After my recent disillusion with Fomapan films I was telling myself that I should definitely stick with Ilford for all my medium format portraits and was about to buy some additional HP5+ and FP4+ (because you know, having only 4 rolls in your fridge is not enough!). While I was surfing around I ended up on a youtube channel run by Ted Vieira, a cool guy living in the US (I believe in Vegas), and I was somehow intrigued by his impressions on Fuji Acros 100 film. Looking at the specs and the marketing claims, it seems like this is the technically “best” B&W film ever made: tabular grain, almost no reciprocity failure (you don’t have to compensate for exposure times longer than let’s say 2 or 3 seconds), and rich, contrasty images. It was also claimed that in conjunction with Rodinal this film really shines. As you may imagine, the next thing that I did was to buy one roll in 35mm format (and some days later I bought another one in 35mm and one in 120 because…why not trying also with medium format???) and a bottle of Rodinal.
The natural choice for 35mm was my Nikon FM2n, a camera so simple yet so incredibly fun to shoot with (I should definitely do a review of it sometimes), coupled with the trustworthy 50mm f1.4 D and the 20mm f2.8 (which I keep using just because I don’t have a 28mm or a 35mm yet). I rated this first roll at box speed, and developed in Rodinal 1:50 (12m at 21*C) with continuous (and very slow) agitation for the first minute and then 1 agitation every 30s. The results are just fantastic, definitely up to the expectations I had, with deep rich blacks and a fantastic range of tonalities. One thing that completely surprised me is the capability of film to resist overexposure: I was willing to try a very long exposure and I went to One New Change terrace to shoot a picture of the Shard; I set up my camera at f16, loaded some ND filters and used and app to calculate the compensation (still some reciprocity failure all in all). Something went wrong (I forgot to switch from PanF+ to Acros) and so instead of exposing for 6 seconds I exposed the film for more than 2 minutes…when I realised what I was doing I stopped and though that that was a lost frame. Fast forward to the scan and, with incredible surprise, the image is there! I had to play with curves of course and the quality if definitely not good, but I was still impressed by it!
For the second roll I took out the big gun…it was a sunny Sunday in London (quite exceptional) and my wife and daughter decided to be my
victims models and stay still while I tried to handhold the camera with the 105mm f2.4 first and the huge 200m f4 later. If the results in 35mm are great, the outcome from the 6×7 negatives is hard to describe: very very very nice contrast and sharpness (thanks to the Takumar lenses) and very nice grain (despite Rodinal is supposed to show it more than other developers).
Lastly I loaded another 35mm roll on my Nikon and tried pushing it to 200 ISO, just to see what it looks like. I took mostly still life images, comparing the 50mm f1.4 AF-D with an old (and a bit too stiff) 55mm f2.8 Macro AI-S. The grain is definitely bigger this time (even though I used Ilford DD-X this time, which is the perfect developer if you are pushing film) but the contrast is still well balanced and controlled.
I kept some of the nice images for later posts as I am quite happy about the results. In conclusion I think I have finally found a fantastic option for my small format, 35mm photography. It is true T-MAX is possibly a valuable outsider (especially in its 100 ISO version which I’ve never tried), and the results I obtained in Spain earlier this year were quite good, but I feel somehow Acros 100 is the perfect match. Its slow speed is not an issue with fast 35mm lenses and grain is well controlled. The Hamletian dilemma might be if it could be a substitute for FP4+ in medium format…but to answer that I think I’ll need more time.