Tag Archives: #Retropan

Steam on Retropan.

On one level, it seems appropriate to make images of steam locomotives and their environment with Retropan. ‘Retro on Retro’ right?

Yet, I know many old-school black & white photographers would object to the essential qualities of Retropan black & white film, which by design is comparatively soft and grainy.

Yes, there are sharper films; and of course there’s colour, not to mention digital, but the reason I chose Foma Retropan for these photos was because of the gritty quality it offers.

Someone might ask why does the RPSI run a steam locomotive, when there are more efficient diesel railcars available?

Connolly Station, exposed on Retropan 18 March 2018.
Connolly Station, exposed on Retropan 18 March 2018.

Ooo! Look an efficient diesel railcar. And it’s on Retropan too! Drumcondra, Dublin.
Approaching Glasnevin Junction, Dublin.
Locomotive number 4 at Maynooth. Notice the modern signal in the distance and the bright lamps on the locomotive.


Psssst! I also made some colour slides, and a whole bunch of colour digital image on the same day.

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My new book ‘Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe features RPSI trains in its section on Ireland.

It is due out in May 2018 and may pre-order the book from Kalmbach Books: https://kalmbachhobbystore.com

For details on  RPSI and passenger excursions see: https://www.steamtrainsireland.com

Retropan Test—Further Experiments with a New Emulsion.

Tracking the Light focus on creating photos and this post is about the nuts and bolts of working with black & white film, and pursuing means to refine the process.

What better way to spend a damp, windy snowy day, then to expose and process black & white film in new ways?

I’d read about ‘stand processing,’ but I’d never tried it.

Stand processing uses developer at very low-concentration with virtually no agitation for very long process times.

Among the potential advantages of stand processing is greater tonality with exceptional highlight and shadow detail. A secondary benefit is that it requires much less developer. Also, I wondered if I could better control granularity by eliminating the effects of agitation (the answer from this test was: no).

I’d previously experimented with Foma Retropan, a modern film rated at 320 that emulates the effects of traditional emulsions. For those photos I processed the film in Foma’s specially formulated Retro developer. I found the negatives to be grainy, but offering a distinctive tonality with soft highlights.

See: Retropan on the Rails; Experiments with My second Roll of Foma’s 320 ISO Black & White film. [https://wp.me/p2BVuC-4Bj] and

Unexpected Results: My Third Experiment with Retropan. [https://wp.me/p2BVuC-4BP]

Below are some examples of Retropan using stand development in Agfa Rodinal (mixed 1:100 with water) for 40 minutes, 10 seconds agitation at beginning of development, and again at the end. Development temp 74 F.

Retropan stand process for 40 minutes in Rodinal mixed 1 to 100 with water. 135mm lens.
Retropan stand process for 40 minutes in Rodinal mixed 1 to 100 with water. 24mm lens.

For comparison, a couple of hours later  I also exposed more Retropan and processed this in Agfa Rodinal Special (as distinct from ordinary Rodinal) but with agitation and short process times; one batch (mixed at 1:32) at 68F for 4 minutes;

Retropan 4 minutes Agfa Rodinal Special with 10 second agitation every 30 seconds, plus 9 minutes selenium toner. 24mm lens.

A second batch (mixed at 1:32) at 70F for 70 minutes. I then toned these negatives for 9 minutes in a selenium solution to boost highlight detail.

Retropan 7 minutes (70F) Agfa Rodinal Special with 10 second agitation every 30 seconds, plus 9 minutes selenium toner. 50mm lens

This is a work in progress and I have no formal conclusions, but makes for some interesting images.

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Seven Retro-views on Retropan: West Trenton, New Jersey.

On one level the name of the film sounds a bit silly; ‘Retropan.’ This is actually a relatively new emulsion that aims to fulfill a classic aesthetic.

It is a soft, slightly grainy black & white negative film that provides a sensibility that reminds me of photos taken in the 1960s and 1970s.

As far as I’m concern this is a limited application film, but it has it’s place. I’ve documented my experiments with Foma’s Retropan previously over the last year. See:

Retropan 320—My First Experiment.

Retropan on the Rails; Experiments with My second Roll of Foma’s 320 ISO Black & White film.

I made these most recent Retropan photos at along the SEPTA/CSX former Reading Company tracks at West Trenton, New Jersey using a Nikon F3 with 24mm Nikkor lens.

But, yes I also made a few digital color photographs at the same location.

Working with multiple cameras and multiple types of media, allows me to take different visual approaches at the same time.

The old Reading Company station building at West Trenton has been adapted for other applications. In other words the station isn’t a station any more. Confusing matters is that it’s still at the station. Got it?
It’s been a very long time since this old stainless steel electric was the latest thing on steel wheels. These day it’s among SEPTA’s rolling antiques.
Wide-angle views with grainy black & white film screams late 1960s to me.
The ‘smart’ phone bursts the illusion in this view. Obviously not ‘back in the day’.

Well, except all the trains not at this station!

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Going Against the Grain.

Sometimes, I push the limits.

The other morning in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, I exposed this view of New England Central’s northward freight that runs daily from Willimantic, Ct., to Palmer, Massachusetts.

The train was coming hard out of a clear morning sun. Using a Leica IIIA fitted with a Nikkor 35mm screw-mount lens, I exposed this view on Foma Retropan 320.

Retropan is a comparatively coarse grain emulsion that offers a distinctly different range of tones than expected with Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-X, or other black & white films in the same sensitivity range.

It also produces a characteristic halo-effect in bright highlight areas.

I processed the film more or less as recommended using Foma’s specially formulated Retro Special Developer, and then scanned it with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner. I made minor adjustments to contrast in Lightroom.

As I anticipated, my results from this experiment are more pictorial than literal.

A photo of the setting at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.
New England Central’s freight with EMD diesels working long-hood first at Stafford Springs, Connecticut. Retropan’s halo effect combined with the large amounts of flare from the sun hitting the front element of the lens contributes to this interpretive image.

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Amtrak Keystone—Retro Style.

More experiments with Foma (Czech film producer) so-called  Retropan ISO 320 black & white film. See previous posts:

Retropan 320—First Experiment.

Retropan on the Rails; Experiments with My second Roll of Foma’s 320 ISO Black & White film.

Unexpected Results: My Third Experiment with Retropan.

Working with my Nikon F3 fitted with a vintage Nikkor f1.4 50mm lens, I made these views at Strafford, Pennsylvania along the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line west of Philadelphia.

It was a dull Sunday afternoon in January and my hope was to make iconic views using traditional materials that might work more effectively than modern digital color photographs (although I exposed some digital images as well.)

For this batch of Foma Retropan, I returned to hand processing in Paterson tanks. I used Retro Special Developer stock solution (diluted 1:1 with water) with a 4 minutes development time. Prior to introducing the primary developer, I pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of Retro Special Developer stock for 1 minute.

My aim was to retain the broad tonality achieved with earlier experiments while keeping the grain size relatively fine.

Shallow depth of field and classic graininess make for a photo that looks like film. Because it was made with film. I like that concept. Not sure about the results however. I think this one needs refinement.
Amtrak train number 670, a Keystone service from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania blitzes Strafford on the old Main Line. Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens; f2.2 1/250th of a second.
You know it’s not very bright when the streetlights are lit. This was a pretty low contrast scene. I scanned the negatives but did not manipulate the end result.

Honestly, I’m not sure that these photographs work for me. But the lighting was pretty tough. (Flat, dull, and lacking in character and direction).

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Retro Pan—Viola Street, Philadelphia.

My brother Sean is restoring a Victorian row house on Viola Street in Philadelphia.

It is only a few blocks from SEPTA’s route 15 Streetcar on Girard Avenue, and within ear shot of old Reading Company and Pennsylvania Railroad routes.

I’ve been documenting his house for more than 15 years. Last week I exposed these views of Foma Retropan 320 in his kitchen using a Nikon F3 with f1.4 50mm lens.

This soft emulsion with its broad tonality works well with the subject matter.

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Retropan on the Rails; Experiments with My second Roll of Foma’s 320 ISO Black & White film.

This is a follow up to my Tracking the Light post of January 11, 2017, which displayed the results of my first roll of Foma Retropan.

For my second roll, I focused on a variety of railway subjects, aiming to see how this film would perform. This one was exposed using a Nikon F3 with various Nikkor lenses, exposure calculated manually with the aid of a handheld light meter.

I made these images in parallel with digital images exposed with my other cameras.

As with the first roll, I exposed the Retropan at ISO 320 and processed it more or less as recommended by Foma.

A view of Girard and Broad in Philadelphia, exposed using a Nikon F3 with 24mm f2.8 wide-angle lens.
A retro streetcar as seen exposed on Retropan 320. Philadelphia’s Route 15 PCC glides along Girard Avenue. Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 24mm f2.8 wide-angle lens. 1/60th of a second.
Another view of a SEPTA PCC car on Girard Avenue, Philadelphia. Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 24mm f2.8 wide-angle lens.
A pan with Retropan!
A SEPTA Silverliner IV approaches Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania on the former Pennsylvania Railroad. Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 24mm f2.8 wide-angle lens.
Hard glint at New Brunswick, New Jersey. A Washington DC-bound Acela train zips along at speed. Notice how the film reacts to the tremendous contrast between highlights and shadows. Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 135mm f2.8 telephoto lens.
Exposed using a Nikon F3 with 135mm f2.8 telephoto lens.

Again, for this roll I used the Retro Special Developer with shortened the processing time (I opted for 3 minutes 30 seconds plus a pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of HC110.

Overall, I was pleased with the tonality and tight grain structure. The film has a softer look than other fast black & white films, such as Ilford’s HP5, and a broad tonal range that holds highlight and shadow detail very well.

I scanned the negatives with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner. These images are essentially unmodified scans, except for necessary scale reduction for internet presentation plus addition of my watermark. I did not alter contrast, exposure, tonality, or perform sharpening.

This test went so well, for my next experiment, I decided to significantly alter my processing of the film. Stay tuned for my bold experiment with Retropan Roll 3! (Sometimes changes produce unexpected consequences).

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Retropan 320—My First Experiment.

Czech film manufacturer Foma introduced a new black & white film in 2015 called Retropan Soft (ISO 320).

This is advertised as a panchromatic, special negative film with ‘fine grain, good resolution and contour sharpness’. Among its features are a ‘wide range of half tones and a wide exposure latitude.

I tried my first roll in early December 2016. I have to admit that I was curious, but skeptical. Could this new b&w film change the way I approach film photography? Might it offer something decidedly different than Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5?

Working with an old Nikon F3 and 50mm lens  I wandered around Philadelphia with my brother and exposed a variety of gritty urban images that I thought might benefit from the look advertised by ‘Retropan’.

Foma recommended using their specially formulated Retro Special Developer, so I ordered some from Freestyle Photographic Supplies .

I exposed my film at ISO 320, and processed it more or less as recommended using Retro Special Developer, with two small changes:

I shortened the processing time (as I generally find that manufacturer recommended times are too long and lead to excessively dense negatives); plus I pre-soaked the film in a water bath with a drop of HC110 (as described in previous posts).

The negatives scanned  well, and I was impressed with the tonality of the photographs. I’ve included a selection below.

Please note, that although I scaled the files and inserted a watermark, I have not cropped them or manipulated contrast, exposure or sharpness. These photos are essentially un-interpreted.

Philadelphia exposed on Foma Retropan Soft and processed in Foma Retro Special Developer.
Parkside Avenue, Philadelphia.
42nd Street, Philadelphia.
Philadelphia City Hall. Philadelphia exposed on Foma Retropan Soft and processed in Foma Retro Special Developer.
Evening view from the same street corner as the daylight photo.
Low angle view of an alley.
Buying SEPTA transit tokens.

Stay tuned for my next Retropan test!

Brian Solomon presents something new on Tracking the Light every day.