Ancient ORWO film, ancient Agfa Rodinal, ancient camera, lens and… photographer?

By Geoff Chaplin

Back in London after a long break and adventuring to the rear of the densely packed fridge revealed 9 rolls or ORWO NP15 (25asa) and one NP27 (400asa). I’ve no idea how old they are, maybe 20 years. Searching for developer I came across a nearly empty 500mm container of Agfa Rodinal – shaking it indicated large crystalline lumps at the bottom and some liquid. Based on film negatives I found, the last time I used it was October 2013, the first maybe 15 years ago. The leaflet with the developer said “keeps for 6 months”!! The obvious match was my 65 year-old Leica iiig (recently overhauled by PPP cameras) and the 90 year-old Summar lens.

I ventured out to take test shots using the NP15 on London Wall and Bunhill Fields graveyard, both within a short walk of my flat, and the NP27 on a wet night. Daytime was often dull so most exposures were at f2 between 1/250th to 1/8th second, and at night f2 and 1/60th to 1/15th, all hand-held and exposed using sunny 16.

The two films were developed together in black-as-sin Rodinal 100:1 60m stand development using London tap water throughout, dried in a corridor, so no great expectations for clean images, and no real expectations for images at all in fact.

The NP27 was slightly fogged grey while the NP15 was a beautiful dense red colour but nevertheless had images visible. Both films were badly curved, not lengthwise as I would have expected but between edge perforations. This made scanning on my old Epson 4990 scanner unlikely to achieve fine focus or sharp images. Despite the age and the fact that the scanner had not been used for five years, after a few crunching and squeaking noises at the start it worked smoothly and well.

Surprisingly, despite the very dense fogging, the NP15 performed better than the NP27 although daytime versus night-time images is not a completely fair comparison. Images shown have been contrast adjusted unless otherwise stated, dirt remains.

London Wall
London Wall, note loss of contrast in the highlights
London Wall
London Wall
London Wall
London Wall, church ruins
London Wall
Decorative gate as seen from the London Wall Highwalk, 1/8 second exposure
London Wall
The Barbican complex, shot at f4(ish), straight scan
London Wall
Up and down, and across

Bunhill Fields is an ancient graveyard in the centre of London on the edge of the City district and is home to the tombs of and monuments to many famous people including Daniel Defoe, William Bayes (mathematician) and William Blake.

Bunhill Fields
Bunhill Fields, tomb of John Bunyan
Bunhill Fields
Bunhill Fields gravestones, inscriptions illegible

Two of the best night shots on NP27

London Buses
London Buses and Pret a Manger
Cyclists
Cyclists in the rain

I can say that the camera performed very well. The lens, well let’s say it has a strong character. It also does not have click stops on the aperture setting which led to accidental change of aperture and under-exposure on a few occasions. Aperture settings after f2 are not current standard so to get f4 you have to interpolate between f3.2 and f4.5. Too much light coming into the lens off axis causes a strong veiling – cleaning internal haze and a lens hood would both help but the uncoated nature of the lens means it will always have lower contrast compared to modern lenses. Stopped down and with the sun behind the lens actually performs well (Barbican image). Film and developer – fresh would have helped a lot! But the colour of the NP15 negative is gorgeous! I’ll probably frame the negatives and hang them back illuminated.

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About The Author

By Geoff Chaplin
Primarily a user of Leica film cameras and 8x10 for the past 30 years, recently a mix of film and digital. Interests are concept and series based art work. Professionally trained in astronomical photography, a scientist and mathematician.
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Comments

Alasdair Mackintosh on Ancient ORWO film, ancient Agfa Rodinal, ancient camera, lens and… photographer?

Comment posted: 21/01/2024

The gravestones look particularly nice. I'm not surprised at the Leica still being great, but film and developer that old was certainly a risky proposition. Glad it worked ;-)
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 21/01/2024

Apologies for the late reply - this slipped through the net somehow. Thanks for the comment, yes the gravestones are my favourite. I giess not much of a risk worthless developer and film, just some time. But now I have some beautiful red negatives to frame!

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James Evidon on Ancient ORWO film, ancient Agfa Rodinal, ancient camera, lens and… photographer?

Comment posted: 16/01/2024

I've also returned to Rodinal. Why waste time loooking for anything better? Nice images. Either Orwo lasts forever or must have been really spectacular when new.
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 16/01/2024

I feel the same. After years mixing my own chemicals and trying other developers I can't say there's anything much better than Rodinal. Thanks for the comment James. It's a long time ago but I vaguely remember np15 was really good fresh.

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Paul Quellin on Ancient ORWO film, ancient Agfa Rodinal, ancient camera, lens and… photographer?

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Amazing results given all those factors Geoff. I really like the second graveyard image, it has just the right look for the subject and could have been taken 90 years ago, so for me the lens is producing the right look. I found this was yet more inspiration to try older expired film. Great read, thank you Geoff.
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Paul, many thanks. I think you've hit one nail on the head: a lot of digital photographers rave about image quality but what matters is the look of the image in context. Generally I stock up on film and store well so I regularly use good old film. Currently I'm shooting 15 year old Acros, it's like new.

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Fred Stock on Ancient ORWO film, ancient Agfa Rodinal, ancient camera, lens and… photographer?

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Nothing wrong with your results! I like the mood they express. The combination of the subject and outdated film and chemicals? My experience is that fast film deteriorates earlier than slow film. And Rodinal still works when taken from an open bottle after many years. In 2005 Agfa went bankrupt and (in total panic) I bought in an auction 150 sets of starter packs, containing each 1 bottle of Rodinal, 1 bottle of fixing liquid, 1 film 25 ISO, 1 film 400 ISO and 1 pack enlarging paper 18x24cm. I had to buy a separate freezer to store it! I'm still using it now, but the 400 ISO film is loosing contrast and becoming smudgy. Nice IIIg BTW!
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Thanks Fred. Yes, you're right, properly stored slow/medium speed film keeps for decades. Rodinal keeps forever, but not so some copies - if there's a useby date best to take note as I found to my cost with R09. I guess the worst component in that workflow (apart from me!) was the ancient scanner.

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Gary Paudler on Ancient ORWO film, ancient Agfa Rodinal, ancient camera, lens and… photographer?

Comment posted: 13/01/2024

Your fossil emulsions, chemistry and machinery conspired with a good photographer to create some surprisingly great images. Please do show us the red negatives piece when it's done.
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 13/01/2024

Thanks Gary. The great thing about the internet is it's hard to see how bad things sometimes are. Probably only postage stamp size prints would look good!

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