Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Choosing the right BW film. And...the future?

Does it matter which black and white film you use? Of course it does! But...picking film can be a rather arbitrary affair, particularly when using different films in different cameras, and then using different developers (or even different labs!) to boot. I know I mostly talk about Polaroid on my blog, but I do shoot film, though not as often as I used to...mostly because I tend to forget about the film cameras I've brought along and go through packs of Polaroid instead. I do think about the disappearing availability and subsequent cost of peel-apart, and I realize that in 10-15 years there probably won't be much of it around, aside from expired Fuji peel-apart (if you think that Fuji is going to be making instant peel-apart film in 15 years, you are probably wrong). So I often consider what I will focus on when my stash has been depleted. It will last me awhile, though there is a delicate balance between having enough to last me 10 years or so, and the films' ability to be usable after that amount of time. Polaroid film expiration seems to be totally independent from its surrounding packs. I have Type 108 from 1989 that still works beautifully, and I have Type 669 from 2006 that exposed very dark and very blue. So I can't even rely on numbers...all I can do is keep shooting and hope, through proper storage, that it will last.
On a side note, I read a lot about how people buy Polaroid and are afraid to use it, because then it will be gone!

I rarely feel like I am wasting film. If I am shooting it, and I am enjoying myself, that's all that really matters. I have a stash of Polaroid, but not a hoard. The film is there to use, and I never say "Oh, I shouldn't shoot any more packs on this trip". Sure, I may save certain films for special occasions...I'm not going to use a pack of Type 85 to shoot pictures around my condo. But, really, it's use it or lose it when it comes to Polaroid film. As long as I like my resulting shots, I will use however much is necessary on any given outing. Though I do know when to stop...low light, etc. I think about what and when I am shooting, but I'm certainly not afraid to use my film.

ANYway, so, yes I think about what I want to focus on after Polaroid, and even things I might be interested in doing concurrently. Glass plate collodion is something I would love to work with someday...when I have the time, space and money. Large format is another field I'm becoming increasingly interested in. In the interim, though, good old black and white 120 and the occasional 35mm will have to do. So, back to the original question: what is the best film to use? Results are so dependent on so may factors, as mentioned above, as well as lighting conditions, exposure time, the camera lens, and just about anything else you can think of. But most films do have tendencies. All I can really do is show some examples of different film types in different cameras, and maybe describe some of the qualities that I glean from different film types. Most of these black and white examples are developed in D-76, which is a nice, straightforward developer that generally gives consistent, even results. I am sure some will read this and not agree with my comments or results, or may have tips, etc. regarding certain films and developers and whatnot. This is not a "professional" comparison or review. Just a personal overview with some comments based on my experiences with the films, and will help you to see how different films behave in different cameras.

First up is my most used 120 film format, Fuji Acros 100. I find that Acros generally has a decent amount of contrast with loss of detail in the shadows and bright areas. So it has stronger blacks and brighter whites. It still retains fine grays between until you get to darker or whiter areas. All in all, it is a very "sharp" film. A few examples with a few different cameras...

Kowa Six with 85mm lens

Rolleicord III

Rolleiflex

Kowa Super 66 with 40mm lens

Snappy (a Diana clone)

Holga 120SF

Like I said, this is the film I shoot the most. This is partly because I like the results. Also, it is much cheaper than other film brands without a loss in quality or any added oddities that many cheaper films exhibit. So for a decent price, you get a nice, sharp film.
Fuji Neopan 400 (which isn't available in the US anymore, I believe) has more even tones than the Acros. More grays with lighter blacks...or less contrast overall. So the shots are either lighter or darker across the board. Shows a bit more grain than Acros, as well. I have a tougher time shooting 400 film because I don't use a light meter. My internal meter is set for 100 speed film, so it's difficult to calculate the adjustment. Plus, it is so bright and sunny here, slower films seem to be easier to use. A couple examples of Neopan 400.

Holga 120SF

Kowa Six with 85mm lens

Snappy

Kowa Super 66 with 40mm lens


Those are the two primary types of 120 film. In 35mm format, I use Neopan 1600 in my Natura Classica. This is a very high contrast film, with a fair amount of grain. Much more sensitive to light. Fuji has stopped making this film recently, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a Natura Classica (though they still make color 1600 and there are some other brands available). A couple examples of 1600 in the Natura:

There is another 35mm Fuji film called Neopan SS. It is a 100 speed film, and is not sold in the US. I have a couple undeveloped rolls from Japan, and I may add a couple examples when I get around to developing it.
I don't often use Kodak film, mostly because it is expensive. Right now it is $4 to $5 for a roll of 120, depending on type. But I do like it...I just don't have a lot of examples. In college, Plus-X was the go-to film, so I will start with that. The film speed is 125, which is close enough to 100 that it doesn't make a big difference in exposure times. Plus-X seems to me to be a very "in between" film. The tones are even and seems to retain detail in dark areas, but it does lose detail in the bright areas. Grain is present, but the grain size is relatively small.

Rolleiflex

Snappy

Kowa Super 66 with 40mm lens

I like Kodak TMax 400 quite a bit, but I don't use it much...again, because of the price. It seems to be a very rich film, with dark blacks and nice detail.

Holga 120SF

Snappy

And I love Kodak Verichrome 100, which is no longer produced. Even expired, it seems to last forever and produces lovely, dark tones. Grain is always present, though this may be an artifact of expired film. It is commonly available in 620 format, which is the same size as 120 with a skinnier spool. To use it in 120 cameras, I respool onto a 120 spool. There was also a Verichrome 400 that I haven't used.

Bronica S2 with Komura 50mm, expired June 1973

Fujipet, expired March 1968

Imperial Mark XII, expired March 1962

Instacore F2 126, expired December 1975

Holga 135BC, expired March 1962

Kodak also makes a black and white film that is developed in color developer, T400CN. It seems to be very low contrast and higher grain; an overall very soft image results. I've only used it once, but other examples on the Interwebs seems to back this up.


I've only used Ilford films a few times. I like the results, but I usually go with cheaper options. Some folks live and die by Ilford, and they are strong supporters of analog film (they provide the film tech in Impossible Project black and white integral films). I don't think D-76 is the best developer for some of the Ilford films, as it seems to have increased grain. But I typically like my results with Ilford.
Ilford Delta seems to be fairly even toned. Overall gray with even details in dark and light areas.

Snappy


Rolleicord

Ilford FP4 has richer blacks, similar to Kodak 400, and seems to be finer grained and shows more detail that Delta.

Great Wall DF-2

Snappy


I also have quite a bit of expired Ilford FP3. This expired in 1957 and was shot with an Ansco Panda. Tends to be very high contrast and grainy...but it is really old.


Ilford also makes a black and white film that is developed in color developer...Ilford XP2. Overall seems to be a very nice film that supposedly has very little grain, though I noticed it falls apart a bit in low light, with an increase in grain. A sharp film with lots of detail throughout, and rich blacks. These are from the same roll and same camera.

Bessa R4A with 21mm lens



Arista.edu is a brand supplied by Freestyle at a budget price. It is supposedly a rebranded film of some other type. There are three speeds...100, 200 and 400. Arista.edu 100 is a very competent film, comparable to Acros with a bit more grain. Overall an even tone, maybe a bit dull, but can exhibit rich blacks. For the price, less than half of a roll of Kodak, you really can't go wrong.

Bessa R4A with 21mm lens

Holga 120SF

Holga 135BC

Imperial 620 (respooled onto a 620 spool)

Snappy


Arista.edu 200 seems to be similar to Verichrome...overall a darker, richer film than most. The high grain is from using Diafine as a developer.

Diana

Holga 120SF

Arista.edu 400 is a film type that I can appreciate because of the results, but hate using it because it is super curly and a pain to spool when developing. A dark film overall with loss of detail in the highlights. The developed film is very blue.

Diana

Holga 120SF

The odd thing about Arista.edu films is the three films seem to be from different sources. The color of the plastic is different, the color of the halide that washes away is different. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the 100 film you shoot a year ago is different film from the 100 you shoot this year. It's something rebranded, so it may be whatever source brand is cheapest at the time. But it is totally worth it for the price, particularly when using toy cameras with the mixed results inherent in the cameras.

Fomapan is a brand I rarely use. Not really sure why, it's just not been part of my film usage. It seems to be pretty similar to Arista.edu film as far as results and quality. It is cheaper than most brands, as well. It is probably a good choice for use in toy cameras where quality is not an issue (sorry Fomapan, if you are actually a high quality film!) As I have used this film only a few times, I will just post an example of each.
Fomapan 100, Meteor

Fomapan 200, Snappy


Fomapan 400
, Fujipet


The last film I will mention is no longer produced, which is too bad because it was one of my favorite brands: Fortepan. I've read that Fortepan was an "old style" film, using old formulas and lacking a halide layer. So it shoots how film used to shoot...
Fortepan 100 was, for me, a film that could be used in any camera, in just about any situation. There is definitely grain present, but it can have dark blacks with no detail, or it can blow out light areas, or it can be even toned across the board. It works well in low light and bright light. There is a most definite softness to the image, making it ideal for toy cameras, yet it could still retain a massive amount of detail at times. They stopped making it a couple years ago, and I think I used up the last of it just a couple weeks ago. I miss it already!

Diana +

Fujipet

Great Wall DF-2

Holga 120SF

Kowa Six with 85mm lens

Rolleicord III

Snappy


Alternately, there is a Fortepan 400 that I didn't care for at all. If I remember correctly, it was super curly. Maybe I just wasn't using it right, but it didn't ever really work for me.

Great Wall DF-2

Holga 120SF

So...there you have it. Yes, there are some other film brands available, like Adox, Efke and Rollei, but I haven't used them at all or enough to form a serious opinion (except for 127 Efke and Rollei). I have had quality control issues with Efke and the couple times I used Rollei films, I wasn't all that impressed. I think they are actually owned by someone else now. Holga also makes a film that I haven't used, and Lomography has some branded BW films that I haven't used. Chances are they are some rebranded Chinese product, like Lucky film (which I also have not used, but I've read it is the curliest of curly films). There are also gobs of expired brands available, like Ansco and a million off-brand films. My goal here is was just to inform based on personal experience with some of the more common films.
We should all buy film while we can, as it will get more and more expensive as silver prices increase and digital takes over. Someone will probably always make some kind of film, but it won't be cheap! If stored properly, BW film will last a long time past its expiration date, but don't feel like you have to hoard just yet (unless it is something that you use that is being discontinued, like Fuji Neopan 400). There is still quite a lot of film available online and at specialty photo shops, and much of it is very affordable. And I'm not into the whole digital versus film argument, but, really...digital is such a turn off for me. It's good for some stuff and can produce some nice pieces, of course, but it's not film. I can't count how many times photographers have told me (and they do, quite often, when they see me with a film camera) that they can't afford film photography, while they stand there with a $1200 digital camera and a $700 lens (plus the computer software!). And all I see is ...aim at a person two feet away with a 12" long lens, and then "clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick". Like, seriously, how many frames of the exact same shot do you need? And how is that fun? I dunno...just not my bag.
Anyway, do what you will, but I am a film supporter, and I hope to be shooting film in some form or another until I die, even if I have to make the chemicals myself. I hope this post encourages many of you to do the same!
And, yes, I am well aware that I am not posting much this year...just been messing about with other things. I have ideas, just haven't taken the time to type them out. Thanks for continually stopping by, though...so many are obviously interested in film! Almost 300,000 visitors and almost half a million page views! Spanks a million!
Until next time, seeya!

14 comments:

  1. What a wonderful and comprehensive article.

    Holga branded film is Arista.edu film which is Fomapan film. Freestyle just charges more for it because it comes in a package that says "Holga" on it.
    My award for curly film goes to Rollei Retro. I processed some a couple of years ago and it is still incredibly curly.

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  2. woooow i think i just creamed my analog panties. this is a FANTASTIC article!! (and also exactly what i was looking for! though i would love to know what you think a good 'starter' medium-format camera is. i've been trying to use the jem jr and it is TOUGH.) :)

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  3. Impressive :) And the photos are great too. Looks like you shot quite a bit in Japan. I started to follow your blog when I was looking up tips on using the goop side of the Fuji peel apart films. Good to see you come back here with such a great write up. I agree that B&W will be around for a long time...though I also lament the fact that the Neopan 1600 is gone. I bought quite a bit while in Japan to "stockpile" it but the damn TSA agent refused to handcheck...so I have no idea how many are damaged from the xray. I've shot a few rolls and so far so good... And for me, I've pretty much narrowed things down to Acros 100 and Ilford's HP5+ for 400 film. Especially HP5+ if I need to push it. Anyway, thanks for such a great reference!!

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  4. thanks for all the work that was surely involved with this post. LOVE seeing all of the different examples.

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  5. I've been shooting a lot of HP5 at 1600 this past few months. I quite like the look (http://www.flickr.com/photos/inauspicious/tags/13minutes/ is all the ones with that combination I have online, if you want to see).

    Having said that, I've been printing them traditionally. When I used to scan everything I hated HP5 for being a million times more grainy than anything else. I think different films' grain interferes with scanners in different ways, and HP5 looks really awful IMO.

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  6. Good article, nice pictures, and very pleasant conclusion !
    However you mention the T400CN (brrr...) but not the TRI X 400 from kodak. That made me really curious... I can't believe that you've not been using it, so is it that you don't like it ?

    Thanks again for this blog full of interesting information, you're crazy for sure, but that stands here as the highest of all compliments !

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  7. i haven't used Tri-X since around 1988, so I don't really have any examples. I do have a few boxes of 120, just haven't gotten around to them yet.

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  8. I tried this kodak 400cn and was kind of disapointed. Very low contrast. So I guess it wasn't just something that I screwed up.

    awesome article. very thorough. I got some really nice sugestions of stuff to try!

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  9. Nice run-through of films. You should really try to explore Efke films again. I just shot a roll of Efke 25 in my Kowa Six and was blown away by it. I use Efke 25 all the time in large format (4x5 and 5x7) where it is smooth as silk. You can't blow it up large enough to see any grain. It does matter how you expose and process it though.
    Also, check out Ultrafine Extreme 400, which I swear is HP5+ but at 60% the cost ($2.79/roll). I've had great success pushing it to 1600 in Xtol stock (13 minutes, tank).
    Finally, Rollei Retro 80S -- although very curly -- is worth the effort. I've been using it as infrared film with an R72 filter, but it's a very nice straight bw film. But curly.
    P.S. I second the vote for Tri-X 400....

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  10. I really enjoyed reading that and liked all your examples.

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  11. Stumbled across your blog from the google machine. What a great post! Super informative and your pictures are amazing. You're quite the MacGyver. I dabble with my toy cameras but they're not so nice to me, sometimes...

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  12. Anonymous3:33 PM

    Great information and really vast knowledge. I really liked the article (it seems unfair to call it just 'post', doesn't it?). Congrats from a film newbie

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  13. Anonymous1:15 PM

    Hi, love your blog and pictures on flickr. I also love my Bronica S2a and I have the 45mm Komura lens. Can I ask why you have the 40mm Nikkor and 50mm Komura also and which of the 3 lenses you prefer and why? If you can explain the renderings or bokeh, performance of the 3 lenses it would help. I am tempted to also get the 40mm Nikkor but would very much like your comments on the lenses. Thank you, Bob N in Michigan.

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  14. Hey, Thank you so much for this post. Its really helpful.

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