Canister of PHC-50 with a Pentax ME Super
5 frames with...

5 Frames with BCG PHC-50 (aka ORWO Tf12d) – By Don Goodman-Wilson

August 18, 2022

I’m fascinated by the idea of using unusual film stock to achieve a specific look. While shopping around online for Kodak Ektar 100, I stumbled upon a small, funky camera store in Nijmegen (Netherlands) that, in addition to the Ektar I was looking for, markets its own brand of film under the “Brownie Camera Guy” (BCG) mark. They have two lines, P-400 which is a fast panchromatic film, and PHC-50, a high contrast, super-panchromatic film. Both are evidently hand-rolled from ORWO stock. While I can’t determine what stock the P-400 is rolled from, the PHC-50 is pretty clearly ORWO Tf12d technical film for audio recording. (Which I strongly suspect is the same film respooled as Film Washi S, previously reviewed on this site.) Needless to say, I couldn’t resist trying something so weird out. (Note: I have no affiliation with this store, except as a happy customer.)

With 24 frames of the high-contrast PHC-50 loaded into my Pentax ME + SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8, I headed out for some architectural photography in Westerdok and IJdok in Amsterdam. I was hunting post-modern architecture on what was supposed to be an overcast day, figuring the high contrast of the film might give some dimensionality to an otherwise flat scene. Of course, in Amsterdam the weather does what it wants, and I arrived on scene to full sun with some small fluffy clouds. Undeterred by the very hard light, I shot the roll anyway.

When I got home, I ran into the first of several surprises. The film base is much thicker than usual, and it didn’t want to load cleanly onto my developer reel. It would start into the reel, then catch on something—and I’d have to tear it back out. I just about gave up at trying to load it, and in the end, it took me three or four tries to get it to load smoothly. But it did eventually.

The second surprise was that BCG doesn’t list many options for developers, and ORWO lists none. BCG gave times for stock XTOL, but I develop with XT-3 1+1. Also, the day was quite hot, so my developer was at 23º. I ended up selecting a 7-minute develop with agitation every 30 seconds, afraid I might still be over-developing the film. And yet the negatives turned out thin, very thin indeed. In the future, I am likely to rate the film at ISO 25 instead of the box speed of ISO 50 to ensure proper exposure with my development technique.

Seeing the thin negatives led to me to despair: Maybe this was a failed experiment. Then I scanned the negatives, and found the third surprise. To my amazement, they scanned really nicely. Beautifully. With a very fine grain, and a tonal range I was not expecting given the film’s contrast curve and the lighting. I think I’m in love. But please judge for yourself.

High contrast photo of a bridge support structure

Under the train tracks

Pedestrian overpass from below

Two buildings docking like spaceships

Apartment building in full sun

Basking in the sun

Reflections of one apartment building in the windows of another across the street

Reflections in hotel windows

The sun glowing directly behind the darkened peak of a narrow, sharp apartment block.

The knife’s edge

If you’ve ever shot with BCG PHC-50, Film Washi S, and/or ORWO Tf12d, I’d love to know how your experience compares!

Thanks for reading! You can view more of my street photography, or support my work by purchasing prints at my portfolio. Or you can keep up to date with my daily photography by following me on Grainery and on Instagram.

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Martin
    August 18, 2022 at 10:11 am

    I do like the first two pics most. But I have never used one of the films you mantioned.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    August 18, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    Film for audio recording? I’m baffled.
    I’m not baffled by your pics; a great film/subject matchup.

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      August 18, 2022 at 3:07 pm

      It’s for the movie industry—the audio track to film movies is recorded side-by-side with the image frames, sometimes in analog, more often nowadays as a digital signal. This film is some kind of intermediate for mastering the audio before final printing onto the film for distribution. Wikipedia has a great piece on it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound-on-film

  • Reply
    commiebiker
    August 18, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Wow, those look really great Pretty impressive for 35mm

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      August 18, 2022 at 3:08 pm

      Thank you! I was really surprised by how fine-grained this film is, but I can imagine that the intended application requires extremely low noise.

  • Reply
    Phil Snaps
    August 18, 2022 at 3:37 pm

    If you find some Film Washi S, buy now because it has been discontinued (see https://www.instagram.com/p/CeL1WH5jhRa/).

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      August 18, 2022 at 3:45 pm

      That’s too bad! I hope that BCG has a good supply of their brand, but maybe I should stock up!

  • Reply
    Sroyon
    August 18, 2022 at 10:15 pm

    Wow thanks for sharing your experiences, including the developing times etc. I have a soft spot for obscure films too and I’d love to try these BCG offerings. Great photos too, the fine grain seems to work well for revealing the subtleties of light and shade.

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      August 18, 2022 at 10:36 pm

      Thanks! If you do try them out, would love to hear how it goes for you!

  • Reply
    Peter Kornaukhov
    August 19, 2022 at 7:37 am

    Awesome pictures. It’s a perfect thing that the classic image process, black and white, is not forgotten nowadays. People are returning to classic photo cameras. I suppose color films like Ektar 100 are able also to shine while photographing with these Pentaxes. (I’ve studied the frame vision and the composition with black and white, however.) Going to test Ektar to my Pentax film camera.

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      August 21, 2022 at 8:23 am

      Peter, I’ve also shot Ektar with my Pentax ME with excellent results. Best of luck with your tests!

  • Reply
    Richard de Bulat
    August 21, 2022 at 8:18 am

    Fascinating results, with great contrast and details.

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