The Frugal Photographer's "coffee and vitamin C" developer works. Here's proof.

(Photographed at Nicastro's Pub on the Edmonton Trail in Calgary, mid-afternoon, mid-March 2007. Un-retouched (there are a lot of dirt marks on the negative). When Fort Calgary was founded a little more than 100 years ago, there was a trail west to Banff, a trail north to Fort Edmonton, and a trail south to Fort MacLeod. They became roads, then highways, then major urban thoroughfares, but the names Banff Trail, Edmonton Trail, and MacLeod Trail never changed.

My neighbors are having their 1928 bungalow turned into a 1928 two-story. One of them is a professional designer with one of Calgary's most innovative and successful architectural design firms, and it shows. If you've been to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Calgary, you've seen his work. This house will be gorgeous when the contractor finishes it some time toward the end 2007. It will look like it had been built in 1928. There has already been one setback. The day the old roof came off, despite the fact that the forecast called for clear, dry weather, we got 8"  of snow overnight, right on the main floor hardwood. Fortunately, you can sweep snow away, unlike rain. In 1928, our neighborhood was Calgary's northern boundary. Empty prairie stretched north from us to Red Deer.

This is an un-retouched scan. Note the same scratches as in the photo above. That's the perils of pawnshop cameras. 


The film was a grainy ISO 400 traffic surveillance film from the Czech Republic that we quit selling (for good reasons) a year ago. You may know the film a European supply house that we no longer represent had been selling it repackaged under their house brand name. Oddly enough, they discontinued it about the same time we realized it was never going to be a decent retail product. You can buy comparable film on eBay for 50 cents a roll. I continue to use our remaining stock of films because... well, because they're there. I just ignore the way its edges go foggy.

Scanning in a 3600 dpi film scanner ($145 on eBay) dug out an absolutely amazing amount of shadow detail. The pub scene was photographed in all natural light diffusing gently from the pub's north- and west-facing windows. Nobody in their right mind sets off a flash in a pub. The house was photographed in bright afternoon sunlight. On the negative, the front of the house appeared devoid of detail, but the scanner proved that there was considerable detail actually captured there.

The camera was a Pentax ME-Super purchased at noon that same day from a pawn shop for $45. It's quite dirty, with an erratic, grinding film advance, and grit in the film plane that puts full-length scratches along the length of the film. The previous owners must have taken it to a few too many beaches. The meter seems accurate. The shutter is flawless. The lens has a little bloom that looks like the detritus of a few years proximity with a smoker. It will come off easily with Windex and a Q-tip. Cleaning the camera so it operates as smooth as new will take about an hour some rainy summer morning. I'll remove the baseplate and flush the gears with lighter fluid, being careful to not let lighter fluid migrate into the camera body. The top plate might have to come off so the film-advance and frame-counter mechanisms there can be flushed. But maybe not. Then an almost invisible ultra-thin touch of white lithium grease on the tips of the gear teeth, applied with a wooden toothpick. That will be all it takes. I think.

The developer: instant coffee plus vitamin C, in washing soda. 15 minutes development time.

Ignore the fact that these are not up to Ansel Adams standards. Just glory in the fact that it was a $45 camera exposing a $0.50 roll of film which was developed in chemicals bought for next to nothing at a supermarket. 

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