ORWO Wolfen NC 500 Film Review

A Film for the Summer ☀️

9 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

ORWO Wolfen NC 500 is the new colour negative film that began rolling out to retailers earlier this year. As many have pointed out, it delivers mixed results, which is why I will discuss how to get the best images with it at length in this post.

But perhaps the most exciting thing to know about NC 500 is the fact that it is an entirely new colour emulsion. This film is made in a factory owned and operated by the German manufacturer. It is the only colour negative film produced today that isn’t made by Kodak, Polaroid, Lomography*, or Fujifilm.

✱ — Lomography is known to use various sources and manufacturing partners to produce their unique and rebranded films, but as far as I know, they don’t own any plants that make their emulsions.

TL; DR: For best results, shoot ORWO Wolfen NC 500 in sunny weather, watch your exposures, and don’t be afraid to edit your images in post.

A brief history of ORWO film brand.

My parents used ORWO-branded slide film around the time they got married back in the USSR. These photographic products assembled made in East Germany since 1964, which made them available within the Soviet Union. But the factory the film was produced in was built in the town of Wolfen by AGFA in 1910. Unfortunately, the region’s turbulent history during the 1990s forced its doors to close in 1994.

Today’s ORWO brand name has changed hands a few times until finding use again with InovisCoat GmbH — a company rumoured to also produce films for Lomography. Those of you who tried shooting Lomochrome Metropolis may find some similarities between the “world’s first truly new color negative film stock in over a decade” and today’s new Wolfen stocks.

Indeed, two new colour ORWO films are available today: Wolfen NC 400 and Wolfen NC 500. Both films have a box speed of ISO 400 and, according to the samples I’ve seen online, look similar, except for how they render the blue hues (NC 400 rendering blues a lot deeper).

Curiously, NC 500 is based on an older movie stock, Agfa XT320, which was used to shoot feature-length Out of Africa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit films.

ORWO Wolfen NC 500 with Voigtländer Vitessa A.

Wolfen NC 500 grain, structure, resolution, and sharpness.

This film renders chunky grain. Its structure reminds me of CineStill 50D when enlarged. It looks like tiny fish scales.

ORWO does not have the datasheet for Wolfen NC 500; thus, there are no scientific measurements (RMS or PGI) for this film’s grain size. But to my eye, it looks to be the grainiest (new) colour film I’ve tried so far.

The grain is very sharp — as opposed to cloudy — which is why you can still get a decent amount of detail/crispness from this film. Still, it’s no Portra.

The grain tends to reduce in prominence in highlights, whereas the mids tend to look very crunchy.

Many have suggested that this film should be metered at a lower speed than the box ISO; I tried that but unfortunately, I lost my experimental shots during a developing mishap. There’s one more roll in the fridge which I intend to try again at various exposures — once that’s done, I will update this article.

For now, I only got a hint of what this film would look like when slightly over-exposed:

ORWO Wolfen NC 500 with Voigtländer Vitessa A. Top: metered as if it was an ISO 200 film. Bottom: metered at box speed (ISO 400).

And here’s a clearer depiction of the film’s grain: a slight crop in portrait orientation. If you’re reading this article on a mobile device, turn it sideways to get a larger/zoomed-in view:

ORWO Wolfen NC 500 with Voigtländer Vitessa A. Top: metered as if it was an ISO 200 film. Bottom: metered at box speed (ISO 400).

Wolfen NC 500 dynamic range.

Since there’s no datasheet for this film, understanding the dynamic range of Wolfen NC 500 is a bit of a guessing game. But I managed to get a photo in a familiar place that clearly shows exposure capabilities in both shadows and highlights.

ORWO Wolfen NC 500 with Revue 35 CC.

As you can see in this photo of my tiny dog waiting for me to carry it over the fallen log, the brightest areas (tree trunks on the left) have very little detail remaining. They appear to be slightly beyond this film’s ability to display information. The darkest shadows appear black.

From experience shooting a lot of photos in this area using the Sunny 16 rule and with the help of my Sunny 16 Calculator, I can tell you that the highlights here are likely middle grey for EV14. The shadows with some detail still visible are probably EV7. And thus, a very rough estimate for Wolfen NC 500’s dynamic range is about 7 stops.

This places NC 500 somewhere in the middle when compared to other colour films, although nowhere close to the legendary Portra 800’s 12.5 stops of dynamic range or Portra 400’s 12 stops. Both of those Kodak films can capture a vast range of light intensities in a single frame, close to how the human eye would see the world.

ORWO’s emulsion (the same as most other films and even modern digital sensors) can’t do that, so you should be mindful of the light when photographing with it; you can use a spot light meter to figure out the EV values in the deepest shadows and brightest highlights and ensure that the delta is less than 7 stops if you’d like the details to be visible in both areas.

Note: Another way to determine the dynamic range would’ve been to photograph a series of one-stop exposure intervals, as I did with the Polaroid films — but I didn’t have the time to do this now.

Wolfen NC 500 colours.

Colour negative films without a deep-orange mask often have trouble showing good colour via certain scanner software or when returned from the lab. (NC 500 has a greenish mask). However, when scanned and inverted using the method described below, and after a slight adjustment in Photoshop — or your photo editing software of choice — they could look captivating and surprisingly life-like when it comes to skin tones*.

✱ — Sorry, I’ve only tested this film with light skin tones. Will update this article if I find someone with a darker complexion willing to pose.

Without adjustments, inverted by hand (for consistency, as I do with all the films reviewed on this blog — unless otherwise noted), NC 500 shows little colour saturation. Gloomy weather (more blue light) and scenes that lack strong contrast appear as if the colour was drained from them. Compare this photo of a very purple car shot on Wolfen NC 500:

ORWO Wolfen NC 500 with Revue 35 CC in gloomy weather.

...to the photo of the same car from a different angle, shot with Kodak Gold:

Kodak Gold 200 with Minolta TC-1.

I think that the difference is pretty stark. But that doesn’t mean this film isn’t usable in gloomy weather: if the scene is lacking colour in general but shows strong contrast, the results may end up looking rather fitting.

Despite looking desaturated in many of my shots, I think NC 500 has significant potential to look true to life if the light is right. After all, the promotional materials for this film showed plenty of colour. So I went to a local beach and took a few shots during one of the warmest (hue-wise) sunsets of the year.

The unedited results certainly appeared more saturated, but as someone who usually seeks just a bit more contrast in photographs, I still felt dissatisfied. This is certainly a look that can be taken advantage of to create a mood. Still, I felt that there must be some flexibility within the emulsion that would allow me to make images that appear closer to how I see the world. So I tried some editing and even plaid around with the saturation slider to see how far I could push it without going overboard with the adjustments:

ORWO Wolfen NC 500 with Voigtländer Vitessa A in warm sunlight. Scanned with PrimeFilm XAs as a digital negative, inverted by hand in Photoshop. +28 Saturation in Photoshop (left) vs. no adjustments (right).

Scanning and post-processing tips for Wolfen NC 500.

NC 500 is very far from the clinical perfection of a modern digital camera when it comes to colour reproduction. It’s grainy, and its colours are muted. But despite all that, I found that it was very good at reproducing my skin colour, and it could look even more realistic with a slight bump in saturation — a quick adjustment in Adobe Photoshop.

Some users complained about the variety of colour casts seen in their results from the lab. This is often the case with colour negative films that don’t have a deep orange mask — even the pro emulsions, such as Kodak Aerocolor IV, may cause issues with certain scanner/software combinations.

Scanning and inverting this and other films using the digital negative method (i.e., scanning as a slide and then inverting by hand in Photoshop) prevents the majority of unexpected colour casts associated with colour negative films with clear or non-orange film masks. But you will still need to make some colour balance adjustments afterwards.

With Wolfen NC 500, I used Photoshop’s Color Balance adjustment layer to decrease some of the green hues and bump the yellow in the shadows and mid-tones while generally leaving the highlights as-is.

Those changes do not have to be extreme or significant. The portrait above has only a slight bump in saturation, whereas the image below and some other photos in this article had no changes applied to them at all (after scanning and inversion).

ORWO Wolfen NC 500 with Voigtländer Vitessa A in warm sunlight. No edits after scanning.

How much does ORWO Wolfen NC 500 cost, and where to buy it.

As of this writing, ORWO Wolfen NC 500 sells for about $16-20/box of 35mm 36exp. rolls. It’s available from various retailers (including the ones linked below), sold in colourful blue boxes and packaged inside recyclable plastic cans.

By the way: Please consider making your ORWO Wolfen NC 500 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!