3.06.2015

Fun with Film: Agfa Crossbird 200 / Digibase CR200

Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Anscochrome, Agfachrome, Scotchchrome, Astia.

Each of these is a line of color transparency films that is no longer manufactured.  Kodak is out of the business, and Ilford is strictly manufacturing only Black and White Films. Ferrania is actively working to get into the production of transparency films, but production of the initial Kickstarter batch has yet to begin. As such, only Fuji remains to produce Velvia in 50 and 100 speed versions, as well as Provia 100F.

But there is one other option in medium format at the moment - Rollei Agfa.

Typically a seller of a varied line of black and white films of various lineages, the European supplier actually offers one pseudo-slide film among its range of offerings.  I say "pseudo" because they apparently offer the same film packaged and marketed in two different ways. On one hand is the Rollei Digibase CR 200, a traditionally marketed color transparency film based upon the old Agfachrome 200 formulation.  On the other hand is a film called "Crossbird 200," a color reversal film marketed towards being "cross processed," that is, processed in the chemistry for color negative film instead, so as to yield unpredictable colors.  From all appearances, both are the same exact film.

On my return to shooting on film, I was naturally pretty dismayed to see that the selection of color transparency (slide) films had dwindled as much as they had.  Amid my digital shooting days, I recall seeing the news that Kodachrome had passed on, but had no idea that the Ektachrome line had passed as well.  As I began to explore the offerings at B&H Photo, only the trio of remaining Fuji films remained as options, along with both iterations of the Rollei Agfa 200.  The straight "Digibase CR200" version was only available in a five pack, and I certainly wasn't ready to commit that kind of money to an unknown yet. However, the "Crossbird" version was available in single rolls, and I gladly pulled the trigger to try to a test roll, so as to be able to compare it to the remaining Fuji films.

Reading up on whatever I could find regarding others uses of these films left me a little worried, and admittedly rather unenthusiastic about using the roll of film.  For one, the film is on a polyester base instead of acetate, which reportedly leaves it susceptible to "light piping" if any of the film sees the light of day, thus inciting recommendations to load it under subdued light or darkness if possible.  Other reviews however stated that the finished results when processed using E6 chemistry, left an unpleasant and overwhelming yellow cast in the image.  As such, it took several months before I finally took the plunge and loaded the film into my Yashica 12 on Christmas Day, 2014, so as to begin to snap off a roll of test photos. 





I shot a roll of 6x6 exposures at the rated 200 speed of the film, deliberately trying to get snap shots in a wide range of lighting conditions.  I then sent it off to a small lab in New Hampshire for tank processing in regular E6 chemistry to get regular reversal transparencies.  A little more than a week later, I was greeted with the results.  My thoughts?!?

It isn't on the caliber of quality of Fuji films, but it is surprisingly wonderful! It brings a now very rare quality to images for transparency film.  The cast is indeed on the warm side, maybe a bit "golden" but not unacceptably yellow in my book.  The grain is certainly more pronounced, but that is actually part of the charm of this film.  The images don't look as deep or dynamic in color as the Fuji films, and on review, I actually might have wanted to try shooting this at either 250 or 320 ISO instead of the stated 200 ISO, as the images have a slightly washed out and overexposed appearance to the highlights.  

Would I replace my Fuji films with it for regular use? Not quite.  However, there are certain subjects, particularly in the realm of "Nostalgraphy," for which I feel this film will be far more suitable than Provia or Velvia, as it imparts a very sentimental look to its images.  As a result, I have gladly ordered a few more rolls, and look forward to being able to run it through one of my folding cameras for a future project!  Long Live Film! 


In the shots above and below, I notice one thing immediately about CR200 is its tendency to intensify the "Golden Hour" cast of the sun in shots taken early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  Both of these shots were taken on Christmas morning and have a distinct golden glow to the sunlit areas.

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Under some overcast conditions and compositions, the "yellow cast" alluded to in many reviews was evident, but not overwhelming.  Despite the modern elements in the background, the foreground holds a nicely aged look to it.

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If there was one distracting drawback at times to this film, it would be the grain.  When scanned and downsampled, this often results in skies that have a mottled look to them, almost as if the image files are a 256 color GIF file instead of a full color spectrum image.  A look below shows just how this grain appears at higher magnification.  As a result, I might be hesitant to use the film in compositions where the sky is dominant. 

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A pair of night time images shows some nice surprisingly nice rendering of colors, free of excessive color casts or shifts.  The LED lit ornaments in particular look bright and snappy, while the colored lights have rendered in a very pleasing palette.

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Vapor lights at night however, still give off a warm cast, resulting again in some very nostalgic results, particularly in a composition like these where no contemporary car models can be discerned to definitely place this image in the present.  I can see where I'd certainly use this film in place of Velvia or Provia when making night time exposures that I would like to appear as if they are decades old. 

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Under precipitous skies at daytime, the color rendition and detail depiction begin to suffer a bit.  The shot taken above in rain renders fairly well, but the snow image below exhibits a lot of odd color artifacts in the sky, while leaving a drab muddy cast to the scene below.

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Under bright sunlight and blue skies however, the film renders some really nice colors, and seems to lose some of the grain patterns in the skies.  The rendering of green shades seems a bit flat, though I will definitely be testing this again when Spring arrives and the green palettes to render are vivid to begin with.