February 28, 2011

trouble shooting

Some people report of problems with coffee based developers and I get some inquieries every once in a while, but not very frequently. You can get very reliable and reproducible results with Caffenol developers if you know what you are doing.

First of all the basic darkroom techniques are exactly the same as with any other developer. If you are a newbie to film development, look for instructions you find a lot of in the web or very often in public libraries. It doesn't matter if the book is 50 years old. If you can develop a film with proper results in Rodinal f.e., you also can with Caffenol. And vice versa :-)

What are the special items to notice for a proper Caffenol development? It's the kind of "agents" you use and the kind of measuring.


Different coffee brands aren't so different as some people might think. Even expensive coffees work, I got reports f.e. for Nescafe Gold, but why wasting money? There may be very few exeptions, but if any other step of your procedure is OK you will get something and may eventually have adjust the amount of coffee slightly. By the cheapest "strong" or "classic" instant coffee available. Don't use deacidified coffees that are frequently branded "mild" and don't use decaffeinated coffee at all. Use pure instant coffee, no mixes with surrogates etc.

Vitamin-C (ascorbic acid) doesn't make any problems if you get pure one. Crushed pills or something like that may be another thing, try to get pure ascorbic acid. Here in Germany we are lucky to get it in any pharmacy at a very low price.


Soda definately can make probs if you don't know exactly(!) which kind of soda you have in hands. Please read this post first: http://caffenol.blogspot.com/2010/03/soda-myth-and-truth_07.html

I asked in some discussion groups for veryfied data concerning the quality of soda they use. I didn't get too much feedback and I must believe that many users don't know what they have. But that's important to know, and demanding to know for developers containing a low amount of soda like Caffenol-C-L.

So dry your washing soda in the oven and meter the weight before and after. The loss of weight is the water that was in the soda before drying. All my recipes and most others are based upon anhydrous, waterfree soda. When you know the water content, it's easy to recalculate the amount of soda.

Verified data i have got for different brands of soda:

"Holsten reine calzinierte Soda" (and most other brands in Germany) is anhydrous/waterfree, containing neglectible 2 % of water. So far I didn't hear from a hydrated soda sold in Germany.

"Arm & Hammer washing soda" (US) is also anhydrous/waterfree with 2 % of water.
Update: Jeff reports that his recently bought A&H soda contains about 9 % water, so better check yourself if using low pH mixes like Caffenol-C-L

Senzora Soda (Netherlands, Ukraine) 20 % water. Monohydrate as stated by the manufacturers lab.

"Soude cristeaux" (France, Belgium) contains 50 % water. You need the doubled amont measured in gramms! It seems to be neither a monohydrate nor a decahydrate but something in between.

These are only examples showing that it's important that you determine the water content if not absolutely 100 % sure. There are different kinds of hydrated soda with different water content. Store the soda in an airtight box, otherwise it will attract water from the air. BTW, anhydrous, waterfree soda is a very fine white powder.

If you can't get washing soda (sodium carbonate, Na2CO3) you can use baking soda (NaHCO3, also known as Natron) but you must heat it in the oven or a pan and not only water but also CO2 gas will evaporate in quite large quantities. No warrenty for your safety if you inhale a lot of CO2 gas!!! You will end up with waterfree washing soda. How long it takes? No clue. Heat above 120 °C until it doesn't loose any more weight as you do when drying a hydrated washing soda.

You can use hydrated washing soda once you know how much water it contains. You can't use baking without transforming to washing soda, it will fail.

Don't use any other washing additives like bleech.

Dilute always in given order, first the soda, then Vit-C (let bubbles clear), coffee at last, let stand for some minutes and stir gently.


Last and winning hands down as a source for trouble is measuring. I highly recommend using a scale/balance. Digital kitchen scales are fine for measuring 100 gramms or so, but may have a big deviation at low weights like f.e. 10 gramms. My digital kitchen scale is unusable below 50 gramms but precise above 100 gramms. I bought a cheap lab scale for about 12 Eur with a resolution of 0.01 gramms. If you have no scale precise enough you may use premixes with larger quantities that are easier to measure. Ezzie explains how to do this on his fine, fine blog:  
Thanks a lot Ezzie for your invaluable support. And maybe you find the idea of premixed dilutions to be very charming.

If you stick to volumetric measuring it's important to determine the density of the agents you have in hands Scientific density data are absolutely useless. Believe me. You must do it yourself. That's why recipes based on volume are so unreliable. They are only suitable for the agents you use. Different brands of coffee, Vit-C and Soda can vary extremely regarding the volume, but not the weight. 1 gramm is 1 gramm. Always. But also pay attention to the water content of your washing soda. Once you determined the densities for your agents you may use your now individually calibrated teaspoons.


So as an extract : Know which kind of soda you use. Use a scale/balance. Or at least calibrate your teaspoons for each agent. A scale is better ;-)

Happy developings - Reinhold


A.9 said...

Hi Reinhold,

How's about homemade fixer? Did you try to mix fixer at home?

imagesfrugales said...

No. Problem is not the fixing agent but the silver that pollutes the environment and kills bacteria in rivers, seas and sewage plants. No matter how you fix, you must dispose the fixer properly after use.

A.9 said...

Thanks for your notice.

R said...

Now you made my day! I have been using baking soda and were receiving veeeery thin negatives. Using jobo and self-made rotating machine. I was suspecting soda is causing problems - even tried to heat the soda to determine how many water it contains. Extended process to 1h and... still too thin.

Will try to make the Na2CO3 and try again!
Is there are way to buy you a beer (donation? or buy in RL?) if it will work?


Anonymous said...

I just bought a box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda in the US (Seattle), and it went from 10g to 9g in the oven for 20 minutes at 350F (~175C).

I'll test with larger amounts, but the initial water loss with this purchase appears to be about 10%.


imagesfrugales said...

Hi PBD, another guy reported that his A+H soda, though it should be waterfree, once had 2 % and another package 8 % water. So this quick and easy test should be made if in doubt. Best - Reinhold

Manu-) said...

Hi Reinold,

I tried various Caffenol recipes with my kodak tri-x films, but somehow my negatives are not clear at all. When i look at them after fixing, one side looks proper, nice contrast. the other side of the negative looks dark and with poor contrast. After drying i get negatives that are not clear at all and look rather dark-greyish after scanning. Not really useable.

I did use a scale, have water free soda, use Caffenol CL, and SFIX-6 Fixator from SpĆ¼rsinn.

I would be greatful to hear what you suggest, since i feel like i keep on repeating the same mistake over and over again...

Thanks A lot,

imagesfrugales said...

Hi Manu, a blog is not a good place for discussung complex individual problems. I suggest you ask at the flickr caffenol group and provide sample pics that may explain your prob much better: http://www.flickr.com/groups/caffinol_private_palace

The solution is often simple, but the way to find it can be complex.

Good luck, you will make it - Reinhold

Fyodor said...


I tried Caffenol-C-H on Fomapan 200. I replaced KBr with iodized salt.

I mixed 300 ml for my tank and developed for 15 minutes at 20 deg C. The neg came out underdeveloped. It's still amazing that there's almost no grain, this is certainly the best in terms of graininess I've been able to get so far.

Still, do you have any idea why it could've gone wrong? Any idea for development time for Fomapan 200?

16g soda
5g Vitamin-C
12g Coffee
4g iodized salt
Filtered tap water, mixed at room temperature.


imagesfrugales said...

Hi Fyodor, sorry for my late reply.

there are reports that Foma200 works fine with CCM, CCH, both also (rs), and CCL. Maybe the film is underexposed, Foma200 is said to have a real speed of about ISO 100. If you get bad results also with other films you should check the agebts, especially the soda.

Best - Reinhold