Word on the street is that ULTRAsomething is a photography blog. But in the six years I’ve dutifully supplied it with text and photographs, I never once considered myself a blogger. Perhaps that’s because, as a blog, ULTRAsomething does everything wrong. New posts don’t appear daily. And when they do appear, they’re neither simple nor succinct. They weave multiple subjects into crafted narratives and gleefully embrace diversion — seemingly addressing one topic, while subtly being about something else entirely. As blogs go, ULTRAsomething may well be one of the worst examples on the net.
Because nobody wants to create the “worst example” of anything, I spent the past six years trying to convince people that ULTRAsomething was not a blog, and that I was not a blogger. For a time, I described this site as a column and myself as a columnist. Yet everyone still called me a blogger. So I began alluding to ULTRAsomething as a publication and myself as an essayist. “Great blog,” wrote my readers. A couple of years ago, I tried something more “clever,” and referred to the posts as ARTicles — the capitalization scheme designed to mirror the site’s name, as well as provide a playfully ironic bit of word play. But in the wide world of the web, ULTRAsomething remained a blog.
So when I redesigned the site last month, I gave up trying to refer to this collection of columns, essays and ARTicles as anything other than a “blog.” If that’s what people want to call it, that’s what it must be. So to commemorate the occasion, I did something unprecedented on the ULTRAsomething site: I wrote an actual blog entry. Note that I define “blog” in a somewhat rigid, old-fashioned way (if anything web-related can be considered “old-fashioned”). The word “blog” is short for “web log,” which I interpret most literally to mean “an activities log kept on the web, rather than in a hand-written notebook.”
The idea was to keep a detailed record of my findings and observations as I fine-tuned my caffenol film developing methodologies. Caffenol, as discussed in the first post, is a DIY film developer mixed from instant coffee, washing soda and Vitamin C. Given its experimental, grass-roots formulation, very little data exists. So, in order to give a little something back to the community, I decided to document each and every caffenol experiment — discussing exactly what I did, how I did it, and what film I did it to. In other words, a “web log.”
Curiously, after finally succumbing to the pressure to call ULTRAsomething a “blog,” and after writing its first true term-complient posting ever, the Caffenolog 1 entry became my least read article of the year. Funny how that works…
Experiment 2: Neopan Acros 100
Caffenolog 1 ended with my utter amazement that this syrupy swill actually worked. Not only that, it worked quite well. The only issue I had was that I’m not particularly fond of the way Kentmere 100’s grain looks when pushed to ISO 200. So for this experiment, I’ve done everything exactly the same as before, only I’ve used Fuji Neopan Acros 100 film, which I also pushed to ISO 200. Please refer to the Caffenolog 1 post for the ingredients, recipe and techniques that I used here.
I again made up a 500ml batch of Caffenol-C-M, even though I only need 300ml to develop a single roll of film. If anyone routinely whips up caffenol batches of less than 500ml, please leave a comment and let the caffenol community know your results. I would have done it myself, but downscaling the recipe would necessitate measuring ingredients in tenths of a gram, and my scale is granular only to whole grams. Perhaps, given my inherent frugality, this will be the focus of a future experiment.
Aside from the film itself, the only other thing that changed from my previous experiment was the water temperature. My water supply clocked in at 23.5°C — a half-degree cooler than before. So I made a slight adjustment and increased development time from 10:50 to 11:17.
Just as with the Kentmere 100, the Acros 100 emerged from the tank much darker than film developed in anything I’ve used previously. Note that when I talk about the “darkness” of the negative, I’m not referring to a dark (overexposed or overdeveloped) image — I’m talking about the entire negative, sprocket region and all. Most B&W negatives are fairly clear in the regions surrounding the actual image, but with Caffenol, those areas are extraordinarily dark. Currently, I’m assuming this is due to staining from the coffee and not an overall fogging — though a future experiment involving the addition of Potassium Bromide will either confirm or disprove this suspicion. I did note that the Acros 100 negative was slighty less dark than the Kentmere 100 negative — perhaps on the order of a half-stop. I wonder if this has to do with the fact that Kentmere 100 sits on an acetate base, while Acros 100 uses a polyester base? It’s another data point to investigate moving forward.
To insure the least number of variables possible, I shot this set of negatives using the same camera that I used in the first experiment — a Hasselblad XPan. Similarly, all negatives were “scanned” with the same Olympus 60mm macro lens mounted on the same Olympus OM-D E-M1 digital camera.
Although it’s difficult to tell from the downsized, web-compressed photos shown in this post, there were some significant differences between the two sets of negatives. As I had hoped, the Acros 100 had a much tighter and more pleasing grain structure, along with a very rich and malleable set of mid-tones. The shadows were, however, rather unsatisfying — blocking up quickly and exhibiting very little detail.
It was at this point that I realized I made a fundamental error in judgement. I had never before shot with Acros 100 and was thus completely unfamiliar with how it “normally” looks, much less how well it responds to 1-stop pushes. So this second caffenol experiment really doesn’t tell me anything useful. Maybe the shadows normally block up when Acros 100 is pushed? I don’t know. And for this reason, I don’t know whether caffenol is the cause or not. As nice as I think the highlights and mid-tones look here, maybe they actually look better (or worse) in a standard developer? Again, without having any prior experience with Acros 100, there’s no way for me to know whether caffenol is a good developer choice or a poor one.
So my direction for the next caffenol experiment is obvious — use a film with which I’m intimately familiar: Tri-X perhaps. That way I have a base of knowledge upon which to draw some conclusions…
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS:
As with my first caffenol experiment, I had a very short amount of time available for exposing the test roll. So just as I did then, I looked for a “theme” to help me quickly push film through the camera. This roll’s theme was lines: all kinds of lines. Some lines were fairly literal, some were implied, and some were wordplay tricks (or “cheating,” if you prefer). But everything I shot was some kind of line. “Telephone Lines,” “Converging Lines,” “Guy-Lines,” “Out of Line,” “Undulating Lines” and “Ikea’s New Stads-Rotä Line” were all shot with a 45mm Hasselblad XPan lens mounted on a first-generation Hasselblad XPan, exposed on Fuji Neopan Acros 100, which I rated at ISO 200 and developed in Cafenol-C-M as described in this (and the previous) caffenol article. “Horizon Line” was shot with the same configuration, only a 90mm lens was used instead. And for anyone wondering about the Ikea shot, the answer is “no I don’t speak Swedish, but I did manage to name this furniture line with the help of Google Translate.” Actually, I had several other names in mind, but I really wanted an umlaut, so it took a bit of experimenting…
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