Film diaries: Postcards from Fukuoka, and thoughts on Fuji Acros 100

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On the last day of my recent trip to Fukuoka, I somehow managed to run out of film. The entire brick and both magazines of Delta 100 were depleted in a couple of hours; I was lucky enough to have magical light and the inspiration to shoot, so making the most of it, shoot I did. Let me tell you I wish they still made 220…12 frames for street work means reloading at least every half an hour or less if you’re in the thick of things.

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But I digress. Being Japan, I was expecting that if anywhere, I’d be able to get film here – and a decently wide selection of it, too. Alas…it turned out that the fridge of the local Bic Camera (a large national chain) had less Delta than I did in my suitcase. Three measly rolls! The only other camera store I could find in town – Takachiho – was little better. The color stuff was easier to find – NPH, Portra, Velvia, Provia…but still not in any great kind of abundance. (Moral of the story: bring enough film with you unless you’re in Tokyo.) However, there was one 5-pack of Fuji Neopan Acros 100 in each store – having no choice (I don’t shoot color film for now because of developing impracticalities), I bought both. I wasn’t sure what to expect tonally, but I’ve been very, very pleasantly surprised.

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If Delta 100 is a ‘heavy’ or ‘rich’ film, Acros 100 is the opposite: it’s a very ‘light’ film. I’m told this has something to do with the base layer and thus the number of density variations it can provide; there are reasons to have both thick and thin base layers. Delta 100 excels at tonally rich, low key images; the negatives are wonderfully dense, have a fine grain structure and reproduce detail well. I’ve still not quite figured out what to do with it in bright sunlight; its highlights tend to clip to white too fast; most of the dynamic range of the film appears to be in the shadows. But the grain structure is still visible.

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Acros 100, on the other hand, has shadows that block up to black very quickly, but an incredibly long highlight response tail – it seems nearly impossible to overexpose anything with this film. I shot some very high contrast scenes (sun reflecting off smooth pavement, for instance) – and not only was detail in the people’s shadows held, but more amazingly, so were the hihglights; and furthermore, there was still room for more. I know from my meter that the highlights were at least five or six stops above the midtones, and the shadows must have been another five below that. So: not only is the dynamic range of Acros 100 exceptional, but the tonal map it produces is very pleasing indeed. (Once again, digital isn’t quite there yet.) This is perhaps the best B&W film I’ve tried yet for bright sunshine work in the tropics; far, far more pleasing than my results from Delta (though I suspect it may be a little flat indoors, or on overcast days).

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I think the crops above tell the whole story: the inset portion is a 100% enlargement from the 24MP D800E ‘scan'; it’s clear that the Delta 100 frame (and yes, this is representative of one of my ‘good’ frames in terms of exposure and developing) has much more grain and isn’t resolving anywhere near the level of the Neopan Acros 100 frame. The drink machine is Delta 100; the woman and pole (from above) is Acros 100.

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I suspect that if the film is underexposed slightly, it’ll produce very high contrast and cinematically dense images; dynamic range will be restricted because of the base layer, but there may be times when this is actually desirable. If not, I might actively look for such situations – making the most of the properties of the medium to enhance one’s images is something largely forgotten in the age of digital and photoshop. I suppose one can think of Acros as a sort of dual-personality two-for-one schizophrenic film.

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From a usability point of view, the little details matter when you’re in the fiddly business of reloading a Hasselblad on the fly: a neat touch is that the paper holding the roll shut at each end is self-adhesive, has a little pull-tab, and sticks neatly. Getting it off again when loading your spools is a cinch, too. The wrappers are easy to tear open. And the spools themselves have a little hook on the inside to catch a matching circle punch out in the paper leader tab to prevent mis-loads – did I say it was easy to use? Oddly though, the spools appear to be a slightly different diameter to the Ilford spools: my frame spacing has dropped from an even 7mm down to about 4.5mm. Hmm…

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As for developing, there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of information online, but I’ve found that the recipe I use for Delta 100 works just fine for Acros, too: 6min in Ilford DDX 1+4, with the first 30s of agitation and 5s every 30s thereafter, at our ambient water temp of 26C. I suspect that it might not be very good for pulling because of the dense base layer; but it should tolerate pushing quite well. The exceptionally fine grain structure – there is almost no grain visible at all – means that the film has even higher detail reproduction than Delta 100, and the combination of Hasselblad Zeiss 120/4 Makro-Planar will probably outresolve the D800E (as opposed to with Delta 100, which matches or has slightly lower resolving power).

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Sadly though, it appears that Fuji Malaysia no longer bring in any of the B&W films; whatever little remains on the shelves locally is almost certainly expired. It means that I’ll be putting in an order from B&H soon, and picking up a few more boxes the next time I’m in Japan. (In hindsight, I probably should have gotten some in 135 for the GR1V and F2T also, but one doesn’t know what the results are going to be like until they’re processed and you’re back home…) I think I may just have a new favourite film. If you still shoot B&W film, I highly, highly recommend picking up a few rolls to try out.

These images were shot with a Hasselblad 501C, CF 80/1.8 Planar and Acros 100; scanned with a D800E and 60/2.8 AFS Micro. Fuji Neopan Acros 100 is available here from B&H or Amazon in both 135 and 120 sizes.

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Comments

  1. Hi Ming,

    Pardon me as I am new to film, but anyway I tried my first roll a week ago. I didn’t read so much beforehand and exposed as I did with Fuji 400 (the fuji 400 I rate at 200, meter for the shadow and bulb in). Now I am uncertain if I should develop that roll as normal or pull? Most of the images I like in that roll are in high contrast light and a few in soft light…You mentioned that pulling is not so much recommended?

    Thanks and I love your article :)

    • If you exposed at 400, you need to push it two stops.

      • angelworxcp says:

        Actually for the Acros I rated at ISO 50, metered for shadow and lightmeter bulb in (same method as I expose the Fujicolor 400), so I actually overexposed. And the question is do I need to tell Richard Photo Lab to pull the film and how many stops if I should?

        • Then you pull by a stop. You weren’t specific in your original question. Fujicolor 400 has a nominal EI of 400, which I’d assume you exposed for.

  2. plevyadophy says:

    Thanks!!!

    Very timely, educational post and follow-up commentary.

  3. There’s some very useful information in this post Ming, thanks (and great shots, as always). The comments contain plenty of nuggets of wisdom too, and I’ve made lots of notes.

    Your film diaries series have inspired me to do some more B+W photography on film, but it was your latest (“Choosing film or digital…”) that provided the last push. My first job was researching today’s films. Having always used FP4 in the past I was keen to try something else, and you’ve given me a good feel for what to expect from Delta and Acros. Now I just need to do a spot of shopping…

  4. Alexander says:

    Hello Ming,

    1st of all gorgeous images. Could you explain your analog workflow a bit more in detail? Somewhere in the text you write “…is a 100% enlargement from the 24MP D800E ‘scan’ …” Does this mean, you are ‘scanning’ the negatives with your D800E?

    Thanks a lot.

    Alex

    • Thanks. Yes, I’m using a D800e and macro lens on a custom-made alignment/ film transport stand to duplicate the negatives; it’s MUCH faster and the quality is better than a scanner. I will be producing this stand for sale in the near future; still working with manufacturers in the prototyping stage now. It will be able to support APSC + 50/60mm macros or FF + 50/60 or 90/100 macros for 135, and FF + 50/60 macros for 6×6/6×7.

      • Hello Ming,

        do you have any news on the planed stand for DSLR-negaive scanning. I have started now with a YashicaMAT124G and a Bronica ETRSI into medium format. I’ve tested scanners and DSLR, and I absolutely agree with you, that even with my poor setup (D5100 -> Marcro ring -> 35mm 1,8) I get better results as with my scanner.

        Alex

        • It’s in the works, but delayed – I want to make sure it’s absolutely right when we release it. We changed some of the materials for better rigidity and as a result tolerances had to change due to change in the material properties, so we basically have to redo a lot of the engineering…it’s also a challenge to get it done with high precision and limited budget! Hopefully the first batch will ship by the end of this year – don’t worry, it’ll be announced on the site when the time comes :)

  5. “Acros 100, on the other hand, has shadows that block up to black very quickly, but an incredibly long highlight response tail – it seems nearly impossible to overexpose anything with this film.”

    So is it safe to just expose for the shadows or would you recommend always overexposing by 1/3 stop? I’ve read somewhere that the real ISO sensitivity seems to be more like 75, so overexposing might be a good idea? I’m still new to analog photography, this film is definitely the next on my list! Thanks for the review!

    • So far I’ve been mostly exposing at the correct value, though for certain scenes I may pick shadows or highlights depending on the pictorial intention. The developing process also affects the outcome, of course.

  6. On the 22nd of March, Fujifilm announced another film price rise…… http://www.fujifilm.com/news/n130322_04.html

  7. Ming, thanks for another good article. For those of us who need faster films, I’m wondering if the Neopan 400 would have similar characteristics (with the obvious tradeoffs). Any experience with Neopan 400? Thanks.–Will, NYC

  8. Hi Ming,
    My photo enthusiastic friend shared your blog with me. I’m from Fukuoka and you captured the city in a perfect way!! I was talking with my friend “Look at that massive street bike parking. That’s how the city looks like!” Your photos really made me nostalgic. Your photo skills are amazing =)))

  9. Fantastic that you are bringing Acros film to your readers. This film simply has to be experienced to be believed. There is NOTHING else like it. Shooting my first roll of Acros film was a real eye opening experience. It immediately became an instant favorite. I only wish there was an ISO400 equivalent to go with it.

    Acros 100 film has a very interesting reciprocity profile. You should explore that as well.

  10. Pics look amazing..

  11. My wife and I both shoot Hassies and 4×5. She prefers Delta 100 for the shappy contrast, I like Acros 100 for the gorgeous spread of mid-tones. We both process our own films and expose at 64 and develop in Perceptol 1:3. While I occasionally prefer the Delta 100 in 120, the Acros 100 wins every time at 4×5. Just sayin! YMMV. Cheers, Dave

  12. Ming, I just bought both as you suggested I try both. Going to try it on an OM-10 a friend loaned me. By the way, there seems to be a good supply of Acros 100 from my local store here in Vancouver.

  13. Markdphotoguy says:

    As a lover of Delta 100 (and Across) I thought that you might like to try one of my favorite development recipes for Delta 100. If you get the chance you should expose with an exposure index of 100. Develop in Ilford DD-X liquid developer at 1+9 @ 24 deg C for 11min. You will see an increase in tonality and better separation in the highlights. The sharpness will remain the same as long as your processing technique doesen’t include too much agitation (15 sec every min worked best for me). For 120 and large format there will be no noticeable increase in film grain but in 35mm you would notice an increase (due to film swelling from the longer development) but adding 40g/L of sodium sulfite will keep the film swelling to a minimu and keep grain size in check for 35mm. I used to love the negs I got from this process especially in higher key situations.

    • Actually, my new process for Delta 100 is pretty close – I’m running 1+8 @ 26C 10min, agitation every 30sec and yes, the highlights are much better. Grain is increased, but your reason makes sense. Maybe I’ll try 1+6 or something as a compromise. Acros seems to work fine (better than Delta, even) with the same recipe. Thanks for the tip!

  14. I still Acros in the studio when I want to use my RZ67 – it has some of the best skintones around for reasonably pale/peachy skin. If you want to be really blown away by detail, try to find some TMax 100. I understand Kodak products aren’t that easy to find around Asia… you should stock up if your flight takes you through LA on your way to your US workshops.

    • I do have some, but haven’t gotten around to trying it out yet…

      • Great results with the Fuji Film. Can you please tell me how you manage getting films through customs without scanning ( the scanners would fog up the film ). Did you show them the film and ask for manual checking. I did this recently and it was a hassle.I will be in NY in late April and intend on buying many rolls of film to take back with me.Thanks

        • Carry on is fine – they got scanned about six times, no ill effects. I put the film in an x-ray safe bag on the way back. Higher ISO films will probably fog, but I was told the machines are safe for up to 1600. A better option might be just to mail them to yourself if you’ve got to go through a lot of checkpoints.

  15. Nice article and images, especially the two of shadows. I shoot Acros 100 and Agfa 100 (with a Contax Aria) in the summer, change what film I fill my pockets with depending on my mood, and Ilford HP5+ & Delta 400 in the rest of the year as there’s such an overall decrease in light in UK during the winter. I use the Delta 400 for when the winter light is going to be constant. When I was using Medium format at lot I was glued to Neopan 400.

    • Thanks. I think Acros excels in what I like to call ‘tropical’ conditions – bright light, high contrast – and Delta appears to be much richer when the overall dynamic range of the scene is less.

      • That makes sense that the Delta works better with Winter light. The main that has made me consider a Hasselblad is the Zeiss lens. I’ve always preferred Zeiss with a Leica m6, my Sony R1 despite the poor build and why I got the Contax back out retirement.

  16. Ming I’d agree with your comments on the Acros I always liked using it I would echo what previous poster said about HP5+ and FP4 although I loved using the former with perceptol which really made that film sparkle like no other, the acutane you could almost shave with it was that sharp..do try it. I shall be venturing back to film again having shot B&W in the main for more years than I care to mention. I always loved developing and printing there was something therapeutic in the warm glow of a safe light watching an image appear before your very eyes.

    I love your informative and superbly illustrated blog, keep em coming.

    • I wish I could get some of the more interesting developers here – perceptol isn’t something I’ve seen for sale, unfortunately. Thanks for the compliments.

  17. Ken Brakebill says:

    Ming,
    Fate worked in your favor this time. They didn’t have enough of the film you wanted, so you tried something different and discovered a new path to excellent B&W images.

    To my eyes, this is the most attractive B&W you have posted so far. The highlight detail is amazing! (My poor little D600 sits in the corner, weeping with envy…) I like the rest of the tonality and don’t find it lacking in contrast. It looks natural, like what the eye might see. Can’t wait to see some more, and please do an article about how you copy negatives/slides.

    By the way, do you have the Zeiss 135 F2.0 Apo yet? This looks to be an awesome lens. Thanks.

    • Absolutely. A lot of the time life is about luck…

      It’s a bit less punchy than Delta, but I don’t mind it at all; the blacks are still rich enough for them not to look ‘thin’. I’m still refining my technique for developing/ copying, but it will come eventually. Probably along with the film scanning rig I’m developing for sale.

      Nope, no 135 APO. Don’t think I’ll be getting one either, it’s a bit too long and specialized for me.

  18. Ray Evans says:

    I wonder if you’d be kind enough to illustrate and expand more on your scanning technique using the D800E. I’m curious as to how you keep the negative so flat and what lighting you use.

    Thank You

  19. John Lockwood says:

    Can someone comment on Ilfosol 3 vs. DD-X? Ilford’s website recommends DD-X specifically for their Delta film line. My dealer only had Ilfosol.

    http://www.ilfordphoto.com/products/producttype.asp?n=6&t=Film+Developers

    • Ilfosol seems to be more economical – I was told that DDX yields finer grain though. I’ve been using it at 1+8 with about 70% more time for economy, and it seems to do just fine.

  20. John Lockwood says:

    Your abstract of the pile of bicycles reminds me of an earlier shot you did of random boards and tin roofing. The square format is perfect for random, cacophonous subjects/textures. You’ve done a great job with these compositions. Utilizing the square format is not always easy.

  21. Adam Maas says:

    Acros is a wonderful film, my personal favourite of all the modern-grain films. It has some additional advantages that you haven’t covered here, namely its extraordinary reciprocity performance, with no compensation required out to 120 seconds and an unusually small amount beyond that, making it the reigning king of long-exposure work. It also is well known for how well it does when combined with classic developers, especially Rodinal. These developers do not generally work well with TMax or Delta films but Acros works as well or better than classic grain films. My personal standard for Acros development has been Rodinal 1:100 stand developed for an hour at 20C.

    • Haven’t exposed that long with it – all my work has been handheld so far – so I didn’t notice it. Good to know, though!

      I’m finding that Acros works incredibly well with DDX and standard dilutions – I just treat it like Delta 100.

  22. I’ve used a lot of Acros in 4×5, and a fare bit in 120. I find that this is one film where you really need to make sure you give it enough exposure. It’s got a short toe and detail just drops off with underexposure. So I shot it at 50 instead of 100, and if I needed a faster speed I went with another film. I usually find I get best results in normal light shooting at half box speed, but with films like FP4+ good results are possible at box speed as well. Acros noticeably loses shadows at box speed with my equipment.

    Acros is also able to hold extreme highlight detail in a linear manner as you have found. For this reason there’s little penalty to overexposing.

  23. Wonderful results Ming!

  24. Hello Ming,
    great pictures and great reading, I share the same good experiences with Fuji Acros. High contrast negatives are extremely well developed in stand development. For my purposes I use caffenol C-L (works fine with all new emulsions, not so good with the classic ones like Tri-x). See: http://caffenol.blogspot.de/2010/08/recipes.html
    and http://caffenol.blogspot.de/search/label/Acros
    Best regards,
    Gilles

  25. Ray Evans says:

    Ming

    With regards film stocks. The biggest film supplier on eBay is a guy here in Bangkok Thailand trading as films_festival. I get all my film from him and it all has a very generous expiry date. Delivery is pretty much next day for me. Prices are very competitive.

    For me it’s Ilford XP2, Acros 100 and Pan F 50. XP2 is my go to stock. Rated at 200 ISO it’s nigh on grain free, C-41 at the local lab, easiest by far to scan, and of course, variable ISO “in roll” settings of ISO 50-800 on the same roll! And did I mention the simply awesome tonal range.

    Great blog by the way, amazing images and extremely articulate and interesting subjects.

    • I’ll have to try some XP2 next time I go visit the distributor for chemicals. Will also check out your eBay guy, might be a good option for getting Acros in future…

  26. Oh this is much better Ming than the Yangon series ;) .

    In terms of contrast this comes across as a bit more natural and can definitely see the highlights roll off being very pleasant. Skin tones as well I’m liking. From what I’ve seen with film B&W, a slight lack of contrast looks very pleasant. Strangely I don’t find this the case with digital and feel the need to make more contrasty images, but may simply be my own personal preference…

  27. This is another fascinating read. I have been admiring the pictures on your flickr account but did not connect that they were Fuji Acros 100. Very nice film and great results.

  28. Ming

    Welcome to the Acros club. It is a wonderful film as you have noticed. I used to use a lot of it when I was active with my 4×5. I still grab a roll of 35mm from time to time. Plus I still have a few boxes of 4×5 Quick Loads in my refrigerator, though they are fairly old by now.

    I like the fact that it has a longer gray scale, or more tonality, than Kodak T-Max 100. Though if I remember correctly T-Max was a bit higher in contrast.

    Please keep posting the B&W film images. You are going to inspire me to get the 4×5 out. Then figure out how to make my flatbed scanner give a decent scan.

    PaulB

    • OOPs! forgot to add. I have used Delta 100 but it was not one of my favorites from Ilford. My preferences are for the HP-5+ and the FP-4+. For me HP-5+ sits between Tri-X and T-Max 400, giving more of the classic tonality of Tri-X with a better grain structure like T-Max 400. I use the developing methodology for Tri-X in D-76. FP-4 is also a more classic emulsion, you gain tonality but the grain is a little more prevalent than the newer wonder films like Delta 100. I have tried Ilford 50 an several occasions, but never could get development results I was pleased with; even from one of the better labs in Seattle. For an ultra slow film my preference is Agfapan 25, which with the right technique in the camera and developing can give results from 35mm that will rival faster films from 4×5. The Agfapan 25 emulsion in 35mm format is being marketed again as Adox 25 and I have read that it is also marketed as Rollie25. I think the Adox is available in 120 format.

      Getting back to HP-5+ if you decide to try it, don’t be afraid to push it to 800. For a while I had an ultra-light weight 5×7 that was prone to shutter bounce; a #3 shutter in a light camera at slowish shutter speeds will do this. So I got in the habit of exposing my film at 800 as my normal film speed. Doing this gave me very good sharpness at the cost of moderately higher contrast and slightly more grain.

      PaulB

      • I should give those a try next time I chance upon some. I had good results pushing delta 400 one stop; delta 100 at 200 becomes just as noisy as delta 400 at 800.

        You’re referring to Pan F 50? I loved the rich blacks but the emulsion seems extremely fragile and prone to scratches and other handling damage. Shame, because the tones are wonderful.

    • Tmax and delta are definitely higher contrast, but Acros seems to be much better suited to the very bright and high-contrast light we have in the tropics. I can’t see myself getting a 4×5 – yet – but I have no doubt the image quality is probably incredible.

  29. I believe it was Ralph Gibson who said that in regards to film, scans should be made from prints, not film. Seeing these images I understand what he may have meant. These images could easily pass as pristine digital native photographs. After 20+ years of using film I guess a kind of “texture” seems appropriate, but then I am not a commercial photographer. Nice work though.

    • It’s probably because there’s so many ways to interpret a negative, and the print is usually the final ‘definitive’ version and certainly what is most commonly seen. I have to do the digital equivalent of a printing process to get to the final image from the scan.

      There’s plenty of texture in the originals, but because of the size of the negative you simply don’t see it at web resolutions. A print would have great texture though.

  30. Ryan Hastings says:

    some of the pictures do not display saying “this image or video is currently unavailable” -FLICKR

Trackbacks

  1. […] stream of consciousness than anything. And they just happened to have been shot on film – Acros 100 in an F2 Titan and the 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor, to be […]

  2. […] inconsistent experience with Fujifilm products; on one hand, I absolutely love their films – Acros is my mainstay in all formats – but was left highly expectant and then disappointed by several […]

  3. […] You can see this behaviour quite clearly when you push a film with low reciprocity error like Fuji Acros – the shadows become more dense and block up a little, but the highlights remain much the […]

  4. […] for longer or wider – somehow, it matches my perspective perfectly. Film – my beloved Fuji Acros 100 – and spare holders arrived a little while after the camera, and I’ve had a complete […]

  5. […] derive a different visual result; this mini-series is one of those times. I went out with a roll of Acros 100 in my F6 and the 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor on the front, during daylight, with the specific intention […]

  6. […] intention. Through a lucky accident – I believe I’ve found that combination with Fuji Acros 100 and Ilford DDX. With the exception of my experiments with E6 slide film, all of the film images you […]

  7. […] from Prague was shot on film, with a Hasselblad 501C and my favourite B&W film – Fuji Acros 100. To be honest, given the tight quarters, I’d have preferred to have had something either a […]

  8. […] Acros 100 film (About $6 a roll; review; Amazon | B&H) – Perhaps the best B&W film ever made; a modern, low-grain emulsion […]

  9. […] inconsistent experience with Fujifilm products; on one hand, I absolutely love their films – Acros is my mainstay in all formats – but was left highly expectant and then disappointed by […]

  10. […] You’ve probably guessed it by now, but the lion’s share of the images were shot with the Hasselblad 501C, mostly on Fuji Neopan Acros 100. […]

  11. […] On the last day of my recent trip to Fukuoka, I somehow managed to run out of film. The entire brick and both magazines of Delta 100 were depleted in a couple of hours; I was lucky enough to have magical light and the inspiration to shoot, so making the most of it, shoot I did. Let me tell you I wish they still made 220…12 frames for street work means reloading at least every half an hour or less if you’re in the thick of things.  […]

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