I had the chance to spend a few days in Prague earlier this month with two of my favorite people. I travel light photographically – often just with my Fuji X100. Especially when I can take the train (ah, internally borderless Europe), I always bring a film camera or two along. Even taking my 4×5″ is a lighter load than the three or four lenses and two or three cameras (and computer) I carry every day for press work. This time I brought my medium format film rangefinder, but also my X100. Here are a couple of shots of Prague, away from all the tourists (which is not easy to do…).
It isn’t every day that a new film comes along in this millennium. So when one does, those of us who shoot film get excited. I think we owe it the people at Adox, who actually went through the trouble of developing a new black and white negative film, to give it a shot. I shoot a lot of film. I attempt art with it, and I teach people how to work with black and white film. And I do bring film cameras along to press shoots, which I often use for portraits if there is a quiet thirty seconds.
The neatest thing about the Adox CHS 100 ii film, other than being new, is the film’s spectral sensitization: it is close to flat, and goes up towards the blues. This could be great for photographing with an open blue sky on a sunny day. Here’s the tech sheet. If you are antsy to get to the punchline of the review, here’s the simple version: the film is promising, interesting, and will take some getting used to. Like any new film, really. If you are looking for a film for your first foray into into film photography then I wouldn’t suggest starting with this film – mostly because it will require experimenting, and the amount of information out there is relatively small by comparison to more established films like Tri-X or HP5.
I can give the film general high production marks It seems to be physically well made. I was working with 4×5 sheet film, so I can’t comment on the grain. My gut feeling is that it is fine but not extraordinary on the grain front, closer to an old-style grain than to new (which are both, incidentally, standards in my cameras).
Just one comment on price, because this is most of what you get if you search for info on this film in English. The price at FotoImpex makes it the least expensive sheet film you can get your hands on on in Germany. I know this isn’t the story at Freestyle, but I think it is worth mentioning – a lot of people in the U.S. won’t have a reason to try the film at its price there. Understandable, but I still think it is worth it to investigate when a new film comes around – we have no idea what will be available in a few years.
Let the games begin.
Exposure, Development and Shadow Detail
The take-home point of my experience spending a few days with the Adox CHS 100 ii is that the 100 part of the name may be a bit exaggerated. I tend towards low contrast, high range negatives, and I found that the shadow detail was difficult to retain at 100. I am getting results that are better for me by rating it at 50.
This testing was done of Christmas and New Years, mostly in Berlin – not exactly a Sunny 16 situation. The light has been excellent these days though, with a low hanging northern european sun hitting the streets just right, and a deep blue sky. Closer to Sunny 11, though. Even still, rating the film at 100 gave me little shadow detail. I was happier around 50.
Adox CHS 100 ii with Rodinal
The film reeked of Rodinal/Adonal – By Adox, made in Germany, Fine Art in the name. Plus for sheet film, grain isn’t usually a consideration. No matter what I did with CHS 100 ii and Adonal, the shadows were pushed down. I didn’t get the results I was looking for but I suppose that someone who has been using Rodinal for longer than I’ve been alive could get this right pretty quickly.
The shot above was my first attempt, shot at ISO 100, souped in Adonal 1+50 at 20C for 10 minutes in trays, agitating once a minute. This shot was on a cloudy, indeed drizzly day. The negatives came back at the upper limit of contrasty for me – the sky, which was indeed white, has little texture and the lampposts get lost. This time is closer to a N+1 (increased contrast) development.
Note that these are scans of fiber prints, not of negatives. I’ve done a rough brightness adjustment to get the scan to have similar tones to the print in my hands. This overdramatizes the issue of the shadows, but it is still quite present in the prints.
The upper scan was almost a straight print, I dodged the small lamppost at the end of the street by 1/3 stop to get some separation. The right hand side of the image, though, really suffered. I reprinted, dodging the shadowy right hand side of the image for a half stop. Here’s a detail scan.
The negative has some information there, but the tonal falloff is strong.
The Adox tech sheet claims 9 minutes for standard time, more like 8 minutes for sheet film due to being produced with one less layer. This is looking consistent so far: 8 minutes for N, 10 minutes for N+1. Great, except that the shadows were already disappearing, and that on a rainy day.
Standard Contrast Development with Rodinal
The next round was on a similarly overcast, rainy day. I shot again as metered (ISO 100), but this time I developed in Adonal 1+50 for 12 minutes in a tank with less agitation, more like every 2 minutes. The result is much, much better. It helps that those stairs are almost exactly that shade in real life, a tinge brighter than middle gray. But I still have the feeling that the shadows run away.
Shooting a Sunny Day
After that, the sun came out, so I would need to move towards N-1, maybe N-2. The standard zone method would be to shave off time, but truth be told, I do not want to be doing sheet development in trays in the range of 5-6 minutes. I am just not that accurate. Instead I decide to reduce agitation and increase the time again, a combination that leans towards stand development with Rodinal. So I shot at ISO 50 and souped 1+50, 20C, 14 minutes, with only a gentle sway of the tray, closer to every two minutes.
The results were useable but imperfect. For the sake of comparisons, I took the identical shot on HP5 and I gave it my standard N development (ISO 400, ID-11 1+1 11 minutes with constant inversions). The negatives are both dense and the contrast is a bit high for my taste, but the information is there on the negative. Not the easiest thing in the world to work with, but the information is recorded. The shadows, though, still run away. They were about a stop darker than the HP5.
Staining Adox CHS 100 ii with Tanol
I wanted to try one more thing: a staining developer like Tanol. Pyro is nearly impossible to come by on this continent, but Moersch does a great job locally on all kinds of funny chemistry. I used to shoot Agfa APX with PMK Pyro from the Formulary. I find the results of Tanol to be qualitatively similar to Pyro, with high accutance, large tonal range and little grain – and what is there, I find rather elegant.
Lacking much information, I jumped in, mixing Tanol at 1+1+100, souping for 14 minutes at 20C in trays. Truth be told, I took this as a total shot in the dark – it is a rough average of all the times Moersch lists for Tanol. Seemed like a good place to start, and indeed, it think it was.
The setting is a half-abandoned sports center on the corner by my lab in Berlin-Friedrichshain. Not every building has graffiti on the windows and not just the walls. I rated it to ISO 100 again, expecting trouble in the shadows. It was bright and sunny that morning. What I got was subtle, high accutance and a large range. The contrast is still too high though: this was printed with a filter 1, and some shadow detail is still missing here. Presumably shooting at ISO 50 and developing with a staining developer would get the job done if the sun is shining.
Thoughts on Adox CHS 100 ii
After a few days of testing, my conclusion is that the Adox CHS 100 ii film is highly capable, especially in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. I imagine that my best use for the film would be in a studio, but everyone has different tastes. Using the sheet film, I’ll be rating it at ISO 50. The best results I got were Rodinal 1+50 12 min at 20C agitating every two minutes and Moersch Tanol 1+1+100 14 min at 20C agitating every minute.
Note again that Adox says times for the sheet film are 10% reduced with respect to roll – especially important if you are going to use my Adonal times with agitation every minute as a guideline.
I’ll publish an update when I’ve gotten results that I’m a bit more satisfied with – it is likely to be some time, but I wanted to get this out there right away.
I’ve been out of town and haven’t had the chance to post lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been shooting. I left my press equipment behind and hit the road with film cameras and my Fuji X100 – the later of which was used for these shots here.
Shocking as it may be, the weather was perfect. Two weeks in NY had only a day or two of clouds, and that perfect autumnal light seemed to strike wherever we went.
The weather even played along for a twelve hour layover in Paris. I’ve never seen such blue skies there.
And then onto Paris, perhaps the only city in the world where you have to try even harder than in New York to avoid taking cliché photographs and photographic clichés.
That’s it for this collection of street photography- next time, coming to you Live From Berlin again.