My first roll of Ilford Ortho Plus 80
Any year which brings brand-new photographic films onto the market in the 21st century is a good year. Over the past 12 months, film photographers were lucky enough to see Kodak Ektachrome re-emerge in 120 and 5x4, Fujifilm Acros 100 disappear then re-appear (UK-based OEM notwithstanding) and Film Ferrania finally emerge from years of frustrating problems and delays with their final P30 film.
Meanwhile, Ilford marked its 140 anniversary with the release of Ortho Plus 80 film in 35mm and 120. Although not strictly speaking a ‘new’ film—it has been available in sheet sizes for a while—it’s a vote of confidence in the film photography market that a such a niche product, orthochromatic film, would be made widely available in 2019.
Orthochromatic films are a blast from the photographic past. Most black and white films on the market today are panchromatic, meaning they are sensitive to the light of all colours. Orthochromatic emulsions, however, are sensitive only to green, blue and a bit of yellow light—not dark oranges or reds.
This selective sensitivity gives orthochromatic images a distinct look that evokes the historical era in which orthochromatic emulsions were developed. First appearing in 1884, orthochromatic emulsions were a substantial step forward in photographic technology (ortho- being Greek for “true” or “correct”), despite their apparent limitations today.
Although panchromatic emulsions were just around the corner (as early as Agfa’s efforts in 1903 and commercially available plates by 1906), orthochromatic emulsions continued to dominate the photography as their orange/red insensitivity meant plates could developed by inspection under safelight conditions.
Edward Weston, for example, used orthochromatic until 1921, even though panchromatic films were widely available by that stage.
Old habits die hard.
Ilford Ortho Plus 80 can be shot at 80 ISO in daylight or 40 ISO under tungsten light. I shot my first roll almost entirely outside. I tried my best to meter for 80 ISO with any and all available metering tools, but usually ended up metering for 100 and adding half a stop.
With digital camera sensors capable of shooting (a frankly absurd) 204,800 ISO equivalent, 80 ISO might sound like a severe limitation, but in the grand history of photography, 80 is blazing fast for an orthochromatic film.
The only other roll of orthochromatic film I’ve shot was a roll of Kodalith, rated at 3 ISO. THREE ISO!! Needless to say, shooting that was a challenge. Shooting 80 ISO, comparatively, isn’t a problem. After all, its original purpose was to serve as a high-resolution copy film and it’s exciting to be able to experiment with it in roll film form.
Ilford offers the usual range of development options on the Ortho Plus spec sheet and inside the film box. As a Kodak D-76 user, I followed the directions for the almost identical ID-11: stock for 8 mins @ 20ºC with intermittent agitation, followed by a shot of Ilfostop, some Rapid Fixer, an economical wash (5, 10, 20) and a final rinse with Photo-Flo and B.E. Products distilled water.
Ilford Ortho Plus 80 looks to be an interesting film. Looking at the negs and through the loupe, you can only just spot the very fine grain of this emulsion. To be honest, I find it quite difficult to tell the difference between orthochromatic and panchromatic film at a glance. The most telling difference are the slightly darker skin tones and—in my blue-eyed son—a piercing stare in a portrait that looked straight from the 1920s.
Blues are rendered much lighter and yellows and reds tend darker. As for the negatives themselves, they looked slightly underdeveloped, so that’s something to watch out for next time.
On the release of Ortho Plus 80, Ilford’s marketing manager Giles Branthwaite (what a name) made it clear that this new product was about giving photographers options: “We know photographers want choice and love to try new films”. They know a film like Ortho Plus 80 isn’t going to replace anyone’s HP5, but know offering photographers more choice is a good thing. I very much agree. This isn’t a film that’s going to light the world on fire, but it does give photographers the room to flex their creative muscles.
I probably won’t shoot Ilford Ortho Plus 80 all that much, but I’m very glad I have the option.