I started writing this article in 2019 and left it as a draft for EM here for quite a while. The reason for this is that while I enjoy writing, I don’t often think that my “reviews” are especially the most I have to offer. I wrote a disparaging follow up to a piece I’d written about Kodak Tri-X which touches on this idea — I don’t know what more there can be to add. I checked back in on this draft but really didn’t connect with anything I’d written, but I didn’t want it to go to waste. Hopefully, someone gets something out of what I should have simply published in 2019 and moved on from.
I have reached a point in my film photography where I know what film stock will work for me in different situations, which means that when I buy film I have roughly the same requirements of my shopping list with a degree of consistency. ILFORD Delta 400 and 100 Professional are usually at the top, followed by Kentmere 400 — a recent addition — and maybe some Cinestill 50D/800T for colour, although this is rapidly a decreasing habit for me.
Despite this, I do not ever want to feel locked into one brand or specific emulsion in particular and I’m always open to trying new things. I buy my film from Analogue Wonderland (very happily!) and will always take a few minutes to browse their new additions and old oddities before checking out. Most recently this meant adding a roll of JCH Streetpan 400 and a couple of rolls of Cinestill BwXX (rebranded Kodak EASTMAN DOUBLE-X 5222 black and white motion picture film to my basket.
The BwXX was a very interesting option for me. I’d seen fantastic results from it used for stills on the r/analog subreddit which I often use to see the different looks a film can offer, as it receives submissions from all kinds of photographers at all different skill levels. I also knew about BwXX as the film it was rebranded from: Kodak Eastman Double-X 5222, the film used for some of the (arguably) most classic monochromatic movies of all time.
I really wanted to save my first roll of this film for an event where I knew I would be shooting something more than everyday streets, and ended up using shooting my first frames of BwXX during the London Pride Parade, Saturday 6th July, 2019. Pride has always been an interesting event to shoot, although very difficult to get something truly unique (somewhat paradoxically, as for most street shooters you’ll never find such a collection of unique people and occurrences).
As I mentioned on my personal blog it’s been difficult for me to shoot Pride as I’m specifically attempting to “beat” the best image I ever made there back in 2017.
I managed to shoot through the entire roll of BwXX over the course of the day, which is pretty rare for me as I am a frugal shooter. My meter was set to 200, and every image here was made on the 90mm APO lens – my favourite lens for any kind of photography!
I was very happy with the results – almost annoyingly so, as it means I’ll likely end up buying more. I’m normally the first to tell people that the differences in different black and white films are very subjective and that the best thing for them to do is just get a brick of Kentmere 400 and get shooting – but the more time you spend looking at different films the more alluring different aspects become. I think the excellent contrast means that grain is less evident than the more recent iteration of this film line most people are used to, Kodak Tri-X. It isn’t a soft film by any measure, and I think it rendered skin tones especially nicely.
When composing with that high contrast in mind the subjects just pop against the background. There’s a clarity, and severity in the difference between deep black and pure white.
I shot this portrait of fellow photographer Bas Hordijk late in the day during some downtime, and just loved the stark contrast between the shadow then immediate highlights in his hair. He was visiting from the Netherlands, and it was really great shooting with him during Pride, and on the other days I was able to join him during his visit. (Bas, if you’re reading this: get a brick of Kentmere 400 and get shooting!)
My first few frames had some light leak, as seen in the cover image of this article. I am used to this from Cinestill films, and quite enjoy the effect, but I wasn’t expecting it from a black and white film (for some reason). Luckily for it it actually salvages the composition of that image, and will be something to keep in mind when loading future rolls.
I think for me this film could fit nicely into some of the faster-paced reportage projects I’m looking at taking on board. I especially liked the way that smoke from the protestors came out, and the overall atmosphere of those images is something I’d really like to harness. I really don’t mind about any of the shortcomings the film may have – lower recommended ISO than I prefer, different grain than I’m used to, and so on. These are all features of the film, and I’m excited to see how I can manipulate those features through pushing, pulling, and exposing differently.
These images so far were shot in overcast conditions, so I didn’t have much diversity to play within the light, in terms of over/underexposure. I do think that the darker tones expressed themselves fantastically from the lighter – really excellent compared to my muddy overcast results from Tri-X.
BwXX really is a fine film, and I’ve shot quite a few rolls of it since, with consistent results. I’d definitely encourage anyone looking for biting, classic feeling results.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on Cinestill BwXX, If you liked my work here then please check out my recent digest with work from the US! I buy all of my film from Analogue Wonderland.
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