5 frames with...

5 Frames with Kodak Verichrome Pan Film in Snowy Mississippi – by Andrew Morang

May 10, 2021

For decades, Kodak’s Verichrome Pan film was a popular product in camera stores around the United States (but I am not sure about overseas sales). It was a medium-speed (ISO=125) panchromatic black and white film intended for box and medium format cameras. Kodak claimed that it had:

  • Extremely fine grain
  • Wide exposure latitude
  • Very high sharpness
  • High resolving power.

Over the years, Kodak sold Verichrome Pan  in 120, 127, 116, 126, 616, 110, 620, and 828 formats. As far as I know, Kodak never packaged it in 35mm cassettes, even though 828 was the same width. Note that these are format designations, not width in mm. The 126 was the Instamatic cartridge that was so popular in the 1960s and 1970s. As of 1996, Kodak even sold it in long roll for Cirkut panorama cameras. It was such a flexible film, an inexperienced amateur could could load it in a crummy box camera and achieve something that a lab could print.

For unknown reasons, I never tried any Verichrome Pan in the past, and now it is too late. But upon mentioning this to a photography friend from Indiana, Jim Grey, he generously sent me a roll. The roll Jim sent expired in 12/1987. He did not know its original storage conditions, but he had kept it refrigerated.

Based on the title, you probably want to know about this mysterious snow in Mississippi. Well, it does happen once in awhile. I took pictures around town with my Hasselblad 501CM medium format camera on one of our two (yes, 2) snowstorms this year (2021). The light was soft and even, so maybe this was not a very challenging test for this film, but that is what was loaded in my A12 film holder. Because of the age and unknown storage, I decided to add extra exposure and use it at EI=64 (or half the original), meaning one ƒ-stop extra light for each frame. I used a Gossen Luna Pro Digital light meter in incident mode to measure exposure.

Here are five examples around Vicksburg. The caption will describe the location.

Kansas City Southern Railroad tracks from Frontage Road bridge, Vicksburg, Mississippi (80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB, 1/30 ƒ/8)

Sycamore Avenue (80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB, 1/15 ƒ/11)

View from Sycamore Avenue (1/15 ƒ/11)

Shed on flood-control levee, near Levee Street (50mm ƒ/4 Distagon, 1/30 ƒ/11)

Petroleum tank cars, Kansas City Southern rail yard, Levee Street (80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB, 1/15 ƒ/16)

Needless to say, I am thrilled that a 30-year-old film still responds so well. What amazing technology. Under these conditions of soft light, the tonality of this Verichrome Pan was perfect.

Praus Productions in Rochester, New York, developed the film, and I scanned it with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format film scanner. The Silverfast Ai software did not have a Verichrome Pan profile. Instead, I used the profile for Plus-X film. Some writers on the web claim that they were almost the same emulsion but one had no anti-halation layer (?). I do not know if that is true, and I had no recent experience with Plus-X. The last time I used Plus-X may have been in Moscow in 1978 (click the link).

Thank you, 35MMC Readers, for following along on this exploration of expired film. You can see more of my explorations, mostly with film, at Urban Decay. All comments welcome. Explore your world, take many film pictures.

 

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Terry B
    May 10, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    Andrew, I can confirm that Verichrome Pan was, indeed, popular in the UK in the 1950’s/1960’s owing to its wide exposure latitude which meant it could easily be printed by the then photo chemists and the like. I suspect that they also used a softer grade of paper. My younger brother had a Brownie 127 in the very early ’60’s but I never used it personally. Going by the results I saw, quite flat, and it wasn’t down to the film as the the prints I made from some of his negs were much better.
    Your images here certainly have a period look to them.

    • Reply
      Kodachromeguy
      May 10, 2021 at 4:58 pm

      Thank you. I am glad to see confirmation that Verichrome Pan was sold outside of the USA. I still cannot recall why I never used it in the 1970s or 1980s, when it was still in in production. My loss, obviously.

  • Reply
    Bud Sisti
    May 10, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    Andrew, I’m glad your experiment turned out well. For myself, I couldn’t imagine using a questionably stored, thirty-four year old roll of film to document a rare event such as this snowstorm! It’s interesting to contemplate the circumstances in which we choose to give up control and take risks in our work. How did you think about this when you chose to use this particular roll of film?

  • Reply
    Patrick Abe
    May 10, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    I used Verichrome Pan film in the simple Family cameras as I “moved up the knowledge chain” to adjustable cameras. Ye Olde Kodak Brownie Six-Twenty was the first camera I used to record slices of life in 1950’s Aiea. The next step was the Yashica 44 or the Rolleicord V, both of which were loaded up with Verichrome Pan. The Yashica 44 was occasionaly, loaded with Ektachrome, which provided easy-to-see 127 “Superslides.”
    Graduating to 135 film meant moving up to Plus-X Pan in Ye Olde Leica IIIa and it’s fuzzy, flare-prone 50mm f/1.5 Taylor-Hobson Xenon. The Nikon S2 had an optically fine 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor, but that was my father’s camera.
    Thanks for another trip down memory lane with a film of my youth, before computers, SmartPhones, and digital cameras. Waiting to see if anything came out from a roll of Verichrome Pan or Plus-X Pan was a sort-of year round Christmas-like anticipation. Polaroid? That was for rich folk or official school use. Then there was 135 Kodachrome, which added another dimension to everyday life, but that’s another story…

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    May 10, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    Terry beat me to it but I was going to say that Verichrome Pan was the first film I ever used in the late 1950s in my Brownie 127 in the UK.
    Looking back it must have been a flexible emulsion considering I got half decent results given my inexperience (not yet in my teens) the basic nature of the Brownie and it all being processed and printed at the local chemist’s shop.
    A nice bit of nostalgia. Thanks for that.

  • Reply
    Rich
    May 10, 2021 at 11:34 pm

    Re: not using VPan film
    My dad would use the VP-120 to take holiday photos with his box camera. I got a 127 Brownie in the early 60’s. For me, it was C-O-L-O-R all the way! Then I took a photo course in HS, using 120 B+W (Sorry, I don’t remember the nitty-gritties)

    –Rich

  • Reply
    Sacha Cloutier
    May 11, 2021 at 3:58 am

    Great results and very nice of your friend. I have a roll myself that is from June 1960 and I just haven’t found what I want to shoot with it. I have been told that it was kept in a freezer, until I put it in the fridge (and also the time it spent in the mail). Expired film has a thrill to it that I think you captured well in your shots of an uncommon, although not fully unusual event. Hope to see more soon!

  • Reply
    Ben Garcia
    May 11, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    I’d never heard of this film, either. Great results! You metered these scenes perfectly!

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    May 11, 2021 at 9:07 pm

    Ben, thanks for the kind words. This was a common film (maybe the only B&W emulsion?) for users of 127 and 620 cameras for many years. For 120 photographers, there were many other choices of film in the ASA 100 range, so they might not have tried Verichrome Pan. Also, it was not packaged in 135 cassettes, so 35mm users would have never tried Verichrome.

  • Reply
    Jay Dann walker
    July 18, 2021 at 4:30 am

    I cut my teeth, photographically, on Verichrome Pan in the 1960s – used it initially in my family’s 1940s Brownie, then my aunt’s loaned 120/620 two-lens Kodak (I’ve forgotten it’s exact brand name) square-box like camera, and finally the Yashica D TLR I bought with my saved allowance money in 1963, and used until I could afford a Rolleiflex. I did all my own processing in DK-60a and printed on Kodabromide fixed grade paper in a small darkroom my dad fixed up for me in an upstairs hallway closet. The negatives I shot then (I still have many) print and scan beautifully. Those were ancient times, but obviously Kodak and all the other photo gear and product manufacturers were doing the right thing by us amateurs.

    The beauty of Verichrome is (as Kodak so proudly trumpeted in all its adverts of that era) was you could shoot it and then process it in just about anything brewed for darkroom work, and get usable images. Many of my VP shots were published in two of the daily newspapers I did reporting and photography for in New Brunswick (in Canada, not new Jersey).

    After a few years I moved on to other films – Ansco Versapan, then Plus-X, Ilford FP4 and HP5, the Agfas, and sadly much too late, Panatomic-X. I shot my last few rolls of VP in the early ’90s, a rare find in a photo retail store about to close down in Melbourne, all expired but still good.

    Now I shoot mostly digital Nikons, but I do go on using the Ilfords, and occasionally Agfa and Rollei films when I can buy them here in Australia. Sadly, film now costs the earth plus a kidney, which more than any other reason will most surely (so I believe) cause its demise in the not-too-distant future.

    This article was a pleasant reminder of how good supermarket-retail brand films used to be. We have lost many things in the passing of time, and films are at the top of my list. Fortunately, good wine is still available and quite affordable even on my retiree’s reduced income…

    • Reply
      Kodachromeguy
      July 18, 2021 at 8:42 pm

      Thank you for sharing your memories of Verichrome. Many people I have heard from have similar fond memories. As I noted in the article, I never used it in the past, but now I wish that I had. If you used Versapan back in the day, have you seen my 35MMC article on Versapan? I also used Versapan film packs, frozen since the 1960s. Thanks for writing.

  • Reply
    Edward Jones
    November 22, 2021 at 4:46 pm

    I need help. I have an Agfa Isolette I bought some years back (camera from the ’55-’58 production years). I has a roll of verichrome pan still in it, with #9 showing in the window.
    1. Does that mean 9 used or left?
    2. How many pics could one expect from a roll?

    I have been having the worst time finding this information, though a ton of technical, experienced photographer info is out there.
    I would like to attempt finishing the roll and then having it processed by someone since I have no experience with developing film. I have not great hopes, but I find it very interesting.

    • Reply
      Kodachromeguy
      November 22, 2021 at 8:56 pm

      Most (or all) post-war Isolettes were 6×6 square format. That means 12 exposures on 120 format film. If you see a 9 in the red window, that means the previous owner either:
      1. Took 8 exposures and advanced the film.
      2. Took 9 exposures and did not advance the film.
      You need to advance the film and you can take pictures 10, 11, and 12. If this is old film, you best give it plenty of exposure, such as EI = 50 Also, let the processing lab know that this is old film. Have fun.

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