Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Agfa/Rollei Superpan 200

Superpan 200 in 35mm and medium format
There are very few black and white films manufactured with a nominal speed of 200; currently, just three: Fomapan 200, Ilford SFX 200 Creative, and Agfa Superpan 200Fomapan 200 was discontinued for a few years, but was recently reintroduced in a new formulation; Ilford's SFX 200 shares some characteristics with Agfa Superpan 200: the name denotes that the Agfa film is superpanchromatic, with extended red sensitivity beyond normal panchromatic films, to near infra-red, and with the right filters (like SFX 200) it can produce similar effects to true infra-red film. Of the three films, all are available in 35mm and medium format rollfilm, additionally, Fomapan 200 is also available in large format sheet film. There are few stockists in the UK for Superpan 200, West End Cameras currently has the film in stock; when asked about in Silverprint, they hadn't heard of the film. Superpan 200 is sold by Maco but is produced (as Aviphot Pan 200) by Agfa-Gevaert in Belgium, and Maco's website uses Agfa-Gevaert's Aviphot Pan 200 technical information sheet. As can be seen in the photograph above, the film packaging uses both Agfa and Rollei brand names for the medium format film, while the 35mm labels do not use the Rollei name (the 35mm film is also not DX-coded). In the film rebates, on the medium format version, Rollei is used, while 35mm has just the name Superpan 200.

Agfa-Gevaert's data sheet describes Aviphot Pan 200's applications as:
Aerial photography assignments from low to medium altitudes, for gathering, interpreting and processing information intended for cartography, inventory purposes and exploration studies. This film can be used in industrial recording systems, such as equipment for plotting graphs in control and monitoring devices. It can also be used in stereo image recording devices, either airborne or in ground-based facilities for subsequent production of three-dimensional plans, maps, etc.
With its expanded colour sensitivity into the near infra-red range of the colour spectrum, Aviphot Pan 200 offers excellent penetration through haze, fog and other atmospheric conditions liable to affect the image quality. Obviously, this yields an improved image contrast and therefore more information. With the uniform distribution of the panchromatic sensitivity within the range of visible light, the terrain can be imaged very faithfully without having to revert to the use of special spectral recording filters. Yellow filters can be used to get a higher image contrast. They also decrease the overall film sensitivity.
As with previous film tests I shot a roll of 35mm Superpan using an Olympus OM10 SLR, with a range of meter settings of 25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 for film latitude. With no published development times for Ilfotec LC29, the developer I used, on neither the data sheet from Maco, nor the Massive Dev Chart, I used stand development, with a dilution of 1+100 for one hour.

First latitude test contact sheet, stand developed in Ilfotec LC29
The first test showed the film to have narrow latitude, with the best exposure indexes of between 50-200, but developed in Ilfotec LC29, rating the film at 100 (or a little under) seemed to give the best results (the original data sheet states that "Aviphot Pan 200 can be exposed as a 125 to 250 ASA film," although this is with Agfa's G74c developer). Stand development is usually a good technique to get straight negatives from a properly exposed film, but the first results were a little disappointing.

I used the same camera and exposure settings for a second roll, repeating the latitude test of metering for 25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, but this time developed the film with RO9 One Shot, diluted 1+:25 for Maco's published time of 8 minutes at 20ºC. The results with RO9 One Shot were better than the first test, but using normal agitation does appear to have increased the contrast of the film, although lighting conditions were different, with some winter sunlight providing bright highlights.

Second latitude test, developed in RO9 One Shot
The two tests show that the latitude range of Superpan 200 is relatively narrow (compare for example, Adox Silvermax's wide latitude range): exposed at 25 and 50, the highlights and midtones begin to lose separation, while with underexposure, the shadows quickly lose detail. The scans below have been adjusted to pull the maximum amount of detail from highlights and shadows: as is typical with black and white negative film, overexposure does give better results than underexposure, but Superpan 200 is less flexible in this regard than some other films.

Agfa Superpan 200, rated 25, developed in RO9 One Shot 1+25
Agfa Superpan 200, rated 800, developed in RO9 One Shot 1+25
I also shot a first roll in medium format in my Voigtländer Bessa RF, developing this in RO9 One Shot at 1+25 for 8 minutes at 20ºC. For this, I relied on the 'Sunny 16' rule for exposure, which I often use for cameras without built-in lightmeters, but as a result, a number of the negatives were rather thin, partly a result of trying to calculate exposure settings for winter sunlight. Despite this, at medium format, Superpan 200's qualities are immediately apparent - its sharpness, relatively tight grain structure, its clear base with very little curl once processed and the contrast; the results were reminiscent of Rollei RPX 25 - despite the difference in speed, both films have a very similar look.

Voigtländer Bessa RF, RO9 One Shot 1+25, 8m at 20ºC
Having developed Superpan 200 in both Ilfotec LC29 and RO9 One Shot, I suspected that RO9 One Shot at higher dilutions would provide better results, notably with higher-contrast scenes; I shot some more 35mm Superpan 200 with both the Kodak Retina IIa, and my Agfa Optima Sensor, and developed at a dilution of 1+50, for 17 minutes at 20ºC. As it's easier to increase contrast in printing or scanning, with a film like Superpan 200, it is important to expose and develop to keep both shadow and highlight detail - as with all films, but some emulsions have greater latitude and lower contrast, making it easier to achieve good negatives while being less exact in approach.

Agfa Optima Sensor with Superpan 200, RO9 One Shot 1+50, 17m at 20ºC
The first tests that I made with Superpan 200 reflected the fact that these were not shot in the best lighting conditions, in the middle of winter; with more available light and higher dilutions of developer, the subsequent results in 35mm were better. I also shot medium format film in both the No.2 Brownie and the Ica Trona: even with simple Brownie meniscus lens and the uncoated Tessar on the Ica Trona, the results were good, possibly the inherent contrast of Superpan 200 complements the softness of these old lenses. On a precautionary note, the rolls of film that I shot in medium format showed that the emulsion is easily scratched if not carefully handled and the synthetic base is susceptible to 'light piping' - Maco's website does include a warning about this, and it's important to make sure the medium format films are tightly wound on their spools when removing after exposure in the camera.

Kodak No.2 Brownie with Superpan 200, RO9 One Shot, 1+50, 17m at 20ºC
Ica Trona 210 with Superpan 200, RO9 One Shot, 1+50, 17m at 20ºC
As well as higher dilutions, I also wanted to try developing the film at lower temperatures in Rodinal. Having used Rodinal, or RO9 One Shot, for a number of years, it does seem that some of its best qualities are facilitated by using higher dilutions and lower temperatures: one or two degrees below 20ºC does seem to negate some of the 'roughness' associated with the appearance of grain when developing faster films in Rodinal. This does start to extend development times; for the shot below I used 20 minutes diluted 1+50 at 18ºC. Not having an infra-red filter, one aspect of Superpan 200 that I did not test was the ability to achieve an 'infra-red look', but even without such filtering it's a very apt film for landscape photography. The extended red sensitivity, its "excellent penetration through haze, fog and other atmospheric conditions" provide a good rendition of both skies and distances, even unfiltered; for some of the later medium format shots I used a yellow filter.

Ica Trona 210 with Superpan 200, RO9 One Shot, 1+50, 20m at 18ºC
Having made enough tests, Superpan 200 was one of the films that I took with me - in medium format only - on a recent trip through Europe to Stockholm. The medium format camera that I took was the folding Zodel Baldalux, which I've frequently used for travelling. At the Loppmarknaden flea market in Stockholm, I bought an Agfa Isolette III, so shot a few rolls of Superpan 200 with this camera. As with the tests that I had made a couple of months earlier, I found myself taking lots of photographs in low slanting sun, and some of the contrasts between bright sunlight and deep shadows, such as in the third image below, needed careful metering (I used my hand-held Weston meter rather more than usual when shooting Superpan 200). These last few rolls of Superpan 200 I developed in RO9 One Shot at 1+50, and used a time of 19 minutes at 19ºC - an easy relationship of time to temperature to remember.

Zodel Baldalux with Rollei Superpan 200 with yellow filter, RO9 One Shot 1+50, 19m at 19ºC

Agfa Isolette III with Rollei Superpan 200, RO9 One Shot 1+50, 19m at 19ºC
Agfa Isolette III with Rollei Superpan 200, RO9 One Shot 1+50, 19m at 19ºC
Agfa Isolette III with Rollei Superpan 200, RO9 One Shot 1+50, 19m at 19ºC
Sources/further reading:  
Agfa's Aviphot product pages
Aviphot Pan 200 data sheet (PDF)
Maco developing times for Superpan 200 (PDF)
Extensive review on 125px

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