Ferrania P30 Alpha Film Profile, plus we chat with FILM Ferrania US Director David Bias

Ferrania P30 Alpha Film Profile, plus we chat with FILM Ferrania US Director David Bias

2200 1238 James Tocchio

FILM Ferrania is a unique company with a unique product. The Italian cinema film maker reached their peak of influence in the mid-twentieth century, and their first new product since a 2014 resurrection is a 35mm stills film with roots in a hand-written formula dating to 1958. Ferrania P30 Alpha is a fine grain, ISO 80, black-and-white panchromatic film. It’s enigmatic and dramatic, and it’s my favorite of all black-and-white film.

It’s also a challenging film. My first roll was sent to a lab for development and scanning, and the results were an unmitigated failure. Images showed outrageous contrast, with blown highlights and deep, black shadows. They were unusable images. With the second roll, I developed and scanned the film myself, and the results were simply stunning. Incredibly fine grain and amazing tonality coupled with a delightful punchiness meant that I was instantly in love. I shot my third and final roll, sent it to a different lab, and my results were again too stark for my taste. I’d stumbled onto a truth about P30 – that, depending on your desired results, development can be tricky.

I wanted to shoot more P30 and get to the heart of this film that had at different times disappointed and amazed. I ordered five additional rolls. Of these, I sent two away for processing, one to my local lab that’s been devving since the 1960s and one to a fantastic lab on the other side of the country. They both did incredible work and produced scans that are punchy and dramatic. But it’s true that compared with my home-developed shots, the final images are really strong on contrast. This creates a beautiful and impactful style, but it’s a style that won’t appeal to all shooters.

For the three final rolls, I developed at home using achingly gentle agitation. My results were exactly what I expected and exactly what I was looking for. Dramatic images with strong contrast, virtually non-existent grain, and incredible shadow detail, and scanning these negatives has resulted in images that allow for easy post-processing.

A bit confused about how to approach a new film that seemed so fickle, I contacted Ferrania’s US Director, David Bias for tips. We talked about FILM Ferrania’s path over the last few years, their ambition for the future, and their first film. The conversation was illuminating for a number of reasons, among them his advice for getting the most out of P30 Alpha.

When asked about the variable nature of shots from P30, Dave affirmed my suspicions. “More than any other black-and-white film on the market, the developer that you use really affects the final image. There is a golden median that we consider to be ideal, and if you’re looking for this ideal look there are a number of best practices that should be followed.”

The ideal look that Dave mentions is characterized not by the extreme contrast we’re seeing in many reviewers’ sample shots, but by a more tonal gradation. And though the film certainly is a contrasty one, we shouldn’t be seeing blown highlights and black shadows. Ferrania P30 Alpha, when developed and scanned the way its makers intend, presents strong contrast, for sure, but it does so without blocking up. There should be deep and dramatic shadows, but these shadows should still retain a high degree of detail.

But it seems this isn’t always the result when we send P30 out for processing. That’s not a knock on labs (our photo processing pals are doing amazing work), it’s just a matter of chemicals and methodology.

Most photo labs are using rapid developers that have been designed to work with the most popular films. Those best-selling black-and-white emulsions from Kodak, Agfa, Ilford, and Fuji are engineered to behave well, to create images that allow wide latitude for adjustment in scanning. Ferrania, on the other hand, has produced a different type of film. With high silver content and roots in cinema stock, P30 responds best when processed as a cinema film would be processed; in a low-contrast developer like D-96 and with continuous gentle agitation.

But don’t infer from all of this that P30 Alpha is some kind of delicate flower or that the results we’re seeing are ghastly. The shots people are making with P30 are great no matter the developing method, and labs are doing a great job of making excellent images from an emulsion that has little recent precedence.

Dave is quick to point out that there are no rules in film photography. “If the goal is to achieve what we consider the ideal image from P30, P30 can be hard. Having a first product that’s hard to use is not ideal, but we’ve been fortunate in that labs are working with us to define the development process and produce quality images, and many of the people who’ve bought the film thus far are willing to process it themselves and share their results. And the results people are getting are great. We love the images.”

“I think the best thing for users to do is decide if they want really high contrast images or if they want something closer to that ideal tone. If you want contrast, send it to a lab. If you want tone, develop at home. That way you can control the development process and the scanning and post-processing.”

In talking with both professional and enthusiast amateur photographers, it’s clear that the general opinion on P30 is that it’s a wonderful film that’s capable of making gorgeous images. Those ultra-dramatic lab-processed shots we see on Instagram feel like they’ve been ripped from the reels of a classic film noir. We almost expect in every frame to see a menacing black pistol pointing like a finger from the fist of a grizzled detective. And with home-developed shots we’re seeing incredible tonality with an almost glistening luminance that’s hard to find in any other black-and-white film on the market today.

Shots in the above samples galleries were made through a Nikon FM3a with Nikkor 105mm f/2.5, and an Alpa 10d with Kern Switar 50mm f/1.8.

Shots in the below samples gallery were processed and scanned by a local lab. They were made by CP staffer Chris Cushing through a Canon A-1 with FD 24-35mm f/3.5 L.

The talk around town that the folk at FILM Ferrania were lukewarm over the somewhat unpredictable results that photographers were encountering with P30 development had me momentarily worried. Would they change the film? Would they try to bring it into closer step with the more common black-and-white films? I asked Dave.

“We found the original hand-written formula from 1958. In 1964, when the LRF [Laboratori Ricerche Fotografiche] opened, the formula was updated very slightly for still film. We looked through microfilm records and the chemical difference between today’s P30 and the film of the 1960s is statistically insignificant. P30 is the same today as it was then, and we’re not going to change it.”

For me, that’s great news. Though my first roll of P30 was a bit of a botched job on account of some over-zealous developing, my second roll of P30 was a revelation, and the home-processed and scanned images since then have been punchy but not overcooked, with a gorgeous tonality I’ve never found in another film. The incredibly fine grain is exactly what I want in a black-and-white film, and P30 images seem to glow with an inner luminance I’ve never encountered. From that second roll on, P30 has become the black-and-white film I shoot when I’m shooting for myself, and I’m glad the product won’t be changing anytime soon.

The next step for Ferrania is to scale, to bring production to the level of demand. When P30 is available for sale, it sells. That’s great news for the company, and great news for the film community. If their first product is any indication of things to come, we’re eagerly anticipating a future in which FILM Ferrania increases production, brings more products to market, and enjoys all the success they deserve.

To get Ferrania P30, visit Ferrania’s site

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is the founder of CP. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic cameras and the most advanced digital machines. In addition to his work on CP, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
25 comments
  • My problem is that due to past carelessness over many years, handing photochemicals without gloves, I am sensitised to Hydroquinone. I am therefore limited to non-HQ developers such as Adox Rodinal and Kodak XTOL. Now the Rodinal works adequately (if a tad blocky and very deep blacks) with Adox Silvermax 100, another high silver content film as long as I don’t over-agitate in my Rondinax daylight tanks with 1:100 Rodinal, so might be OK for the Ferrania P30 but not sure. Now that Plus X is no more, it would be nice to have another slow/ultra fine grain B&W film available.

    Wilson

    • Wilson, try the R09/Adox Rodinal semi-stand technique listed in the best practices doc: 1:100, 20C, 60s initial inversions (gentle), then 1 inversion at 15m, 30m and 45m marks. Stop and fix as normal. http://www.filmferrania.it/p30-processing

      I validated this myself and it is a wonderful technique for folks who love Rodinal.

  • Interesting article, I only managed to get hold of and shoot a single roll of P30 (which I saved for a trip to Italy none the less) and was impressed by the look of it. I like big bold contrasty images and I think it gave me exactly what I had in my head when I took the images. This one for example is exactly what I wanted:

    https://www.instagram.com/p/Bdi1MiZBOGW/

    • I bought 10 rolls, and I haven’t shot much of it so far. As James said, my shots in the gallery were processed as a local lab. The fact that I tend to shoot late in the evening didn’t help the mega-contrast tendency. I still have plenty to shoot, so I’m going to experiment a lot with it. Even processed this way it is VERY smooth, and I happen to like the look.

      A handful of shots from that roll(including the third one in my part of the gallery) were shot in much higher light, and looked a bit more “normal,” while still giving a ton of definition to the sky/clouds.

      So far I’m very pleased with P30. It’s not fast enough to be my primary B&W film, but I like it a lot.

  • I’ve shot but one roll of P30 from the stash I bought and had one of their recommended labs process/scan it. It was more chalk-and-cheese than your self-processed shots but the photos were all usable. I’d have that lab process P30 for me again.

  • If you aren’t rotary developing in D96 you really have to shoot at a lower ISO and adjust developing time. From what I’ve been reading, 40-25 ISO works well in more common developers

    • Joey, I have not experienced this myself using a Rondinax 35u. Check the pH of your D96, its target should be around 8.5-8.6, ideal for continuous agitation. Temperature also plays a role.

  • I just developed and scanned my last roll of P30 in D96 (pre-mixed from Bellini Foto), developed with continuous agitation. Luckily only eight minutes so my wrists were not so sore! It *does* give less contrasty images with nicer tones: https://twitter.com/hjmccracken/status/965678271697387520 . Looks great, and prints great!

  • Hi Scott, would be great to have a judgement on the quality of the pictures I developed from my first P30 roll: https://flic.kr/s/aHsktyoS5i

    I shot with a Minolta CLE, Voigtlander 40mm 1.4. Developed in D96 for 13 min and continuous rotation.

    Thanks!
    Massimo

    • 13 minutes seems a long time compared to the recommended 8. They don’t look too bad, a bit contrasty. How do the negatives look? Was this D-96 stock or 1:1?

  • Sorry, mistake: used d-76 1:1

    • In this case, they do look like D-76. Do you like the negatives? Sometimes scanning can show a very contrasty image whereas the actual negative looks very balanced. Image009 is stunning in its tonal scale.

  • I gotta develop my own B&W film. No matter which film I use, in any of my cameras (auto or manual), my ‘pro’ lab (big name place in LA) always returns it super contrasty and grainy. I’ve tried some other labs with the same result. It seems they use one dev technique with the same chemicals no matter what film they develop.

  • There are some additional points worth mentioning about P30 – the first is that, unlike the vast majority of B&W films available today, P30 is orthochromatic, rather than panchromatic – meaning it is sensitive primarily to blue and green, and much less to red, which is why it renders red objects much darker than typical B&W films, and why it exhibits higher apparent contrast. The second is that, as a result, using a yellow, orange or red filter to, for example, darken the skies in a picture reduces the effective film speed of P30 beyond what the normal filter factor would imply (so if one uses say a yellow filter and applies normal processing, P30 winds up both underexposed and overdeveloped, making the contrast even higher than it would ordinarily be). As others have said, I’ve found that dilute Rodinal works great. One other word of caution – each roll of 35mm film in your developing tank needs to “see” at least 5ml of undiluted Rodinal (so if you use Rodinal at 1:100, such as 5ml of Rodinal mixed with 500ml of water, make sure your tank can hold the full half liter of the mixed solution).

  • William Sommerwerck February 26, 2018 at 9:51 am

    A question of aesthetics… To what extent has Ansel Adam’s nature photography; existing-light photojournalism; and the traditional use of B&W for studio portraits; influenced our perception of what B&W photos should look like?

    Mr Laidlaw, there are barrier creams to protect your skin from hydroquinone. If it’s of any interest, hydroquinone is the active ingredient in most spot-removing creams. And it’s used to develop chromogenic materials. Amazing stuff.

  • The original handwritten formula (from the photo posted on Ferrania’s website) is labeled “Portrait Orto 80.” I may be mistaken, and certainly did not intend to spread misinformation, but the film in my experience appears to have a spectral response much more akin to ortho than panchro film, as a number of other reviewers have also noted. But in any case I love the stuff! Thanks for posting my comments…

    • No, no. I agree with you. Shooting around Boston with all its brick buildings created a look that’s just what you’re talking about. Next time I talk to Dave with Ferrania I’ll bring it up and see what he says. The current info from the brand says it’s panchro, so that’s all we can really say.

  • I also think it leans towards the ortho – maybe not full on – but reds come out very dark. I shot a roll outdoors in sunshine using a 25a filter and it was a mess. I wanted to darken the sky, but what actually happened was everything else got super dark. That being said, when my lighting conditions changed (things got foggy), the exact same set up produced some sublime photo’s. I developed it myself – Xtol 1+1 12 minutes. I love the film, but it can get contrasty. I would recommend you avoid doing anything that will increase the contrast – either when shooting or developing.

  • Upon further reflection, I suspect P30 may actually be what Adox, for example, calls their CHS 100 film – “orthopanchromatic” – technically a pan film (which is how Ferrania labels it), but with reduced red sensitivity like the portrait films of yore.

  • P-30 definitely appears to be an orthopanchromatic film, maybe with even less red sensitivity than Rollei Retro 100 Tonal. For those that don’t know, there were generally three categories of panchromatic films; orthopanchromatic that had less red sensitivity compared to blue and green; true panchromatic that have balanced spectral sensitivity; superpanchromatic that had extended red but often reduced blue sensitivity. P-30 has a nice look, but also one that puts its stamp on the scene. With this kind of film, a uv filter is a necessity, and it’s good to avoid yellow, orange and red filters without doing some testing before hand.

    With regards to the first line of this blog, Film Ferrania has no connection to the old FILM (Fabbrica Italiana Lamine Milano) Ferrania or the later Ferrania 3M. Film Ferrania srl bought some the equipment, residual materials, and rights to the name, and has virtually nothing to do with the “Italian cinema film maker reached their peak of influence in the mid-twentieth century.” Sorry. It’s nice marketing copy, but is just the stuff of fantasy.

  • Most B&W film is overdeveloped. Try D-76 1:1 for 5.5 minutes to start.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is the founder of CP. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic cameras and the most advanced digital machines. In addition to his work on CP, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio