First Roll - Five Shots on Bergger Pancro 400 Neal Thorley

Have you ever been stuck in a creative rut? I’ve been shooting film for many years and when you get settled into routine it’s easy to stick with what you know works well or even what you like best. For me there are a handful of cameras I refer to as my “Go-tos” and not many more films with the same designation. When I’m shooting b&w I know if I want fine grain in 35mm I’ll be choosing Tmax 100 or Neopan Acros. If I’m shooting in a larger format I might go with a 400 speed film and choose a fine grained developer. I know what results to expect from these combos. It can be easy to get stuck in a creative rut,  every now and then it’s good to shake things up and try something new.

I recently took delivery of some Bergger Pancro 400 in 120. It’s a first for me shooting with this brand that I didn’t know a whole lot about. I didn’t expect it to be fine grained and I had inconveniently run out of X-tol and D76 so I decided to throw caution to the wind and process my shots in Rodinal. I was initially imagining the muddy grainy mess I was going to pull from my developing tank and yet with low expectations I was pleasantly surprised by the subtlety of tone and attractive grain structure. A lesson not to judge a book by it’s cover, or a film by it’s popularity so to speak.

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There are a group of film shooters in my town. We regularly get together for coffee but very infrequently do we ever get out and shoot together, the idea had been tossed around for a few meetups and finally we decided to get out one sunny sunday arvo (that’s Aussie slang for Afternoon) and shoot around the area known as Jezzine (a former army barracks). It’s nestled by the sea and has a lovely long timber boardwalk. So we met and wandered the area shooting whatever took our fancy.

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I brought my trusty Rolleiflex loaded with some Pancro 400 and set out looking for something interested to shoot. Sometimes it can be hard finding new compositions in an area you’ve visited a lot. When a place becomes too familiar you have to push yourself to look for different angles, perspectives and framing. The above shot is one I have made before only this time I got a little higher and opened up the lens to convey some distance between the posts and with the directional light streaming down, I think it worked a little better. So much of photography is trial and error. Had I of thought “Ah I’ve shot this before” and moved on, I wouldn’t have the better photo.

Looking for light and shadow I came across the old gun store entry. The curved arch and shadowed window caught my attention, I wasn’t sure how the Bergger film would handle the contrast in some of these shots. Being that I live in the tropics, so much of what I shoot is higher contrast in sunny situations. But you can see how well the shadows blend and the blacks are deep and inky. Testament also to Rodinals compensating nature.

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Moving beyond the boardwalk we photographed around the beach area and a thicket of shrubs and weeds before heading back the way we came. I love the way late afternoon sun back lights the plants and weeds giving them an ethereal glow while long shadows cast down make for interesting photographic elements. Here we see Carl posing for the shot while Greg is busy composing through his Leica.

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Pancro 400 doesn’t seem to have the same pop in lower contrast situations such as the cafe photo below. This could be the developer combo as well but the shadow areas show a little more grain and even the mid tones seem to suffer a little. Pancro 400 is claimed to have a “dual emulsion” design which incorporates Silver Bromide and Silver Iodide layers so I’d expect better tonality in most situations. Certainly there is a lot more testing needed before I make a final call on it and a little extra exposure indoors would always be a good idea.

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We really are spoilt for choice when it comes to film these days there are so many new suppliers and brands popping up worldwide you’d be crazy not to try them all. I am happy with the results I got on this first roll of Pancro and I’d love to try this film in a fine grain developer such as X-tol.

All the photos in this article were processed and scanned by me on an Epson V700 flatbed with the supplied film holders. I haven’t yet had time to make any prints in the darkroom from this film but looking at the negatives I think they would print up lovely, the smooth grain structure would look really nice on some larger prints too. Hopefully I can test this soon on some nice satin fiber paper.

If you would like to reach out I can be contacted through my website. Although not updated regularly, it does showcase some of my other work.

Until next time, keep your aperture tight and your framing loose.

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Film Photographer Neal Thorley, lives in Townsville, Australia. He has a love of traditional and historic photographic techniques, home brews, spirits, roasts coffee, enjoys the wilderness, power-lifting and trail running. You can follow along at his Website, Facebook or Instagram