Film review: Bergger Pancro 400 Part 6 – 35mm EI 400 reversal development (bracketed +/- 1 stop)
It’s about time to wrap up the part of this series that covers Bergger’s 35mm Pancro 400 film with something a bit special: reversal development results.
Before you start scratching your head or disappear altogether, allow me a minute or two to explain…I try to develop every new film (to me or otherwise), in a reversal development process to produce slides. There’s no technical reason to do so, I just like doing it. Naturally, I had to do the same as a part of my tests for Pancro 400 and these are my results (and thoughts) for the 35mm format version of this film.
Before I get stuck in, here’s what’s covered in this article:
Table of contents
- 1 Reversal processing?
- 2 An introduction to reversal processing black and white film
- 3 Shooting, development and scanning methodology
- 4 Bracketing / filtration samples
- 4.1 Sample 1 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
- 4.2 Sample 2 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
- 4.3 Sample 3 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
- 4.4 Sample 4 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
- 4.5 Sample 5 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
- 4.6 Sample 6 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
- 4.7 Sample 7 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
- 5 Closing thoughts
Reversal processing of any photographic film describes the creation of a positive image as opposed to a negative one. The immediate film types that spring to mind are colour slide film and Agfa’s venerable Scala 200X (although there are and have been many others).
These positives / slides / transparencies can then be directly projected onto a screen or printed using a contact printing process. I’ll be referring to them as “slides” for the rest of this article.
Slides have certain drawbacks for darkroom printers who use enlargers. The positive slide first needs a negative copy to be made, which is then used to make a print using an enlarger. If you don’t need to make enlarged prints – and as mentioned above – a contact print can be made for some wonderfully detailed prints.
Swinging back to black and white film, there are two ways to create black and white slides using a traditional development process. For those of you with the right machinery, you can use an intermediate / duplicating film stock to create them from negative film that has already been processed as such. Kodak still manufacture a number of intermediate films (5234 being my favourite for super slow black and white).
For those without the machinery, duplicating stock or time, you can develop slides at home using the method described below.
An introduction to reversal processing black and white film
I above that there are two methods of reversal processing black and white film in order to create slides. The first requires quite a bit of gear and patience to do, the second can itself be split into two parts: purely chemical and chemical + re-exposure to light during development. This introduction will focus on the latter: it is more flexible and is easier to adapt to a wider number of film stocks without messing around with tweaking chemical formulae.
I’ll be referring to this “re-exposure” method simply as “reversal development” for the remainder of this article.
The “re-exposure” reversal development process
This process involves the steps outlined below. For those of you who are already familiar with black and white development, I have highlighted the additional steps to that process in bold text:
- Pre-wash (optional)
- Primary developer
- Wash / rinse
- Wash / rinse
- Clearing bath
- Wash / rinse
- Re-exposure to light
- Secondary developer
- Wash / rinse
- Clearing bath
- Wash / rinse
Leaving all of those additional wash / rinse steps aside, reversal development really only requires three additions to the traditional process:
- Re-exposure to light
- Secondary developer
Let’s take a quick, simplified look at what happens during the main steps of the reversal process.
First, we start with development of the film using a rather energetic developer. Almost developer that can be used to develop the film stock you have shot can be used. The aim is to ensure that all of the exposed silver on the film is developed. If we were to stop at this point, we would simply need to stop and fix to obtain a negative.
Second, the bleaching stage dissolves the developed silver, removing it.
Third, the re-exposure step (also known as the reversal stage) requires the film to be removed from it’s reel and then re-exposed to light. After each frame has been consistently exposed for about a minute, the film must be reloaded and…
Fourth, developed using the secondary developer.
After the usual stop / fix / clear steps, the resulting film will emerge as slides, as shown in the image up top.
Black and white slide developing considerations
There are three main considerations when developing your black and white film as slides. They are:
- film selection
- exposure (shooting)
- development process
In a bit more detail:
To the best of my knowledge ANY black and white film can be reversal developed. I have yet to try one that cannot. Some provide better results than others but at the time of writing I have had the following films reversal developed by my lab with acceptable results:
- Agfa Scala 200X (box speed and push processed)
- Bergger Pancro 400
- FERRANIA P30 ALPHA
- Fomapan R100
- Fomapan 100 (Box speed and push processed)
- Fuji Acros 100
- ILFORD HP5 PLUS
- ILFORD FP4 PLUS
- Luckyfilm SHD 100
- Rollei Infrared 400
For the purposes of the tests above, each film* was bracketed +/- one stop – or exposed in one-third increments in the case of sheet film – in an effort to understand the best Exposure Index (EI) for the film.
* I forgot to bracket Fuji Acros 100. Next time…
Each film has an ideal EI for processing as a slide and this EI may or may not be the same as its box speed. For example, I find ILFORD HP5 PLUS to provide acceptable results at EI 400 but my Fuji Across at EI 100 came out a little too dark for my tastes. If in doubt, over expose a touch to get the best out of your scanner.
I should also say that prevailing weather conditions will impact your results. Native slide film loves light – the more the better – and black and white negative film developed as slides is no different.
Finally, a film with a transparent or near-transparent base, such as most Rollei and Luckyfilm stocks will provide you with better results in my experience. That said, a darker film base does not preclude wonderful results with deep, deep blacks.
Shooting for reversal development
As with all slide film, over exposure too much and you will reduce your maximum density (Dmax) and you will lose highlight detail. On the flip side, under exposure will increase Dmax and give you muddy highlights.
You should ensure you take steps to effectively meter your film if you are planning on developing it as slides.
Developing black and white film as slides has the added benefit of offering a better tonal range, so whilst the exposure (dynamic) range is reduced, your tonal reproduction will be better.
The process also results in a less “random” grain structure, especially with older cubic grain film stocks. This gives the appearance of grain being finer than it is.
The reversal development process
Keeping a constant developer temperature during the process is critical (+/-1c is ideal). Over or under development will result in the same issues as over/under exposure. That said, if you are push processing, you can use over development to increase contrast.
You don’t need a Jobo or other high-end gear to for reversal development
To summarise, reversal development needn’t be as much of a pain in the ass as some would lead you to believe. It is not the sole province of darkroom tinkerers, as the number of home reversal development kits demonstrates.
By using the re-exposure method and two only developers*, this process offers a relatively simple method for anyone to try their hand at without breaking the bank or eating up too much spare time.
In short: if you develop C-41 or E-6 at home, there is no reason you cannot develop black and white slides as well.
The results really are magical and with that said, let’s get back to the review!
* Kodak D-76 + thiosulfate can be used for the first developer and Kodak Dektol for the second…or you could just go and get an off-the-shelf kit.
Shooting, development and scanning methodology
I have decided to stick to the same camera/lens combination as my other Pancro 400 tests. This roll shot was shot at box speed (ISO 400, set manually) using my Nikon F100. The camera was set to manual exposure mode with the meter in “Matrix” mode.
Each frame was bracketed by a single stop of under exposure and over exposure using the camera’s auto-bracketing function.
My camera got 37 exposures from this roll.
I used my Nikkor AF-D 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 zoom/macro lens set to a constant f/8.
This roll was developed using a black and white reversal development process similar to the one described above.
The film was scanned using an Epson Perfection V750 Pro scanner in factory-shipped 35mm holders.
The files were exported to 1000px on the longest edge in Lightroom with a light hand on getting the file size down for web.
Bracketing / filtration samples
I have provided seven scenes here for review, each with +/- 1-stop brackets.
The order of images below is under exposed, correctly exposed (per meter) and over exposed. Weather conditions were great!
Click/tap on the image thumbnails to open the full-sized image in a lightbox. Use the navigation icons, swipe the screen, or tap the arrow keys on your keyboard to cycle through each set.
Sample 1 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
Sample 2 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
Sample 3 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
Sample 4 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
Sample 5 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
Sample 6 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
Sample 7 – bracketed exposure +/- 1-stop
In parts one, two and three I talked about the flexibility of this film and my thoughts on it becoming my “medium format Kodak Double-X”. I feel I’ve written about that enough already and will get to my (still emerging) thoughts on that as we get into the next part, which will begin the medium format review process.
We’ve already seen how effortlessly the film deals with push processing at EI 800, 1600 and 6400, so to conclude this sixth part of the series, I’d really like to focus on how the film has dealt with reversal development.
In the hand, the slides produced using the reversal development process described above are quite dark but the scans tell a different story. The underexposed results in the other tests in this series produced the “best” results to my eye and samples 3, 4 and 5 here seem to follow that trend.
The “per meter” results work better for me when shadow takes up more of the scene. I am not sure of this is due to the camera of the film’s response but looking at my 120 format slides, I’m leaning toward the film right now. If in doubt, meter for middle grey or zone 3-4 (mid-shadow).
35mm Pancro 400’s Dmax (maximum density, representing the darkest area of the film) is good and conservatively around the 2.80 mark. 120 sits at around 3.10. In 35mm format at least, you’ll see a tonal range of 9-10 stops (sample 3 as a reference for this figure).
In conclusion, developing this film as slides may have been a curiosity for me but the results I’ve had to date have been equal or superior than AGFA’s late Scala 200X in the same process. Perhaps my comparison is unfair, as my photographic subjects tend to be isolated and often high contrast in nature.
If I were looking for a replacement to Scala, I’d be happy to put my stock in Pancro based on these results alone. The high silver content and “dual emulsion” nature of the film give it a little more tonality and less of the stark contrast I’ve had from most of my Scala slides to date. That said, there’s no way I could or should make up my mind without additional testing.
Wrapping up the wider 35mm review, I’m very happy with Pancro 400 in 35mm format and although I still have to complete these tests in at least one or two other developers, I wouldn’t hesitate to buys more after my current brick is exhausted.
In terms of it’s replacement for Kodak EASTMAN Double-X (5222) – something I mentioned in part one – I’m not sure. It’s not quite the same film and this for me is a good thing. To my eye, this film sits somewhere between Ilford HP5 PLUS and Delta 400 Professional / Kodak T-MAX 400. It has the traditional grain film of the former and the distinct tonality of the latter two but isn’t really analogous to to any of them. As far as the inevitable comparisons to Kodak Tri-X 400 go, it’s a totally different beast and comparing the two would be pointless. Don’t try, it’s not worth it and there’s no point. If you want a cheaper version of Tri-X, buy expired Tri-X.
Bergger Pancro 400 truly is a new film and deserves its own space, it’s own spot. I’ve grown to be very fond of the results it’s given me and would love to hear how you feel about it, too. Drop me a line by email, on social media, or in the comments.
As ever, thanks for reading and keep shooting, folks.
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