Friend-o'-TOP Steve Rosenblum wrote yesterday:
For those who like the look of older motion picture black and white negative film, Eastman "Double X" negative film (5222) can be purchased rolled into 35mm canisters from places like the Film Photography Project. They buy large reels of the motion picture film and then load it into 35mm canisters for sale. There are a number of articles and forum posts online about it as well as images on Flickr. This film stock was used in Schindler's List, Casino Royale and many other films to achieve that classic look. It was introduced in 1959. I hope to try it myself soon.
Very interesting! I did not know any of that.
Note that there's no "magic" B&W film—the "look" of a B&W film is dependent on how you handle it, and your own judgement.
B&W photos will look different if they are scanned, scanned with a curve adjustment, or printed on paper. Photo paper has a sensitometric curve of its own, and the film curve and paper curve were originally designed to be complementary. I don't know enough about B&W cinematography to know how film shot for movies was made into projection copies and how tones were handled in the process, so I can't tell you about that. But with stills, the result online is that very often when you see B&W JPEGs from film, you're not seeing the film as it was intended to look and as it looked back in the "classic" days of film photography—you're seeing the film response curve only without the necessary paper response curve added. This typically leads to an ugly, "soot and chalk" rendition of tones that, very sadly, is now coming to be thought of "the classic B&W look." To believe that, viewers need to be "tone-blind" just as some people are "tone-deaf."
Just as important is the "FDP combination" you choose and the way you process the negative. "FDP" stands for film-developer-paper. All three have an effect on tonality. Generally, even with "variable-contrast" paper, the highlight tonality is fixed and doesn't change much with changes in grade (filter number), so it's essential to pick a film and developer than gives you the tonality you want from the materials.
And lastly, how you process and print a negative has a large effect on expressive tonalities. The extremes might be what I call "the British style," where the film is underexposed and overdeveloped, with, perhaps, highlights dodged and shadows burned, on the one hand; and, on the other, the "full-scale" look, which requires the opposite—overexposure and underdevelopment, with (perhaps) highlights burned and shadows dodged. The two extremes will result in very different looking photographs even from the same scene shot with the same equipment and the same materials.
We discussed tonally different interpretations of the same image in this post, as well as in many other posts over the years, for instance this one. (I have to note ruefully that both of the linked posts are labeled "Part I" and I don't think either one received a Part II. Damn slacker blogger!)
Me? With absolutely no disrespect intended toward B&W film fans—more power to you!—my opinion is that you could spend an awful lot of time investigating films, developers, and papers, and learning the craft, to get just the expressive tonality you prefer for your own work...only to then be shoved kicking and screaming back to Square One again by the discontinuation of one of your chosen materials. (It's happened to many famous photographers over the years—from Frederick Evans giving up photography when WWI interrupted the supply of commercial platinum/palladium paper, to Bruce Barnbaum's initial panic when Oriental Seagull stopped being imported from Japan.) It's not that hard to pick a mainstream film, and then learn to scan and apply the proper curve corrections, and I'm not saying it wouldn't be fun to happily experiment semi-randomly with many different kinds of films and developers and papers or scanning methods; knock yourself out. But for me, my preferred rig for B&W is a Fuji X-T1 (available used) with a 23mm ƒ/2 lens and Nik Silver Efex Pro. (The camera and lens aren't really critical, but I'm telling you what I use.) Then you can just diddle and dabble until you get the tonalities just right; and nothing's cast in silver.
Although if I were shooting B&W film, I would certainly make enlarger prints on 8x10 RC paper and then scan those to put my work online, rather than scanning negatives directly.
But suit yourself! Just don't naively think you're going to get old-timey Hollywood movie tonality by buying any particular film, because that is, shall we just say, unlikely.
(Thanks to Steve)
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