Film Ferrania P30 Film Review

A Cinema Special Remake

8 min read by Dmitri.
Published on .

Film Ferrania P30 is an ISO 80 panchromatic black and white film sold in 35mm and 120 formats. It’s known for its recognizable strong contrast and ultra-fine grain.

Film Ferrania is the only Italian film factory. The team that runs it was one of the first to resurrect existing film manufacturing a decade after its discontinuation. Their success was later replicated by Kodak — but the journey towards P30 was not free of controversy.

In this review, I’ll touch briefly on the history of this emulsion and its re-launch. The rest of the article will focus on the visual qualities, tips for home development, and exposure suggestions.

A brief history of FILM Ferrania and its legendary P30 film stock.

Ferrania was one of the first film brands I learned when I became seriously addicted to photography. But it wasn’t the original Italian company that spiked my interest in the analogue medium — it was the team that raised over three hundred thousand dollars on Kickstarter to remake colour film.

Film Ferrania P30 with Olympus Mju I (which defaults to ISO 100). Developed at home in Ilfosol 3 in 1:9 dilution for 6½ minutes.

The original Ferrania brand was co-founded by Panthé Brothers in 1923 in its namesake town in Italy. Panthé were French entrepreneurs who started the world’s second film production company (which is still operational, now merged with Vivendi). The building where they set up and the people they hired had previously worked at the Società Italiana Prodotti Esplodenti or “Italian Society of Explosive Products,” which made bombs during World War I.

Years before I picked up my first film camera, I took a course on Italian Cinema at the University of Toronto. It exposed me to film classics like 8½ and Juliet of the Spirits. Those films awed me with their inventive use of metaphors and unconventional time progressions.

P30 was used in many Italian award-winning films, making it an instant success in the international market during the 1960s. Soon after, the American giant 3M got interested and eventually bought Ferrania for itself (while retaining all operations at the original factory). Unfortunately, the digital revolution led to the producer’s demise in 2012 when it shut down the factory and laid off 198 of its 230 employees.

FILM* Ferrania found its new start during the earliest stages of the film renaissance, much like Polaroid, having avoided complete annihilation thanks to surging public interest. The Kickstarter campaign, titled “100 More Years of Analog Film,” launched in 2014 promising to resurrect Ferrania’s colour slide film.

Alas, the colour film resurrection project turned out to be significantly more challenging than initially anticipated and was eventually abandoned. However, the team managed to pivot to the P30 remake, which was a huge success.

Ferrania still owes me credit for the original Kickstarter pledge. In their defence, the new team is an excellent communicator. They published over 50 updates to the backers and have always been open about their successes and challenges.

✱ — The “FILM” part of the brand name is spelled in all caps on some promotional materials but not others. I use an all-capitalized version here for emphasis; however, I capitalize just the first letter elsewhere in this blog.

So, what is so special about the Film Ferrania P30 emulsion?

Film Ferrania P30 with Olympus Mju I (which defaults to ISO 100). Developed at home in Ilfosol 3 in 1:9 dilution for 6½ minutes. No sharpening was applied.

P30 grain and resolution.

Film Ferrania does not publish resolution, spectral sensitivity or dynamic range data about their film. Still, many of its qualities, like the impressively-fine grain, can be seen in the results.

Aside from appearing universally small across all densities, P30’s grain causes zero noise in the shadows — even when severely under-exposed. Instead, it cleanly fades to black (see home development tips for agitation techniques).

I tested this film in Ilford DD-X, developed normally or pulled one stop (by my local lab), and in Ilfosol 3. In both cases, individual “granules” appeared medium-sharp, giving the images a clean, high-resolution look without compromising its response to post-processing.

Film Ferrania P30 with Pentax PC35AF set to ISO 25. Developed at EI 40 (pull -1 stop) in Ilford DD-X by The lab. Scanned on PrimeFilm XAs with severe contrast adjustments applied in Photoshop.

Scanning and post-processing.

Film Ferrania P30 scans wonderfully on most setups, especially with high-resolution dedicated film scanners. Virtually all scans of this film posted online feature the film’s signature high-contrast look. It’s hard to mess this one up.

Better yet, I found that good scans responded gracefully to extreme contrast adjustments, as seen in the sample above. That image was over-exposed deliberately and then decreased in brightness in select contrast areas by about two stops (estimated). Before I applied those adjustments, no mountain peaks were visible, and the picture appeared flat. What makes this film valuable in this scenario is its ability to retain its resolution and grain texture.

Note that not every contrast band will respond cleanly. Mid-greys can show a noticeable grain increase with contrast and brightness bumped up (see contrast and dynamic range below).

This counters my experience with most black and white films, which would respond to my adjustments in Photoshop by becoming grainier and losing clarity. Example: Fujifilm Neopan Acros II, another great black and white film, which can be made to look like P30 in certain light but fails to keep its profile after adjustments in post.

Film Ferrania P30 with Voigtländer Vitessa A. Developed by The Lab in Ilford DD-X.

P30 contrast and dynamic range.

Black and white film stocks can be difficult or impossible to tell apart. (There are many other reasons to pick a particular stock, see “How to Choose Black and White Film for Photography.”) And yet, P30 tends to stand out.

The film’s distinctly clean, inky, detail-rich shadows with bright mids and restrained highlights are this film’s calling card. I’m sure it’s possible to replicate this look with another emulsion (JCH Street Pan looks nearly identical but in ISO 400). Still, I managed to pick it out of the lot relatively easily during the black and white film ID experiment. If you like, you can try to spot it yourself in the lineup of user-submitted emulsions in the What The Film?! photography game.

Film Ferrania P30 with Olympus Mju I. I’m not entirely happy with how dark our faces look in this picture. Unfortunately, increasing the brightness adds contrast to this image, which I find undesirable.

This contrast profile makes P30 very good at creating legible results in almost any situation, thanks to its wide dynamic range. I can’t say how many stops this film will retain, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it’s in double digits.

However, if you’re shooting portraits with P30 of people with light skin tones, you may like to over-expose your film slightly or use a filter as that particular contrast range may appear flat or slightly darker than you’d expect from other films.

When I tried adjusting mine to appear brighter, I ended up increasing the contrast and adding grain to the image that I did not want to see.

Film Ferrania P30 with Olympus Mju I (which defaults to ISO 100). Developed at home in Ilfosol 3 in 1:9 dilution for 6½ minutes. This is inside a closet at the Hidden Wonders magic theatre.

Developing P30 at home.

Film Ferrania P30 renders distinct, inky shadows, which can make agitation techniques during development evident. Though controlling the contrast levels by following manufacturer instructions or your own agitation timings can refine image quality, you may want to pay particular attention to how you move the chemicals around.

It’s very important that the developer is distributed evenly across the film to avoid uneven dark areas and gradients. I use the stick with my Paterson tank for most of my films as it makes things easier and safer for my setup — but with P30, I recommend well-controlled inversions instead.

Film Ferrania P30 with Pentax PC35AF set to ISO 25. Developed at EI 40 (pull -1 stop) in Ilford DD-X by The lab. Have you noticed how the glass pane on the left makes the rails appear wavy?

Pulling Ferrania P30 to EI40.

Ferrania P30 can appear extremely contrasty in a certain light, which made me wonder if it could be tamed with a little pulling. In theory, over-exposed film that’s developed quicker than the box speed should render less contrast.

I did just that with one of my rolls and added an extra stop of light on top by setting my Pentax PC35AF to ISO 25 (about two stops of over-exposure). To my surprise, the results looked nearly identical to normal development and exposure metering (see sample above). The contrast profile, including the distinct inky shadows, remained.

I don’t think shooting this film at slower speeds like ISO 12 or 6 is practical for my flow, but I am curious if it would keep the shadow detail and highlights in check when pushed. Please let me know in the comments about your experience developing this film at home.

How much does Ferrania P30 cost, and where to buy it.

Film Ferrania P30 sells at around the same price as the Ilford Delta and Kodak T-Max ranges. In 2024, a 35mm/36exp. box will cost you around $12/£12/€12. It should sell a little cheaper in medium format. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on sale or generally trending down in price, as is the story with certain Kodak films this year.

By the way: Please consider making your Film Ferrania P30 film purchase using this linkso that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!