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Grain is Good, Right?

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Two Rolls of Fuji Neopan 1600 - And A Whole Bowl of Grits

Fuji Neopan 1600 is a discontinued black and white film that was popular among photographers who needed a fast film for low light situations. It had a nominal speed of ISO 1600, but could be pushed up to ISO 3200 with acceptable results. It was also designed to have the same development time as Neopan 400, making it convenient for processing. However, this film is no longer in production, and the only way to get it is to find some expired rolls online or in thrift stores.


Fuji Neopan 1600 - Under the Microscope

I decided to try out a couple of rolls of expired Fuji Neopan 1600 bulk rolled by someone from eBay. The seller made no claims about the storage or the expiration date so I had nothing to work on. So, I loaded the film into my Zorki 5 and set my light meter to ISO 400, as I expected quite a bit of loss of sensitivity due to aging and the fact that it's a fast film to start with (faster films lose speed a lot quicker). I happily trundled around the Greenwich Peninsula and East Greenwich snapping away, with no preconceptions about what was going to come out of this experiment.


 

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Now, you need to note that expired film can be unpredictable, as the chemical properties of the film change over time due to factors such as temperature, humidity, and storage conditions. Some people enjoy the challenge and the surprise of shooting with expired film, while others prefer to avoid it altogether. Expired film may produce images that are foggy, grainy, contrasty, or have color shifts. Sometimes, expired film may not work at all, resulting in blank or damaged negatives. As I mentioned, I found it liberating just to shoot and not be bothered too much by the result as - frankly - there might not be a result anyway.

In my head I already knew what developer I was going to use for this: D23, and I was going to use the 1+3 dilution I've so come to love. Dilute D23 is highly compensating, and also loses some of the grain clumping that stock D23 demonstrates because of the lower sulfite content. So you get a bit of a boost to the shadows, while not completely blowing out the highlights, and you retain a bit of sharpness too. I also developed these rolls using the minimal agitation pattern (10s every 3 minutes instead of every 1 minute) to enhance local contrast. And, I decided that because I was using a highly compensating developer, I could push the development and extra one stop. I needed every trick in the book to try and maximise the quality of image I got out of this film. But the base time for Neopan 1600 in D23 1+3 is around 20 minutes. You need to add 50% extra time for minimal agitation, and 40% extra on top for a 1 stop push. That would have been 42 minutes of me sat inverting this tank... so, I ran the development not at the usual 20C but at 22.5C and I could take 8 minutes off. Phew!


So, what did I get out of this? See for yourself below.


Image Samples:

Black and white photograph of a woman dancing in a crowd at North Greenwich/the O2.
Dance Like No One's Looking. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of a woman dancing in a crowd at North Greenwich/the O2.
Dance Like No One's Looking. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of a woman dancing in a crowd at North Greenwich/the O2.
Dance Like No One's Looking. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of a food/wine market stall at North Greenwich
Market Stories. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of a food/wine market stall at North Greenwich
Market Stories. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of a food/wine market stall at North Greenwich
Market Stories. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of people reclining on a seat at the food market at North Greenwich
Market Stories. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of a Lola's Cupcakes stand at North Greenwich Tube Station
Lola's Cupcake Dream, Redux. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of some rubbish on the street.
Detritus. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of some rubbish on the street.
Detritus. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

 

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Black and white street photograph around East Greenwich.
East Greenwich Stories. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white street photograph around East Greenwich.
East Greenwich Stories. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white street photograph around East Greenwich.
East Greenwich Stories. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white street photograph around East Greenwich.
East Greenwich Stories. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Blurry black and white street photograph around East Greenwich.
Avant Garde. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Blurry black and white street photograph around East Greenwich.
Avant Garde. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Blurry black and white street photograph around East Greenwich.
Avant Garde. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of a boat in a dry dock on the Greenwich Peninsula
Dry Docked. Photo credit: Michael Elliott
Black and white photograph of a dry dock on the Greenwich Peninsula
Dry Docked. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

Conclusion

As you can see, the expired Fuji Neopan 1600 performed quite well, considering its age. The images have middling to good contrast (which I was surprised by) and excellent sharpness. Tonal range is quite OK indeed. But look at that grain! It's gritty as heck! I love it, but some may not. Would I get prints made? Probably not from most of them, though the boat in the dry dock, and the dancer up at the O2 would probably stand up well.


The film handled both highlights and shadows well (without losing too much detail) given the treatment it was given, and I didn't really expect much more out of it.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the expired Fuji Neopan 1600. It is a versatile and reliable film that can handle various situations. It has a distinctive look that is different from Delta 3200 and T-Max P3200, since it's a cubic grain film rather than a T-Grain type film.. It is a shame that this film is no longer available, as it would be a great choice for street photography, documentary work, or artistic expression. If you ever come across a roll of this film, I would recommend giving it a try. You may be rewarded with some unique and beautiful images.

Technical Details summary:

Shooting:

Camera: Zorki 5 Lens: Jupiter 8 (50mm/f:2)

Film: Fujifilm Neopan 1600PR

EI: 400


Developing:

Developer: D23 1+3

Temperature: 22.5C

Time: 34 min

Agitation pattern: Minimal (10s every 3 min)

Effective push: +1 stop.

 

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