Kodak Technical Pan – Discovering the Joys of Expired Film – By Theo Swinscow
This isn’t a film review. These aren’t carefully selected photos. Last week, I went outside near my home with a roll of Kodak Technical Pan to make the most of some fog. The results seem to have got me excited enough to write out a few hundred rambling words over the next few paragraphs. So that’s what this is.
I’m generally not too keen on expired films. After the initial euphoric phase when I got back into film photography – trying out new film stocks in a new camera each week, pulling, pushing, in different developers, expired rolls I was given or found lying around in various places – I decided about 18 months ago to try and be a bit more restrained and thoughtful with what I use. It didn’t really work with cameras, but it did with film. Nowadays, I basically use HP5+, Portra 400, Provia 100F, and in certain specific situations Acros or Delta 3200. Now that I write it out, that’s still quite a lot. In any case, I moved away from expired film because I didn’t really feel I was getting much out of it. Other than the occasional nice photograph, I mostly got muddy colours or grain and didn’t have anywhere to go after learning from my mistakes, mainly because I didn’t have another roll of the stuff expired at the same time, kept in the same way etc. Compare that to Ilford HP5+, the 50 or so rolls I’ve shot over the last 18 months have allowed me to get a slightly better understanding of how the film works and reacts in particular situations. Don’t quote me on this though, I’m still very much an amateur.
So, I banished expired films. That is, until I bought a filter for my Rolleiflex from someone in Paris. I went to his house and experienced one of those great occasions you sometimes get in our hobby – going into a random stranger’s house and discovering a treasure trove. He used to own a repair shop in Paris but kept quite a bit of the equipment when he retired. When I say quite a bit, I mean enough to fill one floor of his house. The place was full: boxes everywhere with “Rolleiflex finder” or “Hasselblad screws” written on them. Collimators, speed testing machines, broken cameras, beautiful cameras. He showed me around, told me about a point and shoot that he modified for Cartier Bresson, showed me a print that Robert Doisneau gave him. When I came across a box full of expired film, I asked if I could take some. He seemed perplexed but was more than happy to give me a few rolls. I saw the Technical Pan in its stylish box and asked him about it. “Great film, very versatile, shame they don’t make it anymore”.
Intrigued, I took it home and started searching. It turns out to be a fascinating film. I won’t go into much detail (because I don’t have it), but Technical Pan was a film made by Kodak for the military and can be used for a large number of applications: scientific uses, photomicrography, astronomy, electron-micrography, and pictorial. By the way, all this information is included in the little paper leaflet included with the roll… so cool! This is what you need to know if you’re going to use it for normal photography:
- ISO is variable, depending on the contrast you’re looking for, and the developer you use. This is the table which Kodak includes with the film. (Once again, so cool!)
- Technidol, the developer made by Kodak specifically for Technical Pan, is long since gone and you need to be extremely careful about which developer you use. Contrast can quickly become unmanageable.
- Technical Pan leans to the red side of the spectrum, so shots outside can look a bit like you have a filter on
- Grain is pretty much non-existent.
Investigating further, I turned to the fantastic Vintage Film Shooters Facebook group. I was given a few ideas for different developers and some tips on the developing process, notably Mike Novak telling me to replace the stop bath with distilled water to prevent reticulation. I felt ready to take some pictures.
I loaded the film into my Olympus OM2n, took some photos then forgot about the film for 8 months.
Finally last week, during some unexpected thick fog around our home, I picked up the Olympus, put my favourite 28mm 2.8 on the camera and set out to take some more photos. I have a problem with foggy conditions. The world around us changes so dramatically that I tend to get fog-frenzy, a common illness where I start shooting at everything and anything I can. I walked up to a nearby château and finished the roll within minutes.
I developed the roll as per instructions, taking extra care with my handling of the development tank, gently turning it rather than inverting it. A little over 10 minutes later, I saw the negatives. Thin, as I had been told to expect, but pictures were definitely there. The roll expired in 1997, that’s now quite a long time ago. It’s fascinating that we’re still able to get good results from something way past it’s life expectancy.
After scanning, I was really happy with the results: there’s no grain, the pictures at first glance look almost digital. Technical Pan might be known for its contrast, but there’s also some quite lovely midtones in some of the pictures. I just wish I’d been a bit more controlled and thoughtful about what I was taking photos of, I would have perhaps been able to take more care over composition. With a 28mm, lots of unwanted things can get in the frame, and it’s worth taking time to eliminate them.
As I looked over the pictures, I thought of two things. Firstly, I came back to the very reason I had stopped using expired film with a pang of regret: I had none left and most probably wouldn’t find any. In that respect, I seem to have got lucky. A 45m bulk roll came up for sale that very day on Leboncoin (French version of ebay), I snagged it up for a very decent price. Secondly, I thought back to the perplexed look on the old expert’s face when I told him I wanted to use some of his twenty-year expired film. It was worth it.
The whole process of trying this film encapsulates many of the things I like about film photography and why I tend to prefer it to digital photography: an interesting end-product, meeting fascinating strangers with stories to tell, a helpful and encouraging community, trepidation, forgetting things and coming back to them, and then of course surprises – sometimes positive.
If you’re interested in seeing more of my photos, you can have a look over on my Instagram @theoswins.
p.s. For anyone looking to develop Technical Pan in HC-110, here’s the information I was given: I shot at 32 ISO, then developed for 6:15min diluted to 1+79 (dilution F) at 20°. I was encouraged to not use stop, but rather demineralised water as a stop bath. I was also extremely careful with my agitation, doing it as gently as possible.
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