Monday, March 27, 2023

Vintage Tri-X in two developers

Last year I found a bulk loader in my darkroom that was full of film that turned out to be Tri-X from about 1983, stored in a freezer until about 2005, and in my relatively cool basement ever since. Earlier this year I built two 35mm Populists and of course had to run some film through them. A roll of the the free vintage film would be good enough to verify the cameras worked and were light safe. I exposed half the roll in one, and then, in total darkness of course, switched the film to the other camera.

I use Caffenol all the time with 100 speed films and love it. In discussions of Caffenol there is often a caution that it might increase base fogging in higher speed films, and of course, extremely outdated film is always at a risk of base fogging. The recipes call for 1 g/l Potassium Bromide to control this, or 10X that amount of regular table salt, which is the normal formula I use.

Since this was just trying to verify these two cameras were OK, it seemed like a good chance to see just what the Caffenol would do to the ancient film. As usual, it was semistand developed. It was quite a surprise how dark the background turned out.

Accidental exposures of film in a bulk loader are usually pretty streaky since the film is tightly rolled together.  This looked pretty uniform across the whole roll. In order to make sure I hadn't somehow exposed the film, I loaded another roll and developed it the same way I had when I first tried this film - semistand developed in Rodinal 1:100. As with the first experiment, the background was a little dense but within acceptable limits.

The negatives developed in Caffenol are on top, the Rodinal bunch in the middle, and a normal strip of HP-5 at the bottom.

I guess everyone's recommendation to stand-develop unknown old films in Rodinal 1:100 and the warnings about background fogging with Caffenol are confirmed by this experience.

It was worth a try to give the dark negatives a scan. It's not that hard and verifying the film-worthiness of the cameras required it.  I was really surprised a few of them yielded decent pictures,

 A slightly different view of the sunbeams in the living room

Ceramic Santa

My gloves.

Sunbeams on the chair in the sunroom.

The tiny tin microbus.

I loaded Neville for the control roll. The Rodinal developed negatives didn't turn out so bad. The Sun Room is always dependable for interesting light.

With the camera in the opposite corner.

My cooking corner in the kitchen.

A clean milk jug on it's way to recycling. By the way, these make the best material for the clicker in a 35mm Populist.

The top sliced off a tomato. The composition was really off from where I wanted it to be and this is cropped to about half the negative.

Burt and Kibitz contemplate the roses.

A monstera philodendron in the kitchen window.

I had Neville with me for the Photo Opp photo walk at Appleton City Center.  I see now why it was so dark in there. All the skylights were covered with snow.

Later in the week, I had to go to Appleton to meet with John and Graham from Photo Opp about a possible event. I was the first one there, so since the camera was in my pocket...

Sarah and I both went to Fluffy's new veterinarian. The examining rooms are small, so I waited in the sunny and angular waiting room,

The spring peeps have a similar shocked expression as the ghost pillow, and current events keep giving them plenty to be concerned about.

Another thing I didn't expect was how fine grained the pictures are.  It's more noticable in Caffenol pictures than the dilute Rodinal.

This will be covered in a future post (color film takes a long time to come back from the lab), but my involvement with Photo Opp took a whirlwind turn. I've recently had lots of conversations about how surprising it is that my photographs are done with a pinhole camera. Most people expect something from a middle school science class. Although I've been infatuated with 35mm color film, I've never really gotten in to 35mm in black and white. One thing I'll say about the 35mm pinhole rendering is that the dreaminess that people associate with pinhole is enhanced by the noticeably lower resolution of the smaller negative.

The challenge for the Fox Valley Photography group this month is black and white. I suppose that's special for most people although there has been some monochrome in the monthly challenges other than my own. Maybe this old film will be appropriate so at least I'll have a good story for the discussion.


  1. The base fog in Rodinal seems workable. I have some Plus-X from 1998 that I bought in an antique store recently that exhibits a bit more fog. I processed in HC110 (b) for my usual times. Maybe I should explore the Rodinal stand on the next roll I shoot.

    1. I'd use Rodinal all the time if you could get it. All the versions I know of have been out of stock for a long time. Trying to get up my nerve to make the home made version. Thinking of asking my chemistry professor friends to help me do it under a proper hood.

    2. Also, I bought two pounds of Vitamin C. That's a lot of Caffenol.