120 Film Quick Takes

Since getting into film photography I’ve been keen to try as many different film stocks as I can get my hands on. Despite the resurgent popularity of film you never quite know how long any of these are going to be around, so it’s nice to use them while they’re still being freshly produced.

Black & White Films

Ilford PanF+ (ISO 50)

This is the slowest film I’ve shot with to date, rated at just ISO 50. Obviously this is one for bright outdoor shooting or tripod based long exposures. The benefit of such a slow film is the fineness is the grain and the ability to shoot wide apertures without requiring ND filters or very high shutter speeds.

In terms of grain, I’m a bit disappointed with this film. It’s not as clean as the faster Delta 100, Acros 100 or even Rollei Retro 80S. It’s the least grainy of Ilford’s classic emulsions, but if you’re only choosing it for clean and crisp images then you can find better, faster options. On the plus side I’ve found it handles contrasty situations very nicely with good shadow and highlight detail. This film is super quick to develop, requiring a 1:14 dilution of Ilfosol 3 and even then only taking 4 and a half minutes. I’ve read that PanF doesn’t have good keeping qualities once exposed so it’s best to develop as soon as possible after shooting.

Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125)

I really like this film, although it’s a traditional emulsion, grain is well controlled and fine, albeit still fairly noticeable in clear blue skies. Being a fairly slow film its best for use in bright conditions where it produces lovely tones. I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3, which both produce similar results. In the later it’s very quick to develop requiring only a few minutes, which is good if you’re impatient like me! FP4+ tends to be very affordable and is available from £4 a roll.

Ilford HP5+ (ISO 400)

This was the first film I shot this year and I found it a bit too grainy for my liking in 35mm. Things are slightly better with the bigger negative sizes of 120 film but it’s still a bit grainier than I’d like, especially compared to Delta 400, even when that’s pushed a stop. HP5 is generally regarded as a fairly forgiving film when it comes to exposure latitude but I’ve not tried pushing or pulling it yet to confirm that. I think I generally prefer T grained films like Acros and Delta, but if you’re more a grain fan then this is probably what you want. I’ve only developed it in Ilford’s DD-X which may not be an ideal match. HP5 is usually around £5 to 6 a roll.

Ilford Delta 100

Delta 100 produces very clean, sharp images with good dynamic range and is practically grainless in appearance. It doesn’t block up shadows as much as Acros, with a broader mid-range. Handily like most Ilford films, you can buy this as individual rolls so it’s cheaper to experiment with. The film develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3. Delta 100 usually commands a price in the £5 to £6 range.

Ilford Delta 400

Delta 400 is one of my most used films. It’s great at box speed with fine grain and even pushed a stop 800 barely looks any different. It has a fairly flat contrast curve which is ideal for digitising, where you can tweak contrast as you see fit in post.

I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3. DD-X is probably its natural match, especially for push processing. Results with Ilfosol 3 diluted to 1+14 have been a bit mixed so far, I’ve developed one roll pushed to 800 which came our great and another at box speed which was unacceptably grainy. I shall try 1+9 and see if that improves things or go back to DD-X. Amazon sell this film at £4.99 in which is about the best price you’ll find it for.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100

This film is stunning and my favourite for black and white photography. The digitised results could be from a modern digital sensor they’re so clean. If you’ve seen this film described as ‘grainless’ and not believed it, well believe it! Ok if you look very hard or try and push shadows or lightlights too much you’ll uncover a bit, but in a well exposed shot it’s amazingly clean.

Another benefit of Acros for those wanting to do long exposures is that it doesn’t suffer from the usual reciprocity failure that many films do. In terms of rendering, Acros tends to block up shadow areas but has huge range in the highlights, this produces some really beautiful results but needs careful exposure. I’ve had good results developing in the rotary processor with both Ilfosol 3 and DD-X. Unfortunately unlike with Ilford’s films, you can only buy this in 5 packs which makes it a little expensive here in the UK at nearly £6 a roll.

Fomapan 100 Classic

Foma is an interesting company producing traditional emulsion films at their plant in the Czech Republic. Fomapan 100 Classic actually reminds me of Ilford’s FP4+ quite a bit in the way it renders, although perhaps with slightly less sharp results overall. Still it’s a rather attractive film and given its low price in Europe, hard to ignore if you’re on a tight budget. It can be found for less than £4 a roll which is an increasing rarity with 120 film.

One thing to watch out for if home developing, is that it’s very flimsy and easy to mark when loading onto a spiral. It’s the first film I’ve handled that when unwound from the take-up spool was very loose – most want to tightly wind up again.

Fomapan 200 Creative

Despite the fairly low speed of ISO 200, this film is rather grainy and characterful making it good for fairly brightly lit scenes you want to give a bit of a gritty edge. That said if you don’t nail the exposure or want to darken a sky in post, things can get very messy. Like Foma’s 100 Classic, it’s a rather flimsy film which can make handling a bit more tricky when home processing. Unlike its cheaper slower sibling, 200 Creative tends to be in the mid £4 to £5 range.

Rollei Retro 80S

Rollei branded films are interesting primarily for their near-infrared sensitivity. In fact they do make purely IR film too, but I’ve not tried it yet. The benefit of having some IR sensitivity means in theory you can cut through haze on hot days which should be a boon for landscape photographers. Unfortunately it’s been a fairly poor summer here in Yorkshire, so I’ve not been able to test this aspect yet. Like the Foma films I’ve tried, Retro 80S is rather thin and while I had no trouble loading it onto my Jobo’s spiral, it’s remained very curly after drying which makes handling a little more fiddly.

In terms of image quality this is a remarkably good film. It’s as clean and grainless looking as Acros or Delta 100 with only a slight hit in speed. I’ve found it really doesn’t like underexposure, quickly losing all detail in dark shadow areas. One image, where I had to shoot what I thought was just 1 stop under to get a hand-holdable shutter speed, barely even registered on the negative!

Overall though I’m amazed at the quality, if you want a cheaper alternative to Acros or Delta 100 it’s a very good option. A roll of 80S will generally set you back around £4.50. The only real downside is that at just ISO 80 you will need brighter light or longer exposures than with comparable ISO 100 films. I’ve found 80S develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3.

Colour Negative Films

Fuji Pro NS 160

This was the first film I ran through my Bronica and I quickly decided I didn’t like it. I’ve found getting nice colours out of it when digitising to be a real chore, especially compared to every other colour negative film I’ve shot. It’s also expensive (quite a bit more so than Kodak Portra 160) working out at around £6 a roll, so it’s really hard to recommend. On the plus side the grain is fairly fine. It really doesn’t like underexposure and I’ve seen some odd effects at the edges of a few frames that I suspect might be light leaks which I’ve not seen with other films shot in the same camera. So I’m not sure if it’s an artefact from development, me miss-handling it or something else going on. Overall a thumbs down.

Fuji Pro 400H

Unlike NS 160, 400H is actually pretty nice. It digitises well and I’ve not seen any strange ‘light leaks’ or other issues. Overall performance is much the same as Kodak Portra 400. I’ve shot it at box speed and at ISO 200 and had nice results each time. This film handles greens very well so it’s particularly suited to landscape photography. It develops well in Tetenal ColorTec C-41. Available only in packs of 5, the cost per roll is around £6.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak advertises this as the finest grained colour negative film and it certainly produces very clean results. Colours tend to be punchy and saturated in bright light, but they can take on blue or purple casts if it’s gloomy or a little underexposed. I’ve found shadow areas in otherwise well exposed sunny scenes can turn very bluish which can require some post-processing to correct. This is certainly a film where you want to carefully expose for the shadows.

I’ve had good results developing Ektar with the two bath Tetenal ColorTec C-41 kit. Amazon has recently had fantastic prices for Kodak 120 films, with five packs selling for £25 or less, that makes this film an absolute bargain at around £5 a roll. More typically it will fetch somewhere between £5.50 and £6 a roll.

Kodak Portra 400

As the name suggests, Kodak wants you to think of this as a portrait film. To date I’ve yet to shoot a single portrait with it, but the colours lend themselves well to landscape and street photography too. Grain is fine and not overly apparent. I’ve shot several rolls of this over exposed by a stop at ISO 200, which has a nice effect on the colours. I’ve seen reports you can overexpose this film by up to 6 stops and still get very useable results. Of course like most film it’s less a fan of being underexposed, but then at ISO 400 you already have good latitude and Kodak produces an ISO 800 version if you need further flexibility. I’ve found this film can be a little bit grainy in the sky, at least developed with Tetenal’s C-41 kit. Pricing is around £5.50 to £6 a roll.

What next?

There are still quite a few films I’d like to try which I’ve not yet had the opportunity to. In particular these are on my list:

  • Kodak Portra 160
    I want to see if this is a good alternative to Ektar with a little more exposure headroom.
  • Kodak TMax (100, 400)
    I want to see how this compares to the Ilford’s Delta films.
  • Fuji Velvia
    This film is legendary so I’m keen to try it sometime.
  • Fuji Neopan 400 CN
    There’s only two Fuji B&W films so I might as well try them both, this is a C-41 process one.
  • Rollei Digibase CN 200
    This is an interesting film in that it doesn’t have a colour mask so it should be easier to digitise. After being floored by how good Retro 80S is I’m keen to try more Rollei films.
  • Ilford Delta 3200
    I’m interested to see what the quality is like from such a fast film, probably one I’ll save for the depths of winter when there isn’t much light!
  • Ilford XP2 400
    I’ve heard good things about this but I’ve been avoiding using my expensive colour chemistry on B&W films so far as this is another C-41 process one.
  • CineStills 800
    I’m really keen to try this film as I’ve seen some lovely images taken with it. It can be a bit expensive and hard to find in the UK unfortunately.

If you’re wondering why I’ve not listed Kodak’s Tri-X, it’s because I have shot it in 35mm format and didn’t like it much. I’m not a fan of grainy films generally, especially where equal speed cleaner films exist, and my experience with HP5+ has taught me that moving up a format size doesn’t really change the overall characteristic that much.

A Yorkshire Camera

Exploring a local antiques shop recently, I came across a beautiful 6×6 format folding camera that appeared to be in very nice condition. After giving it a once over and determining nothing was obviously wrong, I plunked down £9 of my hard earned cash to take the thing home. It turned out I had bought a Yorkshire camera. A GB Kershaw 110 to be precise, made in the great city of Leeds some 60 or so years ago. It was in very nice condition for its age, with just some dust in the optics and a tiny bit of corrosion here and there on the aluminium parts. The biggest worry with any camera that makes use of soft bellows is pin holes and tears that could cause light leaks. These are usually found around the folds where the material is under the most stress. Thankfully the bellows on this camera are in tip-top shape, requiring no repair at all. Another common problem to look out for in old cameras is worn out light seals, where foam or felt has disintegrated or worn away over the years. Helpfully the Kershaw’s design made no use of either material, so there were no concerns there either.

The lens and viewfinder were very simple to clean of dust, both being made of just two elements. After I finished cleaning things up I loaded a roll of Ilford FP4 ready to shoot. The use of bog standard 120 roll film means the 110 is as usable today as when it was new. Getting the film into the camera took a few attempts given the slightly awkward swing out spool holders, but I got there in the end.

In terms of operation, the Kershaw 110 is a very basic camera. A button on the top plate makes the front pop open, extending the bellows and putting the lens into shooting position. A single knob lets you wind the film on, with a red window in the back to let you see which frame you’re on*. The lens is unmarked but I’d estimate it at around 80mm (45mm equivalent in 35mm terms) with its focus fixed to give you a depth of field from around 3m to infinity. It has a single shutter speed of somewhere around 1/50 of a second and a choice of two apertures, f11 or f16. Its only other features are a bulb mode and a flash sync port. Getting an accurate exposure is rather out the window with such limited control so you’re fairly reliant on the wide latitude of film and hoping for the best.

* 120 roll film is paper backed and that paper has frame numbers printed on to it for cameras like this without mechanical frame counters.

I found the camera simple to use in practice, even if I had a degree of ‘exposure anxiety’ while using it, worrying that for the light conditions I was hopelessly under or overexposing. In the end just about everything turned out fine. The ISO 125 film I’d picked meant I wasn’t too far off in terms of exposure when I was out of the shade. I found I had no trouble remembering to wind on the film after each shot, so avoided any accidental double exposures. I didn’t have especially high hopes for the optical quality of the anonymous two element lens, but it actually produced some alright results. It’s a little soft at the edges, but the main portion of the frame is pretty sharp if you can hold the camera still enough. Indeed the slow shutter speed and awkward handling were the camera’s main let down and I lost about a quarter of the film to camera shake. It’s too bad it can’t take a threaded shutter release as I’m sure that would help quite a bit. It’s made me quite curious to see how good the results could be from a slightly less basic folding camera which could achieve better hand-holdable shutter speeds and with a more serious lens. Exploring Flickr proves that Agfa Isolette’s and Zeiss Ikons can certainly produce wonderful results. The challenge with such old cameras is finding a copy in good working order without parting with too much money – certain models are popular with collectors which can push the prices to silly amounts.

If you enjoy my writing and images please help support me and the site by purchasing a print from my store here or on Etsy. Those old folders aren’t free ya know 😉

Seeing Squares

I guess the trouble with medium format is that once you start down the route of ‘bigger is better’ you start itching for the next format size up from what you have. My Fuji GS645 and Bronica ETRSi are both 6×4.5 cameras and for awhile I’ve been thinking it would be really nice to have a camera that could do 6×6 square format. The big benefit of this is that it allows any kind of crop you’d like (if any) without losing too much image area. Since my preferred way of shooting is with a waist level finder on the Bronica, square format also takes away the ‘landscape only’ limitation that comes from having a non-rotating film back. In portrait orientation, even ignoring the very awkward ergonomics, the image is upside down without a prism to correct it. I can cope with the horizontally flipped image in the waist level finder, but putting it upside down is a step too far!

My first though was to find another range finder camera to get a slightly lighter setup, but after a couple of failed attempts at acquiring a working Mamiya 6 I shelved this idea and decided to go with a Bronica SQ-Ai as they are both reasonably priced and very reliable in my experience. With some eBay luck I was able to purchase an immaculate copy from the early 90s that looked barely used for £299, which is a steal frankly. It may not have the desirability factor of a Hasselblad (or the price tag), but in terms of image quality, usability and durability it’s got nothing to be ashamed of.

So far I’m really loving the square format. I feel like 12 exposures per 120 roll is a good compromise between image size and film economy. The 80mm f2.8 PS is a really lovely lens (about 40mm f1.5 equivalent) and definitely seems sharper than the 75mm f2.8 on the ETRSi, especially when shot wide open). In terms of handling the SQ-Ai, while a couple of hundred grams heavier and definitely a bit bulkier, feels much nicer to use even without a grip. I always found the on-body shutter button on the ETRS bodies a bit indecisive, seemingly needing varying amounts of pressure to fire from one shot to the next. The SQ-Ai by contrast is consistently firm and feels very deliberate. I think this along with the added heft makes it easier to get sharp results at slower shutter speeds more consistently. The SQ-Ai also has a vastly improved mirror lockup mechanism that resets after a shot is taken unless you set it not to. This is unlike the ETRSi where if you forgot to flip a switch the mirror would flip up as you wound on to the next frame.

Anyway enough of my waffling, here’s a few photos taken so far:

This was shot wide open at f2.8, the grass right into the corners is tack sharp where in the plane of focus. This is such a improvement over the 75mm f2.8 on the ETRS and honestly not a common characteristic on many modern lenses which are geared only towards centre sharpness until stopped down.

 Finally, I’m working on doing a round up of all the various film types I’ve shot with my thoughts on their rendering, easy of digitising etc. so keep an eye out for that. If you enjoy my writing and images please help support me and the site by purchasing a print from my store here or on Etsy.

From the Archives #13

Time inexorably slips by and I realise I’ve not updated this blog in far too long – so to break the silence here’s another image from my archive. This was taken fairly recently, returning from a trip to Manchester a few days after the awful terrorist attack there. Trains were still not running to or from Victoria so I had to change at Rochdale where this shot was taken in the underpass beneath the platforms. I call it ‘Underlined’. Shot on my X-Pro 2 with the 23mm f2. It was a spectacularly bright and sunny day, so the strong highlights and deep shadows begged to be portrayed in black and white and allowed to block up into something inky and graphic.

 ƒ/5.6  23mm  1/400s  ISO 200 

Falling in love with medium format

A Zenza Bronica ETRS viewed from the side with 75mm f2.8 lens, 120 film back and AE-II prism attached.

If you’ve read my previous blog post, you’ll know that at the beginning of this year I started shooting film again on a Ricoh GR1s, a tiny 35mm compact camera from the late 90s. Well, from there things have snowballed somewhat!

Getting a medium format camera

By the end of January I decided I’d really like to try medium format to see what all the fuss was about (especially with Fuji’s new GFX system launching to much fanfare). So I paid a visit to West Yorkshire Cameras in Leeds, a specialist camera shop handling only film cameras. The helpful salesperson showed me several different systems and after seeing how they worked and handled I settled on a Bronica ETRS with AE prism finder, speed grip and 75mm f2.8 lens.

The Bronica is a fairly big, late 1970s-early 80s era, modular camera that shoots in the 645 format. With the AE prism and speed grip it handles like an oversized SLR with the option of fully manual or aperture priority shooting.

I’ve never shot with a modular camera before and it’s really rather interesting. The core is a roughly 4 inch cube that houses the focusing screen, electronics and mirror. Everything else – the film back, viewfinder, lens and any other accessories you might want, all bolt onto it. This means you can configure the camera just how you want it and based on what you’re shooting. The speed grip and AE finder mean you can just treat it like any 35mm SLR, hand holding shots and rapidly firing frames with the camera metering for you. Attach a waist level finder, put the camera on a tripod and grab a light meter and you’ve got a more traditional studio or landscape setup.

Taking advantage of the modularity of the system, I’ve since gone on to upgrade the camera body to the slightly newer ETRSi model (I found I needed mirror lockup to avoid mirror slap blurring photos on my lightweight tripod), bought a waist level finder to see what that would be like and acquired a 150mm f3.5 portrait lens and 50mm f2.8 wide angle.

A different type of film

Medium format cameras all shoot on the same type of film, known as ‘120’*. Unlike 35mm film which starts and ends inside the same canister, 120 film is backed by paper and winds from one spool onto another as you shoot. Once fully exposed, you tape up the end of the roll and the paper backing keeps the film light tight until it can be developed. It takes a bit of getting used to and does make loading a bit more tricky than 35mm, but you soon get the hang of it.

The height of the negative is around 6cm, but the frame width (and therefore the number of shots you get on a roll) is down to the camera. 645 is the smallest format and the most economical to shoot with, producing 15 to 16 images on a roll that measure around 55x42mm each – dramatically bigger than 35mm/full frame and even making most medium format digital cameras (like the GFX) blush with envy. Other common formats are 6×6, 6×7 and 6×9. Typically as the format size goes up so does the camera body and lens size and of course you get fewer and fewer frames per roll.

(* You used to be able to get ‘220’ film as well, which was basically twice the length of 120, letting you double your number of exposures per roll, but sadly no one makes this anymore.)

120 film is available at specialist camera stores and easily found on-line through major resellers like Amazon. Fuji, Kodak, Ilford and a few other brands produce quite a wide range of negative, colour reversal (slide) and black and white films. So far I’ve shot with Fuji Pro 160 NS, Fuji Provia, Ilford Delta 400, Ilford FP4+ and I’ve got some rolls of Kodak Portra 400 sat in the fridge waiting to be used.

That medium format look

Describing what’s known as the ‘medium format look’ is rather difficult. You often hear people talking about things that are hard to quantify, but in the end the images rather end up speaking for themselves. A lot of the benefit is clearly derived from having such a large negative – the grain size in a particular film stock is going to be constant regardless of format, so the larger the area your image fills the more detail you’re able to record before that grain size becomes the limiting factor.

The huge negative is a real plus when it comes to digitisation. While I’ve struggled to extract more than 14-16 megapixels from my 35mm negatives, I can easily get 30-50 megapixels from a 645 frame by stitching multiple shots.*

* I use the digital camera plus macro lens approach rather than a scanner.

The images once digitised just look incredible, producing a resolution that’s competitive with modern digital sensors, while giving all the wonderful characteristics and colours you’d expect from film.

Anyway that’s enough words, lets look at some photos! All of these have been digitised with either my X-T1 or X-Pro 2 using the 60mm f2.4 macro, in some cases stitched from multiple shots to extract the most detail. Everything has been processed to taste in Lightroom – negatives are much like digital RAWs and require some processing to be turned into a pleasing image. The black and white shots were developed at home using Ilford DD-X and the colour shots processed by Ag Photo Lab in Birmingham.


Fujifilm Provia 100 (ISO 100)


Fuji Pro 160 NS (ISO 160)


Fuji Pro 160 NS


Fuji Pro 160 NS
Ilford Delta 400 (ISO 400)

Ilford Delta 400 Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125) Ilford FP4+
Ilford FP4+
Ilford FP4+

Final thoughts

I absolutely love the results I’m getting with the Bronica and I’m continuing to find the whole process of analogue photography really rewarding, especially now I’m developing a lot of my own films – something I’ll no doubt write more about in the future.

If you’re thinking about shooting film and know your fundamentals, I’d really recommend looking into medium format. I think it’s going to be a long time, if ever, that digital medium format becomes something most hobbyists (and even many pros) can really afford to use. So why not give it a go while the cameras are cheap and still easily available and film isn’t too hard to find or expensive to process?