Shooting expired Agfa Scala 200X as a negative film: the Historic Port of Santos, Brazil

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Agfa Scala 200X is a black and white transparency film, well known in its day for being the only option for generating slides in monochrome. Even back when it was readily available it was still hard to find a lab that could process it. I had never shot with it because of the high price of the film along with the processing, but near the end of the film supremacy epoch, I bought a 5-pack to see what it was all about.

I gave it a try one winter day in California back in the early 2000’s and shot two rolls of a large ocean swell converging on the Ventura coast. Later, when I received real monochrome slides, I was impressed, but the processing cost alone deterred me from wanting to shoot the Scala again. Consequently, I never shot the other 3 rolls.


As I moved homes and switched jobs, and waned out of the film world for some years but I kept the rolls of Scala with me. After sorting through my old photo gear after recently moving to São Paulo, Brazil I found them sitting in their little black containers. Thinking that I would never be able to shoot the old Scala rolls now, due to the difficulty of getting them processed down here, I left them aside for a bit. But then after probing through the film photography threads online, I saw that some people had shot Scala like it was a 100 speed negative black and white film, and developed it in developers like Kodak D-76. The film was way past its expiration date, but I thought I would give it a try. I had some D-76 and I was already shooting and processing other black and white negative films at home.

On a Saturday morning not so long ago, I loaded up my Nikon F100 with the Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AF-D lens and took a bus ride to the port city of Santos. I walked around the old port looking for historic structures decomposing under the tropical climate, not hard to find here. I rated the film at 100 ISO after reading a tip from somebody who had tried this.

As I walked the historic center I found scenes well suited for black and white; classic architecture crumbling under the tropical weather with tropical plants growing out of the cracks.

Continuing to walk, I checked out the coastal esplanade with the towering apartments lined up along the beach edge and then finished at a city park out on a prominent peninsula. The port of Santos has a reputation as a center of corruption and smuggling, but I found a beachside town popular for its parks, coffee history, and its wide sandy beaches.

The Scala was processed at home with Kodak D-76, and I found that the tones and the contrast were quite nice. I processed the film in a Patterson tank and used the Digital Darkroom site to find developing times. I have one more roll left sitting in the fridge, waiting to be brought into the light, as a lowly black and white negative film alas.

~ Anthony


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5 thoughts on “Shooting expired Agfa Scala 200X as a negative film: the Historic Port of Santos, Brazil”

  1. Hi Anthony

    I was a great fan of Scala’s predecessor, Dia-Direct and used a lot of it in 1979-83 in a Nikkormat FTn. Although it was very slow (ISO 32??), I used it for urban/street work. My hands must have been very much steadier back then! It produced slides with a remarkable tonal range and fantastic shadow detail.

    Dia-Direct was basically the same as a B&W negative film, but with a very clear base. ISTR, it was sold process-paid in the UK, but I did process some (with not as good results as the labs) myself. It was similar to colour reversal with 5 steps: first develop, bleach, fog, second develop, fix. I expect that you should be able to process Scala in the same way, but it would need a lot of experimentation to get it right.

    In the Dia-Direct process, I think that the same developer was used in both develop steps and the bleach is a standard potassium ferricyanide silver bleach. The first development time/temp is critical to getting the density of the final slide right; the second is carried out to completion so time and temp are not critical. I did the fog by exposing to light, rather than a chemical fog used in E6.

    This all comes with the caveat that my memory of long nights in the darkroom (which were often subject to “chemical fog” applied to the brain, if you know what I mean:-) 40-odd years ago, so some details might not be 100% accurate.

    Alistair

    Reply
  2. Thanks Joan, I always enjoy trying things with film, and this was for sure an experiment, but the online information out there today is so helpful (most of the time) and I was able to do this only because of that info out there. For those that wan that Scala look, ADOX is offering a newer 50 ISO version, and there are chemicals available to process it at home.

    Reply
  3. Anthony, I think you got great outcome for your use of the expired Scala. I wish this twist on developing had been available more than a few years ago. Back in the day, I took a community center course with a pro photographer who was enamored with Scala. I wasted a LOT of money buying it and paying for processing in the only place in Seattle that handled it -until that lab went out of business. I never found a whole lot of use for monochrome slides (which were not a true black & white) and was very happy to move back to more friendly film and processing.
    Thanks for posting. I appreciate your article and liked each of the images a lot.

    Reply
  4. It’s good to know there is an option! It’s a film I love, but Inhave always sent it to dr5.com for development. Thanks for the article.

    Reply

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