Why I shoot BW400CN


A Black & White film

   My experiance and reason for choosing BW400CN (link to data sheet)
– It is a B&W film with which one can use B&W contrast filters with to obtain enhanced image control and reacts much like standard B&W film, unlike desaturizing a Color negative and having to try and match those same effects in post processing.  example (having clouds emphasized in the sky with a yellow filter) Tonal response is similar to what the eye sees.
– It can be processed in the same C-41 chemicals as standard C-41 based Color negative film by 1 Hour service labs.
– This film is available in 35mm & 120 & 220 roll film formats
– BW400CN scans well with little loss of tonal variations
– it has a broad latitude, in other words it is a forgiving film when it comes to exposure mistakes.

Ron photographing a dove

Ron photographing a dove

The above photo was shot with my old Nikon FTn, 50mm f/1.4 mf lens and film was rated to 320 ASA, I like my negs a bit richer, the dirty neg was scanned by the processing lab to a CD for me, which is normal at such labs as Costco, Walmart, CVS or other corner developers . . . they are in a hurry to meet that 1 hour processing they promise . . . The Lab scans are usually medium size and basically replace the time honored proof sheet, it’s a convenience and if you need a clean full size scan then there are other ways to produce one (that’s another post at a later date as well as how to quick scan or build a DIY adapter for scanning negs and slides)
So OK, there’s the high points of what I like about the film.  I used to develop my own film in the not to distant past, that included photo paper as well and 4×5 sheet films.  I dabbled in an odd but beautiful color paper that one could develop at home with moderate effort and usually great success, it was called Cibachrome and was a color resin-paper.   Now with this new (Chromagenic) B&W film you can develop it at home as well in regular B&W chemicals, there are many documents on the web so I will not go into details here, but just know that you can develop it at home.  As for scanning, with standard B&W film say like Tri-X, you have to adjust your exposure to accommodate scanning if that is your intent, not so I have found with the Chromogenic films.  Grain is tight and usually not an issue unlike Tri-X or some of the older fast films or T-Max 3200 (although T-grain films are usually finer grained).  Like conventional films BW400CN can be pushed for use in low light but then you do have to go with special labs for push processing.  I have read articles that show it successfully pushed to 6400 and beyond and some fantastic results with stand processing (3-4 hour developing times are not unusual). Also there are articles for processing in Caffenol (a coffee based developer) . . there are many formulations and and kits available for alt methods as well.  One needs only search the web for ways to abuse their film for effect and possibly unique outcomes.
I like to rate mine a stop below what the mfg recommends so instead I use an ISO (ASA) of 320 instead of 400, it gives me a slightly denser negative to work with. I can go out shooting and enjoy a day in happy contemplation of finding and making a shot . . when the roll is done I simply plan lunch somewhere close to a 1 hour lab and pick it up along with a CD of scanned negs (almost always they have some dirt on the scans) and I am off to home to play and review.  The lab scans are usually at a lower rez then what I would make myself.  If I find an exceptional shot I can rescan later and import to my processing program and manipulate from there.   One has to have faith in their skills when shooting film as there is (NO Chimping) . . but the reward is when you open a scanned neg and see you nailed the exposure.  You will learn much about yourself and your technique by using film. It will improve your eye with composition.
A last comment; using filters
if using a camera without a built in meter just remember each filter has its own filter factor that you must pay attention to when using (it affects your exposure times), if you do not use in camera metering then you have to apply the filter factor (most films have a mfg’s instruction sheet that supplies you this information), otherwise with filter installed just meter normally and all will be well.  If you have a separate spot meter you can hold the filter over its lens and meter the scene.
Have fun, shoot like your grand-dad used to shoot, learn the sunny 16 rule below,
The basic rule is, “On a sunny day set aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to the [reciprocal of the] ISO film speed [or ISO setting] for a subject in direct sunlight.”
example; aperture = f/16, with ISO/ASA 200 film set shutter to 1/200 sec
An elaborated form of the sunny 16 rule is to set shutter speed nearest to the reciprocal of the ISO film speed /

setting and f-number according to this table:

Aperture     Lighting conditions     Shadow detail
f/22              Snow/sand                       Dark with sharp edges
f/16              Sunny                                 Distinct
f/11              Slight overcast                Soft around edges
f/8                Overcast                            Barely visible
f/5.6            Heavy overcast              No shadows
f/4               Open shade/sunset        No shadows
Add one stop      Back lighting          n/a

it’s so simple, you don’t even need a light meter to get good exposures.
So there ya have it a quick review of BW400CN, a Chromogenic film that can be processed in 1 hour labs everywhere that have C-41 processors.  No excuse to not try B&W and add a few filters say a Yellow, Orange & a Red filter with this film, you can get dramatic skies with the orange and red, and for most shots use the yellow it will let the film render the scene tonally as the eye sees it.
Have fun


2 thoughts on “Why I shoot BW400CN

    • It is an easy film to get used to . . . I still love the Tri-X but . . . BW400CN is great in a pinch, sadly those 1hour labs are disappearing quickly… moving to a Tri-X / Caffenol combo . . . yes doing myself again.

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