Experiments With Fuji Eterna 400T

It has been a while since I got into analog photography, and ever since I did, I was watching prices for interesting film stock slowly rise into the regions of ridiculousness. With some 36 exposure 35mm rolls easily exceeding the 10€ mark, taking a picture feels a bit like engraving the image into a gold plate with a platinum chisel. Analog photography has never been a cheap endeavor, given that there is some finality to the consumption of a roll of film. Compared to the ephemeral storage of digital images on a flash storage medium at least. But there is a point in everybody’s budget when taking a picture moves from carefree joy to conservative worry. Of course the budgetary disadvantage of an analog, chemical, and ultimately final medium forces us to think twice about taking a picture. As a photographer of any denomination, be it, learner, a hobbyist, or even an individual with an aspiration to enter the realm of professionalism, it can help us overcome the snapshooters barrier of inadequate framing and composition. But if the constraints are getting too strict, it may make us risk-averse. In my mind, the allure of analog photography lies in the experimentalism of the medium, in collaboration with the temporal disconnect between the click of the shutter and the final image reaching the eye of the beholder. Making the wall between the intention and the press of the shutter insurmountable feels detrimental to the said allure.

What is left to do in this world of rising prices then, you ask? Buy in bulk. It does sound simple. And it pretty much is: All you need is a bulk roll of the film stock you want, a way to stuff it into the usual film cartridge, and a little bit of patience. With the one-time investment of a film loader for 35mm film, you will be able to refill those cartridges from 30.5m bulk film rolls. Those are enough for something around 15-20 rolls of film, I reckon. (That is a guess at 36 exposures per roll, not a scientifically proven number.) At a cost of 60-80€ per roll, this is much cheaper than buying pre-filled rolls. Especially, if you already have a lot of empty cartridges lying around. If you are willing to experiment with expired and/or exotic (from the perspective of a still-frame shooter) film, you can get even better deals. 

This brings us to Fuji Eterna 400T. As a discontinued cinematic film stock that is available in bulk, it ticks all the boxes that make the life of an analog photographer exciting (when it comes to film stock, that is): Given that it has been discontinued for a while now, you can only get expired material. This does not make it cheap, but it costs less than fresh bulk film. I think I paid something around 45€ for the 30.5m roll. As it is a cinematic film stock, it usually would be developed in chemicals for the ECN-2 process. I only have chemicals for B&W, C41 (color negative), and E6 (color positive) at home, which means I have to cross-process (i.e. use chemicals from the wrong process). Cinematic film stock features an extra layer (called “Remjet”) made of carbon and some type of glue that is meant to protect the film from static discharge. Static discharge can happen when the film is unrolled quickly from its spindle, and it results in bright spots and possibly lightning-like structures on the undeveloped material. The Remjet layer needs to be removed before cross-processing the negatives. According to some sources on the internet, one heaped tablespoon of baking soda dissolved in 1 liter of hot (I used around 60°C, as that is what came out of the tap) water for about 30 seconds should do the trick.

I tried developing Fuji Eterna 400T once before, but the results were unusable. The roll that came out of development was nearly blank, with only some faint hints of images visible. This time I wanted to avoid messing up the film that I exposed to my surroundings through the lens of my camera. Thus I decided to be scientific: Fill a few rolls with enough film for about 10 exposures, set up a scene that can be photographed in a repeatable fashion, and shoot the same set of different exposures a couple of times. I ended up taking pictures of my Canadian plush moose with exposures equalling ISO 6 to ISO 3200 for 5 times. 3 times more than I needed, as it turned out. The range of exposures should be helpful to decide at what ISO the expired film stock should be rated for decent results. All that was left, was to develop the rolls one by one. I started with B&W chemicals (Adox Adonal for the developer, Adox Adofix as the fixer, 8 minutes developing time, 2 minutes fixing) to see how well the process for Remjet removal worked, and if I could get some images out of the roll that way. I think that went surprisingly well.

The set of images above is a collage of all the exposures with their respective ISO values. They have been scanned as B&W negatives at 4000dpi with “Color balance” set to “Neutral” in VueScan. For the comparison, the resulting images have been processed with Graphics Magick, scaling each image down to 2048x1352 and then combining them into one large montage. Even at that size, the film grain is well visible at higher ISO values. That may be caused by the developer because Rodinal (which Adonal is based on) is known for a grainy, high contrast image. Another culprit may be the development time, which was a wild guess and might have pushed the result by a few stops, increasing grain. Blurriness should be attributed to camera shake during long exposure times. For this experiment, I prefer the results at ISO 200 +/- 1 stop.

I read somewhere on the world wide web that B&W developed color negatives should be scanned with the color negative mode of the scanner. This is what I did in the montage above. The settings were 4000dpi with “Color balance” set to “Neutral” in VueScan. Processing in Graphics Magick was the same as before. And again I prefer the results at ISO 200 +/- 1 stop. 

Spurred on by the success of B&W development, I cross-processed a second roll with C41 chemicals. It worked like a charm. The montage above was scanned at 4000dpi in color mode with “Color balance” set to “Neutral” in VueScan. After scanning, I used DxO PhotoLab to “fix” white balance to the best of my abilities. Processing in Graphics Magick was the same as before. Film grain is noticeably less prominent with the C41 process. To me, it looks like the results at ISO 400 +/- 1 stop are reasonably well exposed, which supports the suspicion that the B&W development was pushing it a bit (pun intended).

So here we have it: My experiments with Fuji Eterna 400T were surprisingly successful, and I got a reasonable idea of what ISO value to rate it at. Cinematic film stock is usable as an alternative to the usual still photography film stock. With a bit of digging, you will find that there are some companies nowadays that remove the Remjet layer from old Kodak Vision cinematic film stock and sell it under a different brand. Expired film, if stored correctly, works well, too: Given that Fuji Eterna 400T is a film stock rated at ISO400, and that I prefer the results at around ISO 400, it seems like it did not even drift off from the factory rating at all.

What is not covered here: This experiment says nothing about the quality of a picture that you may get out of cinematic film stock when shot in the real world. Fuji Eterna 400T is tungsten balanced, which may cause color casts when shot in daylight. Cross-processing may introduce its own kind of color casts and may result in more grain than processing with the correct set of chemicals. After my success with the experiment, I processed three more rolls that were shot under normal daylight conditions. (This will be material for another blog post.) Those show that what I just mentioned are real concerns that someone who uses cinematic film stock needs to be mentally prepared for. If this does not deter you, film stock like Fuji Eterna 400T can lead to some affordable and surprising bit of fun, though.

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