Photo film history in the last 20 years : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Film & Processing : One Thread

The deal is, I was doing professional photography 1975-1980 as a starving student. Eventually, a different career evolved, and now I'm a well-established graphic designer/art director in the movie industry. My point is, I am no longer starving, have been dreaming about doing the kind of photography I always WANTED to do, and now I can.... medium & large-format B/W photos with an artistic bent. What I'm requesting is an overview of what has happened since then. For instance: looks like Kodak & Ilford discontinued Panatomic-X and PanF. How come? There is an entirely new (to me) Kodak line of B/W films - T-Max. Why do they exist and how do they differ from Plus-X, and Tri-X? It seems that even the once-wildly-popular Plus-X is now much deempasized. Should I be hording my old favorites, or have the new films truly outmoded them.... and how so? Thanks! --Doc.

-- Edward Haigh (, November 24, 2001


Someone should write a book... Hopefully you'll get a bunch of responses, as all this depends on an individuals perspective. IMHO, any film that's discontinued is killed off because it isn't making enough of a profit. Kodak just didn't sell enough Panatomic-X to justify making it. Word is that T-Max films use less silver in their manufacture than traditional films, so they're cheaper to make. They look great if you go by technical specifications, but I'm not a big fan of them. Processing is fussier and they don't have the look I want. Highlights are often difficult to control. I prefer traditional films, mostly FP4+, HP5+, Plus-X, and Tri-X. I like some toe and shoulder in the curves, not a straight line. B&W films in general are a shrinking market, so choices will change and sometimes become limited. I also did more photography in the '70s. Though my equipment is far superior today, I think it's harder to get prints I'm happy with. Paper curves and tones are different and you have to experiment to come up with a combination you like. Lenses have more contrast and less flare. On a positive note, RC papers have improved greatly, and there are some high end fiber papers that are probably better than anything from the past. Tri-X still works, as does Plus-X, but as Kodak scales back B&W offerings, many people are moving to Ilford and others brands. You might want to pick up a copy of Anchell & Troop's The Film Developing Cookbook for the insights it has on films and processing. Another good book that helps understand tonal placement is Ctein's Post Exposure. Highly recommended.

-- Conrad Hoffman (, November 24, 2001.

Ilford Pan F+ (improved over the old Pan F) is available in medium format. Pan F+ is not available in sheet film, probably because FP4+ has a fine enough grain structure for large format, and the extra speed for depth of field is often required. Both of these are excellent films, and much better than Panatomic-X in my opinion. I use Rodinal in dilutions of 1:50 to 1:100 (1:50 for low contrast scenes only) for both films. Most other developers also work well with these films.

For "artistic" photography, I prefer these “conventional” films over the T-Grain (Kodak TMAX and Ilford Delta) films, but I am sure that others have different opinions on this subject. As Conrad mentioned above, Anchell & Troop explain the differences between conventional films and T-Grain films in their book, “The Film Developing Cookbook.” Don’t be put off by the title; it’s a great book to have even if you never mix your own developers from scratch.

-- Michael Feldman (, November 24, 2001.


I greatly prefer the 'older' films to the new ones, like T-max. T- max is just too darn finicky and, to my eye, offers no advantages to Tri-X. For Tri-X I like using either HC-110 or Xtol as developers.

Certainly nothing wrong with Plus-X or Ver. Pan.

FP-4 works well if you like a slower film with the Panatomix- X 'look'. It's a very nice product. As mentioned it does well with Rodinal. It also does very nicely with FG-7 (NO sulfite, please. It just smears the grain!)

Whatever happened to Kodachrome 25?! I had last used this film in the 60's and 70's. It was a gorgeous product. Razor sharp. Exquisitely accurate colors. I tried it out recently and the results were very disappointing. I guess Kodak has changed the formula and somehow cheapened the product.

Best of luck, Howard

-- Howard Posner (, November 25, 2001.

This is a very interesting post, and I suspect the responses might well form the foundation of a book!

One of the most fascinating facts concerning the changes in films over the past 30 years and the responses from photographers--both those who lament the passing of the old and those who embrace the new- -is how a product may be technically "better," yet never elicit the warmth of acceptance from users.

Curiously, as I consider the old and new, it occurs to me that much of the fancy for the old is based on a pleasing yet inaccurate result, whereas the outcome differs in a satisfying way from reality. Consider those who look back to the days of Kodachrome II. (I think this is the film the previous poster was referring to from the 60's and 70's.) KII, compared to Fuji's Provia F, is woefully inadequate. Sure, it produced beautiful skin tones, did wonders with sunsets and the warm glow of low-angle light, but it was nowhere close to accurate. It was pretty, but not real. Provia F is sharper, finer grained, faster by two stops, pushes incredibly well up to two stops, and has superb color balance and contrast properties. Moreover, it is far more consistent, batch to batch, than Kodachrome II or KX, or their successors, KM25 and KR64, ever were. But this is a b&w forum, so forgive my diversion. Color slide film evolution simply offered a simple and obvious example.

Comparing Panatomic-X to TMAX100 or Delta 100 or Acros is a joke. Pan-X, short of TechPan, was the most difficult film to control I've ever used. It was tremendously contrasty, with miserable shadow detail and a propensity for blocking highlights. About all I can say good about it is it did offer good midtone separation and fine grain for its day. All the modern films I listed above are sharper, finer grained, much faster, and have a truer and more extended tonal scale. Sure, TMX is finicky, but if one gives it the care its "pro" nomenclature advises, it offers properties unheard of 30 years ago. Plus X, while easier to deal with than Pan-X, has many of the same shortcomings and doesn't even match the sharpness or fine grain of the current ISO 400 films of today. Tonally, Delta 400 is so superior to Plus-X, there is no point even comparing the two.

Anyway, my point was, the films of yore were inferior and simply not as accurate. Yes, they did allow one to be sloppier and still achieve a decent result, but anyone who actively follows this board should not be concerned about careless processing. The fact is, with proper care, the new films give the decerning photographer unprecidented control and a superior result to anything available 30 years ago.

-- Ted Kaufman (, November 27, 2001.

Well.... as I reacquaint myself with the general processes, it seems sane to begin with what I know best: 120 roll film in the forms of Plus-X, FP-4, Tri-X, HP-5, Panatomic-X, Pan-F in that order. I'll begin with good ole D-76 and my old favorite: Acufine. Once I have reestablished my sea legs (I've spend months designing & outfitting my darkroom for the purpose) then I will venture in several different directions. 4x5 format (entirely new to me) a subset of which will be the various orthochromatic emulsions available -which have always interested me, anachronist that I am. This, of course leads me back to 120, into 35mm, as well as 4x5. Many of the ortho films are high contrast, and in a separate thread I've been picking brains as to continuous tone developers -- which leads me to hand-mixing developers from scratch. Both ortho and 4x5 ALSO lead me to another anachronistic area -- that of outdated film - also brought up in a separate thread - regarding base fog. Working with 4x5 Ansco SuperPan has long been a dream which now I can realize. All this said, I am receptive to the challenging & interesting commentary provided by Mr. Kaufman. Yeah, I love old stuff, old processes, but I AM on the internet with a particularly modern Macintosh computer. Point is, I can enjoy a synthesis of the old & the new, best of both. I doubt I've EVER make a photo print larger than 11 x 14 again. My large format scanner and printer are just too good to warrant it. Combining the two technologies simply maximizes control, and that's what I'm going for. To conclude, I have now purchased some 120 T-Max film to go with my hefty stockpile of my old faves. I'm well-stocked in excellent Kodak & Ilford printing papers. I'm still researching archival inkjet photo paper and archival inks for my printer. In my world, past, present, and future will coexist in harmony! Anyone else doing this kind of combo? --Doc.

-- Edward Haigh (, November 28, 2001.

It strikes me that when new technologies or media appear people sometimes get into an either/or mode that is unwarranted. Newspapers haven't been superceded by internet news, any more than books have been made obsolete by movies and television. The question is always what mix of the new technologies or media will there be? In many ways digital photography is reinvigorating the old analogue medium, and both are enriched by the interplay.

When a friend offered me all his chemistry and photographic paper for a song (because he was "going digital") I snapped it up, secretly thinking he was a fool. He has never really been satisfied with the quality of his digital reproductions, and I'm still happily cranking out fine prints in my retro darkroom.

On the other hand, I love the networking that digital technology has enabled. These forums and the websites we patronize didn't exist when I first learned darkroom work, and the infrastructure that supports them hadn't yet been created. If I needed some esoteric piece of information, I had to laboriously research it or figure it out on my own. Now I have benefit of the collective experience of thousands of photographers worldwide, almost instantly.

We have the best of both worlds.

-- Ed Buffaloe (, November 29, 2001.

That seems to beg the question. The way we communicate, purchase materials, etc. does not change the fundamental processes we use to make images and print photographs. If Cole Weston wants to make reprints of Edward's negatives (as he is entitled to do per Edward’s will), he may order his materials on the Internet, or may drive to a photographic supply store in a car that is controlled by microprocessor technology, but his photos are produced using the same technology that Edward used during his lifetime.

The current state of affairs with regard to the use of digital technology seems to vary depending on the genre. Digital technology is rapidly making inroads in consumer and commercial photography. Photojournalism is almost 100% digital (digital cameras and digital printing). For those fine art photographers that have ventured into digital, the very best images seem to be produced with traditional cameras and film which are developed, and then scanned on high resolution scanners, and then printed on digital printers.

Medium format film scanners like the Nikon 8000 ED, which have the promise of quality scans previously only available in $10,000 and up drum scanners, seem to be flying off the shelves at $3,000 a pop. A high end B&W digital printing set up (Piezography BW Pro24) costs about $6,000 for the printer and software (not including computer). So digital seems to be making gains, especially in the low-resolution arenas (consumer and photojournalism), but it is still a relatively expensive endeavor if you are trying to match the quality of the traditional B&W fine art photography. But it’s probably not a question of “if,” it’s only a question of “when.”

-- Michael Feldman (, November 29, 2001.

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