Wednesday, November 7, 2018


Even now in the digital age, film steadfastly refuses to go away.  And why should it?  It is a time proven medium that is capable of rendering outstanding results, especially if we are willing to optimize the results by developing (at least) and printing our own films and negatives.

XP2 SUPER 35mm   Agfa APX Pan 100 135/36, 6A1360

My favorite black and white films were the AGFA Agfapan APX 25 and Ilford XP2 Super, with an occasional roll of Agfapan APX 100 thrown in.

I am often asked why I limited myself to such a few films.  The answer is quite simple.

Personally I never liked grain.  Subsequently I always tried to use films that would keep grain to the absolute minimum.  Thus my first choice has always been the Agfapan APX 25.

Scan of the full negative
Leica M3, 50mm Dual Range Summicron 50mm f/2
Agfapan APX 100

Cropped section of the same negative

Further crop of the same negative

Final crop from the same negative
The last two examples show detail that is too small to see in the full image

Reggi Anderson, Artist
Studio shot with studio flash on camera stand
Leica M6, 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit, Agfapan APX 25

Studio shot with studio flash, handheld
Leica M6, 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit, Ilford XP-2 Super @ ISO 400

Leica M6, 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit, Agfapan APX 100, Agfa Rodinal 1:100

Obviously, with a limited speed of ISO 25, there are many lighting conditions where this film was too slow, where a higher film speed was necessary to obtain good results.  That, for me, was the Ilford XP2 and its replacement, the Ilford XP2 Super.

People have often asked me why I didn’t use conventional high speed films like Kodak Tri X.  The answer is versatility.

While the basic rating for the XP2 Super is ISO 400, as a chromogenic film, it has the advantage of being able to be used at ISO speeds from 50 to 800 without the necessity of any development adjustments.

While that alone is not much of any advantage, the film does deliver a different grain structure depending on the exposure.  When exposed at slower ISO setting the grain structure is definitely smaller that with conventional ISO 400 films.  This has the tremendous advantage of being able to shoot any single roll at various ISO setting depending on the lighting conditions and to take advantage of the finer grain structure when lighting conditions allow doing so.

Unfortunately the film cannot be push processed.  ISO 800 is the limit, but the increase in grain, while noticeable, is not at all objectionable

However, as a chromogenic film, it requires to be processed like color negative films in C41 chemistry.  While that can be done in a home darkroom, temperature control is much more critical than with black and white film and I always found it a lot more convenient and less time consuming to take the film to a professional lab.

One way to perfect the development of standard black and white films is to be consistent.  That will avoid fluctuations from one roll to the next.  That starts with the developer.  My choice was the AGFA Rodinal which is still available from ADOX.


Rodinal is a high acutance developer.  That means the individual grain clumps are very clearly defined at the edges which makes for a sharper appearing negative and enlargements.  On the other hand, high acutance developers do deliver coarser grain.  However, when used with slow films like the Agfapan APX 25, the grain structure is so small, on account of the slow speed, that even rather big enlargements will render almost grainless results.

Another important step in developing black and white films is agitation during development.  You can probably talk to 10 individuals and get 10 different answers as to what the best agitation procedure is.

I settled on continuous agitation with the help of a Beseler motor base agitator.  That offered the advantage of not having to agitate by hand and watching a timer for the entire development time.  The Beseler motor base will reverse the direction of the rotation approximately every 2 ½ revolutions.  In addition, it gently rocks the drum back and forth.  This assures completely mixing the chemicals while they are used up during the development.

While initially developed for the processing of color enlargements, the Beseler motor base works equally well with film developing tanks.  I used both Jobo and Patterson tanks.  While the film reels of the Patterson tanks are by far the easiest to load, the Jobo tanks have the advantage of being expandable if a larger capacity is needed.  Both the Jobo and Patterson reels can be expanded to allow the use of 35mm as well as 120/220 films.

Most instructions recommend Rodinal to be dilutes 1:25 or 1:50.  I found that I was able to obtain even better results by diluting 1:100.  To compensate for the more aggressive development due to the constant agitation, I shortened the development time to 16 minutes at 68 F.

As I mentioned above, occasionally I used Agfapan APX 100 when a higher film speed was necessary.  It too was developed in Rodinal 1:100, but for a shorter time.

Unfortunately, AGFA succumbed to the digital juggernaut and their films have disappeared from the market.  ADOX, one of the largest manufacturers of black and white films took over many of the AGFA technology and they did produce the Agfapan APX 25 under the ADOX label.  But currently, their website only offers films from ISO 100 on up. 

But there is an alternative, the ADOX CMS 20 II.  They promote it as “The sharpest, most fine grained and highest resolving image recording system in the world,’’ claiming a resolution of 550 lines per millimeter and 1,600 lines per millimeter if developed for high contrast.  However, to obtain those results, the film must be developed in the ADOX Adotech IV developer.  With that developer the film has a speed of ISO 20.

ADOX CMS 20 II full frame image and cropped section

Needless to say, many of the available black and white films are certainly capable of delivering high quality results, however with coarser grain due to the increased film speeds.

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