The past 15 years or so have not been easy for film photographers: Most photo labs have closed their doors, major brands no longer manufacture analog cameras, and the few remaining repair shops are all but out of parts. The biggest heartbreak of all, though, is the extinction of several film stocks: Infrared, Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Neopan 1600, and Kodak Royal Gold, to name a few. But for those of us sticking it out, we are seeing a renewed interest in analog photography. Our patience is being handsomely rewarded with new and re-released films to enjoy.
Fujifilm Neopan 400 was one of my favourite films, and the stash in my fridge is starting to look bare. So I set out to compare three new ISO 400 black and white films: Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 (a re-release of an AGFA film), Bergger Pancro 400 (a completely new film), and Rollei RPX 400, which has been around since about 2011. They join HP5, Delta, Tri-X, and TMax in a very popular film type, where it never hurts to have more choices.
All three rolls were shot through a Canon EOS-3 with an older 28-70 f/2.8 lens, on the same day, in the same two places (Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles).
As a custom function of the EOS-3, the film can be rewound, leaving some of the leader outside the cartridge. This makes for very easy re-loading of a partially exposed roll. Because of this, I was able to use the exact same camera and lens combination to shoot with all three rolls of film. I shot five frames at a time with each roll and then changed it out. By shooting on the same day, I could be sure the lighting conditions were the same. I managed not to make any unintended double exposures but did have some light leak at the beginning of the roll of JCH Street Pan, a reminder to load film in subdued light in the case of a faulty light trap on the canister.
I shot all rolls at EI 400 and tried to maintain consistent exposures by selecting two shutter speeds—one metered for the shadows, the other for highlights—and switching between the two, keeping the aperture at f/4.0.
They were each developed in a fresh batch of Rodinal. The instructions for Bergger Pancro 400 suggested extra fixing time (6 minutes), but I already fix all film for about 7 minutes to avoid purple negatives.
*Note: While I’d love to say the scratches are an intentional touch of flair, they’re the result of a battle with my metal reels that I clearly lost. In my defense, it was unusually humid during the latest heat wave here in Los Angeles and my hands were very sweaty, making them stick to the inside of my changing bag. It took several tries to get the film loaded, and I expected some scratches, but the film looks like I put it through the wash with a bagful of nails.
These images were all exposed for the shadow areas to compare highlight retention. I found that JCH Street Pan had the least detail in the highlight areas, while the Bergger Pancro still shows plenty of detail on the black speckled terrazzo of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The images below were exposed for the shadows in backlit situations. I tried to include the sun, or a reflection of it, in the frame. Much like the first set, the Bergger Pancro seems best at retaining detail in the highlights, in this case the sky. But in general, Pancro looks to be almost a stop underexposed, despite using the same exposure settings as the other two film stocks.
These next images were exposed for a midtone and were all using the same exposure settings. While the angles are slightly different, they were also taken at the same intersection so that the tones could be compared.
At this point it became clear to me that Bergger Pancro should probably be shot at ISO 200 or 250, but it appears to have the least contrast. In a final image it isn’t always desirable to have low contrast, but in this case I think it will provide the most flexibility for adding selective contrast in the printing process. Japan Camera Hunter’s Street Pan has by far the most contrast of these three films, often losing detail in the brightest areas, but has very nice mid and dark tones. Rollei RPX 400 has a very bright, airy quality, and good, balanced contrast.
My personal favourite of the three is Street Pan, as it has a similar contrasty look to Fujifilm Neopan 400.