Ferrania P30: My First Failed Go

After diddling around with some low budget black and white films recently, Fomapan, Efke and Kentmere, none of which I found to be especially different to one another, I decided to order a couple of rolls of the relatively recently returned Ferrania P30. This classic Italian film, newly resurrected from the dead, has had lots of publicity in the analogue photography world and has been lauded for its contrasty cinematic quality and very high silver content.

I loaded up my Pentax ME-F and kept the camera with me for several trips out of the flat to record my adventures in the early summer sunshine. Before developing the film I did a bit of research on the best process for the fresh bottle of Paranol S I had to hand, and the verdict from the internet was 14 minutes in a 1+50 mixture at 20 degrees would do the trick.

It was when I began loading the film onto the developing roll that trouble began. The last few times I’ve tried to spool on a 36 exposure film I’ve had problems getting the last bit of the negative on, everything seizing up and getting stiff – frustratingly an issue I never used to have with this kit. Unfortunately the same situation arose loading on the P30 and towards the end the film buckled out of the edge of the spiral. I managed to get it back in and wrapped around the last bit, but as I’d discover later, the damage was done.

Following the online instructions I agitated for the first 20-30 seconds and then again briefly at the beginning of every minute. I say “agitate” but I mean “swirl” as I’ve never had the lid to the tank so never been able to invert as normal. It’s never been a problem before.

With the 14 minutes over I stopped the development in water and then fixed for 5 minutes. Peeking at the film before the wash, the frames I could see were disappointingly transparent, with just a few dots of solid black. The buckle damage from the faulty loading was also evident. After washing I put a couple of drops of anti-static in the water, dunked the spiral a couple of times then pulled it apart to release the film. As it unfurled I could see many of the images were extremely thin, if not transparent, though there were also highlights of solid black, so it had not gone completely wrong. I gave the film one swipe with the squeegee and hung it to dry.

An hour later I examined the roll and I could see it was covered in ugly drying marks. This is something I’m usually great at avoiding, so it was disappointing to see. There was also a scratch line running down the entire strip, something that looked like a factory issue rather than damage from the squeegee. Somewhat annoyed, I filled the sink with water and a few more drops of anti-static and dunked the film again, giving it a good rub to try and remove the marks, then hung it up and left it to dry overnight.

In the morning I cut the film into strips and had another look. There were still water marks but not so many as before. I also noticed how perfectly flat the negative was, one quality that would at least make scanning easier. It was also not as easy to distinguish the emulsion side as a lot of other monochrome stock I’ve used. Later on I gave the film some hot breath and a rub with lint-free wipes to try and remove more marks. I’m not usually so rough and heavy handed with my negatives, but I could tell the drying marks would be worse than any potential scratching, and the film was looking like something of a lost cause anyway.

After scanning on my Epson V550 with Epson 2 software, my worst fears were revealed in the most spectacularly contrasty images. Highlights on the edge of being blown out, yet huge areas of dense, dark shadow. Very few of the pictures looked right. Here they are as they came out of the scanner, totally unedited, aside from downscaling for the web:

My first thought was “did I underexpose?” Well, as it happened I’d set the ISO to 100 on the camera, rather than the box speed of 80, so I had underexposed just a little, but not to a point that should have caused such a problem. Maybe the meter is off completely, I wondered, but a quick comparison around the living room with the meter on my Nikon D750 seems to indicate similar readings.

Then I wondered if the camera’s meter was being thrown by highlights in the image – the skies and highlights are pretty well rendered, so perhaps there is an issue with that? More reading around the internet revealed that other people have found the film very tricky and had similar problems, yet others have created some beautiful images with it, so it’s all quite confusing.

So in the end I’ve decided that before I use the next roll of P30 I’m going to do some exposure bracketing tests on the Pentax with some Ilford FP4, something a bit more reliable to test different lighting conditions and then see what comes from that. Fingers crossed for next time.

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