JoziFolk - images of everyday life in South Africa


How to develop film using ingredients from your kitchen

By Hilton Hamann

"Don't fix what ain't broke," I'm often admonished but, when it comes to photographic matters and cameras, that simply goes against my instinct.

I have a couple of old (and newer) film cameras that work perfectly, produce wonderful images and never let me down. I could just use them and know I'll get exactly what I'm looking for and expect. But then I'd never get to try out some of the old gems that cross my path.

The same goes for film chemicals. I know exactly what ID11/D76 will produce and will always be satisfied with that. Rodinal in a 1 to 50 dilution, for 13 minutes always produces wonderful, sharp but grainy negatives, that I love and D23 is easy to mix up and if it was good enough for Ansel Adams...

Kitchen-table developers

So, why then did I find myself scouring the Internet in search of easy-to-make "kitchen-table" developers. Why, when there are good, albeit a reducing number of commercial developers available?

Firstly because it is fun and secondly because I am committed to film and do not want to have to rely on the whims of companies whose only consideration is whether a product makes a profit or not.

Enter Caffenol and Caffenol C. Caffenol is a developer consisting of coffee, (sometimes) vitamin C and washing soda and there are many recipes for it.

For example: 


500ml water
16 teaspoons of pure instant coffee
10 teaspoons of washing soda

Method: Develop for 30 minutes, agitating every 30 seconds.

Caffenol C

300ml water
5 tablespoons of coffee
4 tablespoons of washing soda
1000mg Vitamin C

Method: Develop for 15 minutes, agitating for 15 seconds every minute.

The addition of Vitamin C speeds up development times but can add grain.

The search for a cheaper alternative

But, with current the price of pure coffee, I wanted something cheaper and my search led me to a recipe published over 20 years ago in Shutterbug magazine. The beauty of it is, it requires only two easily-available components, in addition to water and the results proved to be remarkably good. I adjusted the Shutterbug-published amounts slightly, to take into account the size of the tank I was using. 

The recipe is as follows: 

300ml tap water (my water is pumped from a borehole so I am not sure if that makes a difference or not), 5 1/2 teaspoons of vitamin C powder and 7 teaspons of sodium carbonate, which can be purchased in a supermarket as washing soda.

Mix in that order until the powders are dissolved. The vitamin C powder I had on hand was coloured and flavoured orange and made the solution look a bit strange but appeared to have no effect on its functioning.

Once the brew was concocted I scratched around for a roll of exposed film to develop and could only find a forgotten 35mm roll of Konica Chromogenic film. This is a film that gets processed in chemistry designed for colour negatives. I think it expired about 15 years ago.

I processed the film at 20C (68F) agitating for the first 30 seconds, then two inversions every 30 seconds for 30 minutes. This was followed by normal fixing and washing. It was tedious and time-consuming but the results blew me away. The negs came out a dark, chocolatey colour but with lots of definition, sharpness and surprisingly fine grain.

These are a few unaltered -- other than cropping and adjusting levels -- examples.

I don't think I'll be dumping my regular developer but I really do like the effects created by the Vitamin C developer. It was markedly better than Caffenol or Caffenol C and I certainly can see some application for it.

It also means color negative film can be home-processed as black and white. 





These images were shot with a Ricoh 500RF rangefinder camera that can be found on Ebay for as little as $10.