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.
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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