An Ode to Neopan 400


Over the weekend there was a small, second-hand camera market called the Hong Kong Classic Camera Fair that took place in the sleepy neighbourhood of Shek Kip Mei, a historical part of the city where many refugees from Mainland China first settled in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

It’s unlikely that many of the people escaping the chaos back then would have owned any of the legacy cameras that were on display at the fair, such as a Leica II or Contax II, but it’s an interesting fact to consider when thinking of these cameras as veritable pieces of history.

What’s even more important however, is that the cameras aren’t gathering dust in museums, and on the contrary are being traded amongst passionate enthusiasts and photographers – hopefully with the intent of being used.

Japan Camera Hunter and Warren

I wasn’t able to make it over to the venue, but Warren, Kai, and Rita all stopped by to browse the wares and see if there were any gems to pick up. Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter came all the way from Tokyo, and apparently brought some incredible cameras with him.

While most of his stunning collection was a little out of everyone’s price ranges, he was also promoting JCH Street Pan 400, which is a 135mm film project we wrote about a short while ago. Warren was nice enough to bring one back to the office for me, and I’ll be loading it up shortly in either my Minolta X700 or Nikon F3HP.

Mamiya 6 – 50mm Sekor f/4

You can read all about the emulsion in the article linked, but to give a brief recap JCH Street Pan 400 isn’t just a respooled old film. It’s a new production of an old emulsion – a previously discontinued Agfa surveillance black-and-white film.“…I was terribly upset when Neopan was axed. I wanted something bold, slightly grainy and with a strong contrast.”

I’ve never used the Agfa film that Hunt revived, but I had used Neopan extensively over the past decade. It was one of my favourite black and white films for 120 format, and to be honest, even after quoting Hunt back in May for that previous article, I never really registered that Fujifilm had discontinued Neopan 400 back in 2013.Embedded Javascript

Upon rereading the article today and abruptly realising my mistake, I immediately went back to some of my archives to revisit old photographs I had shot on Neopan 400. And while I don’t want to wax poetic and urge up a misguided sense of nostalgia for the olden days – back when film emulsions were being introduced rather than cancelled – I will say that I felt an odd sense of loss.

Mamiya 6 – 50mm Sekor f/4

Neopan was never the greatest film in the world, and Fujifilm still produce Neopan Acros 100, which is similar. In fact, with a bit of tweaking of contrasts, one can still sort of replicate Neopan 400’s tonal curve and appearance. But is that the point? Right now the only monochromatic film that they make is Acros 100 – if we want other options, we have to go for Ilford or Kodak, and it’s probably only a matter of time before only one or two types of black-and-white film are still available. Maybe it’s inevitable, but what a shame. Instead of being able to choose the appropiate film stock for the scene, we are being left with a dwindly number of options.

Mamiya 6 – 50mm Sekor f/4

For me, one of the most stirring aspects of photography is its ability to bring to life facets of a memory that go beyond the physical image captured. When you see an old photo of a holiday, or of a portrait of a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, sometimes you end up recalling the sound of the sea that day, or something funny someone once said, or how cold it was when the breeze rolled in. The variety of tones provided by different film options could accentuate those emotions, and served as salt and pepper do for a chef.

Mamiya 6 – 50mm Sekor f/4

Again, I don’t want to romanticise the yesteryears of photography too much, or allow this article to be an eulogy of film, since fortunately many other emulsions are still available, and even Neopan is available on Ebay and Amazon. I merely wish to share why I think these films were so great, and why they remain so even for photographers used to the pleasures and convenience of digital.

via Wikipedia

So for those curious, seek out as many types of black and white films before they disappear completely. You might not use them ever again, but they’ll serve as great examples of tonality even when processing your digital files. If you try out Neopan 400 or Agfa Scala 200x and end up falling in love with the tones, you can practice by attempting to edit your files that way.

In the meantime, while it won’t bring back Neopan 400, I’ll be outside shooting JCH Street Pan 400. Stay tuned for a review sometime soon.

Mamiya 6 – 50mm Sekor f/4