slide the film on. So I always run a hairdryer over my Paterson reel and make sure the tank is dry before I try loading the film. Much easier to load film that way.

  4. There was dutch guy who photographed diverse coffee shops developing the film in coffee served in each place.

    • Hmm good question, I honestly haven’t tried monobaths at this point in time but will hopefully be able to experiment with various developers and see what the benefit/cons are to each. I think Caffenol is great for if you’re experimenting with developing film but may not be as clean as commercial chemicals.

  5. Beautiful rough texture to the grain. I especially like the window shades, woman and screen numbers. The holga is awesome. Photographed many concerts with them. It’s an excellent street camera.

    • Thank you very much! Yea I’m always surprised by the Holga, it
      Can be challenging to get the right lighting but when you do it can take some beautiful imagery.

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