Process 032 ☼ Trying Out A New Film Stock (Cinestill BwXX 120)

Giveaway: Cinestill BwXX pack

Dear friends,

Process is back! A whole new season of newsletters about photography and finding your voice. Thanks for your patience while I was on break to get NOTICE into your hands as a physical object as soon as possible. I’m fully recharged with newsletter ideas so we’re back onto our weekly schedule now.

Today I am writing about Cinestill BwXX, a newly released medium format black and white film stock. I was fortunate to be one of the first people to do a test shoot with this stock. Below are some of my favorite shots and my overall thoughts on this film.

For this week’s GIVEAWAY the good folks at Cinestill made available a few rolls of this very film as well as pins and stickers to celebrate their launch.


New Film! Old Film!

Technically the freshly released Cinestill’s BwXX 120 film is not a new NEW film. It’s actually an old panchromatic black and white film made by Kodak for the movie industry. Film makers know it by the name Eastman Double-X film stock 5222/7222 and you’ve almost certainly seen it before. Many classic black and white films from the last 60 years were shot on it, including Scorsese’s “Raging Bull”, Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”, and Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”.

What makes Cinestill’s BwXX new is that this is the first time the stock is available in 120 format still film. This is exciting because at a time where film supply is barely able to keep up with demand more options help moderate prices and it keeps us shooting.

Testing BwXX During A Photo Walk

A couple of weeks ago I went on a photo walk with the Analog Club Amsterdam. It was a cloudy overcast day and we got rained on a few times, but it was worth it.

On cloudy days our light is softer and more diffused than on sunny days. Technically that’s a good thing for photo taking, especially portraiture, but we do lose some contrast. As a fan of deep black tones and rich contrast I usually prefer shooting in harsher light so I can make light and shadow part of my composition.

I got really lucky when I was creating the body of work that would become my book “NOTICE”. Vancouver uncharacteristically blessed me with consistent and harsh midday sunlight and I had my red filters and favorite stocks at the ready to go DEEP.

Spring time weather in Amsterdam is anything but consistent so shooting on a film stock that can be pushed around a bit is very helpful. The film has a variable speed and can be shot on anywhere between 200 and 800 ISO. I shot these rolls on a Pentax 67ii with a 55mm and a 105mm lens, set to 200 ISO.

When we look at the image above, I am very pleased with the tonal range, especially considering the cloudy skies. There’s a lovely variety of tonal steps all the way from nearly white to deep black. This is especially useful for landscapes with many layers of colors and shades to interpret by a black and white film. Note that none of the highlights blew out either, which is key to get a balanced image without distraction.

Below you can see the same image again, now in two tightly zoomed crops. The sharpness of this stock is delightful and the grain structure fine and delicious. It reminds me of my old favorite Kodak Pan-X Plus, which was discontinued in 2011 before I even discovered it! I’ve been able to dig up a few rolls of Pan-X Plus over the years but it’s great to know there is another stock that can create a similar atmosphere.

Next up some photos of mammals. More rich deep blacks, more sharp texture like in the pup’s hair and the photographer’s bag details on the bottom left.

Cinestill already released this film in 135 format which is lovely too, but in 120 format the cinematic foundation of the stock can be pushed all the way thanks to the depth of field a medium format camera with a shallow lens can achieve.

As we can see above BwXX handles a lot of depth (left) just as well as a very shallow detail shot (right), but it’s the latter where it really sings for me personally.

Final Thoughts

I’m excited about this stock, if you couldn’t already tell. I love being able to get those deep blacks without losing highlight detail. The tonal range, crispy sharpness, and organic grain are all up my alley. I’m excited to shoot it at a variety of ISO speeds to see what it does at 800 or even 1600 ISO. I’m also excited to test it in a studio soon.

Keep in mind that BwXX is a film made for professional movie makers, which means it’s not as forgiving as Portra or consumer grade films like Color Plus. That means you have to be a little bit more careful and make sure to get your settings right. Take your time with this film, it’ll reward thoughtfulness. (Correction: Cinestill let me know that this stock actually has more dynamic range than most still photography emulsions, meaning the preceding paragraph is incorrect and BwXX actually is MORE forgiving than still film and not less like I stated here. Apologies! Of course, it never hurts to get all your settings very right, but in this case it’s not as much of a must as I previously wrote.)


Notice Book Update

The bad news: The printing and shipping of NOTICE is a few weeks delayed due to a paper shortage, likely COVID related. All the materials are at the printer and ready to go, we’re just waiting for our gorgeous paper to arrive. My apologies for the delay!

The good news: I have the dummy copy of the book in hand, a test binding of the final book with the specific cloth and paper we selected, and it’s gorgeous. I couldn’t be happier with how it feels in hand. The weight of the paper, the texture of the cloth, the color details in the binding materials. I cannot wait for you to see it in real life!

If you’re new here and have no idea what I’m talking about, check out the book here. Our first printing looks to sell out before we get to ship it so if you’d like a copy now is the time! I hope to know our exact shipping date next week.


Alright that’s it for this week!

Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others. You are appreciated.

Wesley

PS The rolls included in this newsletter were developed by Wim at Silverhands and scanned by the team at Foto Lab. They both did a good job.


Process Giveaway!

The kind folks at Cinestill made available two special BxWW prize packs. Each pack includes one roll of BxWW 120 film, one roll of BxWW 135 film, a limited edition BxWW pin, and some stickers (see below).

To enter email me at hello@wesley.co (please don’t reply to this note but send a separate email) before 11pm EST on June 14th and answer the following question:

What is your favorite movie shot in black and white?
(My answer: Pi, by Darren Aronofsky, which was shot on Eastman Plus-X and Tri-X.)

Two winners will be randomly drawn and notified. This giveaway is for Process subscribers only. Subscribe by clicking the button below:

Make sure to show Cinestill some love on Instagram and check out their website.


Would you like to support Process? Great! Tell your friends about it. Just click below:

Share Process by Wesley Verhoeve

If you’re a new reader, browse the Process archives here.

Process is a weekly letter from Wesley Verhoeve. If you’d like to support what I do here click the button below to order my new book NOTICE.

Buy my photo book NOTICE

Follow along at @wesley.