Film review: A new film from Fuji? Introducing Fuji Super HR-20, small grain for a small wallet
A new film from Fuji? As puzzling as this might sound given the company’s penchant for discontinuing film stocks recently, it is an easy question to answer: Fuji Super HR-20 Microfilm Negative is not new but may be new to many film photographers.
As the name suggests, Fuji Super HR-20 Microfilm Negative is a negative microfilm designed for image and general data archival (yes, that’s still a thing and is growing). It has a life expectancy of a minimum of 500 years (500-LE).
Being a microfilm, it offers some quite interesting properties: almost non-existent grain, immense resolving power, a very high D-max and a steep gradation that goes along with pretty high contrast.
In all honesty, my experiments with weird films are usually ok. They are not often total failures but are not exceptional in most instances either. They all have one thing in common; they’re somewhat pricey to execute in most cases. Chemical photography, in general is not the cheapest endeavour one might find joy in.
My experiment with this microfilm was different: It blew me away.
After my first successful developing-run, the moment I opened my Patterson Tank and saw the negatives, I was stunned. A film this cheap could deliver results this magnificent? Indeed, it could, and it will deliver those results in the future because it is still in production and readily available.
Never have I seen negatives with less grain, more sharpness and detail than those Fuji Super HR-20 delivered to me at an approximate price tag of €0.55 for a 135 roll of 36 exposures.
Interested? I suggest you continue reading. Here’s what I cover:
Table of contents
Part 1: Purchase
When I first thought about doing still photography on this microfilm I had to first answer the question of where to get it in reasonable quantities since it usually is only shipped in cases of ten or more boxes of 100ft, 400ft or 1000ft reels.
The solution to this problem was a UK-based company named Genus.
After a few phone calls about two months ago, I spoke with a friendly man named Klaus who is the Genus Rep for Germany and Austria. Following a short conversation, the company sent me a 100ft roll of Fuji Super HR-20 for the regular price of €16.50 to try my wicked idea.
Part 2: Preparation
The film is not perforated, so you have basically three options:
- Use a camera like the EOS 10, the original EOS-1 of something else, that you know can shoot unperforated film.
- Use 35mm adapters for your medium format camera.
- Perforate the film yourself (the most complex option).
Assuming you don’t have easy access to a Canon EOS-1 or wish to shoot the film in a medium format camera, how would you go about perforating it?
After a fair bit of research, I stumbled upon a device named the Catazzo Dry Film Press. This nifty little machine is basically a 35mm motion picture splicing device, which uses clear tape to join two strips of 35mm film together. After being glued together, the film strips or rather, the tape, is then perforated by a punching device in the press.
I don’t need to slice and splice film but I do need to perforate it.
As you can probably make out from the first image above, the press punches exactly 6 perforations on either side into the film, so perforating a 36-exposure roll of film with this method is rather tedious and slow but at the end of the day, it does get the job done.
If you find a good deal online you can get a used one in good condition for as low as €50, but more often the devices are sold for up to €200.
Remember option 1 above? If you happen to own a Canon EOS-1 (I have the 1 HS but I’m not 100% sure about the 1V or 1N) you’ll just have to perforate the leader and can leave the rest of the film unperforated. Although a little bit noisy and wiggly, the EOS-1 HS seems to handle unperforated film acceptably.
I wouldn’t suggest burning through a roll of unperforated film at 5.5 frames per second, though. Better than a description, here’s a video (note that the leader is perforated but the rest of the film is not).
Part 3: Shooting
An important consideration to make before shooting this microfilm is its effective speed, which is highly dependent on the specific developer used to process the film.
Technically it is supposed to be developed at high temperatures in Fuji’s own Bluefire HR Microfilm Developer for very short amounts of time. This results in an incredibly high, almost a binary contrast. Although very practical for storing a QR code or a document, a contrast that high is not very useful for pictorial photography and thus presents the photographer with the need to adjust the process of shooting and developing the film.
To cut a long story short, the film’s datasheet suggests a speed of EI 80 in Bluefire HR developer. My personal starting point for exposure was an effective speed of ISO 25. I hoped this would allow for longer development time at lower temperatures in a soft developer, which in theory would reduce contrast to acceptable levels.
Practically, I started shooting about 4 rolls of film of various subjects around my house: the garden, the cat, the sky and whatnot else. Most of the images below were taken with a Canon EOS 50E and an EF 85mm f/1.2L lens.
Part 4: Developing
As mentioned above the film’s effective speed is mostly controlled by means of development – developer and development scheme. For example, the first film I shot was developed in Rodinal 1+50 for about 10 minutes at 20°C/68°F with intermittent agitation for 10 seconds every minute.
The results are not worth writing about – straight garbage.
For my second roll, I decided to use a developer that I hadn’t used for a long time, ADOX F-39 Type I. I always disliked the developer as even for a soft developer, it was too soft for my liking. Adox FX-39 Type I is a contrast killer; not negligent homicide, but first-degree contrast murder. For the purpose of reducing the contrast on this film, it seemed to be just perfect.
After a few more, short 10 exposure test rolls, I had developed a practical and useful recipe to balance contrast, grain and speed. The best and most versatile negatives – the ones you see in this review – were developed in ADOX FX-39 Type I at a dilution of 1+19 for 40 mins at 20°C/68°F with 10s initial agitation and another short agitation after 20 minutes.
The resulting negatives yield high contrast, dense highlights and rather thin shadows, but are easily printable on fixed gradation paper or VC paper with split grade. If you prefer a hybrid workflow, scanning the negatives is also not a problem at all. The grain that is introduced by the development is quite subtle and fine but is more visible in the scans than in the actual wet prints from the negatives.
A nifty trick for negatives that are a little better suited for enlargement onto silver halide paper is to do a sublime pre-exposure of the film before shooting (also known as “flashing”).
Speaking of enlargement: The only real barrier for enlarging this film is the size of your darkroom and the resolving power of the enlarger lens because even a Rodenstock APO-Rodagon doesn’t resolve 800 lines/mm (yes, eight hundred).
If you are interested in experimenting with film, I can only encourage you to try Fuji Super HR-20 Microfilm Negative. It’s rather cheap, still available and in production and yields great results if used correctly.
Also, it is available in almost any imaginable format up to 105mm wide rolls. Another interesting aspect of Super HR is that the emulsion is cast onto a clear PET base that in theory should make this film a prime candidate for reversal processing; something I will try very soon.
All in all, go out and shoot (micro)film!
Have a nice day and thank you very much for reading.
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