Kodak Panatomic-X film has developed almost a cult following since it was discontinued in 1987. Look around the forums and the blogs: people call this the best black-and-white film ever made. It’s a fine-grained but slow film at ISO 32.
Mike Eckman of mike eckman dot com sent me two short rolls he bulk loaded, just to try this film. “Shoot it at ISO 20 or 25,” he said, “and develop it in HC-110 Dilution B for 6½ minutes.” I asked him what temperature. He said that it didn’t matter, 6½ minutes just always works. And so it did.
I knew I’d want a fast lens for this slow film, and the fastest lenses I own say SMC Pentax-M on them. So I got out my Pentax ME, set it at EI 25, mounted my 50mm f/1.7, and loaded the first roll of Panatomic-X.
I shot indiscriminately around my yard and within a few minutes’ walk of my home.
For the kind of shooting I do — handheld, outdoors — slow films need great light. I went out with my ME only on full-sun days and I still got shallow depth of field. But if you know that going in, you can work with it.
Mike told me that this stock is at least 30 years old. Yet look how it performs!
This fits Panatomic-X’s reputation: no matter how old, almost no matter how stored, this film performs well. These photos bear it out — they look very good, with creamy middle grays and solid blacks.
My scanner is the weak link in my workflow, as it delivers soft scans in 35mm. Even after heavy unsharp masking, the images still aren’t truly sharp. These negatives scanned as sharp as my tools can manage, and required only moderate unsharp masking.
To wrap up, here’s a shot of my neighbor’s dog, who came out to have a bark at me. I think he wants to be my pal, but his innate skittishness makes him back away whenever I go over to say hello. So I immortalized him on expired Kodak Panatomic-X.
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