Agfa APX 400 is a newer emulsion of an older Agfa film stock; and you can still get your hands on the older emulsion – but it’s quite rare. This review today is specifically utilizing the newer emulsion that is easily attainable through Amazon or other places you can still find film. APX 400’s claim to fame is its incredible highlight retention, making it ideal for shooting in higher contrast situations, allowing you to weight your exposure more towards the shadows without having to worry about totally killing your highlight detail.
I set out with two rolls of APX 400 and my trusty Pentax K1000 to see what this film could do. As far as lenses go, I mostly shot with the SMC-M 50mm F/1.4, but I also used the SMC-A 28mm F/2 and SMC-M 135mm F/3.5 for some shots as well.
I took a stroll to the streets of downtown Portland, OR my nearest metro area, and while it’s surely not a street photography mecca like NYC or some other major cities, it has a great culture and vibe to it. I decided to hit the town about two hours prior to sunset, in hopes of finding some nice, pleasing light, without having to worry too much about the time crunch of losing light.
The APX 400 has a really interesting look to it, not totally no contrast, but not really mid-contrast either, Photographers who like that Tri-X or Delta 400 look will probably want to stay away from this film. The highlights have this milky, hazy, sort of mysterious look to them in some cases that I thought was rather cool. Overall the look is one that I really enjoyed, even though in most cases I would say that I prefer a bit more contrast.
In terms of sharpness, there is absolutely nothing to complain about there. It is as sharp as any other film I have used – that is to say that details were clear and rendered as I expected. This would be a great film for anyone shooting portraits or photojournalism where having those sharp details are key.
One big thing to always consider when looking into films is the grain, and how that will come across in scans. I am happy to report that the grain on the Agfa APX 400 is very fine, in many cases you won’t even notice it. I love grain, so even if it was moderate to heavy I would have been okay; but in terms of these two rolls that I shot, it was what I would consider to be fairly subtle. When it was noticeable I liked the look, and when it wasn’t I didn’t really miss it. So take that as you may.
This is what is so hard about reviewing films. Unlike a digital camera or lens, which can be tweaked to the photographers style, the choice of film IS the choice of style, so there really isn’t much wiggle room or variation beyond if you decide to push or pull your roll. To that end, you on your own would have to decide if the look is something that you like and want to work with.
In my case, I generally found that I enjoyed the Agfa APX 400. I have also shot with other black and white films, most recently Fujifilm’s Acros 100, and while I may lean slightly towards the Acros 100 on a visual level, the fact that it is an ISO 100 film means that I would more often than not choose the Agfa APX 400 because it gives me more wiggle room with my settings in the studio and outdoor environments that I like to shoot in.
Comparing the images to those that I shot with my X-Pro 2 in Acros black and white mode while on the same trip I can say that I preferred the Agfa APX 400 images. The feel and authentic look of the film kicked it up a notch for me, and even with processing in Lightroom and Photoshop I wasn’t able to match the looks as well as I would have liked. Though maybe if I had spent more time with it my results could have been better. But if you are a hybrid shooter that likes to match your film and digital imagery then this may not be a film for you to use in those situations. The unique way with which it renders highlights and its fine grain and lower contrast levels made it a bit of a challenge. Then again, I am not a hybrid shooter most of the time, so maybe someone who is used to doing this on a regular basis would have better luck or know of some tricks that I am not privy to.
Overall I would say that my experience with the Agfa APX 400 film was a good one. I very much enjoyed getting back to the basics with my K1000 while walking the streets of downtown Portland. The images that came back were looked great–aside from my mediocre at best street photography skills. Would I recommend this film to other photographers looking for a black and white emulsion to play with? Most definitely, assuming they understood its characteristics and were okay with that.
“…if you are a hybrid shooter that likes to match your film and digital imagery then this may not be a film for you to use in those situations. The unique way with which it renders highlights and its fine grain and lower contrast levels made it a bit of a challenge.”
In terms of pricing, at $6.50 or so for a 36 shot roll of 35mm this is a good value, right on par (a little cheaper even depending on where you look) with other single roll prices for popular films like HP5 and Delta 400. So dust off that film camera sitting on your shelf and pick up a roll of APX 400, it will serve you well.
Words of genuine thanks to the Lomography company for developing the film for us.