This week Film Friday is going to be an interesting one. It is going to be CatLABS x 80, a slow speed, fine grained 120 format black and white film.
A whattt? You might say. Yes, when this came out a few years ago we were equally confused. The film market these days is rather saturated with B&W films of all kinds, and it’s getting kind of difficult to tell them all apart. So many companies only makes one or two types of B&W films, like Bergger, Kosmo Foto, Ferrania and so on. So what makes this film so special? And what is it?
CatLABS is a lab and photography store in Massachusetts that specializes in large format and older camera gear that decided to release their own film stock. So what is it? There is a few possibilities as there’s very few factories in the world with the capabilities to produce film these days. Some companies contract the manufacturing out to another company, like how Harman in the UK manufactures a lot of unique film emulsions for Rollei and Fuji. Some companies repackage existing film, like Cinestill or Lomography. But as far as we can tell, CatLABS bears no similarity to any other film stock currently on the market.
The Shanghai GP3 backing paper gives a clue to where it is being manufactured. Shanghai GP3 is another unique 100 speed film stock manufactured in China. Surely this CatLABS film isn’t just GP3 overexposed?
Enough about the mysterious nature of this film, what about the film itself?
We’ve had different results and opinions on it. From past experience we’ve associated the film with low contrast with consistent gray tones across the board. But this past weekend, I shot a roll on the ferry and stand developed it in Blazinal late last night. The results was a lot more contrast than expected with a lot of detail in the highlights and shadows! This was all shot on the Mamiya C330 with the 65mm f/3.5. I shot it at around 80-100 ASA, metering by eye, on a very windy day. It could be that I underexposed some shots and that the stand development helped compensate for this, hence the contrast. Its not very high contrast like you might expect from say, Ferrania P30.
What I appreciate, however, is how “vintage” it looks. Yeah, yeah, that word gets thrown around a lot in relation to film and film cameras, but for example, the picture of the benches below have a certain softness to them. No doubt this is partly attributable to the lens used and the conditions, but the fine grained nature of it does contribute to the smooth texture. Its sharp, but not razor sharp. CatLABS state that the film was created in the spirit of Kodak’s classic Panatomic-X, which is an incredibly slow (32ASA) B&W film last made in the 1980s. Many have lamented the loss of Panatomic-X due to its gorgeous tonality so a film in the veins of that in this day and age is welcomed.
If there is one weird aspect about the film that I found, it is that it stinks! I mean that literally, as it smells like a old man’s abandoned attic when you open the package. The rough textured backing paper is simply hastily taped to keep it from unravelling, and after I was done with the film ready to unload, opening the back was like opening an old musty box as this less than pleasing scent wafts into the air and through your mask into your unassuming nostrils. Luckily it doesn’t stick on you or your camera like some smells, but it is unusual considering no other film has such a distinct or strong smell.
Since we deem it important to support smaller film manufacturers, we would like to encourage people to try CatLABS x 80 by stopping by our store! We only have it in 120, and the usual price is $9.70 a roll! But tomorrow and this Saturday only, it is 10% off at $8.73, so you have no excuse but to give it a go!
In the meantime, here are some pictures from the roll I shot this past Monday!
And Hunter shot it as well, but he pushed it one stop, shooting it at @200. It was shot in a Pentacon.