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Kodak Technical Pan Film: The Ultimate Guide to the Legendary Scientific Film

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Kodak Technical Pan is a legendary film that embodies both adoration and frustration in equal measure in the film photography community. Alongside Kodak Panatomic-X film, it is renowned for its exquisite detail and unique tonal range, and this film has captured the hearts of photographers seeking to unlock unparalleled beauty in their images. However, its alluring qualities come with a price—Technical Pan is notorious for its demanding nature, testing the limits of patience and skill. In this article, we delve into the enigmatic appeal of Kodak Technical Pan, exploring its coveted qualities and the challenges it presents to photographers.

A skip outside a workshop in black and white.
I sometimes deliberately push the limits of the contrast range I can achieve with Tech Pan

What is Kodak Technical Pan Film?

Kodak Technical Pan film - also known as TP or Tech Pan - holds a place of reverence among film enthusiasts for its unparalleled sharpness and fine grain structure. Designed for scientific and technical purposes, this panchromatic film exhibits extraordinary resolving power, capturing the most intricate details with remarkable precision. The resulting images possess an ethereal quality, where every minute element is rendered with astonishing clarity and depth.


Unique Tonal Range and Contrast

One of the standout characteristics of Tech Pan is its exceptional tonal range. It allows photographers to achieve an extensive range of contrast, from delicate highlights to deep, rich shadows. This feature opens up a world of creative possibilities, enabling photographers to create images with dramatic visual impact and a breathtaking dynamic range.

A macro photograph of a flower in black and white

The Challenges of Working with Technical Pan

While the allure of Kodak Technical Pan is undeniable, it comes with its fair share of challenges. Working with this film demands meticulous attention to detail and a high level of technical expertise. Here are some of the key difficulties photographers encounter:

  1. Limited Sensitivity: TP has an extremely low ISO rating, typically around ISO 25 or even lower. This means that photographers must carefully plan and control their lighting conditions to ensure proper exposure, often requiring longer exposure times or the use of artificial lighting.

  2. Specialised Development Techniques: Tech Pan requires specific development methods to achieve optimal results. These techniques used to involve precise temperature control, prolonged development times, and the use of specialised developers. Any deviation from the recommended process could result in unpredictable outcomes. However, as we shall see later on, this has been overcome with a very simple, mix-at-home developer that renders pictorial contrast levels with the minimum of fuss.

  3. Increased Susceptibility to Scratches: Due to its ultra-thin emulsion layer, Technical Pan film is more prone to scratches and damage during handling. Extra care must be taken when loading, unloading, and handling the film to minimise the risk of blemishes on the final images.

  4. Limited Availability: Acquiring Kodak Technical Pan film can be a challenge in itself. Its production has been discontinued, and remaining stocks are limited and often difficult to find. Photographers must keep a watchful eye and seize the opportunity to acquire this coveted film when it becomes available.

A barge moored on the Thames at Greenwich in black and white
When shooting in very low contrast conditions you can sometimes get too flat a negative, but this worked quite well here as the flat tonal range adds to the ghostliness of the barge on the Thames in the fog.

How to Work With Kodak Technical Pan Film

Despite the difficulties associated with Kodak Technical Pan, many photographers relish the opportunity to work with this film precisely because of its demanding nature, and it is a perfect choice for creating fine art prints for hanging on your walls. It presents an artistic challenge and encourages a more deliberate and intentional approach to the craft. The process becomes a labor of love, rewarding those who persevere with breathtaking images that exude a unique character and timeless beauty.

The New River at Canonbury in black and white.
The New River in Canonbury (neither new, nor a river) provided an excellent challenge in terms of contrast

As a photographer, you need to be prepared to plan ahead and be exacting in the subject you choose to photograph with Tech Pan. You will always be served well by minimising the inherent contrast in your scene, though the above photograph of the New River at Canonbury shows that, even with a high inherent contrast, you can still produce a compelling image with TP.


Using Kodak Technical Pan is an art and a science combined into one. As we'll see, developing it is a lesson in chemistry all of its own.


Developing Kodak Technical Pan in the 21st Century

A New Frontier - Master's Metol

In my quest to master the contrast of Agfa Copex Rapid, a similar low speed microfilm, I struck up a conversation with Jay DeFehr on Facebook, who gave me a formula and development schema for a developer he created out of 3 ingredients: metol, potassium metabisulphite and potassium carbonate. A two-part developer, the stock solutions are long-lasting and easy to mix.


The recipe is as follows.


Part A:

  • 50g metol

  • 50g potassium metabisulphite

  • water (distilled preferably) to 1l

Part B:

  • 50% potassium carbonate solution

Mix in the ratios 2:1:100 (i.e. 20ml part A, 10ml part B and topping up to 1l) to make up the working solution.


Development time for typical 25 ISO microfilms (I've tested with Copex Rapid, Technical Pan, Agfapan APX25 and Agfaortho 25) is around 8 minutes at 20C, with an initial agitation of 15s and then stand developing for the remainder of the time.

A street corner in North London in black and white
A street corner in the North of London, showing that despite the high contrast range, developing in Master's Metol retains the detail in the sky as well as the shadows, and this had its contrast boosted in post.

Master's Metol is rightly a revered film developer among discerning photographers, and it proves to be a perfect companion for the coveted Kodak Technical Pan film. The unique characteristics of Technical Pan, such as its fine grain and exceptional resolving power, find a harmonious partnership with the precise formulation of Master's Metol. This developer's meticulous blend ensures optimal image quality, accentuating the film's inherent sharpness and capturing even the most delicate details with astonishing clarity. The synergy between Master's Metol and Technical Pan film unlocks a realm of artistic possibilities, allowing photographers to fully exploit the film's capabilities and achieve breathtaking results that showcase the film's legendary beauty in all its glory.

A new residential block in Battersea, in black and white
This new residential block in Battersea was a perfect subject for Technical Pan film.

Alex Luyckx of the Classic Camera Revival podcast also had success in developing Tech Pan in various other developers. You can also find other people's successful developer choices and timings over at the Massive Dev Chart, though as always with crowdsourced data, take it with a pinch of salt until you've tried it.


Conclusion

Kodak Technical Pan film occupies a special place in the hearts of film photographers, enticing them with its remarkable detail, tonal range, and distinctive visual characteristics. It is a film that inspires a deep appreciation for the art of photography, demanding dedication and skill in its pursuit. While working with Technical Pan may be challenging, the rewards are undeniably worth the effort. It offers a gateway to a world of exquisite imagery, where photographers can create masterpieces infused with the magic and allure that only this film can deliver.

 

Why not stop by the shop and check out the latest in black and white fine art prints, or get in touch and see if I can produce something bespoke for your walls?

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Neil Waybright
Neil Waybright
Jun 08, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I used to get 50 rolls of Kodak 2415 a year as my "training allowance" while I was a collateral duty intelligence photographer in the Navy in the early to late 1980s. We shot it at ISO 400 and developed it in Diafine and it was quite nice. I shot a ton of portraits with it, plus a lot of at-sea imagery. The nice thing was the developing was free. The bad thing was if it was in the camera when I shot any "real" intel photos with the roll, I never got anything back but a text critique of the intel images and the negs went up the intel chain of command. I really wish Kodak would ma…

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Michael Elliott
Michael Elliott
Jun 08, 2023
Replying to

There’s a third one in addition to TP and FX that I wish Kodak would bring back - and that’s HIE. That would really cover me.


TP at 400 though? How was the contrast? I’ve never used Diafine but I can’t imagine it tames the contrast that much.

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Guest
Jun 06, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.
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