Kodak Fine Grain Release Positive… not a very marketable name, but it describes a film about as old as cinema, one designed for exposing the cine camera negative to make black & white ‘release’ prints. D W Griffiths & Mack Sennett films were exposed onto a similar print film a century ago, and more recently ‘The Elephant Man’ & ‘Schindlers List’. At any rate, there’s enough call for black & white movie production to keep the print film going, and the little bit that still photographers might use is on the back of that. It’s a very basic but versatile material, & can be considered as the film equivalent of enlarging paper, with a lot of the advantages of darkroom working.
As it’s blue sensitive it can be loaded in an ordinary orange safelight, and developed by safelight as well. When I was a lad, which is going back a bit now, my father introduced me to it for making black & white slides from my negatives, using a contact printer. But one day I thought, it’s got the normal sprockets, what about trying it in a camera? It worked fine, but as the only camera I had was an old Russian Zorki with no speed below 1/30th, and an f3.5 lens it was a bit on the edge of my operating zone. After a gap of 45 years, & now tooled up with all sorts of versatile 35mm gear, it’s time to start up with it again.
The wording ‘positive’ is a bit misleading. It seems to imply direct reversal, but it’s a negative working, blue sensitive film. It’s slow, about 6 ISO but that’s not quite as much of an issue as one might think. We’ve all been somewhat brainwashed these days into thinking the bottom rung on film speed is 100 – when Kodachrome first emerged it was something like 10 ISO. If there’s reasonable daylight you can even hand-hold at that sort of speed.
So reasons for using it? If you’ve thought about old alternative processes & then put the idea off because of expense, mess & the time factor have a look at KFGRP. As it’s blue sensitive the tonal range is the same as say tintype. Only blue light registers with the emulsion, which results in pure reds going missing entirely. Brickwork appears very dark, skin tones alter considerably, skies are likely to be very light, green foliage will be quite dark. It’s the same tonal range as the Victorian through to Edwardian times, exactly the same as Fox Talbot’s salt prints, wet plate collodion, early dry plate, in fact right the way through until orthochromatic sensitising arrived.
Next, the fine grain & sharpness are stupendous. If you use a good lens well stopped down, on a 35mm camera that’s well supported on a tripod or similar you should get a result equivalent to 5×4″ if not 8×10″.
Handling is dead easy – if you’ve got any sort of darkroom with red or orange safe-lighting you can load in safelight, and process it by inspection in it as well. The film is quite contrasty working so will need a bit of experimentation to get enough shadow detail & not overcook it in the developer. The developer can be chosen for contrast control, print developer can be used if going for contrast, otherwise a standard film developer will probably work better. For the quick test here I used Foma Retropan developer as I had some already made up, 5 minutes at 20°C.
The film itself does not resemble normal camera film – there is no normal anti-halation treatment, so it’s a light yellow colour, the normal appearance of unprocessed silver halide. Because of this ‘light piping’ will occur if loading a cassette into the camera in bright light, as light passes through the base along the film tongue into the cassette.
Shots in the garden, hand-held, about 1/15 at f5.6, so no great claims to sharpness on this outing, but it will take a great enlargement before grain is visible. The film I was using was a roll of Eastman 5302 of uncertain date, no dates were put on this product. However it’s been in my possession for at least 10 years, and the rebates were completely clear of fog – at such a low speed & protected from air normal dating hardly applies.
So where do you get the stuff, if you haven’t got a convenient old roll in your posession? FGRP comes out of the Kodak factory gate only in 2000 foot cans. In the US there are a number of 3’rd parties who respool it down to bulk lengths for normal bulk loaders. In the UK I’m only aware of one, a film & cassette specialist on Ebay;