Ferrania P30 Review. A Shrewd Look at Film Photography Today.
It’s an interesting, and sometimes frustrating time to be a film photographer. Analogue photography is beloved by so many, and an ever increasing number of new photographers are discovering the joy of making images the “old-fashioned way”. However, honestly, even though most of us have our favourite Kodak or FujiFilm stocks, we can’t help but get a little annoyed at the constant price hikes and shortages that plauge the analogue photography world.
Enter FILM Ferrania P30. Ferrania P30 is a film that comes into the analogue photography world as a true new(ish) film stock, not a repackaged version of an existing product, from an Italian company that is setting itself up to compete in the modern world of film photography.
What is Film Ferrania P30
Film Ferrania is an 80 ISO black and white negative film manufactured in Cairo Montenotte, Italy. To make the Ferrania P30 film stock Ferrania’s researchers recreated the chemical emulsion from a black and white cine-film stock that for years had been a favourite choice among many filmmakers in Italy and in the rest of the world. Many famous films were filmed on the original Ferrania P30 film stock, and according to Ferrania themselves, the version you can buy today (sadly in 35mm format only at this time) is a true recreation of the original recipe.
Each roll of Ferrania P30 comes packaged in a beautiful box with a scannable QR code on it that will take you to an app that will give you access to Ferrania’s production database. It offers a really fascinating look into the the company’s inner workings and what is to come in the future; a really neat and unique touch if you ask me.
But what is the film like to shoot with?
A Ferrania P30 Reivew
Film Ferrania P30 is simply put, one of the most beautiful black and white film stocks on the market today. When looking at the images a lot of different superlatives come to mind, like cinematic, rich, deep, etc. And while I could spend the entire article waxing lyrical about how aesthetically pleasing this film is, I think it’s best to let the images speak for themselves.
Maybe not…. The first thing that struck me when I took a look at the negatives was just how sharp and clear they were, and my scans confirmed this. Ferrania P30 captures great detail, and is consistently very sharp when paired with a good lens. I used a Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f1.8 (a legend that I will never part with) mounted to a Pentax Spotmatic for all of the photos in this review. Sadly the Spotmatic ruined a few of the images due to a shutter curtain malfunction… RIP.
The images that did turn out are gorgeous, and if you can play into the more intense contrast that this film will give you, by playing with strong contrast in your compositions, it can work to create some fantastic results.
Of course there are the hard facts to discuss. Film Ferrania P30 is a medium speed black and white negative film with fine grain (if exposed to enough light). The film is rated at 80 ISO, and I would align my recommendation with Ferrania’s and say that this film performs the best at 80 ISO and isn’t ideal for push or pull processing.
I exposed the film at 80 ISO and developed it in Ilford ID-11 at stock stock strength and scanned the negatives using my FujiFilm XT-2.
The shadows are very deep, and will quickly descend into a rich black, and the highlights are ultra punchy. In my opinion this gives the film a very distinctive and pronounced look that some might describe as being “cinematic”.
I also took some candid “portraits” of my family and our dog. I do like the results, but I’d say this is perhaps not the most universal film for portraits. For moodier, perhaps almost “noire”-esque (made up word) portraits Ferrania P30 works perfectly. However, for more general, slightly less stylized black and white portraiture, I’d lean more towards something with a smoother tonality, like Kodak T-Max.
In terms of exposure Ferrania P30 doesn’t really require that the photographer does anything special, it does have a decent exposure latitude, relative of course to the increased contrast. I would recommend over exposing this film by around a 1/3 of an f-stop just to avoid under exposing the film, as underexposure brings out a muddier and grainier look that isn’t my favouite.
When it comes to developing the film, Ferrania recommends hand development because the film base itself is on the brittle side, and might rip if developed by machine. If you do want to send your film to a lab just let them know that this film is a little more delicate than most. I found that the film developed beautifully in Ilford ID-11, my current favourite developer. The film base also dried nice and flat for me, which is always nice, because scanning and handling curled film is a little annoying.
Overall, in my opinion Ferrania P30 is a great film stock that renders beautiful images. I would dare to say that it’s more of a specialized film stock considering it’s slower speed and increased contrast. It might not work for general “everyday” photography as well as a high speed film with more latitude might, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this film to anyone, assuming you can find it in stock….
The Film Photography World Today
Film availability and pricing are two things that plague the analogue photography world right now. This problem has many sides, but the most obvious issue is the simple fact that film photography is a niche hobby. Yes it’s sad, and yes I wish everyone would fall in love with analogue photography, and even though film photography has seen a remarkable resurgence over that past half-decade or so, and certainly isn’t going to be going anywhere soon, it’s still a hobby that a very small number of us enjoy.
I find it fascinating and comforting that in the entire history of photography we have not lost a single format. You can shoot wet-plate collodian if you like. However, no amount of increased interest in film photography and no number of Carrhart hat influencers will ever bring film photography back to it’s pre-digital state. For film manufacturers this presents a logistical problem.
Most of the companies that still produce film built their infrastructure decades ago on the cash flow that existed when film was the only way to capture images. This infrastructure is expensive, so film is expensive. The issue facing these companies is, how do you produce enough film to meet demand, without running costs too high, using equipment and factories designed for a time when demand for film was exponentially higher, all while not going bankrupt?
One solution that is often used is to produce film in a batch of one type of film at a time, this helps to offset the large cost vs. low demand issue since one assembly line can be used at a time instead of multiple. This is one of the reasons that film frequently goes out of stock and why prices continue to increase; film companies today just aren’t built to support the small number of photographers that still use analogue photography.
Of course, these logistical issues are passed onto us the photographers, who have to often wait for the film stocks we want to come back into stock, deal with limits on the number of rolls we can buy and skyrocketing prices.
What does that mean for the future or film photography? Like I said before, photography is very old, and so far we haven’t (permanently) lost a single format, and I don’t believe that analogue film is going to disappear either. An opinion that I apparently share with Film Ferrania.
A (very) Brief History of Film Ferrania
“FILM Ferrania is creating the world’s smallest full-service film factory with the in-house capability to research, design and manufacture color and black & white film for stills and cinema.”
Quoted from Film Ferrania’s Website
Ferrania entered the world of photography as a manufacturer of photography products in 1923, and throughout the rest of the 20th century and the earliest part of 21st century produced a variety of different analogue photography products and films. One of Ferrania’s principle business strategies for many years was to manufacture film that was branded and sold under different names. Many drug store branded film stocks were in fact Ferrania films.
But, by 2008 the company announced that it was coming to an end, and would subsequently close it’s doors completely in 2010, falling victim to the sharp decline in demand for film products as digital photography took over in the mainstream.
However, the name Ferrania wasn’t destined to disappear from the film photography world for very long, because in 2013 the former Ferrania research laboratory and film coater were purchased by FILM Ferrania s.r.l., the company that manufactures FILM Ferrania film stocks today. The goal of the company was to be a fully functional film manufacturer built for the modern market.
Unlike the older players in this field who had become somewhat bloated due to the mismatch between the actual demand for film and the capacity of their facilities manufacturing. Ferrania set themselves up as a new and innovative company that would be able to grow and scale with the demands of today’s analogue photography community.
The company did struggle to bring a viable product to the market, however, they did eventually succeed in launching Ferrania P30 in 2017. Which is good news for all of us film photographers.
A much more detailed look at the history of film Ferrania and how it grew to be what it is today can be found in the very beautifully designed PDF that Ferrania themselves have created which does a better job at giving you an overview of how the company began, how it got from manfacuturing ballistics supplies to photographic products, and to how the company got started on the course and mission that it serves today.
Do Companies Like FILM Ferrania Stand a Chance?
Does a “brand new” film manufacturer stand a chance in today’s world? Yes, I think so. Ferrania P30 has already been on the market for more than 5 years at this point, and the company still appears to be doing well nearly 10 years into their mission. Companies that can prove to analogue photographers that they can innovate, and bring new things onto that market that are suited to today’s photographers stand a good chance of doing well in my opinion.
Not to mention the fact that FILM Ferrania have spent a lot of time making sure that the output capacity of their production facilities are matched to the demands of the modern market, saving them the overhead costs that plague larger players who still use much larger faclities. This should give FILM Ferrania a distinct advantage.
In summary, FILM Ferrania is a company that I believe has a bright future. They’re brining fresh blood into the industry and are building themselves up to exist in the current analogue photography landscape in line with the demands of today’s market and today’s analogue photography community.
Ferrania P30 is an absolutely fantastic black and white film that I can recommend to pretty much anybody. It offers a beautiful and unique “punchy” look while delivering excellent sharpness and fine grain. I’d recommend to anyone who does want to try Ferrania P30 to also develope it yourself at home for the best results, which is not at all difficult to do.
Thank you for reading!