I have been dedicated to Berger fiber-based papers for exhibition printing for years. Their products have always been of high quality so when they announced they were going to make a totally new black and white film emulsion for roll film users it immediately caught my attention. They claim that Panchro400 has a wider tonal range than conventional films. Most companies in the imaging business release beautiful companion images with the release of every new product and Bergger is no exception. I was inspired to see if I could actually see a difference in my pictures.
BERGGER Pancro 400 has two photographic emulsions ( Silver-Bromide/Silver Iodide) that differ in grain size in order to achieve the films promised tonal range. It is a fast, fine grain film that gives good results when exposed anywhere between 100 and 1600 ISO. It has an anti-halation coating that gives it a very high resolution, but requires a water presoak before development to dissolve this layer away.
The box speed is 400 but in my first film speed tests I determined that with my equipment the proper ISO for this film is 200. I chose the developer ATM-49 (diluted 1-1) to maximize the tonal range and produce ultra fine grain negatives, and after my first development tests I settled on a shortened development time of 12 minutes at 24C. The 35mm and 120 versions are actually coated on different base materials. The 35mm film on an acetate base and the 120 film on a PET base with an anti-curl layer. The film base fog was more pronounced on the 35mm version by 0.12 when measured on a densitometer. But I find no reason to change my exposure/processing procedures when switching between the two formats, at least until I can do more extensive testing.
Then I headed to the beach to shoot this film side by side with my old standby (Ilford FP-4 plus). Both films were loaded into separate backs on a Rolleiflex 3003 and shot with the same camera and meter for an accurate comparison. After development, both were scanned on an Epson V500 and the raw scans posted below without any adjustments.
There was more pronounced grain in the Bergger shot. But this is to be expected with a film that is rated 2 stops faster. I was initially surprised with the tonal range when compared to the FP-4 plus version. I expected the Panchro400 shots to have a flat low-contrast appearance and subtle gradation of tones. But on closer inspection I realized that the Berger shot did deliver the extended range as promised. While the shot on the left appears to have more contrast, it actually does render greater tonal detail. It maintains good printable densities in both the shadows (cave entrance) and the highlights (waterfall). The snappy look of the Panchro400 negative is more pleasing to my eye. The delicate detail on the cliff face above the cave is much more defined and the sky rendered a discernibly lighter shade of gray.
I noticed a pleasing visual difference with Pancro400 with it's extended tonal range. The grain, while slightly enhanced over the FP-4 plus was not a problem for me. But I probably won"t be developing it in Rodinal, at least not in 35mm. In landscape work I tend to like a darker sky than Panchro400 produced, so maybe I will play with a few filters to see how that effects the films overall tonal scale. I think it will be excellent at rendering the delicate tonal differences in rich foliage under even light such as an overcast sky. I also want to see how it handles portraiture under controlled lighting situations. Lately I have been shooting more street photography and taking a camera with me when I go out. The increased speed of Panchro400 is convenient for that purpose, but I need to do more development tests to establish good negatives at higher ISO's in marginal lighting situations, and compare the results with Ilford's HP-5 plus. When I have done that, Panchro400 may well be my new film of choice for those situations requiring more speed. There are lots of possibilities I am really excited to explore with this film.
My observations so far have been on the basis of scans, and the shots below required very few post-scan adjustments to achieve the look I wanted. But for me the real proof of a quality film is how easy it is to make expressive silver prints in the darkroom. I try to keep pretty tight control over negative development to avoid time consuming and costly darkroom adjustments. So the next step for me is to go into the darkroom and print these puppies!
When I heard that my local camera store (Blue Moon in Portland) received a shipment I immediately picked up a few rolls. About a week later it appeared that they were sold out. So buy some if you can! The possibilities are definitely worth the effort.
Below are a couple more shots from my original beach tests and a few shots of the medium format version.