It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally had a chance to work through some backlogged film testing for the Film Photography Project. For the most part, this has been testing the Russian/Ukrainian film stocks from the Svema company. This is actually a really good film! First off a little background, Svema, or Свема, combines the first letters of two words: Светочувствительные Материалы, which translated means “Photosensitive Materials”. Svema was the Kodak of the USSR, founded in 1931 the company produced paper and black & white films, after World War Two, Svema gained Agfa’s colour technology when the Russians overran Germany and took the equipment back to the plant in Ukraine. The company continued to hold a monopoly in the Soviet bloc until the collapse and when the iron curtain was torn open, suddenly the photographers had access to a wide range of western film stocks. And Svema started to collapse. But they survived and yes, they’re still producing films near the same plant they started out in. And while they produce a wide range of film stocks today I’ll be touching on just three. Svema Foto 200, Svema MZ-3, and Svema Micrat-Orto.
Svema Foto 200
Svema Foto 200 is an ASA-200 panchromatic black & white film that is just pure magic. I was actually really surprised at the results I got. The depth and tonal range of this film, not to mention the sharpness. To take a phrase from a fellow photographer, Leslie (who was kind enough to supply with me the two rolls tested here) “it looks like the way I want the world to look.” And I couldn’t agree more. The first roll of film I processed using a formula from another photographer, John Meadows, Kodak Xtol, diluted 1 to 1 for twelve minutes.
One thing you have to watch out for with this film is that it’s on a polyester base which is thin as a heron’s leg. So if you’re sending it out to a film lab let them know as some may not want to send the film through their automated machines. Places like The Darkroom can handle this sort of film through a dip-and-dunk process. If you process at home, you may face some issues loading it up onto your plastic reels, just be calm, and don’t use violence. I have no real experience with stainless steel but they may give you an easier time.
This is not the film for the faint hearted. I really have no idea what this film is for. It’s a slow film, most people rating it between ASA-1.5 and ASA-6. But it produces an image with almost zero grain and incredibly sharp. The first roll I actually shot back in the summer at Fort Michilimackinac. Getting developing times of course with my limited chemistry cabinant was another issue. Again turning to Leslie’s flickr stream as she had tested the film also, I found some in HC-110, enjoying the look, I decided to shorten the developing time based on other reading I did online. And settled for six and a half minutes in HC-110 Dilution E.
The highlights were a little blown out, and another odd thing is that on the film rebate there was another company name, Kodak. Wanting to keep with HC-110 I again shot the film at ASA-3 and dropped it by half a minute. That half a minute made all the difference, the highlights were back, and this film is looking amazing.
What this film was used for originally I don’t know, but when I used it to capture architecture in downtown Wiarton, Ontario using a perspective control lens, it worked great, very sharp, no grain at all. If I had to guess I would say this film is very blue sensitive, based on how it rendered the colour, similar to Eastman 5363, so it’s probably a copy film or high contrast title film. So I wouldn’t use any of usual contrast filters you’d use on regular B&W films.
This is the one film I had no ideas what to do with it! The canister said ASA-1, but after looking at the information I could find on Flickr, I realized this would be a better shot at ASA-.75, yes you read that right, a speed less than 1! Possible, yes. How did I do it? Easy, I took the meter reading at ASA-3 using my Sekonic L-358, (3 is the lowest it’ll go), then using the same shutter speed, I opened up the aperture two stops. So I would meter for f/32, then shoot at f/16. Then it was simply a matter of figuring out how to develop it. I wanted to use Xtol since it was the only one I could find times online for, being 8 minutes in the Stock solution (again care of Leslie), but I don’t really like using the stock chemistry. But if I dilute it, what should the time be? Should I just double it and make it 16 minutes? Then I looked back at the Foto 200, the stock time in Xtol was around 7 minutes, the 1+1 time was 12, so that’s double, minus 2 minutes. Which applying the same formula, would be 14. So I setup the Massive Dev app, and put in just the first roll. Bingo!
Oddly enough the Micrat-Orto or “Svema Super Positive Slide Film” develops as the name implies as a positive image even in traditional B&W chemistry, similar to Kodak 2468. The time of 14 minutes, you could probably drop it maybe 30 seconds and get some highlights back. Don’t dismiss Svema films out of hand too quickly. The films give a pleasing image especially the Foto 200. But if you’re looking for weird and wonderful I oddly enough recommend the Micrat-Orto, especially if you want to catch motion, you won’t need any sort of neutral density filters with this film, but you will need a meter that can either go down to ASA-3 or lower, the Gossen Luna Pro is a good choice. Remember, we’ve always had access to Fuji, Agfa, Foma, Kodak, and Ilford films, but adding Svema into the mix is simply to give you freedom of choice, and it’s certainly a film line I plan on trying more of this year, the Foto 100, FN64, and Tasma NK-2! If you want to try your hand at some of these films you can pick them up through the Film Photography Project Store: Svema Foto 200, Svema MZ-3, and Micrat-Orto. We’re also building up a database of developing times in the group on Flickr.
Long Live Film!