I recently acquired a 35mm roll of PolyPan F, a black and white panchromatic film designed for striking positives for motion film. For some time photographers have been using this cheap stock for stills photography with captivating results.
Rated at ISO 50 and using a yellow filter, shooting PolyPan F is not dissimilar to burning Ilford Pan-F in terms of camera practice. I generally prefer shooting slow, fine grain films on 35mm anyway so the relatively slow speed wasn’t a problem, particularly on a sunny day. Also, it’s great to be liberated from ND filters and just open a lens up wide for bokeh effects in bright sunlight.
Portrait photographers claim their love for Polypan F comes from its lack, or reduction, in an anti-halation layer. Most films have a layer of chemistry which reduces or totally eliminates the reflection of incoming light from the camera’s pressure plate. Often an effect of halo and glow around bright elements in the image can be detected. Technically a fault, the flare is a welcome effect for portrait photography, creating ethereal images on the negative.
Processing for this was relatively simple. As it’s something of an unknown quantity I used up some Rodinal in 1:100 at 20C, stand processed for an hour with 30 seconds initial agitation followed by five inversions after thirty minutes.
The base is a light blue and noticeably thin polyester, being a cinefilm – similar to Eastman Kodak Cinema XX – yet is incredibly tough. The sprocket holes are also of a slightly different design and mirror the newer cinefilms which have more oval holes; in likelihood to reduce the chance of stress fractures in the corner of the sprocket holes when the film is being projected at high speed. There is a tendancy for the negative to curl – after all it’s supposed to be stored on a roll once processed – so getting strips of six into a neg carrier is slightly taxing.
Judging by the negatives, ISO 50 would appear to be a good estimation of film speed, at least with stand processing. I’ve yet to print from these optically, though scans have yielded some pleasant hazy results. The glow is evident in most of the shots and generally the film gives the impression of a soft focus filter. Almost creamy, it's easy to see why this is a favourite of portrait photographers. It is, however, far from being a fine grained film; granularity is marked in the midtones whilst highlights are often stylistically blown out. If you're looking for an earthy portrait film, this is fun to experiment with and provides plenty of character and texture. In this regard Polypan F is not particularly suitable for fine art photography. For that, stick with Ilford Pan-F, Kodak TMAX 100 or Fuji Acros.
Instructing film photography, developing and printing in the darkroom. © Samuel Payne 2016