Field Report: Working with the Silberra Pan Film Lineup

Silberra creates a pretty beautiful lineup of films, but nothing that is too starkly different from the rest

I have to admit that I’m really excited when a new film manufacturer pops up or a company announces a new film emulsion. Silberra is a key example of this. The company has an ISO 50, 100, 160, and 200 film in black and white. Something that I was really concerned about though is just how they were going to distinguish themselves from all the rest. I mean, when Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 came out, I was able to see how it stacks up against the rest. It’s a much different film which means it should be used differently. Kodak has Tri-X and T-Max, Lomography has the Grey series, and Ilford has an incredibly large stable of black and white film emulsions. So with Silberra, there needed to be something incredibly special about their film.

While they were still in the Kickstarter stage, Silberra sent me one roll of all their films for testing. And like all films, I tend to take my time with them. I don’t want to be first and I want to create photos I really like. Silberra’s films make all this even more difficult too as they’re panchromatic films. This means that you basically need to nail the exposure just right as opposed to something like Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5 where you can mess around all day and night. At least that was one thing that was distinguishing them, but there are indeed some panchromatic films on the market from Ilford. Washi, another company that has been around for a few years, has some orthochromatic films — another option that Silberra offers.

Before I went about testing I did some research on the test shots. This is obviously a film that wasn’t being marketed in a professional type space but instead just for fun, random stuff. So that made this job easier; I wouldn’t necessarily need to take them into a studio and do tests very carefully since I only had one roll of each. Rather, I’d be able to just go for a photo walk and shoot whatever I felt would look interesting in black and white. But I also had expectations and sometimes I was pleasantly surprised.

The Silberra lineup of films are pretty slow. With that said, it’s best to either shoot with lots of studio light (makes no sense in this application), lots of natural light, or with a tripod. I believe tripods to be more of a compositional tool more than anything else, and so I opted for the lightest cameras that I could when testing the Silberra films. These films are in 35mm, so small just makes sense here.

When working with the Silberra Pan films, I found them to have a highly classic look to them. And I’m not just saying that because they’re black and white, but there’s something about the overall nature, grain structure, the tones–it’s a Je Ne Sais Quois that I don’t want to say is magical but instead rather pleasing. I don’t think I would get quite the same results from Tri-X and I know for a fact that I wouldn’t get it with Delta, HP5, or T-Max. I wasn’t particularly looking for this effect, but as I looked at their sample images and mine, I saw how they came about.

Part of this classic look I believe comes from the panchromatic film. I was curious if it was the lenses I was using as I used the Hexar AF, the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art, and the Leica 40mm f2. But all of those lenses are very sharp and I’ve never had a single complaint about them. Instead, these films just render in a different way than other panchromatics I’ve seen on the market.

These films are surely, absolutely worth using outdoors with lots of light. Indoors with Tungsten type lighting, I didn’t find the results to be all that nice. But in daylight, the results are very good. To ensure that you continually get good results, I’d be sure to meter the scene perfectly and then give a bit of preference to either the shadows or the highlights. By a bit, I mean around 1/3rd stop of light.

So do I like Silberra’s Panchromatic films? Yes. Would I use them again? No, but that’s a very personal preference. I’ve used a number of films and I have three or four I really like and that I can’t get over for the types of work I do. I think that Silberra’s look is indeed unique and to get the most from it, you should combine using the films with vintage lenses for an even more classic look. But I think that I’ll stick to T-Max, Tri-X, Delta and Street Pan for now.

A big thanks to Lomography for developing the film. You can find more over at Silberra’s Website.