I remember the first time I encountered a box of Panatomic-X and seeing the film seep of ASA-32, my mind was blown. I had never seen a film slower than ASA-50 (Pan F+). And then I sent it off to the lab to develop it and was even more amazed at the results. Panatomic-X is a fine-grained general purpose film and it seems the slowest of the X-Series of films (Plus-X, Tri-X, Double-X). And what a film Panatomic-X is, while some are hung up on Plus-X, which is itself an amazing film, I’m more a slow film junkie and enjoy Panatomic-X far more than Plus-X. Plus, it has an awesome name, I mean Atomic, you can’t get any better than this!

Film Specs
Type: Panchromatic B&W
Film Base: Acetate
Film Speed: ASA-32
Formats Available: 35mm, 120, Sheet
Year Discontinued: 1987

Roll 01 – Kodak D-76
Nothing like a classic film in a classic developer. And while I wanted to do the initial roll review in D-23 rather than D-76, I needed to make sure the timing on the D-76 was correct off an original box chart before I calculated. First off, Panatomic-X is already sharp and fine-grained so there’s really nothing you can do to the film to make it appear grainy. And that certainly comes across with D-76, everything is near perfect, the contrast is low, but you get an amazing tonality across the range. You even get your whites and blacks still present. Zero grain in any of the images, certainly a great choice for this film.

Duffy'sMeyerCrooked TreeSeems Odd

Technical Details:
Mamiya m645 – Mamiya-Sekor C 45mm 1:2.8 N – Kodak Panatomic-X @ ASA-32
Kodak D-76 (Stock) 5:00 @ 20C

Roll 02 – Rodinal
What better way to test out a slow, fine-grained film than with a sharp developer. Now, on the original sheets that I have for Panatomic-X one thing, it doesn’t give me is a time and dilution for Rodinal, it’s only for Kodak developers. This fact doesn’t surprise me, but when it comes to the Internet you do have to take what you find with a grain of salt. But when using Flickr I can always see how a film and developer combination works and you know, it works out rather well! Despite the slow speed, you do still have a grain pattern, but that could be due to age, but you have a sharp image, a low contrast, but amazing tones across the spectrum and yet you still get clean whites and deep blacks.

Niagara-On-The-Lake - November 2016Niagara-On-The-Lake - November 2016Niagara-On-The-Lake - November 2016Niagara-On-The-Lake - November 2016

Technical Details:
Nikon FA – AI-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 – Kodak Panatomic-X @ ASA-32
Blazinal (1+50) 10:00 @ 20C

Roll 03 – Kodak Xtol
The very first developer combination I found for Panatomic-X was Xtol, now I used to use Xtol a lot but since moving into a smaller space I don’t have room to keep a 5L Jerry Can of Xtol sitting about. But honestly this is my personal favourite for this film, despite it being a classic film, this modern developer works well by showing off the fine grain of the film even more yet maintaining a sharp image. Not to mention you have that wide rich tones, and a little bit more contrast than with Rodinal even!

Glass WallsIn Session (2)OpenedTerminal Duty

Techincal Details:
Nikon F4 – AF Nikkor 35mm 1:2D – Kodak Panatomic-X @ ASA-32
Kodak Xtol (1+1) 7:30 @ 20C

Roll 04 – Kodak HC-110
Like many other films from Kodak, the original datasheets called for a 4.5-minute development in HC-110 Dilution B, now I generally avoid times less than five minutes these days. Rather I turned to an unofficial dilution (Dilution H or 1+63) and doubled the development times. And the results speak for themselves, beautiful tones, the contrast you’re used to with Panatomic-X, and fine grain while maintaining a level of sharpness. I honestly was blown away by the quality of these images certainly a worthy options. I may just try this on my (current) last roll of Panatomic-X in Medium Format.

Queens Rangers CabinWishing WellJerseyville TH&B StationMountsberg Church

Technical Details:
Minolta XE-7 – Minolta Rokkor-X 45mm 1:2 – Kodak Panatomic-X @ ASA-32
Kodak HC-110 Dil. H 9:00 @ 20C

Final Thoughts
There’s always that game of Russian Roulette when working with expired film stocks, and while it’s impossible to get fresh, even short dated Panatomic-X films these days, what you can find will still work! Most of the stocks I’ve worked with have expired between the late 1970s through to the early 1990s and even without pulling the film due to age I get consistent results. This is due to the slow speed of the film, thus making it far more stable than anything above ASA-200 or up. Of course, I also make sure I purchase the expired film off reputable sellers, such as Abraham Vinegar or the Film Photography Project, or trading with trusted friends. But if you find well stored Panatomic-X, it’s worth the coin to purchase the film. I have yet to find a box of the stuff in 4×5 but if I ever do find it, I’ll be a rather happy photographer!

10 Comments

  1. I wish I had more money back when all these films were still produced. I’d have liked to have shot more of them! I didn’t know how beautiful Panatomic-X is in any developer.

    1. Author

      Yeah, I quickly fell for the film after that very first roll. Now I hunt it down at any camera show I visit. Came away with a decent stash the last time, still have 1 roll of 120 and 2 of 35mm.

  2. Panatomic X was amazing. The greyscale was superb – as your images demonstrate. It was particularly stunning on trees and woodland scenes, capturing the different shades. You could have good fun using different filters in both taking pictures and developing them.

    1. Author

      For sure! I still have a few rolls hanging around in 35mm that are waiting for appropriate trips to come along on!


  3. I took Fred Picker’s advice back in the late 1980’s when T-Max first came put and filled a freezer with as many rolls of 120 as I could afford.
    I’m now down to my last 280 rolls, as I have been sharing it with other Photographers, but that is about to end. I have 80 rolls up on eBay and if they don’t sell by 2-29-20, they’ll stay in my stash.

  4. Alex, nice job! I have been a fan of Panatomic-X for decades and have bought some 120 rolls from Bob Brown (in the previous comment). It is a fantastic old-school film. You did a great job with all the developers you tested. I love the urban decay scenes in the school.

  5. Nice trip down film’s memory lane. My memory of Panatomic X was that the film base was very thin and you had to be very careful loading it onto steel reels.

    Very easy to crimp and get “crescent moon” marks on your enlargements.

    My photo instructor circa 1973 bragged on a GAF b&w film, 250 speed, on a Mylar base. I remember him saying “you can tow a truck with this stuff!”

    I spent half my newspaper career shooting Tri X and developing it in HC110 in hard rubber tanks with gas burst agitation. Easy peasy!

  6. Hi, I share the same passion for Panatomic-X.
    When I knew they were to be finished I picked all the rolls I could and stored them on the freezer. I still have nine of them.
    From the tests you conducted, which is you preferred developer for it? D-76 and Rodinal areeasily found here in Brazil. There’s also Microphen.
    Any suggestions are very welcome, thank you.
    My best,
    Dado Azevedo

    1. Author

      Stick with the classic go with D-76!

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