Film Review: Kodak EASTMAN DOUBLE-X (5222) – 35mm format
EMULSIVE: By way of a quick preface, regular readers and followers of EMULSIVE-related ramblings on Twitter will be familiar with our Interview and Photographer’s Daypack series should be familiar with Jonas Lundström. In fact, Jonas was also the man behind our very first #filmswap and one of the films he sent over was the subject of our very first FILMSWAP review.
Well, he’s back and this time it’s to give us his take on the EASTMAN DOUBLE-X (5222) from Kodak black and white film we sent him back about three months ago.
Over to you, Jonas.
Hello everyone, it’s me Jonas Lundström and if you’ve read the interviews you’ll know a bit about me already 😉 If you haven’t, then the quick version is that I’m a bloke from Sweden, the land of Hasselblad, snow, ABBA and uh…stuff! (EMULSIVE: you forgot about IKEA)
A few months ago I traded some of my European film stocks for a mixed bag of color negative, slide film and black and white with EMULSIVE’s FILMSWAP on Twitter. As part of the FILMSWAP, I got a few rolls of something I’ve been looking forward to trying out for a long time; EASTMAN Double-X (5222) by Kodak.
Now, this stock has both put me off and intrigued me for some time. I’ve seen many people who are into rangefinders using it and praising and the look it brings. Some examples I’ve seen have just been grain galore but others seem to suggest it being very usable indeed.
I guess it was time for me to try.
About EASTMAN DOUBLE-X 5222
As I mentioned, this film is a bit of a rangefinder favorite and there are a number of quite long threads with discussions and examples on the Rangefinder Forum (at the time of writing this, they’re close to 2000 posts!).
There was also a fine site called Project Double-X, which was dedicated to collecting info about the film but sadly the owner passed away in 2014 and the site is no longer active. Still, there’s always Archive.Org.
This being a cine film stock, there was certainly a need for this kind of information sharing, as development times were not always found in the usual places.
The film originated in 1959 and was launched by Kodak after both Plus-X in 1941 and Tri-X in 1954 (if my facts are correct). Either way, the X, XX and XXX trio puts a smile on my face. Perhaps instead of T-Max 3200 they should have introduced the Quad-X, am I right?? 😀
Although it isn’t as abundant as it used to be, you will be sure to find some sooner or later if you look around.
After quite a bit of poking around, I found two complete articles from Ryan P. O’Hara, a professional cinematographer. I’d like to share his thoughts and further the sources he quotes to let us understand DOUBLE-X a bit more.
Here’s an excerpt from the article “Deconstructing Bob Dylan”, written by Jon Silberg for American Cinematographer November 2007:
Lachman filmed Jude’s story on Kodak PLUS-X 5231 and DOUBLE-X 5222 black-and-white negative stocks. “I know the recent trend with black-and-white scenes in movies has been to shoot color and transform it into black-and-white through printing or DI (digital intermediate) techniques, but the thing I wanted to reference was the way films looked in the Sixties in terms of exposure, texture, grain and latitude,” says Lachman.
Working in black and white, he continues, is about more than just getting a monochromatic image. “Kodak hasn’t improved those stocks. If I shoot Double-X in 2006, it’s like shooting it back in the Sixties; it only has about 1.5 stops of over or underexposure. Also, they haven’t T-grained it the way they have their color stocks.”
A letter was sent to Eastman Kodak asking for an official statement on why there has not been a new black and white film stock released since around 1960. A quick reply was received from the good people at Kodak. As it turns out, it is not just coincidence that the vast majority of cinematographers use the stocks for a ‘vintage’ look. As demonstrated by a small excerpt from Kodak’s response states:
“During past technology upgrades for these two B&W camera films, it has always been our intent to maintain the look of “classic” B&W film that our customers have expressed a desire for.”
To greater surprise, the previous statements, regarding black & white stocks lacking technological improvements, is in need of clarification. The extremely informative and well-written letter from Kodak explains that although the fundamentals of 5222 and 5231 have remained the same in terms of look, Kodak has improved the stock with multiple minor, yet important, upgrades. These upgrades made the film stock more ecologically friendly, safe to manufacture, and reliable in performance.
Source: Shooting for Black & White Part II: Camera Format – Ryan Patrick O’Hara 2009
He further emphasises the pros and cons of black and white stocks vs desaturated color negative: black and white looking more natural and having good options for contrast control being some of the advantages.
Enough history, on to my review.
For my test, I used my trusty Minolta XD and (mostly) a classic Pentax Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens attached via an M42 to MD adapter. I used R09 in a 1+50 dilution as my developer and I shot the film as ISO 200.
As with most of my photography, I just took the camera with me and shot when something piqued my interest…like when out sorting recyclables, for instance 😉
Getting a mix of different lighting situations helps to evaluate a film after all.
One reason though for choosing the Takumar was because of my recently acquired M42 macro bellows –more on that later. But why the Minolta you say? Seeing as I shoot a lot of different cameras it’s always nice to go back to one that has never let me down when I experiment with a new type of film. It’s just one less factor/element to guess about.
Developing with the aforementioned chemicals and scanning (with his DSLR), was my friend and analog photography podcast co-host Sina Farhat – a very talented individual who you will see profiled on these pages very soon!
Hello grain city! Yup, if I remember correctly, that was my first thought. Probably followed by something like oy vey or vojne vojne!
Though I started to change my mind the more I saw of the roll. Of course, there’s always a time and place for a look or style but in some shots, you hardly notice the grain. For example, this close up of a Swedish coin taken with the aforementioned M42 bellows.
The whole frame is just filled with so much structure that the grain gets swallowed up and dances along with it.
Shots with flater areas bring thoughts about the randomized noise tool in Photoshop to mind and looking up close, the grain does take over. Considering the bigger picture, that randomized pattern gives a classic sense of sharpness that stands out and gives a nice depth to the image.
With shots like these you can certainly not say that nothing is happening in the picture.
Seeing as supply of this stock is dwindling for mere mortals such as ourselves, are there any comparable films for this particular look? Maybe not exactly but depending on how you develop them, I think Fomapan’s Retropan Soft 320 or Fomapan 400 come close. Another option would be to get hold of some Rollei Retro labeled film.
Of course, this wasn’t the only film in the trade and I had been looking forward to trying the Fuji Pro400H in 120 that EMULSIVE sent over. It just happened that I’d sourced one a roll of 35mm, so I shot that first (you can see the initial results here).
Actually, I really like the natural looking colors from it! Even flash looks better than I’d expected. Now just to decide the right time to shoot the medium format one! (EMULSIVE: yes please!)
The rest of the films, well…I’ll load them up when I want some fun! I’ve already shot the mystery “EML II” roll, which was Kodak EKTACHROME 64T, as well as the Kodak 5234 duplication film. The Fujifilm T64 with its tungsten balance will most probably be shot during winter evenings after some good snow has arrived.
But back to the main point of this article; EASTMAN Double-X! It’s a fun film that I would probably want to shoot again. Might want to see how it looks in another developer though. Any mention of grain in this review should be taken with a bit of that Rodinal salt, maybe D-76 will suit it better?
Looking at prices though, like the JCH five roll case, I think I’ll give Rollei RPX400 a proper try first. For the rest of you, grab some while it’s still out there and get the chance to replicate the look of some of your favorite movies like Schindler’s List, Memento or that black and white bit in the James Bond movie Casino Royale.
Well, I should finish my second roll that’s been sitting in an Olympus Mju II and now Yashica Electro 35 CC. Over and out!
If you’ve not seen Casino Royale yet, here’s the bit I was talking about:
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