Film Review: Lomography Lady Grey 400 35mm

It is my usual form to pour scorn over everything Lomographic, from the brand’s retrograde embrace of optical aberrations to their questionable business tactics (who wants to Kickstart another commercial product?). What cannot be criticised, however, is Lomography’s unswerving commitment to the analogue photography…even if they are primarily responsible for the popular conflation of analogue and lo-fi.

Note: The following information applies to Lady Grey 400 35mm, not the 120 version which is “Made in China” with some rolls affected by PERMANENT, IRREVERSIBLE imprinting of backing paper markings on the film. See results of the 120 film here.

Take it to T-Max 

With all this in mind, it was with some trepidation I purchased a three pack of Lomography Lady Grey 400 35mm, having found myself short of my usual T-Max 400. At $23.95 for three rolls of the Lomography, as opposed to $11.95 for a single roll of T-Max, it was a sensible choice for the wallet, but would it be a sensible choice for the art(s)?

I examined the Lady Grey box: “Made in USA”. Promising. A brief bout of googling later brought me to the conclusion that Lady Grey must be either Kodak Tri-X or T-Max. When it comes to photographic film marked “Made in USA”, there are few other possibilities. Opening the film box to load up my Leica M4, I noticed the familiar grey cap on the container usually seen on Kodak films. Then, as I pulled the film out past the metolius to the take-up spool, I noticed the emulsion side bore a striking resemblance to T-Max’s purple anti-halation layer. I would shoot as if T-Max until end results or Internets told me otherwise. 

Lady Grey’s Lover

After processing the film (in T-MAX RS), the first thing I noticed were the edge markings. Although its sole identification was the generic “B&W 400”, the typeface and numbering all revealed itself to be Kodak without needing Big Yellow’s name to appear anywhere. It’s the emulsional equivalent of a Toyota Lexcen to a VN Commodore. The late John Button would be pleased!

Looking at the results, it’s easy to enjoy Lady Grey. It’s easy to shoot and gets the results without too much work and worry. To delve into the shady world of adjectives usually used to describe food, Lady Grey’s tones are smooth without the sharp contrasty bite of some other black and white films. For details, it is razor sharp, with a very fine grain. You might even call it a bit bland. 

As Lady Grey 400/T-Max 400 is a new(ish) T-Grain film, it offers grain as fine as a slower film. It is also a bit “flatter”, tonally speaking. This means it lacks some of the “character” (higher contrast, visible grain) of classic Kodak emulsions like Tri-X.

Which film you choose depends on your subject and photographic style, but classic contrasty films like Tri-X and more refined films like T-Max 400 each have their place. 

Enter Kodak Alaris

To be content with the results of Lady Grey 400 is is to be content with the results of Kodak T-Max 400. While Lomography deserves credit for their ongoing commitment to film, it is the long-term viability of Kodak’s still film manufacturing (marketed and distributed by new entity Kodak Alaris) photographers should support. 

Not everyone wants “unpredictable” and “lo-fi” analogue photography. Most passionate film photographers want quality and consistency from their film stocks. Kodak’s range of professional films delivers this, not Lomography’s. Kodak needs photographers to keep buying their films, rather than them diverting their money into Kickstarting lifestyle OEM jobs.

As IMPOSSIBLE’s fraught attempts at re-engineering Polaroid film have demonstrated, once the massive infrastructure and technical expertise required to make film from scratch is gone, it is very difficult to revive production in anywhere near the quantities (and qualities) desired. The demise of Kodak’s (now substantially rationalised) manufacturing capabilities must be avoided at all costs!

Kodak Professional?

The fact is that if you want truly professional results, it would be better for everyone to buy Kodak T-Max over Lomography Lady Grey. Kodak guarantees the performance of their products, whereas “unpredictable” results from Lomography are apparently part of the “fun”. This includes film backing paper marks imprinted on the final image (see the results from Lady Grey 120 here). 

Lomography are also known to change the OEM source of their films while maintaining the same product name. This can be a problem if you require consistent results from a particular film, as next time you use the film it could be Chinese “Lucky” or Czech Foma film. But of course I am beating up a straw man made of film at this point; Lomography Lady Grey is not meant to replace, augment or in any way displace Kodak’s filmic offerings. Lomography continues to support film and markets interesting products that inspire many new analogue photographers. We should be largely supportive of this.

It is indeed a shame that a roll of 135/36 Kodak T-Max 400 retails Australia for around $12, whereas in the United States it can be had for as little as USD$4.95. A 3pk of Lady Grey, on the other hand, will set you back around $23 locally (around $7.67 per roll). 

Not a bad deal at all. Just check the box for “Made in USA”.

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