Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DIY Developers - Are They Really Inexpensive?

There is a general premise in the DIY developer community that our developers are inexpensive. I've been doing a bunch of experimenting lately and noticed that I'm going through some of my chemicals at an alarming rate so decided to take a step back and calculate the real costs of the developers. I'm comparing recipes from the Caffenol blog, PCB/TCB that I've mentioned here, and XTOL for reference.

My final calculation is based on cost per roll in a 250mL tank. My findings (USD) are as follows:

Caffenol-C-M = $1.47/roll
Caffenol-C-H = $1.47/roll
Caffenol-C-L = $0.93/roll
PCB = $0.14/roll
TCB = $0.18/roll
XTOL 1:1 = $0.23/roll
Rodinal (R09) 1+25 =  $0.28/roll

For the Caffenol recipes, prices for Sodium Carbonate and Ascorbic Acid are from Photographers' Formulary, price for Coffee is from Amazon (least expensive).  For PCB, prices for Borax, Ascorbic Acid, and Phenidone are from Photographers' Formulary.  For TCB, prices for Borax and Ascorbic Acid are from Photographers' Formulary, price for Acetaminophen is from Amazon (least expensive).  For XTOL and Rodinal/R09, price is from Freestyle Photo.

I have to admit that seeing the actual numbers was an eye-opener for me. Cost isn't everything but it is a factor.  Speaking as a frugal photographer, keeping costs less than $0.50/roll is reasonable for an every day developer.  Erik's work on re-using Caffenol-C just might be the answer for Caffenol ... we will see.

DISCLAIMER: These are all costs based on one-shot use of Caffenol and ingredients from the retailers mentioned.  Sourcing ingredients from different sources may change the posted costs significantly and your actual costs may vary.



  1. Hi !
    The cost of Coffenol is high, I agree.
    But look through this blog: I have demonstrated that you can indded do several films in one brew (results are still coming in).

    This means you can easily divide cost by 3, perhaps 4 and still gat perfectly developed films...

    Also have a look at my SALS formula, I now have 4 rolls through this brew - 4 25 exp APS films which is about the same area as 2 36 exp 135 fiulms. The brew is highly active!
    I will eventually - when I have zoomed in on the correct pH-level, include a little Tylenol, so that I get a borax-free formula, borax is hard to get here, lye and washing soda is easy....

    Also on the cost of soda : I get mine at the local mall as proper washing soda, I think it can be found in paint shops as well, far cheaper than if you have to buy it from photographers formulary, my calculations (I live in Norway, everything is frightfully expensive here - last time I went to a pub they charged 55 NOK for 1/2 a litre of beer, that is £6 or $10.....) is around a dollar a roll as a single-shot developer...

    Could you consider this and maybe include it in your calculations?

  2. Re-using Caffenol is definitely a good idea. I know you have been working on this and am hoping for conclusive data soon and I will add it here.

    Regarding the cost of ingredients, I know we generally try to source ingredients locally (and hopefully at lower cost) but I did not want to introduce that variable here. I assumed worst case scenario with someone just starting out, not knowing where to source ingredients locally, and buying online. Maybe we could add US and EU costs ... not sure.

  3. But the costs of driving or shipping are a huge variable in the cost for low quantity products. For example, it's a 50mi round trip for me to the nearest place to buy XTOL -- which about doubles the price. Shipping a single bag will also add 50% to 100% to the mail order price. BTW, how many people just starting out will buy bulk chemicals that have few other uses? You can always drink the coffee and take the Vitamin-C if you don't like the developing results!

  4. Good point MI! In my case that would be a round trip to the capital Oslo I think, or maybe to Copenhagen, Denmark. It is hard to grasp for many film photography and developing has been so given up in these parts of the world, its unbelieveable!

    Also another local variation : ascorbic acid and sodium ascorebate can only be had in this country in a pharmacy, a pharmacy of the good old type, govnmnt regulated, sell nearly only prescription drugs, it is almost like a hospital, and the Prices! In Sweden you can buy at least ascorbic acid in the foodstore...

    The incentive for experimenting with re-use of Coffenol for me has'nt been the price per se, but the fact I did fear my supply of ascorbic acid was about to run out - a round trip to Sweden might have been in order!

  5. I completely understand the variable of local availability but to be honest I do not know how to factor it in without making this too complex. What might be good is if we can have individuals calculate their local costs and post them here. Looking at this again I think the absolute costs are not as important as the relative ones. Any input is greatly appreciated.

  6. Disclaimer added (see bottom of post).

  7. UK costs for basic caffenol - I use it diluted 1+1 - are soda crystals (sodium decahydrate) for £0.90/kg and coffee at £0.90/100g, and the ascorbic acid at £6.59/170g.

    For me that's then 54g soda = £0.05 (nearest penny), 20g coffee = £0.18, and 8g ascorbic = £0.31.

    Total = £0.54 for one litre, which gives me either six sheets of 5x4 or five rolls of 35mmx36 (my tank uses 200 ml)

    R09 varies depending where I get it, but the last lot was £11.22/500ml (not including transport costs) which should brew twenty litres at 40:1 - £0.56/litre

    Neil (aka dnbprojects on Flickr)