Shortly after opening the doors to EMULSIVE I kicked off a little #FILMSWAP project on Twitter. The idea was brutally simple; while I’m lucky enough to have access to a wide range of film stocks and formats, there remain a few – quite a few in fact – which stay out of every day reach unless I get a little help…so why not get a little help and have some fun while doing it?

What might be a commonplace stock for me could be a rarity for someone on the other side of the world and vice-versa, so I searched out some friendly faces and asked if they’d be interested in swapping some film with me.

One of my very first FILMSWAPs was with Jonas Lundström, whom you may remember from his interview back in July, as well as his guerrilla article for HolgaWeek 2015. In exchange for a little Eastman XX, Kodak slide film and Fuji Pro 400H, I got back a couple of rolls of 35mm Rollei Retro 100S and Efke KB-25, neither of which I’d tried before. Needless to say that having some new emulsion to try out made me very, very happy indeed.

Jonas Lundström - Filmswap
Jonas Lundström – Filmswap

So far, I’ve exchanged nearly a dozen rolls with like-minded folks and they’re only getting better. So, over the coming weeks and months I’ll be doing short, quick-fire write-ups of the film stocks received as part of the project and asking recipients to do the same.
In the interests of keeping to some form of order, we’re kicking off with Jonas’ Efke KB-25 today.

Let’s get stuck in.

About Efke KB-25

Efke KB-25 was one of a range of slow to moderate speed black and white films made by Fotokemika in Croatia using ADOX formulas from the 1940s. They also manufactured KB in ISO50 and ISO100 variants, as well as the legendary IR820 film (if you have a roll, please get in touch!)

Operating since 1947, Fotokemika sadly closed their doors in 2012 and the business has remained shuttered ever since. The ADOX name lives on, although as a brand name only and as a totally separate entity from the original Fotowerke GMBH which spawned it. (see comments below for clarification from ADOX).

There is a campaign to save the original Fotokemika factory but we’ve not managed to raise the team for an update…when we do, we’ll let you know.

Class act - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
Class act – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

Efke 25 was the slowest film made available by Fotokemika and unlike most other vendor’s stocks at the time, which used multiple layers of emulsion to create the finished stock, this line was as laid down in a single-layer process.

Efke films are known for having a wide-latitude, smooth grain, great tonality, incredible sharpness and being capable of high contrast results.

Twin-track - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
Twin-track wax apple – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

In their original materials, Fotokemika didn’t recommend pull processing, or overexposing any of their film stocks. They advised using plain water as a stop bath and due the the very soft nature of the emulsion, caution was advised throughout the entire development process in order to mitigate scratching.

Sounds like a pain but in reality I didn’t do anything different to normal when processing this film.

Test conditions

I’ll be using the term “test” rather loosely. You won’t find 100% crops, or charts (sorry).
I have so far shot only one of the two rolls gifted by Jonas and the results you see here were captured over the course of a few days worth of coffee breaks. I used my Nikon F100 and a lovely Helios 44-2 M42 lens.

The F100 is nearly always my first choice when testing a new 35mm stock. It has an absolutely spot-on meter, which can be used in matrix, center-weighted, or spot mode and provides focus confirmation when using native F-Mount manual lenses, or any number of other 35mm and medium format lenses via adapters.

Construction wall - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
Construction wall – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

I chose the Helios because it’s my current 35mm SLR beau. It has a wonderful swirly bokeh when shot wide open but is still capable of delivering crisp images when stopped down a bit. A nice balance between character and image quality in my book and the perfect lens to try with this old stock.

The film was developed in a Rodinal 1:50 semi-stand at 24ºc for 45 minutes. My agitation scheme was 1 min of initial agitation and three gentle inversions at the 30 minute mark.
I find that at warmer temperatures Rodinal has a habit of settling and over exposing the bottom edge of the film, so I tend to semi-stand in the summer months when I don’t have the time for better temperature control.

Blown - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
Blown – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

First impressions

Hung to dry, the negatives looked ok. I admit that my impatience got the better of me and I snuck a quick look using my light box (iPad) and loupe before sending them off for scanning. I was cautiously impressed.

Rust-link fence - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
Rust-link fence – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

When the scans came back a couple of days later, I was rather surprised. In some respects it was difficult to imagine the shots all came from the same roll.

Whilst some frames had a wonderful soft tonality and low contrast to them, others were much starker and I had to double check the negatives to make sure the lab hadn’t mixed up the scans with the other rolls I’d sent out at the same time.

Hopper - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
Hopper – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

The Helios has a lovely way of rendering when shot wide open with a 1-2 meter distance between the subject and (a preferably repetitive) background. The way objects can be isolated leads to some stunning results on color film and occasional claustrophobia on black and white!

Wax apple hornet - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
Wax apple hornet – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

Wonderful contrast and fine detail in the earth. I was particularly happy with the tone and detail on the hornet’s body. Thankfully I didn’t disturb him too much whilst he was enjoying his wax apple lunch.

Summer brolly - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
Summer brolly – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

Under certain conditions, the lens has an almost Meyer Optik Trioplan feel about it. Not quite soap-bubble bokeh but close enough for a new, unused lens which cost me $50 on eBay.

On board - Efke KB25 - shot at ISO25
On board – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

Again, more wonderful tones.

Jack - Efke KB 25 - Shot at ISO25
Jack – Efke KB-25 – shot at ISO25

This final shot may not be the best composed example from the roll but it demonstrates three (maybe four) distinct characteristics of this film and lens combination:

  • Swirly bokeh with acceptable retention of detail outside the centre of the frame when shot wide open.
  • Approximately 3 stops of exposure latitude from the top to the bottom of the frame (based on my zoning).
  • Wonderful tones across the board.

I have another roll left to shoot, which is currently loaded and waiting to be shot on my lovely 1950s Canon 50/1.5 Sonnar lens. You can expect an update sometime over the coming weeks.

Whilst some might say that shooting this film on a nice, sharp, modern lens would be the best bet to test the fineness of its grain, I’m happy with my subjective approach of using lenses with character.

~ EM

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  1. Thank you for this loveliness! I too have an F100 and would love to use it with M42 lenses. Which adapter would you recommend? Many sincere thanks!

    1. I grabbed a cheapo adapter from eBay (the kind with a glass element so you can hit infinity.

  2. Hi Em, I actually have a stash of Efke 25 in 120 that I will be shooting a series of waterfalls..
    Efke 25 is an almost orthochromatic film because it’s sensitized till just 620nm, – they have some red sensitivity – just not nearly as much as panchromatic films. The 25 and 50 ISO ortho-panchromatic films are less sensitive to the red wavelength of light causing reds in a scene to appear darker than usual, and the greens to appear lighter. This is a similiar look to what you might see in old photographs from the first half of the 20th century when film used was not always sensitive to red light.
    EFKE was a high contast film, if the development isn’t handles right, you get very pronounced contrasty grain – that’s why people are comparing it to TRI-X. If handles right – just like Techpan, you will get great grain structure and an even, long tonal scale. But it’s very different from most modern “thin-emulsion” – (sparse-on-the-silver) films. Rodinal semi-stand development produces the best results.
    These films were produced using the old ADOX formulas (KB14, KB17 and KB21) on German machinery with an ORWO base. The legendary KB 14 and KB 17 films, introduced around 1952, were the world´s first thin layer films, making ADOX famous worldwide. This thin film and “single layer” emulsion, with a very high silver content, resulted in an image sharpness that had not been seen before, earning it the “German Wonder Film” nickname.
    Unlike many modern B&W films these films were true to their rated speed. They have excellent exposure latitude. Unlike modern flat crystal films which are incredibly unforgiving, even a beginner can produce quality images with these films. Large, grain free, enlargements with excellent depth and tonality are easy.
    These Efke and Adox films were made using a single poured layer with speed determined solely by grain size. The films produced their grain in the classic way and did not use modern multi layer modified crystal techniques. This old fashioned approach in a digital world is what makes these films so special.
    These are the links to the project attempting to resurrect the factory.
    The Fotokemika Project

  3. ADOX does not live on as a brand name only. We are a real factory and really try hard to keep analog photography allive whilst we could not save efke unfortunately.

      1. If you haven’t tried out the Adox films (and papers!) you really ought to. Silvermax 100, for example, is a superb film. Their Fiber paper offerings are absolutely top notch as well.

  4. well I quite enjoyed reading your take on this film -so far!
    the helios is an interesting lens (I’ve got one I’m eagerly awaiting to arrive) but I think the sonnar might be an even better fit.
    why so? well using my fujifilm klasse w with modern coatings and contrasty lens, I almost ended up with just black and white for a few shots(!)
    though… I can’t say that I didn’t like that too 😉