At the start of 2020, I decided to start seriously shooting film again. It’s a familiar story. When I was 12 I got a Pentax KX from my uncle and used it through college. I would have loved to keep shooting, but graduating into the Great Recession did little to free up to the discretionary income needed to keep shooting regularly. Plus after college I lost access to develop and print my film, which for me is half the fun.
When I decided to get back into shooting film, I discovered my KX’s mirror was sticking up after each frame, and was dreading the expense of a CLA. Luckily a friend knew I was into film and gave me a Canon AE-1 he wasn’t using, along with some expired rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400.
I was off to the races.
I used to stick with ILFORD’s Delta stocks in college, but wanted to go for a more classic black and white look. I tried out Tri-X, Foma Retropan, and HP5 PLUS. The last was definitely my favorite, but I wasn’t totally in love either. I heard Azriel Knight interview Film Ferrania’s David Bias and saw his video looking at Ferrania P30, and definitely wanted to give the stock a try. Supporting a resurrected film brand and getting a punchy black and white look seemed like a win-win.
And then COVID-19 lockdowns started happening.
Just as I was ready to pull the trigger on some P30, Ferrania was out of stock and the entire country of Italy had shut down. I’ll be honest, given the precarious nature of their initial return, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get the chance. Luckily it seems they’re shipping film again, and I jumped to get four rolls.
Sheltering-in-place at my suburban Cleveland home with my wife and two toddlers for the past three months, coming up with something original to shoot can be a bit of a challenge. So I decided to give this first roll a bit of a stress test. At 80 ISO, I know this isn’t something I’m probably ever going to shoot indoors, especially if my subjects are my two little ones. What better way then to stress test this contrasty film then going out to shoot some backyard summer fun with plenty of harsh midday sun!
Usually when shooting HP5, I trust the AE-1’s internal meter well enough. Even when shooting a scene with deeper shadows, I’ll maybe overexpose a half a stop, but I’ve come to trust the latitude of the film. With P30, I’d heard it was a bit more demanding of a proper exposure, so I opened up Lumu on my phone and spot metered for the shadows as best I could.
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While my whole family was outside for most of the day a few weeks ago, my two-year old daughter ended up being in most of my frames. Her older brother has decided that unless he gets to be pressing the shutter, he much prefers to run around the yard rather than wait for dad to acquire focus. Luckily Izzy is a little water bug this summer, so I was able to snag lots of shots enjoying the sprinkler, by the pool, and other toddler adventures.
P30 is definitely the slowest film I’ve ever shot. I don’t shoot that much 100 speed film to begin with, and I definitely felt that extra half (ish) stop of light needed by P30. Even shooting in the bright backyard, I was keeping around f/4-5.6 and never going much above 1/125 on my shutter speed.
Overall, I absolutely love the look of P30. I know a lot of people like a flatter negative to give more options when scanning, but when I opened up my Paterson tank after developing, I couldn’t believe how bold the negatives looked. The way it rendered my daughter’s skin tones, bringing out the texture to show every nuance, it just seemed magical. I definitely want to try it out with a green filter to see if I can get that more consistently.
The one regret I had was how I metered the film. Film may be able to recover highlights better than shadow, but I lost more than a few frames on the roll that were completely blown out. P30 showed me a lot of things I like, almost unnoticeable grain, contrast that looks amazing right off of a scan, great skin tones, but latitude isn’t its strong suit. The shot of my daughter watching the sprinkler shows the dilemma I had in metering. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t worry about trying to save the shadow detail from our tall oak trees. Letting that go darker or to black might have made for a more creative shot. And while a tighter latitude limits P30 in some instances, I’m actually intrigued by the creative potential.
I developed in Rodinal using a hour-long 1:100 semi-stand development listed on the Massive Dev chart, although Ferrania recommends a 1:50 dilution.
I definitely want to use this film in more controlled, or at least not worst-case scenario, lighting. Given how well it handled skin tones, really want to bust out the color filters and see what I can do with some dramatic skies and cityscapes. P30 probably isn’t going to ever be a go-anywhere type of film. But even after one roll, it’s made some of my favorite and most distinct images.
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Very cool write-up. I’ve shot a couple of rolls, systematically exposing for the highlights and I couldn’t love the results more. Gives you a little more leeway as well in terms of speed and aperture. My only challenge is telling the lab I don’t care about recovering shadow detail on the scans, just keep ’em black.
I miss my Canon AE-1 and various FD primes.
Hi, Rich – great and fun article and some great pics! A few thoughts on P30 – it’s an orthopanchromatic film, meaning it has reduced red sensitivity, so using yellow, orange or red filters to darken the sky doesn’t really help; I’ve personally had much better success in that regard with a polarizing filter. I’ve also found (as others have noted) that the real speed of the film seems to be more like ISO 40 or 50, rather than 80, and expose it accordingly. Cheers and happy shooting!