Film Emulsion Review: CineStill bwXX Black and White Film (35mm)

CineStill bwXX film is gorgeous in so many ways

I’ve forever been on the hunt for a black and white film I’m truly, madly in love with. While the Ilford Delta lineup of film is more my taste, CineStill bwXX comes really close! I can’t find any major fault with CineStill bwXX: it’s more or less a film designed for cinema and repackaged for 35mm still film camera consumption. Photographers who want the look of classic old time cinema may really enjoy what CineStill bwXX offers. Is it sharp? It can be. Is it grainy? Oh yeah. Does it have those deeply inky blacks I enjoy? Heck yes. In fact, photographers who like to max the contrast of their images after a black and white conversion will really enjoy CineStill bwXX. The film also pushes decently well and most of all, I feel like it has a distinct look vs Kodak T-Max, Tri-x, and much of what Ilford offers. Oh yeah, and CineStill recommends rating it between ISO 200-400: but I’ve pushed it to 800 with decent results too.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the CineStill listing

CineStill bwXX is a high speed, classic black & white film emulsion, with an EI of 250 under daylight and 200 under tungsten lighting. Recommended development in Kodak D-96 developer, but is compatible with D-76, HC110 and all other black and white film developers.

Double-x is a classic black and white film stock left relatively unchanged since it’s release in 1959 for still and motion picture use. 

Some of the movies using the classic Eastman double-x film stock 5222 include:

Raging Bull (1980), Schindler’s List (1993), Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Memento (2000), Kafka (1991), Casino Royale (2006), I’m Not There (2007), Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Manhattan (1979), Cinderella Man (2005), Aferim! (2015), Frantz (2016), American Horror Story (2011-2017) and many many more.

CineStill bwXX is an excellent choice for those looking for a classic film stock to fill the void left by the discontinuation of it’s wonderful sister films, Kodak Plus-x (discontinued in 2010) and TXP320.

36 exposures professionally spooled into high quality 135 Non Dx-Coded Cartridges

 

An extensive list of developing times for this film may be found at ishootfilm.org & The Massive Dev Chart form DigitalTruth.com

Ease of Use

How can I describe CineStill bwXX? It’s a 35mm black and white film you load into your camera and go with. In scenarios where there’s a lot of light, you can underexpose it. Indoors, I’d give it a bit more light (on average of about 1/3rd of a stop if you’re using the Lumu Light Meter App). I find CineStill bwXX to be forgiving but I wouldn’t recommend it to beginners. Instead, those who have experience with black and white film could and really should reach for it. Beginners should instead go for Ilford XP2 simply because photographers can shoot across a range of ISOs on a single roll and still get usable images. The trick is to spot meter. Metering your grandmother or your eldest cousin the way that I did? Well, be careful and specific.

In my case, using the Leica CL, I tended to give my subjects a bit more light on average because the shutter is so negligible to its effects on the sensor. My Leica M4p is much larger though, and so I’d be more careful.

What helps to make CineStill bwXX so special is that it’s essentially said to be Plus X film. Here in America you can’t get that anymore. It doesn’t look like Tri-X at all. Where Tri-X gets a lot of details from the midtones, CineStill bwXX takes those midtones and makes them nice and inky. Some of us adore those inky black and whites.

CineStill bwXX is a really nice film for everyday documentary style work. In fact, I think of it like this: years ago your parents probably used to follow you around the house with a camcorder. For my parents, it was a VHS recorder and all those cassette tapes were what was shown to embarrass us when we were younger. They’re obsolete now and sadly, my mother, who was a terrible hoarder, did things that eventually destroyed the tapes. But those precious family moments are what I used CineStill bwXX for. And for that type of stuff, it made a whole lot of sense. The occasion was both New Year’s and my grandmother’s 80th birthday. It resulted in beautiful images of my family that I’ll probably never get again.

At one point during my review, I was really pretty scared because the airport security wanted to run the film through their XRays. Thankfully, the film survived and I had no problems with any of it. But at least I’m confident to say that CineStill bwXX is good enough to run through airport Xrays.

Image Quality

How can I describe the image quality when it comes to CineStill bwXX? I like to think about bloom. When I say bloom, it’s in specific regards to the highlights. Highlights are going to be bright in this overall very contrasty film. But you’ll get the details. You’ll also get the details from the shadows to a certain extent. But you’re not going to have that clear midtone pop that Kodak Tri-X can give you. Instead, I want to liken this film more the Kodak T-Max 400 when it comes to the tones, but not really when it comes to sharpness. Kodak T-Max 400 is still the sharpest film I’ve ever used in ISO 400.

Additionally, CineStill bwXX has much more grain than Kodak T-Max. If you like the really big, pronounced grainy look, then you’ll dig this film. It’s not Tri-X grain, but it’s got more than Delta and HP5. Here are a bunch more image samples.

Conclusions

Will I buy CineStill bwXX again? I will. But I have to say that it isn’t my favorite black and white film. That award still goes to Delta 400. But CineStill bwXX is right up there with Kodak T-Max 400 as being my second favorite. It’s a black and white film I think every photographer should go out and try and it surely stands on its own as being a very unique film. I’d use it for special projects and documentary work. I’m not so sure I’d want to take it into the studio though.