Imagine yourself at Lake Garda in the summer of 1961, in your red Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, just relaxing by the side of the road. You take your Persols off and stare off into the distance at the small boats sitting on top of the water, with the vacationing crowds visible below by the lakeside. You would like to capture some memories of this moment, so you take out your new German camera and load it with some black and white film you got earlier.
Chances are the film you would be loading would be pancromatic film made by Ferrania. Specifically, it would be P30. Ferrania film would be made famous by its use in Italian cinema of the Italian post war period, specifically being associated with the Italian neorealism movement with such filmmakers as Federico Fellini, Roberto Rosselinni and Vittorio De Sica. Ferrania themselves capitalized on this association when marketing their products in North America when Sophia Loren won an Academy Award for her performance in De Sica’s Two Women (1960). At one time, they were the biggest film manufacturers in Europe.
Funnily enough, P30 was introduced in 1958, after the Italian neorealism movement was said to have ended. Italian cinema would go through a transitional period of more light-hearted yet complex societal commentary, and it was this period where P30 would be heavily used with films such as 8 1/2 (1963) and L’avventura (1960). So if you would like to channel your inner Fellini or Antonioni, you would shoot P30.
Ferrania as a company grew and grew, being taken over by a few conglomerates in its history (most notably 3M) and producing hundreds of generic store brand films all over the world as well as their own. But with the advent of digital photography, they would see profits dwindle until their eventual demise in 2013.
In 2013, a new company now named FILM Ferrania s.p.l acquired the old factory and facilities in Cairo Montenotte, with the intention to bring back colour negative and positive film. With help from crowdfunding, and overcoming a lot of infrastructure issues, they managed to bring back at least P30 despite having not released any colour film yet (as of March 2021). P30 originally came in Alpha form, in 2017, before finally arriving in its final and current form last year.
Now, the P30 in its modern day form is not an exact replica of the original, but it’s close. The original hand written formulations for P30 are still around, and this new version is based on those notes. Not only that, this film is heavily dependent on the developer used to develop it, as results have the potential to vary. I’ve have had it developed in different developers, and indeed you have to find your personal ideal look with it. For example, developed in a high concentrated developer seem to give less contrast with a lot of detail, while something like Ilfosol 3 seem to give more punchy images. But even with concentrate developers, you can get different results. I’ve developed it in both Blazinal (Rodinal) and HC-110 and Blazinal seems to give it a slight edge in terms of contrast while HC-110 give you a flatter image. And depending on how your lab develops film, it might turn out incredibly contrasty due to the machines being very hot and quick.
But no matter what you end up with, there is still a very distinctive look to the film as it is high contrast, yet tonally consistent throughout the images. It’s especially brilliant in overcast days, as high contrast scenes have the potential to crush the shadows and blow out the highlights. This is due to the high silver content that is unlike any other black and white film on the market today. As a result, I dare say that there is no other black and white film quite like Ferrania P30.
All of this makes P30 sound like a challenging film to try shooting. You might find yourself disappointed with your first roll as if you over or underexpose it, even accidentally, photos might be almost unusable. If you want to keep shadow detail its always best to meter for the shadows as shadow detail can get lost quickly. Do not let all of this deter you from trying this film, as it’s probably one of the most unique black and white films you can get today that produces incredibly dramatic images. If you want to feel a bit like Marcello Mastroianni or Monica Vitti, grab yourself a few rolls of Ferrania P30 online and in store at 10% off Friday and Saturday only!