Photography

Shooting Ferrania P30 Alpha

What a remarkable time for film photographers, with brand new film emulsions coming to market! And I was fortunate to be among the first to receive five rolls of the first production batch of one of those films: Ferrania P30 Alpha.

P30

Ferrania was an Italian company that produced film from 1923 to 2009. For a few decades it was a 3M subsidiary. I shot some store-branded film as a kid where the fine print on the box said it was a 3M product. I never knew it was actually made by Ferrania.

In 2013 a new company took the Ferrania name, bought the old Ferrania plant, and started a Kickstarter to help fund the return to film. Their original goal was to resume production of an old color slide film, Scotch Chrome 100.

I was an early backer of the Kickstarter. And then Ferrania experienced a litany of woes that set their plans back for months that turned into years. The pushed through, and long story short, early this year they announced that their first product would be a black-and-white negative film to be called P30. Even better, backers would be given first dibs to buy some. I plunked my money down straightaway. How often do you get to try a brand new film?

This new film is, however, based on a movie film the old Ferrania used to produce, also called P30. And it’s lovely, with no discernible grain and blacks so deep you could just fall into them.

Flowers

I shot the first of my rolls in my Pentax KM with the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens on it. That 55/1.8 is an astonishingly good lens and was a great choice for putting a new film through its paces. Ferrania’s advice was firm: shoot at box speed. So I did.

Railroad Signal

I shot most of the roll on strolls through downtown Fishers, Indiana, where I work. The blazing sun was directly overhead — suboptimal conditions for any film. But P30 handled it all right. I did have to pull out some of the shadow detail in Photoshop. As scanned, the lenses in the blinkers above were completely black And the bed and nightstand in the photo below were largely hidden.

Bedroom Window

Actually, P30 biases toward highlights in a high-contrast situation. I couldn’t bring out any meaningful shadow detail in this photo of a wall light in my family room. Perhaps next time I shoot P30 I will use a camera with more sophisticated metering than the KM’s center-biased averaging system, and see if that helps.

Light

But this characteristic leads P30 to create smashing shadows in daylight. Its low grain creates crisp lines.

In Direct Sunlight

Those shadows are so good! Here are some more for you to admire.

Bike Rack

I’m also impressed with the detail P30 captures. In real life those bricks are a deep red. This rendering of red as deep black appears to be characteristic. An orange filter would probably soften the effect. But here I rather like it.

Apartments

And when you get a little bokeh with the P30, it is ultra creamy.

Twigs and Tea

And I adore the grays I get on mid-toned subjects. I did, however, have to tone the highlights way down to bring out the pavement markings.

Parking

When it comes to black-and-white film, I’m a Kodak guy through and through. I love T-Max and Tri-X. I’ll probably never get over Kodak discontinuing Plus-X. I’ve tried other black-and-white films, and with a couple rare exceptions I haven’t liked any of them.

I’m deeply impressed with Ferrania’s P30 Alpha. I am eager to shoot more of it, hopefully on an overcast-bright day to see how it handles lower-contrast situations.

This film is still experimental, however. Ferrania cautions shooters not to use motorized-winding point-and-shoot cameras, for example, as they’ve been known to break the film. And given the film’s cinema heritage, it requires specific handling. Finally, Ferrania recommends home processing of the film and favors D76 or D96; full details are on this pdf. But Ferrania has worked with a handful of labs worldwide in determining best practices, and for shooters like me who don’t process their own Ferrania recommends sticking to these labs. Fortunately, one of them is Old School Photo Lab, one of my favorites. That’s who processed and scanned this roll.

Meanwhile, Ferrania is still in line to create its color slide film, and I’m still in line to receive some as part of my Kickstarter reward. All kinds of goodness is yet to come!

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