Old Film and Life

5 min read by Sergey V. Popov. Published in Film & Photography.

I started taking pictures with a film camera in 2018. I took some before, but there was no real connection. This year something clicked. And the trigger was Efke KB 100.

Fotokemika’s Efke KB 100.

Fotokemika Efke KB100, 5 years expired. Nikon N60, Tamron 28-300. Cardiff Roath Park, Wales.

Made in Croatia, the film was full of silver. This made it more forgiving to mistakes when exposing. It was very different from what I could get from my digital camera. It was very different from what I could get with HP5+ or Tri-X. It was also, unlike HP5+ or Tri-X, a non-replenishable resource.

Fotokemika closed down in 2012: making Efke was expensive.

No more Efke is made in Croatia. ADOX, a German company with a history of more than a hundred years, revived KB 100’s recipe with ADOX CHS II 100 film. ADOX had a reasonable success with rewrapping Efke into ADOX CHS 100, so they figured they’ll start to produce their own when Fotokemika closed down. Other Efke films, like KB25 and Efke’s infrared, did not survive. But I already got the taste. I started playing with the old stuff.

ORWO NP20, 20+ years expired. Nikon N60, Tamron 28-300. Tenby, Wales.

ORWO film.

ORWO is a company in Germany that used to be part of Agfa until the end of the Second World War. The machinery was there, except some that went to Shostka in Ukraine to establish Svema. The remaining engineers had their own take on the chemistry under Russian administration. The results were so different that surviving Soviet-era colour films cannot be processed in E-6 or C-41.

ORWO still makes film, but their old stuff is what makes me excited. Look at it! It’s like your grandpa took this picture! Grain is nice but does not look like damage, it looks like patina, it makes the picture better.

Svema 125, 30+ years expired. Nikon N60, Tamron 28-300. Cardiff, Wales.

Svema.

Svema was established in Ukraine after the Second World War and was one of the two photo film makes of the USSR. Besides black-and-white, Svema was making colour films and slides. Just as ORWO’s, the processing chemistry was different.

You can still buy it, but the cosmic radiation rays have already caused too much damage to the unexposed film to work with. See the scratch? This is not processing. This is time.

Time was not kind to Svema: it has been bankrupted and taken over by Astrum. Astrum now makes film following Svema’s recipes, such as FN64. 1980s Svema used more silver than in 1990s, so old stock is somewhat different, but Astrum has their own stuff.

Atrivu 100, expired ~30 years. Nikon N60, Tamron 28-300. Tenby, Wales.

Tasma and Atrivu.

Another USSR film producer, Tasma, is still in business. They are not serving the public market much, but they do provide useful stock.

Atrivu, above, is a product of one of Tasma’s employees who jumpstarted a new company after the collapse of the Soviet Union, just to discover that there are competitors on the world market. In about 5 years, Russians became rich enough to buy cameras, and they wanted easy C41, but Atrivu did not live long enough.

By sheer luck, I got my hands on a couple of spools of this absolutely unique film. Maybe Tasma can do it, there’s gotta be a recipe somewhere. But as far as I know, these spools are irreplaceable.

Kodak Panatomic-X, ~40 years old. Nikon N60, Tamron 28-300. Cathays Library, Cardiff, UK.

Kodak Panatomic-X.

Kodak Panatomic-X was produced from 1930s ‘till 1987. No grain! At ISO 32 it is easy to smudge without a tripod. If you get it right, oh my, it is so worth it!

It is not super sharp, a little dull, actually. The film it makes it interesting to look at details. I’m sure that if I used a special developer, my negatives would be even better, but alas, Kodak is not planning to bring this back like it did with E100. Some argue that shooting T-Max 100 at 32 and processing accordingly give you a similar picture, but I can neither confirm nor deny it.

Life.

Shooting old, irreplaceable film made me appreciate life and the finite nature of time more.

In my fridge, I have old film that will never be produced again. I like taking pictures on it; I’m happy to have just a couple of worthy frames per roll. Spending the film as I see appropriate is uncontrived and freeing.

The feeling of being able to appreciate and enjoy spending rare film seems to fit well with life’s expectations. The “special occasions” we may be compelled to hold out for may never be as fulfilling as they seem. Instead, letting myself enjoy spending my finite days as they come, without holding back, just like rare film, is freeing.

Now I need to get better at this.