The contact sheet – Darkroom printing from Kodak BW400CN

Kodak BW400CN, stock product image from Kodak's website.Kodak BW400CN is a chromogenic black and white film in 35mm format, with a box speed of 400 ISO and fine grain for the speed. Developing is by normal C41 process (the same as color print film) making it convenient to use.

However, it does have a fairly dense orange mask designed to machine print easily onto color paper using the same printing channels as color print film. It scans very well, too, but is reputed to be difficult to print optically onto normal black and white paper.

A Kroger store local to me happened to be selling the BW400CN at a reasonable price so I picked some up. I didn’t really set out with the intention of printing any of it optically, knowing that I can get good scanned results, but what the hey, I figure it’s worth a try just to satisfy my own curiosity on my own terms, rather than just taking conflicting Internet wisdom at whatever face value it may possess.

The first task, as always, was to make a contact sheet. As I’ve never done this for BW400CN, I made a pair of test strips the same way I would for any film+paper combo I’m trying from cold; one at full stop intervals to get a rough exposure time and a second to fine tune. Figuring a large amount of exposure would be needed to blast through the dense film base, I left the lens wide open at f/4.

In the end, I wound up at an exposure time of roughly 12 seconds at f/5.6 at grade 2, onto Ilford MGIV RC glossy paper. Since processing is standard for this film, it’s reasonable to assume this time isn’t going to change for other rolls, so I ran full contact sheets for both of the rolls recently developed.

Wet process contact sheet from BW400CN

A full roll of 25 BW400CN frames, in all it’s glory. Watch, helpless, as the one or two keepers float, marooned, in an endless ocean of bad exposure decisions, boneheaded compositions, manual focus fails, half-assed snapshots and artistic endeavors that won’t quite make the cut because I missed some glaring issue. Yes, that’s right; not every actuation of the shutter produces artistic perfection, and you won’t see the vast majority of these in any form ever again. But that is a whole other topic…

I can’t say they look any worse than the contact sheets I’ve made from Pan F+ or Arista Premium 400. The contrast looks similar and printing to get the film base barely visible on the contact sheet netted me reasonable highlights.

But, that’s only half of the story. The other half is in the print. More on that in subsequent posts. Stay tuned!

Kodak BW400CN product photograph is sourced from and copyright of Kodak, and is included under the assumption of fair use.