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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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…
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).
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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