What an interesting time we live in for film enthusiasts. I never thought I would ever say this again in my lifetime, but right now it feels like there are more new film stocks coming out on the market than I have time to experiment with! One of the most notable films to come on the market for me in recent months is the Bergger Pancro 400. I finally got an opportunity to shoot with this stuff and decided to share some of my results.
I'v been curious about this film for two primary reasons. First, unlike a lot of the newer films coming on the market that seem to be going for about eight bucks a roll (I'm looking at you JCH Street Pan!!), Bergger managed to keep their prices competitive at about five dollars a roll for 35mm and 36 exposures. That puts it right in line with Ilford and Kodak prices. Second, Bergger has always been a company that I've associated with quality products. I've been using their fine art papers for decades and am always impressed with the depth and tonal range I get when printing on Bergger papers.
I find it interesting that when Bergger first released Pancro 400 it was only in sheet film sizes. That seems to be the opposite of what most companies do, which is to release new film stocks only in 35mm. I currently have a box of Pancro 400 in 4x5 sitting in my refrigerator but I have yet to find the time to use it. I have way too much random 4x5 film sitting around that I need to get through first so opening up a fresh box just seems a bit criminal right now. Still, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about this stuff so I went out and bought a couple of rolls in 35mm and decided to give it a go.
So I should mention a few things about the conditions under which these images where made. This was a very hastily scheduled shoot as I had two open houses I need to get to on this particular day. Yes I am a Realtor and I practice Real Estate for my "day job". So I only had a couple of hours to work with in the early morning. There wasn't much available light and I was determined to do everything hand held. Anyone who has paid attention on this blog knows I have a general aversion to using tripods. So I loaded the film in a Minolta SRT-101 and shot everything wide open at f/1.4 and hand held at about 1/30th and even in some cases 1/15th of a second. That accounts for the relative softness in some of these images.
Development with all of these images was done in Rodinal. The recommended time for Rodinal at a ratio of 1:50 was a whopping 22 minutes if I metered the film at ISO 400 according to the Massive Development Chart. Considering the long development time (that is a lot of agitation!) I'm not surprised that the results are rather grainy. Some of this is of course exaggerated by the fact that I'm working with 35mm film and the results should be a bit more smooth when using medium format or of course sheet film sizes.
Generally speaking, when I'm evaluating a new film I'm not one of those ultra technical photographers who try to measure resolution or who will shoot roll after roll of test shots trying to push, pull, and push the boundaries of a particular film. If you are looking for such things right now there are plenty of other websites on the internet that do it and yes, sometimes pouring over charts and graphs can be fun to read. Me personally however, I like to just evaluate film with my gut. For example, I shoot a lot of Ilford HP5 and I don't shoot with it because a graph or a chart told me it is a good film, I shoot with it because my gut tells me it looks good.
So taking that into account, overall I like the look of my first results and I'm happy enough that I'm willing to continue using this film for a while to see what happens. I'm looking forward to using this film in some more normal lighting situations as opposed to just soft and very subdued window light. I'm curious to see how it would fair with stronger highlight values and less shadow. I'm also of course very curious to see how the sheet film will look. Based on what I see so far I'm thinking Bergger Pacro 400 will work very well as a relatively low light portrait film. There seems to be a nice range of tones and the sharpness isn't so pronounced that skin imperfections will become a bit muted.