Shooting Expired Plus-x from 1977 in an AGFA Isolette L

Shooting Expired Plus-x from 1977 in an AGFA Isolette L

Published by Dave Roberts on  February 12, 2023 under Film Photography Tips and Tutorials and tagged Agfa Isolette, Expired Film, Kodak Plus-x

I’ve had this roll of highly expired Kodak Plus-x in 120 sat in my drawer for around a year. Someone was selling a pair of cool Bakelite 120 film holders for £15 with some random film inside, so this roll was practically free. The other two rolls were High Speed Ektachrome which needed to be processed in E4 (which was a process for developing slide films before the current E6 process – and they are utterly incompatible), but that’s another story. 

I’d heard legendary stuff about Kodak Plus-x online, and how many were lamenting the passing of this classic film stock. So much so that I was apprehensive about shooting it, and kept it in my drawer for months until I could decide on an appropriate outing to use it on. I think that honouring it as the first post on Turning Analog is more than sufficient.

The combination turned out to be throwing it into an AGFA Isolette L while walking a rugged walk for Mud and Routes in the foothills of Eryri (Snowdonia).  This compact folding camera is the ideal medium format camera for those who want to limit what they carry as the results can be excellent from the vintage Apotar lens, or even better if you can find one with a scarce and pricier Solinar lens, and it even includes a light meter which on my copy actually works. 

The weather was a mix of mist and damp, and I was fortunate to grab this candid shot of the photographer on the summit of Crimpiau. I think his shirt, braces and the look of the film really come together in this image. I wish I’d taken it a bit more from the side and got the camera and tripod in, but it was a spur of the moment shot and the inclusion of a Sony Alpha A7 and state of the art tripod may well have ruined the magic.

My favourite shots, as always are in the front window below

How would you shoot and develop highly expired Kodak Plus-x?

I’d read up and googled, and there’s very little consensus on how to shoot black and white film. That’s probably not a bad thing, as the last thing we need is the parroting of the ‘one stop per decade’ rule we get with E41 colour film. Considering this was originally rated at ISO 125 and expired 50 years I reckon that I’d risk it with an extra two or three stops of light. After some internet research I found that this is also what Jim Grey suggested on his blog,  shooting it at a crawlingly slow EI of 25. Considering this was my only roll, some prior knowledge would come in handy for both how to shoot and developing times. I eventually developed it according to the times for Plus-x on the Big Dev Chart, but as they didn’t have the times for Bellini Hydrophen and I didn’t want to open my bottle of Ilfosol 3, I actually developed as for Fomapan 100 as the times seem to be the same. I may well have given it an extra half a minute, just in case.

While everything went really smoothly, the only glitch was loading it onto the Paterson reels. It genuinely took me around an hour, as I’m crap at it anyway, but this old film was so curly that it nearly didn’t make it to the development stage. You can see below where the film didn’t ratchet on properly and the emulsions touched.

Clearly something also happened to frame 10 – which I’ve included with the rest of the shots below. I’ve no idea what happened, I recall the camera not register the film bring forwarded to the next frame and the double exposure failsafe wrongly kicked in, but this was the only frame where the number from the backing paper made it’s way to the image.

These were all scanned on a Epson Perfection V600 Photo scanner – with a combination of the standard neg holder and a 120 DigitaLIZA  as the extreme curl meant that it sat better in one than the other, depending.

So what did the results look like?

I couldn’t be happier with these, considering the age of the film and all the other factors. I’m not going to win any awards with them, but that’s not the point. I took a roll that was discarded and forgotten for half a century, whacked into an even older camera and managed to get these images out the other end. I was quite apprehensive about developing it myself, as I’ve not developed anything like this before, but I really didn’t need to be. I turns out that black and white film can be very resilient. I’ll be keeping an eye out for some more expired Plus-x, that’s for certain.

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