The JOYS of iso100 Black-and-White film

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by steve_fay, Mar 28, 2013.

  1. I'd like to garner responses and images from folks who *really like* or *definitely prefer* shooting medium-speed (iso 80-125) B&W film, and from people who feel that this film speed of B&W is less well appreciated than it deserves to be.
    Why do I want to start a discussion about this? For one thing, I don't think *I* have appreciated middle-speed black-and-white as much as I ought to have during the last 5-decades or so. Yet, when I look a photography books, many of the images I find most enthralling are black-and-white images made when practically all film available was iso 125 or slower!
    Another reason is I am about to take my first test rolls on an old medium format camera (a 120 film, 6x7cm Koni-Omega Rapid M, 1/500th to 1sec +B, f/35.-32 90mm lens). A time when I am opening my mind and senses to learn about a new (to me) camera and format also seems like an opportune time to open them more fully to a less-examined (by me) film speed of B&W.

    The three films I'm going to try first are Kodak TMax 100, Ilford Delta 100, and Fuji Acros 100 (I've got the fresh rolls in my hand right now), but please feel free to talk about or illustrate-with-examples other medium speed B&W films you may like. We all know that great strides have been made in improving grain and other features in iso200-and-above B&W films, compared to where they were several years ago, but what in particular about iso100 B&W films still commands attention and deserves respect, and more important calls for artistic exploration? Note: medium speed films improved too in recent years!

    Although I'm embarking on a voyage into medium format, I still shoot 35mm, so remarks about using these films in ANY size format are welcome.

    (Any postscripts offering suggestions for kinds of shots to include in my camera test are welcome, too. I'll get ten shots per roll.)
  2. It's just about all I use. Normally FP4+ but I have recently bought some Fujifilm Acros and Agfa APX 100 to try out.
  3. SCL


    I'm still slugging thru a bulk roll of Plus-X. But I did try some EFKE 25 last year...only 3 rolls, not enough to really gain a full appreciation of it before it disappeared from the market.
  4. Acros, Tmax100, Delta100 are all very very similar. I think you could grab any one of them and never know which one you were shooting. Ilford FP4 and the remaining stocks of Kodak PX125 are different beasts.
    All of them are extremely nice films. You will be amazed at how good they are - lots of folks call them digifilm because the results are as good (or better) than a digital B&W. Meaning grainless, noiseless, and smooth. The argument against these three t-grain B&W films is why use them at all because they're so digital-like? Real men use grainy film, I think. :)
  5. Try some TMY-2 rated at 250-320. Stopped using ISO100 120 in my Mamiya 645+RB67 Pro S and Bronica SQ-B kits.
  6. I have always used 80 - 125 speed film. I may have used a roll of 400 once. No wonder I'm still single.
  7. Great to see so many responses so quickly. THANKS! I hope many more are coming. During much of the years I have taken photographs, I have witnessed a race for higher and higher film speeds, followed by a race to reduce grain especially in the lower hi-speeds. It has been amazingly successful, but I realize that when I had to shoot a high shutter speed and small aperture just to keep from a high-speed film from over-exposing, I really wasn't CHOOSING to freeze so much action or to have all that depth of field. I was stuck going for that. Sure it seemed exactly right in telephoto or close-up shots, but other times it was just mindless. A slower film it seems to me, makes subject movement blur or some planes being out of focus CHOICES to consider for many more pictures. It's a choice I want to make more consciously again, trying different options than my past pattern.
    Patrick S, wouldn't a lot of digital camera shots have more "noise" in the subtle tones than in that picture of a Civil War veteran?
  8. I'm not sure. I've seen some very good digital B&W - from a technical point of view. It has nice tonality, no grain obviously, and the noise seems well controlled too. If that is what one wants then digital may be your tool of choice. I however, enjoy being in a darkroom occasionally, so for me, when I want the best stuff I can actually enlarge, I use Acros, for nudes especially. The only disadvantage there to slow B&W film is you need great light if you're going to add any filters. A red for instance, eats like 3 stops of light. If I know I'm going to shoot a nude and use a red or green filter I'd go with Tmax400 or Delta400. In good light, Acros is best.
  9. Here's my 2 cents. Most of the 100 speed films I've tried sucked, no matter who made them. Acros gave me gray photos that looked as if they were desaturated color digital. Sort of like bad T-Max, another film I hate. I like sharp and contrasty, so I like Tri-X and HP5, both of which are 400 ISO. Many a time I've wished I had something lower in ISO when shooting old cameras w/ minimal shutter speeds, but I'm over that now. Those cameras were sold. End of problem. If you're going from 35mm to 120, grain isn't going to be an issue. It's smoooooth in 120, even HP5 and Tri-X. I have to make adjustments w/ 120 to get MORE grain. Grain is really beautiful if it's not excessive, and both of the films I mentioned (really need to try Neopan too) are sharp as heck. Developers can add or subtract grain and sharpness too. I gave up matching a film to a particular type of shot. Landscape, nude, portrait, street, it doesn't matter, them's the films I use and they work fine for my tastes.
  10. Somehow, I am still unable at my level of shooting to justify buying a 400 foot roll of ORWO UN54 ASA 100 (link)--which may be the same thing or similar to the old NP22. It's perfect for old DDR cameras, after all.
    Thanks to SP, I tried it and liked it.
  11. I use ISO 125 and 400 about equally. I use Plus-X (still got a lot in freezer) and Tri-X at box speed and develop in HC110 dilution B.
  12. I use ASA/ISO 100-125 film as my standard speed film for the same reason that Steve mentioned.ISO 400 film at 1/500 sec at f/16 maxes out some of my cameras. Medium speed film has me at 1/125 sec at f/16, so I have some selection of alternate exposures to use.
    I save the fast film for when I need it for shadows and low light.
    I had my fill of using Tri-X as my standard film in high school.
    I often shot in the bright sun at 1/1000 sec at f/16.
  13. With 35mm I have always been a 'fast glass and slow film' shooter. Kodak Tri-X in D-76 has it's place but 64 to 125 ISO is the sweet spot for me. In the darkroom I use a condenser type enlarger ,so grain can really be an issue. The practice of 'meter for the highlights and develop for the shadows' suits my style of nature/landscape work. When using 4x5 or 8x10 slow film can be great or a great pain ... f/5.6 to f/18 max lens speed and then calculating for reciprocity failure with 1min plus exposure ,ugh. Bad enough I try to stand on my head to frame the image. Larger film = faster film works for me. I still miss Agfa-Pan 25 in 35mm ,never cared much for Tech-Pan.
  14. "The argument against these three t-grain B&W films is why use them at all because they're so digital-like? Real men use grainy film, I think."​
    Humbug. If I could choose only one film it'd be T-Max 100. Closest you can get to a practical film for approaching medium format results with 35mm film, or 4x5 results with medium format film.
    I like grainy films too and often push films to get more grain. But that approach limits the possibilities for some photos where grain detracts from rather than enhances the aesthetics. Emphasizing grain without regard to whether it suits the photo is equivalent to emphasizing brokeh as the sole aesthetic factor in photos. The ultimate expression of which would be grainy photos of nothing but out of focus blobs of light.
  15. Some folks have mentioned how they are working through bulk rolls of frozen film. Frozen color films can loose intensity or color shift. What happens with these B&W films--even if refrigerated or frozen, are there bad or "interesting" changes that happen? This would be a concern for anyone wanting to grab some surplus outdated rolls of one of the medium-speeds mentioned as having been discontinued.
  16. Here's some Plus-X that had a "best-before" date of 1995, shot and developed in 2009. It had been stored in the freezer for most of its life. This was normal development in D-76. I acknowledge some agitation errors, but a roll of similar film developed in the same tank at the same time was just fine.

    Even older Tri-X was mostly like-new in results.
    So it's really hard to tell, but probably always worth at least trying. This image is one of my relatively few "pictorialist" essays. ;)
  17. I like Ilford Pan 100 - a cheap, bog standard ISO100/21° black-and-white negative film that's quite a bit grainier than the films you mention but still very sharp and satisfying. The following photo was shot using a Ricoh TLS 401 35mm film SLR with a 21mm Chinon lens at f/5.6, 1/30s.
  18. The same film in medium format (exposure unrecorded but probably f/11 at 1/125s), taken with a PentaconSix and Carl Zeiss Jena 80mm f/2.8 MC lens:
  19. Not really sure what the OP's after here and elsewhere other than assembling a supportive chorus. Just put some film in the Rapid's back and shoot.

    Agree with Lex that the 35mm and 120 TMAX materials(100+400) are killer.
  20. david_henderson


    Like Steve Mareno, I much preferred ISO 400 films especially Tri-X and HP5 for my medium format b&w photography. I did try a huge variety of films, processing and papers when i first adopted b&w and found the ISO 100 films generally too bland.
  21. JDM, Thanks for posting the expired Plus-X image. It is very interesting. Reminds me of early Steichen, except a patch stronger light might have been illuminating part of a figure were it Steichen. But from what you are saying, which expired B&W films change that much may be more unpredictable than the other poster has experienced.
    Zoltan, I like those results with the Ilford Pan 100, even if it is less grainless than the films I am trying first. Incidentally, my first SLR was a Ricoh TLS Singlex.
    C Watson, I first tried a posting in the Black-and-White Films and Processing sub-forum asking for suggestions about using these films (and also Ilford XP2) as my first test rolls with a camera, but after a few days, not a single person responded who *actually liked iso100 B&W.* So finally, I resorted to starting this thread, overtly appealing to people who especially like medium speed B&W. I just want to learn more about these films and similar films as I prepare to take these first test rolls. Hearing what fans of them like, or how they compare some of these films is very helpful. The big surprise, between the two threads (especially in the other one), has been finding that some iso400 fans only want to say to me "forget all about these slow films, don't waste your time." I'm not sure why they want to say that. I have mostly shot faster films since 1973, and I have not said I plan to turn my back on them forever. I feel a bit like I'm getting accused of some kind of heresy by a few of those iso400 fans.
    David, you, on the other hand, seem quite open to someone trying new films, and helpfully explain what specifically you found after doing that yourself: more blandness than you wanted in iso100s than iso400s you liked. The Koni-Omega 90mm lens is sometimes said to have very good "contrast"/"sharpness." I'm not sure what a contrasty lens is, but if there is such a thing, perhaps that might mitigate some of what might be called film blandness. Anyway, that will be something I can watch for in my camera tests.
  22. Steve, I just want you load anything up and find out if the back leaks light, if the shutter's accurate and if the rangefinder aligns properly. Shoot whatever you please. When you feel the need for speed, TMY-2 in 120 looks like an ISO100 35mm film. Have fun.
  23. APX100 or FP4 are what I choose for medium speed B&W films. Don't shoot them very often as I tend to stick to HP5 or TRiX.
  24. Most of my black and white work is with medium speed films - primarily FP4 Plus but I do dabble with other films of this speed. I also shoot Pan-F Plus quite a bit. I use ISO 400 black and white film less than either of those films - I just tend to prefer slower films due to the finer grain.
  25. BTW, if Panatomic-X was still available, I would shoot that also.
    Film is a tool, there is no ONE "all purpose tool," you pick the right tool for the job.
    As I told someone, when you have a camera that uses interchangeable backs, make use of that feature. If the scene calls for a different film, change the back to a back with the appropriate film. If you do not use the appropriate film, you are compromising your image before you even shoot it.
  26. Here's my 2 cents. Most of the 100 speed films I've tried sucked, no matter who made them. Acros gave me gray photos that looked as if they were desaturated color digital.

    Sounds like user error to me, either development, scanning, or poor enlarging.
  27. "Most of the 100 speed films I've tried sucked, no matter who made them. Acros gave me gray photos that looked as if they were desaturated color digital. Sort of like bad T-Max, another film I hate."​
    While I disagree, I can see Steve's point. Many folks want zappy contrast with as little effort as possible. I sympathize because that's my justification for preferring digicams that can deliver great JPEGs straight from the camera.
    Starting out with a neutral b&w negative gives us more room for creative interpretation in the darkroom. If your darkroom ambition extends beyond straight printing on grade 2.5 paper, or variable contrast paper without using VC filters, it's usually best to avoid negatives that dictate the outcome by being too contrasty or grainy.
    After a multi-decade love affair with the original Tri-X (not the current stuff, which is actually closer to the original T-Max 400), I gradually and grudgingly came to appreciate T-Max 100 and 400 for the greater versatility. But these films demand more direction in the darkroom - creative dodging and burning along with appropriate use of yellow and magenta filters in selected areas. It's a lot of effort but worth it.
  28. I am reminded of various comments about Ansel Adams's negatives, which were often quite ordinary in terms of their exposure and development. Adams was the undisputed master of the darkroom, and his genius was expressed in his finished products, not in his negatives.
    I've been slowly working my way through a fairly large quantity of Plus X Pan that expired in 1983. It's been frozen the entire time and I find that, in order to wind up with properly dense negatives, I need to increase developing time by about 1 minute. I use D-76. But the results are very good, I think. This Plus X is the only ISO 100 (ISO 125, actually) B&W film I've used for many years. I've also used some unknown stuff that was probably Foma, and had good results with it, as well.
    Canon IIIa rangefinder with 50mm f/1.8 Serenar. Plus-X, expired in 1983:
    Nikon F, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, more of the expired Plus-X:
    And a shot from that ISO100 mystery roll, probably Foma. Canon FTb, FL 35mm f/2.5.
    I usually prefer contrasty images when I'm shooting B&W, and I find that the amount of contrast I get with this old Plus-X is sufficient, and the contrast with the Foma(?) was quite good. Besides, I can always bump up contrast in post processing quite a bit before it begins to negatively impact image quality.
  29. Care to share your workflow on these, Michael?
  30. Gary, while I have two 120 film backs for my K-O Rapid M, some tests I done with a sacrificial roll of film say that one of them is advancing properly, but the other one needs some maintenance or repair. So I will go out with only one back loaded, ten shots. It might take me a few days to shoot those, but the next film won't get loaded till the first roll is done.
    Michael, part of what is fascinating about those expired Plus-X images is that areas of the image's background are quite low contrast, but there is crisply contrasty foreground subject matter, too. Are those raindrops on the lens in the sky portion of the car lot picture? Somehow they don't seem like a mistake looking at the entire frame.
  31. C Watson, I'm sort of old school, and don't really think in terms of "workflow." I'll describe what I did, if that's what you mean. For both the Plus-X photos, I developed the rolls in full-strength D-76, increasing developing time by about 1 minute. I've learned through trial and error that, with this old Plus-X, I get better negative density if I increase the developing time. I've also considered down-rating the film's ISO and then developing normally, or possibly extending the developing time even with the down-rated ISO, but I haven't done either of these yet.
    As for digitizing the negatives, I have an Epson 4990 scanner, which I find does a respectable job with medium format size negs, but I'm just not getting the sharpness I require with 35mm. So I rigged up a duplicator setup, consisting of a gutted "digital slide duplicator" I bought off ebay, in which I removed everything and is now essentially just an extension tube with 52mm threads so it will mount to the front of the lens. To this tube I attach a roll-film stage (or slide duplicator stage for duping slides). The lens is a 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor. To get as close to 1:1 image size as I can with my crop-body Canon DSLR, I've added about 25mm worth of extension behind the lens. I mount this contraption to my DSLR using a Nikon to EOS adapter. Here's a shot of the disassembled duplicator rig, showing both the slide and roll-film stage:
    I convert the images in my image processing software to positives and usually add a bit of curves adjustment to the left side of the histogram and sometimes to the right; it all depends on the image. I'll also usually add a touch of USM, but this also depends on the image. Sometimes it helps, sometimes all it does is add noise. I save the images as .tif files, then convert to .jpg for posting on the Web.
    Steve, you've got a good eye. I barely even pay attention to those spots, they're so slight. Actually, they're spots on the negative. I should rinse them again. :)
  32. Thanks, Michael. DSLR scanning will probably soon kill flatbeds. I've been hacking one of those atrocious old slide duplicator thingies, too. For me, the grail is getting a rig to handle 120 and 35mm.
  33. Medium format and medium speed black and white! You Can't go wrong. Let's add D76 to that list!
    I've always liked Fp4 for its robust character--it loves almost any developer. Frankly, I can't tell much difference between Hp5 (iso 400) and Fp4 (iso 125). Over the years---like all photographers---I have made comparisons and "tests." Enlarged beyond 8x10--I can see differences in "sharpness'---but that's often offset by tonality and subject and acuity.
    I tend to favor Hp5 because I can handhold: my Rolleiflex, my Rolliecord, my Yashica, my old Blad, and my pristine VOIGHTLANDER PERKEO II WITH THE COLOR SKOPAR LENS. (YUM, YUM). I will be taking it to Sicily with me this summer.
  34. The harsh contrast look seems to be in trend but I have always liked medium speed films for the subtle, smooth transitions in the mid-tones. That's where the picture lives for me.
    Try HC-110 at Dilution H sometime. I was very pleased when I finally did.
  35. I've started the first test roll in the K-O Rapid M. I decided to go with the TMax 100. I may wait until this one has been sent off and results are returned before I start the next roll of medium speed B&W, since this first one might reveal a problem with the camera...unless I just can't wait to start the next roll.... I real possibility.
    Bill, I'll be shooting middle-speed in the Middle West.
  36. Verichrome Pan was and still is (I have two bricks in the freezer) my favorite overall film for its IMO unsurpassed smooth creamy tones and wide range. I have my last long roll of Plus-X in the bulk loader, just having put it in last night. In the meantime, I've been shooting TMX and discovering how much I really like it. And to top it off, I'm going through a couple boxes of 4x5 Ektapan I acquired over the past two years... all 100 to 125 speed films.
    Verichrome Pan, straight D-76
    4x5 Ektapan (expired 1992, HC-110 dil. B)
    I find myself gravitating to this regime, even though higher speeds my have more utility in some respects; I guess I unconsciously place a high importance on the sharpness and finer grain that these films generally inherently possess!
  37. Verichrome Pan, Allan, great to see that.
    Gonna, send that roll of TMax 100 of to a lab in the morning.
  38. Thanks Steve, and let us know how the TMX works out. In my experience, another advantage of medium-speed films is their better "keeping time" after being expired for a while, especially if it's been taken care of in the fridge or freezer. Some of my VP goes back to 1999 with no noticeable fog, and I've used VP and PX dating as far back as 1980 with some fog but not so much to be a problem, especially with HC-110. All of my 1992 Ektapan has been fog-free, or so little to be virtually non-existent.

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