Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 – Six Months In

It’s been more than six months since Bellamy Hunt (a.k.a. Japan Camera Hunter) brought a new black-and-white film stock to market, and while snide comments about Bellamy’s motives have popped up here and there, it appears that the film has been mostly received with enthusiasm. There are a few voices that argue against the film’s practicality when similar tried and true stocks are nearly half the price, but these types of comparison may be missing the point of JCH 400. As film shooters, we carry a minority status, and dismissing Bellamy’s attempt as disingenuous does all of us a disservice. Instead, let’s approach any unknown film with an open mind, and try to remember that the creation of this product must surely have been a labor of love.

I’m not going to go buck wild on the technical details about the film (ok, I may get just a bit technical). Rather, I’d like to share my experiences with JCH 400 after six long months of shooting and developing this new black-and-white film.

WHAT IS IT EXACTLY?

Let the record show – this film is a discontinued 35mm black-and-white surveillance film (originally manufactured by AGFA) that has been brought back from the grave. JCH Street Pan is not, as some have claimed, leftover film stock pulled out of deep freeze or something naughty like that. It’s freshly made and ready for shooting. We clear? Lovely.

I’ve put nearly fifteen rolls of JCH 400 through various cameras (I initially bought two bricks of it and I’m already itching for more), and I’ve found that I get the best results when shooting in early morning or from late afternoon to early evening. I’ve also had good results in more direct light, only shots made in these conditions aren’t as consistent. It simply depends on the camera and lens I’m using and whether I decide to overexpose slightly (+1/3 of a stop is a good baseline for me); compensating for my errors when judging the shadows.

As the film’s namesake suggests, it’s been offered with street photography in mind, and in this type of shooting it performs well due to its high contrast and moody tones. But that’s not to say it’s a one trick pony. JCH 400 can be used to great effect in far more situations than the name might have you believe. Portraits, landscapes, architectural shooting – really, go nuts. It’s even wonderful in smoggy or cloudy environments, or when there’s a diffusive mist in the air. A surveillance film at its core, it does a great job of cutting through hazy environments and capturing details that other films fail to catch. That said, if smooth tonality is what you’re after I’d suggest an alternative slower speed film, but if you’re willing to accept mild grain JCH 400 will likely impress no matter what your style.

CHARACTER AND HOW IT COMPARES TO THE MAJOR PLAYERS

Let’s get one thing out of the way here – I’ve not shot every black-and-white film, so this film may be similar to a stock I haven’t used before. But I can confidently compare it to what many consider to be the most popular black-and-white negative films, and give my impressions. So let’s do it.

JCH versus Kodak Tri-X at box speed (400)

▪ Tri-X is roughly $3.50 US cheaper per roll

▪ JCH 400 has a slightly finer grain structure

▪ JCH 400 has more contrast at box speed

▪ JCH 400 has a moodier look (muted tonal range)

▪ Similar exposure latitude

JCH versus Ilford HP5 at box speed (400)

▪ HP5 is roughly $4 US cheaper per roll

▪ Grain structure is again similar, but JCH 400 is a bit finer

▪ JCH 400 has more contrast at box speed

▪ JCH 400 has a moodier look (muted tonal range)

▪ Similar exposure latitude

One of the things I appreciate about JCH 400 is that I don’t need to push the film in order to achieve the contrast and mood I’m looking for. I’d need to push HP5 and Tri-X to 800 or 1600 to achieve similar contrast, and even then my results would be quite different from those I’m getting here. And because of the greater tonal range of those heavy hitters from Kodak and Ilford, JCH 400 creates images with a moodiness and an atmosphere that I just can’t seem to achieve with the other two. I don’t imply that HP5 and Tri-X can’t be moody, but the effect produced by JCH 400 is just… different. You really need to experience it for yourself.

Results will vary dependent on what you’re using to expose this stuff, and your preferred development methods, but there are some consistent truths I should mention. First, negatives from JCH 400 are acceptably sharp. Not Delta 400 sharp. But sharp. The fine grain structure helps this along, and grain can be exaggerated if desired by aggressive agitation during develiopment. The film offers dynamite exposure latitude that’s easily comparable to those mentioned films from Kodak and Ilford, so feel free to guess the light and take things easy. Once dev is finished, JCH 400 dries flat and scans well, despite being a bit thinner than other comparable films.

And it’s perhaps this seemingly thinner stock that birthed my only real complaint with JCH 400. When I first began developing this film I was challenged to get it wound onto my developing reels (I was using Omega tanks and reels at the time). This is something I hadn’t experienced with any other film, and my frustrations quickly superseded my desire to experiment – this film isn’t cheap.

In desperation, I switched from Omega tanks to Paterson tanks and haven’t experienced the film binding issue since. I’m not sure if it’s the coating on the reel ball bearings or if it’s the Paterson reels themselves, but the rolls I’ve developed in these tanks have spooled up without a hitch. I’ve also found that if you pull the reel cups apart ever so slightly while winding, the film tends to glide on in an oddly satisfying way.

SAMPLE IMAGES

No film profile would be complete without copious image samples, so here’s a bunch using a number of different cameras. As you’ll see from these shots, the film works great in situations outside of simply photographing random people on the street. Enjoy.

DEVELOPING

As noted previously, my results may be completely different from yours depending on chemicals and process. For example, I’ve heard a lot of people get great results with Rodinal, including Bellamy himself, but I prefer to use HC-110 for all my development needs. It’s cheap, always generates sharp negatives, and produces consistent results across a variety of film stocks. My dev process for this film is pretty straightforward. Mimic at your own peril.

Pre-rinse: Reverse Osmosis Water – agitate lightly for one minute, then drain

Developer: HC-110 (Dilution B / 1:31) at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes. Consistent agitation for first fifty seconds, then five second agitations every thirty seconds.

Stop: Reverse Osmosis Water – agitate lightly for one minute, then drain

Fix: Ilford Rapid Fixer at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (three mins, thirty seconds) – Consistent agitation for first minute, then five second agitations every thirty seconds.

Post-Rinse: Cold running tap water for ten minutes (just let it sit under the tap and flow over)

Final Rinse: Submerge reel(s) completely in reverse osmosis water, add one to two drops of Photo-Flo, and gently agitate for forty-five seconds.

Dry: Clip film and gently dry with clean microfiber towel. Hang dry for at least three hours before cutting.

WORTH THE PRICE?

Over the last fifteen years or so, film shooters have watched as emulsion after emulsion has been discontinued, pulled from shelves, and retired forever. So any instance in which a film is brought back to life should be seen as a rare gift, and JCH 400 is no different. For me, the opportunity to shoot a new and interesting film is almost priceless, and I can say with confidence that my film fridge will have a permanent opening for a few rolls of JCH 400 for as long as it’s being produced.

It’s pretty cool what Bellamy’s done here, and furthermore, it’s admirable. The profit margins on a project like this must surely be thin, and I think his intentions when bringing this film to market were authentic. I love the film, and I think it’s great that people are experimenting with it and achieving unique results. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever used, and I hope that Bellamy’s able to sustain the effort and, ultimately, create new routes to market. It’s easy to be snarky and dismissive, but I think that anyone who shoots JCH 400 objectively will come away pleased with their images and happy that we film shooters have another black-and-white film to try.

Want to try JCH Street Pan 400?

Buy it Directly from Bellamy

Buy it on Amazon

Buy it on eBay

JCH 400 is also available from these US-based resellers – Blue Moon Camera • The Find Lab • Treehouse

Casual Photophile is on ElloFacebookInstagram, and Youtube

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    January 28, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Your images look considerably better than those on the JCH web page for his “new” film. I had a look at that a few weeks ago and thought that the film looked too orthographic for my taste and the gradation slope looked very steep. However your photos show perfectly reasonable grey gradation, which means I might look again, when I have run my current stock of Fomapan 200 down a bit (currently got about 15 rolls of that to get through). Even though the last thing I need is yet another film camera, I am being very tempted by a friend who is selling a Contax G2 with the Vario Sonnar 35-70 on it. With an f4 lens, a 400 ISO film is a great help for lower light scenarios, albeit with its very smooth shutter, I can hand hold a G2 down to 1/15th second, which is double what I can hand hold most of my Leicas. The other problem at the moment is no UK source for this film, which means fighting with UK Customs and Excise, with all their supplementary charges and fees. Finally value added tax at 20% is applied to the sum of original cost, post and packing, custom processing fees, charges and any import duty. For a relatively low cost item like 10 rolls of film, all of hat would nearly double the cost. Is the film stock being made by Lupus Imaging in Germany, who are the current licensees for Agfa film and then repackaged in Japan, as that could explain the high cost?

    My current favourite 400 ISO film is Ilford Delta 400. I tried Fomapan 400, after being so pleased with their 200 and was very disappointed. Ugly coarse grain and lacking in contrast and so bad I wondered if I had caught my usual processor on a bad day but he said he also had been disappointed in it.

    Wilson

    • Reply
      Dustin (@dvl)
      January 28, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Wilson. I haven’t tried any other developer than HC-110 with this film, and I’d be curious to see if the steep gradation you speak of is a result of different developers and agitation process.

      Delta 400 is also one of my favorite films; however, it doesn’t have the contrast I’ve been after lately. And pushing it just a stop resulted in some chunky grain for me. I think I need to experiment with it more.

      As for the price after duties / taxes / etc. in the U.K… that’s a bummer. I can certainly understand why you wouldn’t want to pay the inflated price.

      I’d love to hear more about your experience with the film should you attempt to shoot it in the future.

      Cheers!

    • Reply
      Huss
      January 29, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      I agree with you Wilson, these results look better than other examples that I have seen online. It looks a touch grainier than I would like but I think it’s great there are options out there.

      Huss

      • Reply
        Cory
        February 2, 2017 at 10:22 pm

        I think the grain is a result of the developer. If you used XTOL I’m sure it would have a much finer grain structure

    • Reply
      Dexter
      January 30, 2017 at 6:06 am

      You can buy it from these guys https://parallaxphotographic.coop/ – I’m not affiliated in any way but looked myself for a UK supplier for ages before coming across these guys. Still pretty expensive per roll.

  • Reply
    Tim
    January 28, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    I enjoyed this review. Solid and concise. JCH 400 is a wonderful film and I’m glad it’s a choice in the slim pickings of film photography. I wrote a review of the film as well and one thing I mentioned was scratches on the negatives which I think happened because of having to wrestle the film onto the spools. I’ve never had to deal wit that on any other film stocks.
    Didi you have this problem at all per chance?
    Regardless, I love this film and I just got six more rolls today in the mail so Im excited to shoot some more.

    • Reply
      Dustin (@dvl)
      January 29, 2017 at 12:48 am

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for the kind words. Good to see others with similar sentiments about this film.

      I did experience slight scratches on the first few rolls due to the pinching and binding of the film when spooling it up, but was able to minimize the damage by winding very slow when things got “tight”. Once I made the switch to Paterson tanks and reels, however, the problem became nonexistent. I’m not sure if the plastic coating of the reels or the coating on the ball bearings themselves had anything to do with it, but I’m able to get the film spooled up without it binding now. Again, the trick, for me, was to take it slow and try not to force the reel cups together when winding, but rather gently pull them apart.

      I have just a few rolls left and I’m doing my best to conserve until the next batch is available for purchase in April.

      Cheers!

  • Reply
    mmarquar
    January 29, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Nice article. Curious thing about the loading of the film into the Omega and Paterson film reels.

  • Reply
    stephane
    January 30, 2017 at 3:42 am

    Hi Dustin,
    Thank you for this article and for letting us know the solution to take the film out without scratching it. I have experienced the same exact issue while trying to squeeze the film onto my reels, and I am using a LPL tank. Such a great film, but quite a frustration to ruin your film when you see the price you pay for it…
    Thanks!

    • Reply
      Dustin (@dvl)
      January 30, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Stephane. Hopefully others aren’t deterred by this. It really is manageable if you take great care.
      Cheers!

  • Reply
    Uriah Makoto
    May 15, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Development time for ISO 400 pushed to 1600? ( HC110)

    Thanks

    • Reply
      DVL
      May 15, 2017 at 11:14 am

      Hi Uriah,

      I’ve never tried pushing this film, and I don’t see a record for it (pushed) in the massive dev chart. If I were a bettin’ man, I’d say the times may be on par with other 400 speed B&W films (anywhere between 11-16 minutes). Perhaps I’ll experiment with this a bit and circle back.

      If you find a time that produces acceptable results, please let us know.

      Cheers,
      Dustin

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