Untitled photo

Winter is here, which means less time outdoors photographing, and definitely less time to mess around experimenting. This means it's time to standardize a bit and choose just one or two films to get me through the darker winter days.

For the past six months or more almost all of my favourite pinhole photos have been recorded on Ilford Pan F, exposed as iso25, and developed in Ilford Perceptol. The few that haven't have used Ilford's Ortho or FP4 instead, usually developed in one of Ilford's other powder developers, ID11 or Microphen. All excellent films, with slightly different looks and utility. And all at their best in bright light.

The photo above is on Acros – made in the UK, where Ilford just so happens to be located – developed in Perceptol. This is an amazing film that feels like complete overkill for a pinhole; with good technique and a good lens it can produce results that look more like the next format-size up. And it has a sublime black level that's even better than Ortho. 

A developed 120 roll of FP4 costs about $8, Pan F or Ortho are about $12, and Acros is a smidge over $15. My RSS 6x9 pinhole gets eight photos per roll, while my Ondu 6x12 records only six. 


Untitled photo

But film cost isn't the only important number. Part of why I'm reconsidering my film choices now is that the light levels are getting lower. Reciprocity failure means that exposure times vary tremendously between similar-seeming film. I used the Pinhole Assist app on my phone to meter some typical scenes, and just for fun I also included HP5 at iso 400 to see if it could be a wintertime option. All films are being compared at their box speed: 100, 125, 400, 50.

(These times are real-world samples, not an exposure guide – I measure each new scene as I encounter it.)


Overcast mid-afternoon:

Acros, 10 seconds; FP4, 16 seconds; HP5, 4 seconds; Pan F, 63 seconds.

Overcast, 'golden hour':

Acros, 13 minutes 20 seconds; FP4, 34:20; HP5, 10:07s, Pan F, 3 hours.

Well-lit commercial indoors:

Acros, 1 minute and 40 seconds; FP4, 4:10s; HP5, 1:08s; Pan F, 19 minutes.

Household interior lighting:

Acros, 40 minutes; FP4, 2h20m, HP5, 45 minutes; Pan F, 13 hours.


With pinhole cameras I want the shutter to be open for a few seconds at least, because shorter exposures are trickier to time accurately. (I count in my head: one-advance-the-film, two-advance-the-film…) Exposures of twenty seconds or longer benefit from a stopwatch; longer than a couple of minutes needs a good book and get increasingly awkward in a busy city. So the sweet spot is probably a 5-20 second exposure.

As light gets lower, Pan F becomes unworkable, even if I'm using it at box speed instead of EI25.

FP4 is a more reasonable choice, especially if I can shoot an entire roll pushed or pulled, but is still an 'ample light' film.

HP5 is too fast to use in better light, but might be good for evenings and indoors.

Then there's Acros: a god among films. In brighter light it's at a longer and more workable shutter speed than HP5, but in low light – when others have fallen down the reciprocity well – its exposures aren't that much longer than the fastest film I'm willing to consider. And it's Acros, so its grain and quality trounces HP5, and most others as well. I don't know what deals Fujifilm had to make with evil forces to make this possible, I just hope that I'm not bound by them. Maybe it's enough that it's double the cost of FP4 or HP5?

Untitled photo

So for the winter I've decided to stay with two films: Acros and FP4.

Acros will go in my Ondu 120mm camera. This means its per-frame cost is about $2.50, which isn't trivial, but this is my 'good' camera and it's worth it. As absurd as it sounds, this is the pinhole camera I choose when I want the best possible results.

FP4 – and maybe HP5 – will be for my RSS 6x9. They give a per-frame cost of about $1, which suits its use as a my casual / riskier camera. Its smaller size, plastic body, and screw-on contrast filter means it's the one I'm more likely to carry with me Just Because, and I'll use it in dark and stormy days. The cheaper film suits taking risks, and I'm more likely to bracket my exposure or composition, which makes better pictures.

Now all I need to do is use up a lingering roll or two of stale Pan F, and I'm all set.