“Where in god’s name did he find 100-year-old film?”, you might be asking yourself. Well I recently went to Budapest, Hungary for a vacation with some friends. During our stay, we happened to stumble upon a flea market on Gozsdu Udvar, a beautiful little street filled with bars and restaurants.
One of the stands caught my attention because it had many analog cameras and among them, a few mysterious rolls of film with the inscription “Primor Panchromatisch B2”, on the side the film speed was written by hand: DIN 19.
I could not find the format described on the box but it seemed to me that it was 120 film. I wasn’t 100% sure but I asked the vendor who confirmed my hypothesis. After negotiating the price, I bought 2 rolls for about €6. I was now in possession of a film I had never heard about, and this is where things get complicated.
The question that next came to mind then, was “what exactly was this Primor Panchromatisch B2”?
To be truly honest, I am not sure. I looked up all the words and inscriptions I could find on the box and the roll itself but very few results came in. Indeed “Primor” did not give any conclusive results and “panchromatisch” was too wide a search to get anything, putting them together nothing came up. However, it gave me the intuition it was probably german. I continued my search by taking the film roll out of the case and looking for more clues on the backing paper.
Indeed, the backing paper had “Filmfabrik Köpenick” written on it as well as “Hergestellt von der Berlin – Köpenick”, the latter meaning “Making of Berlin – Köpenick” confirming the German origin. When searching for “Filmfabrik Köpenick”, I landed on a few German pages about a Kodak factory located in the Köpenick district of Berlin. As I do not know German I decided to continue my investigation on twitter where I asked Photoklassik International if they had any insights on the mystery.
They answered my call with additional information. The inscription “6×9” on the box suggests that it is 120 film and that it was made before 6×6 and 6×4.5 became common (even though the various formats are written on the roll itself). After an additional search, PKI explained that the B-2 marking was the German denomination for 120 film and that in the 1930s it was split between B2-4 and B2-8 which is why they guessed that the film dates back to the 1920s or 1930s.
On my side, I pursued my research and tried to translate bits and pieces of the German webpages to get more information about the roll (I have left the webpages at the foot of this article if some of you speak German and want to have a read).
My main source of data was a German Wikipedia page about a company (or filmfabrik) called Glanzfilm AG. They were founded in 1923 and specialized in photochemical work in the district of Köpenick. This company worked for years at a loss and was sold to Kodak in 1927, establishing the company Kodak AG, Köpenick. The factory was seized as an enemy asset by the German government in 1941 and had until then, produced black and white film, X-ray film and chemical processing products.
After the World War II, the factory was seized by Soviet forces and continued working under the name Kodak AG Filmfabrik Köpenick until 1957, when the name was changed to VEB Fotochemische Werke Köpenick (it continued to produce the same products). In 1992, the factory was finally returned to Kodak thanks to German reunification and continued producing X-ray film until its eventual shutdown in 2010.
As neither the roll nor the box has any “Kodak” markings, I doubt it was made during the Kodak era. This suggests to me that it could be a Glanzfilm AG black and white film, thus confirming the 1920s theory. However, the roll is red, yellow and black: Kodak’s colors. Making an assumption or two, one could argue it could be a more recent film developed by Kodak AG.
The mystery continues…
I had only bought 2 rolls. This meant I only had two shots to get something out of them. I asked around for advice. Judging by the 19 DIN (ISO 64) and the estimated age, I was thinking to compensate one f-stop for every decade years of expiration. This would bring it down to around ISO 1. I was expecting to shoot the film with exposure times ranging from 30 seconds to 5-minute because I had no idea of how the intervening ~100 years had affected the roll.
However, before shooting I wanted confirmation from my lab and when I asked them, they clarified that me “the rule” of overexposing 1 f-stop per decade of expiry had its limits and that I should consider shooting it around ISO 10 or 6. They also advised me to bracket 2 or 3 shots so that I could get the second roll right.
That is precisely what I did.
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One bright sunny morning loaded the film up in my camera, when setting it up I felt it crackle and felt that it was abnormally stiff for 120 film, so I was very cautious not to break it. Even when winding the film, I did it very slowly to avoid any risk. For this test I had loaded the roll into my faithful Bronica ERTSi paired with my Zenzanon PE 75mm F/2.8 lens. The ETRSi giving me 15 shots to the roll.
I set up my camera on my tripod, plugged in the soft shutter release and off I went to downtown Clermont where I had already scouted 3 locations to shoot the roll. My goal was to bracket three scenes with five different exposures, hoping to get at least one decent shot out of the roll.
As the conditions were ideal: a bright sunny day without a cloud in the sky, I set my aperture to f/22. I used the Lux Light Meter app and metered ISO 6, then used its exposure compensation to give me speeds for my bracketing. I chose EV+2, EV+4, EV+6 and EV+8 (+2 stops up to +8 stops in 2-stop increments). The speeds varied from 1/4th second to 30-seconds.
Obviously, the roll was shot in less than 30 minutes, so the next day I headed to my usual lab: L’imaginarium du Photographe, located in Clermont-Ferrand, France. When I gave them the Roll, I asked them to give me the process they used so I could tell you. Apparently, they developed it at 24°C for 4 minutes and 25 seconds in HC-110 dilution B in a rotary tank.
I had teased this whole process on my Twitter account and when the results came in, I was so excited (with a hint of fear!) Indeed, I dreaded that the lab would tell me: “We’re sorry there was nothing we could do…”, but that was not the response I got!
The roll came out just fine, in fact, all the exposures were good enough to have created a significant result. Here they are, show in galleries in the following order:
- EI 6, as metered – F/22, 1/4s
- EI 6, as metered +2 stops – F/22, 1s
- EI 6, as metered +4 stops – F/22, 4s
- EI 6, as metered +6 stops – F/22, 15s
- EI 6, as metered +8 stops – F/22, 30s
Here we go:
Scene 1: Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral
Scene 2: Rue des Gras
You’ll notice I’m missing one bracket from this set (+6 stops), this is because I made two +4 stop exposures on the day. Oops!
Scene 3: Place de Jaude
At my base exposure index of EI 6, you can see that the frame is not fully exposed. The whole roll has some kind of marks on the picture, probably dust, and residue from the backing paper. Indeed, over time 120 film usually has issues with backing paper disintegrating or damaging the film. I believe it gives the shots a very antique look very in tune with Budapest’s Soviet history!
In my opinion, the shots exposed at ISO 6 EV+2 and EV+4 are the most “successful” and I will consider shooting the second roll at the EV+3 speeds – somewhere around EI 0.8.
On the more photography point of view, I find it amazing that a roll this old can still be exposed! Moreover, the film is great, the contrast is very interesting, and it keeps a lot of details from the scenes I shot! I’d love to hear about any old or SUPER OLD film you’ve shot, no matter if you managed to get a useable result.
Thanks for reading,
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