Black and White films tend to be the broadest of the pack when it comes to variety in the analog film world. Much unlike the selection of slide and color negative films, Black and White images can be shot on films ranging from ISO 25 all the way up to ISO 3200. They come from manufacturers such as Kodak, Ilford, Fuji, Foma, and Rollei/Agfa. One can easily view this as the healthiest part of the analog film market. Still, this doesn't mean that it is all (silver) roses in the world of black and white film. There have been a number of products that have gone by the way side. Kodak Panatomic-X and Plus-X, Fuji Neopan 400, and Agfa Scala transparency film are among just some of the monochrome casualties that have occurred in the digital era. And then there is Efke. A product of Photokemika in Eastern Europe, Efke was pretty much the epitome of "old school" film production. Whereas other manufacturers had used modern technology to incorporate tabular grains into their emulsions, and had multiple coatings, Efke was much more traditional in nature. Unfortunately, it was this same tradition that ultimately cut its film coating and cutting days short, when in 2012, its 60-plus year old coating equipment failed, and the manufacturer called it quits. The fans of Efke film snapped up what they could of its stock of films, and the supply of Efke film began to dwindle. Though I was hardly in the mindset of shooting film at the time it was discontinued, I had the chance to pick up a few rolls of Efke 50 a few months ago from a gentleman who had some stocks of it. It seemed like it would be a nice experiment, and I'd appreciate having an alternative to Ilford Pan F 50. I took a few days to shoot one roll of this film in late March, electing to use my Balda Pontina for the purpose. This would be the Balda's first "assignment" for me in black and white. Below are some of the results.
At the same time I took a color photo of this scene on a 122 format Autographic, I also captured this scene on Efke 50 using the Balda at f/5.6. I do like how the Efke film left a somewhat magical lighting effect to this sunlit scene, and a nicely aged effect.
The thirst continued: The images from my initial test 120 roll in the Autographic 1-A 116 format camera had not even returned from the lab when my curiosity of the possibilities got the best of me. I looked into information on other discontinued roll film formats, and began to research which could be adapted to utilize 120 film. My goal was to be able to get the largest possible image on a frame of 120 film, one that approached panoramic dimensions. After some minor research, I'd made the decision to pick up a new acquisition, none other than a Kodak Autographic 3-A camera, using the 122 format. Whereas my existing 120 cameras could take images ranging from 6 x 4.5 to 6x9, and the Autographic 1-A could bump that up to an impressive 6x11 format on 120 film, the 3-A could trump these, producing a 6x14 size image on 120 format film. After a little bit of searching, I snagged the actual machine itself, a Kodak 3-A dating from between 1916 and 1926, armed with a Bausch and Lomb Rapid Rectilinear lens. Report were that this lens not only could be quite sharp at f/16, but also had some surprisingly good color rendition considering its production in the midst of the panchromatic era.
The Autographic 3A at left is somewhat larger than the 116 format 1A seen next to it. Still, it towers over 120 format cameras such as the Super Ikonta 531/2 and the Ikonta A 521.
Sounds great! But it comes with a hitch. Unlike the 116 camera that is only slightly wider than 120, and thus, can be fed a roll of 120 film by simply laying the supply roll in the chamber and threading the film to the native 116 roll, this 122 format is appreciably wider than 120, about an inch in fact, so using the same methods is sloppy at best, and could result in poor framing and skewed horizon lines. I had to step it up with this experiment if I was going to come away with anything usable.
The dilemma: "Free Shipping for all orders $49 or more!" One problem... I had filled my "cart" with the 120 film items I wanted and it came to $45 and change. I could either pay the few bucks for shipping, or add another roll to the cart to bring the total beyond the threshold. That much was something of a no-brainer. But what to add? I was already feeling a bit frugal so I didn't want to add another roll of $7 or $8 slide film to the mix, and I wasn't all that enthusiastic about color negative film. The obvious choice was a roll of affordable black and white film, and while I had experience with some of these fine choices, there was something in me that wanted to try something new. That something turned out to be Fomapan 200. I already had some black and white stocks in speeds such as 25, 50, 125, and 400, so upon seeing this 200 speed film available for $4.39 a roll, it seemed the ideal choice, not just to get me the benefit of free shipping, but also to widen my inventory. I had no clue when, how, or really IF I would even shoot this roll, but at least it was there. It was only after ordering that I did a little searching on Fomapan 200 and discovered that it had an affectionate following. Not only did a number of people regard it as the best film of the Foma lineup, but there were a number of remarks that it had a very traditional "vintage" film look to it. That worked right into my wheel house. Ultimately, the single roll of film made the trip west with me as a backup, and found its way into use in mid March. I elected to run it through my ca. 1935 Welta/Rodenstock "mystery" camera, where it got to be my main film camera tag along on a day to take some snapshot type images in Chicago. The camera performed great, and I handily filled the roll with images taken mostly under sunny skies. Off the film went to Kansas for developing. On the film's return, my first impressions were pretty immediate and impressive. In looking at the negatives alone, they LOOKED to me like negatives that had been developed in the mid-20th Century. Quite nice. On scanning I was just as pleased to see a pleasing grain pattern and tonality in the images, apparently the result of an emulsion that mixes conventional and tabular grain structures. But enough on talking, have a look and see the samples of the snapshots below. I can say that I will definitely be loading up some Fomapan 200 in the not too distant future!
It is very fitting that my first photos taken on a film known for giving a classic look is of a very classic subject. Chicago Union Station serves as the backdrop for these images that really gives off a 1940's aura to them, with the grain patterns and tonality.
If a look through the chronology of my posts is to be believed, I'm a "camera whore." I get a camera, shoot a roll or two through it, and then stow it away as my fascination turns to the next novel project or acquisition in my repertoire. I am very proud to say that is not the case. The story and interest in the machines does not end with the publishing of the article. In fact, the article often sets about to be the springboard for even more new and novel fun with the camera once I have gotten a taste of its strengths and limitations. As such, I thought it would be a nice idea to publish this follow up as a sort of "where are they now" feature. Enjoy!
It's the very camera that got me interested in film photography once again, and after a little bit of trial and error, I got it working once again. Since discovering the portability and fun of the folding cameras, I've used the Seagull less, but it is still a wonderful camera to use, though often maligned by "serious" photographers. Ironically, it is the medium format camera I've had the longest, and yet it is the newest in my collection, as every other 120 camera I own was somewhere in the world on the day I was born. Below is a Provia 100F image taken with the Seagull. I had to secure the camera on the rear of my car, causing the light bleed in the lower corner.