How does one review a film they have only used once? Easy, when the film is something special. Eastman SO-331 High Contrast Intermediate Panchromatic Film is one of those rare cult films that have been floating around for a while. The SO in the name indicates that it is a special order emulsion. And it has developed a rather unique following among the film photography community. Back in October when I was in New York City for the PhotoPlus Expo I was handed a roll of the film by Michael Raso of the Film Photography Podcast (who got a large amount of the stock from another Canadian Photography John Meadows). The film is one of the latest offerings at the FPP store for me to test out. So on a recent trip to Indiana and Illinois I brought the roll along, stopping off in Galesburg, MI and loaded it up in my trusty Nikon F4 and threw on my 50mm f/1.4 lens and started wandering around the small downtown of Galesburg. The film was originally made to create high quality fine grain copies of film for the motion picture industry.
I’m a big fan of rare film stocks, especially slower emulsions these days. That’s the thing there is no rating on the SO-331, but after some digging online I came across a group on Flickr dedicated to this film stock complete with speed and developing tests. When you only have one roll, it’s great to have some starting points to work with. After looking at a speed and development test images I settled on ASA-25, set the mark on my F4 and started shooting. Thankfully I had been blessed with a very sunny day so the slow speed wasn’t an issue. Latitude on this film is very narrow, most people shooting it between ASA-25 and ASA-100.
As for development, based on the chart I found on the SO-331 group I settled on Kodak Xtol for the developer of choice for a couple reasons, the first being it’s a compensating developer and also a fine grain developer. Next would be the time, I liked the highlight detail at the five minute mark, however you lost the shadows, and similarly at the eight minute mark you got the shadow detail but the highlights were blown out. So i settled in the middle and went with six and a half minutes. The results, fantastic. Smooth midtones (when you get them), dark shadows and clean highlights, and no grain.
As this is a high contrast film, your blacks will be black and whites will be white. Not much in the way of midtones however the ones that are there will be nice and smooth. As for darkroom printing, I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet, but do plan on it soon. But it does scan very well. If you like this style of photography I highly recommend picking up a few rolls, you can find them online at the FPP Store or from Labreaurtorie.
Photos: Nikon F4 – AF Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4D – Eastman SO-331 – Xtol (Stock) 6.5 minutes @ 20C