Fujifilm Neopan Acros Film Review

Almost Cancelled

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Fujifilm Neopan Acros is a lovely medium-speed black and white film. It features silky-smooth gradients with high-contrast shadows and a wide overexposure latitude.

This film became my favourite monochrome emulsion after I tried it during my trip to Vietnam four years ago. I loved the contrast, the resolution, and the textures it produced on my Voigtländer Vitessa L3. This is why it was so upsetting to get the news shortly after that Fujifilm had discontinued its production. But in a surprising twist of fate, they brought the film back a year later, named Fujifilm Neopan Acros II.

Several photographers compared the reformulated Acros II and the original, finding only a slight change in the contrast — a barely-noticeable contrast increase in II’s shadows — and a thicker, easier-to-scan film base on II.

Curiously, the new Acros II, a Japanese emulsion, is packaged in the UK by Ilford — hence the “Made in UK” lettering on the box.

In this review, I will be sharing images taken on both old and new emulsions and marking them as such. I will use the Acros II datasheets, which have nearly identical specs as the original Acros’ sheets.

Fujifilm Neopan Acros  with Voigtländer Vitessa L3.

A brief history of the Fujifilm Neopan monochrome films.

Fujifilm Neopan 100 SS kicked off this popular line of black and white films all the way back in 1952. It featured orthopanchromatic sensitivity to colours in contrast to the more common orthochromatic films of the day. And it boasted an unusually high, for the time, ISO 100 speed which empowered its users to practice the previously unimaginable: night photography. The production of this film lasted 59 years until 2011. An impressive lifespan for any product.

Later, Fujifilm introduced Neopan 400 Professional (Presto) and Neopan 1600 Professional (Super Presto) films, both of which had the same development times and thus could be processed at the same time. They were loved by many for their tonality and contrast, but alas, they were discontinued in 2009 and 2013, respectively. Sigh.

The last film in the Neopan family to bite the dust, leaving Acros as the only remaining emulsion, was 400CN. Developed in partnership with Ilford, this monochrome film could be developed in C-41 chemistry. Though it was taken off the shelves in 2020, the Ilford version, XP2 Super 400, is still in production.

Fujifilm Neopan Acros II  with Minolta TC-1.

Neopan Acros’ reciprocity characteristics.

At ISO 100, Acros is no faster than the original Neopan that was invented over half a century ago. And it can’t be developed in C-41.

Fujifilm Neopan Acros with Vitessa L3. Some contrast adjustments in Photoshop.

However, its ability to tolerate long exposures placed it above and beyond most competitors.

Whereas most emulsions would require additional stops of exposure at shutter speeds slower than one second, Acros needs no adjustments at shutter speeds up to 120 seconds and only ½ stop of additional exposure for up to 1000 seconds of an open shutter (16min 40sec).

Because of that, Acros is a perfect black and white film for astrophotography. And so, it appears that the Neopan brand still stays true to its original mission to make night photography work.

Grain structure, resolution, sharpness.

Grain size is difficult to judge. Being a clump of molecules, grains don’t have a consistent size and change in volume depending on exposure. This is one of the reasons Kodak has abandoned the RMS granularity scale in favour of surveying a group of participants to generate a Print Grain Index.

Nevertheless, Fujifilm states that Neopan Acros II is the “finest grain quality ISO 100 black-and-white film” on their website. They quantify it with an RMS value of 7, which, if you’re willing to trust this evaluation, makes it finer than that of premium slide films such as Provia 100F and Ektachrome E100.

Indeed, if you get the light and focus just right, the amount of detail this film can bring out is outstanding.

Fujifilm Neopan Acros  with Voigtländer Vitessa L3.

But that is not to say that this film is grain-free or that I’ve never shot black and white film with less visible grain than Acros. On a large monitor with a high-res scan, you can see the lumps form in the mid-greys and the highlights. But the gradient shifts and the areas just on the edge of sensitivity in the shadows seem to have a significantly diminished grain size. This gives Neopan Acros the ability to bring out legibility where other films would remain muddy.

Consistent results regardless of lab or chemicals.

Another feature that Fujifilm lists on the spec sheet is this film’s ability to perform consistently regardless of the development methods and the chemicals.

Though evidently true, Neopan Acros can change its look drastically depending on the available light and the textures in the scene. And so while I was able to grab some of my favourite portraits on this emulsion, replicating those results has proven to be difficult.

Fujifilm Neopan Acros  with Voigtländer Vitessa L3.

Most detail is in high-contrast shadows.

Neopan Acros gives more than one look.

In high-contrast scenes, such as under the full sun, it will produce deep, sometimes crushed shadows. This is a great side of Acros for expressive images and street photography.

This film is meant to be good at photomicrography or duplication, as advertised, which I would imagine benefits nicely from Acros’ particularly high resolution in the areas of high contrast. Whereas other emulsions may show fuzzy edges on strong silhouettes, Neopan Acros draws smooth, sharp lines. Fantastic for hairline details, fonts, reflective surfaces, etc.

Fujifilm Neopan Acros  with Voigtländer Vitessa L3.
Fujifilm Neopan Acros  with Voigtländer Vitessa L3.
Fujifilm Neopan Acros  with Voigtländer Vitessa L3.

Acros’ orthopanchromatic light sensitivity in the context of other films.

Being an orthopanchromatic emulsion, this film is considered an in-between the modern panchromatic black and white films (which show a relatively consistent response to all visible light wavelengths) and orthochromatic films which aren’t sensitive to the red light.

Combined spectrogram curves of Fujifilm Acros II, Fujifilm Acros, Kodak Tri-X, and Ilford Ortho Plus.

To really understand what colours can “see,” particularly in relation to other films, I’ve layered spectrogram charts to produce the graph above/to the left.

As you can see, the difference between the light red-light sensitivities (600nm+) of Kodak Tri-X — a classic panchromatic emulsion — and Acros II is practically non-existent. The pre-2019 Acros film seems only slightly less sensitive to red light — nothing compared to the sharp cut-off near 550nm of a true orthochromatic emulsion, Ilford Ortho Plus.

Curiously, Fujifilm Acros appears to be less sensitive to cyan colours (near 500nm) than both Tri-X and Ortho Plus. You may also notice small bumps to the right near 650nm in both Acros films that may be special dyes meant to extend their sensitivity. This is also where you can see the difference between Acros and Acros II, whereas the II has two bumps, giving it a bit more red-light sensitivity than the original, although the new version also appears to be slightly less sensitive to the blue light, as you can see on the left-hand side of the graph.

Dynamic range and contrast.

The curves Fujifilm provides for this film terminate at D-2.5, which is below the max density my scanner can discern (D-4). But I will assume that the densities beyond that point aren’t useful and use the delta of 2.15 lux-seconds as the useful dynamic range of Fujifilm Acros II.

Film characteristics curves chart via Fujifilm.

This converts to about 9 stops of dynamic range.

However, what we see in the graphs only paints part of the picture. In reality, the way Acros paints light is a lot more nuanced than wide dynamic range and slightly-diminished cyan sensitivity when compared to other monochrome stocks.

As you’ve seen from above and one more sample image below, Acros can exhibit very strong contrast in the shadows. Particularly in the fringe area near-complete underexposure, this film will show lots of detail until fading to jet-black.

Fujifilm Neopan Acros  with Voigtländer Vitessa L3.

However, in the hi-mids and highlights, Acros behaves as if it’s a completely different film! Notice the photograph below. Shot on the same roll and developed in the same chemicals as the high-contrast samples above, this frame shows very timid contrast.

And this is perhaps the most challenging aspect of shooting this film. If you don’t nail your exposure, you may get results that you wouldn’t expect.

Fujifilm Neopan Acros  with Voigtländer Vitessa L3.

Scanning.

Scanning Fujifilm Acros isn’t particularly difficult. Being a black and white emulsion, there are no colour shifts to worry about.

However, this film’s tonal curve is very nuanced. If you aren’t happy with the results, adjusting contrast may cost you some detail in the shadows and sometimes the highlights too. Though adjustment of any image’s tonal curves causes some data loss, Across delicate details in the shadows are perhaps more important to the overall quality of the photographs than with other stocks, particularly if you’d like to preserve its prized ultrafine grain look.

How much does Fujifilm Neopan Acros cost, and where to buy it.

Fujifilm has recently announced a series of price hikes, up to 60% of some chemicals and emulsions. But as it stands right now, this film is still reasonably affordable at $12.33 per 35mm roll. After all, manufacturer prices aren’t always directly reflected in the store tags. In fact, Acros got a little cheaper early this year than what it was sold for a year back.

If you’re interested in film prices and would like to stay on top of them, the best way is to subscribe to the free semi-annual reports on film costs. I do all the hard work surveying a curated variety of film stores across the world on this and many other film stocks.

By the way: Please consider making your Fujifilm Neopan Acros II film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!