Unsolicited editorials on cameras, lenses, film, developer, and black and white photography in general.

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Classic 200 in PMK Pyro

Kodak, Ilford, Fuji, and Agfa never marketed a ISO 200 black and white film that I’m aware of at least not during my generation of photographers. I suppose that it was considered a poor marketing strategy to have a film only one f-stop away from ISO 100-125 and ISO 400. The smaller European film makers don’t seem to feel that way. I have recently purchased ISO 200 black and white films by Foma, Forte, Bergger, Classic, and Paterson, and I have seen ISO 200 B&W film from Arista (although I assume this to be a relabeled film from one of the manufacturers above). Classic 200 is among the least expensive of the ISO 200 films, and it is advertised to have a classic retro look. I decided to try some in a retro developer. Digitaltruth had a starting time of 11 minutes, so I expected a usable roll of negatives.

First the bad news. Classic 200 is grainy; it is very grainy. The grain is what I would expect with ISO 3200 film. One other minor cause for concern with Classic 200 is the film cassette. The cassette of my first roll seemed a bit delicate. The lips of the film opening were slightly agape, and my film was light-struck near the beginning of the roll. As a result, I’m putting the rest of the Classic 200 in black plastic canisters and loading/unloading the film in very subdued light.

Now the good news. It stains very well with PMK Pyro developer (although the staining action of the pyro wasn’t enough to suppress the grain). After a rather shocked reaction to the grain when I opened the first frame in PhotoShop, I began to appreciate other aspects of the film. One thing that impressed me is the smooth consistency of the grain structure over the entire negative. Maybe this is from being relatively silver-rich (as these older films are always touted to be). When I go carefully over an entire TRI-X negative in Photoshop to touch up dust specks, I sometimes see what appear to be gaps with missing silver or less silver. Although they do not affect the appearance of the final print, their presence (or I suppose I should say absence) is puzzling. I saw none of this on any negative in the Classic 200 roll. I suppose I might also add that one of the negatives in a roll of Foma 200 I shot last week had a nice round hole in the emulsion. While it was small enough to patch with the healing tool, it suggested to me that some of the machinery used to make films in Eastern Europe might be dated.
The inevitable question that arises is “Why would someone want to buy ISO 200 black and white film that is as grainy as ISO 3200 film?” That is a legitimate query. One reason might be the price (it is about the cheapest B&W film out there). Another might be the lower speed. I went out shooting one very bright day with Fuji 800 in a Leica CL. Even with the shutter speed set at 1/500th and aperture at f/22, some shots were overexposed. I don’t fiddle with neutral density filters. For me, ISO 200 is easier to work with than is ISO 3200. I don’t care much for apertures smaller than f/5.6 unless I’m shooting with a 28mm or wider.

As it turned out, one of the subjects I shot with my first roll of Classic 200 worked well with lots of grain. I went to my now gutted church with several Presbyterian visitors from South Carolina. The inside of the church has been stripped of nearly everything except the chandeliers. I thought the soft graininess of Classic 200 worked well when shooting the stark interior of the church.
Another retro developer, 777, seems to tame grain well. I’ll try that combination in the coming weeks.