Quite honestly, I didn’t understand black and white film. It felt simplistic and a bit boring. Why shoot landscapes void of color if the primary subject of my shots depended on the colors involved?
That’s when two things struck me.
First, photographers before me only had access to black and white film and were able to take incredible images, so I clearly was missing something.
And second – arguably the more difficult lesson for me – was that color isn’t a subject on its own. Just because certain film stocks can produce beautiful colors and tones does not make an image interesting.
It took a while for me to realize it, but I did eventually find the sad truth. I wasn’t “too good” for black and white. Black and white was too good for me.
And thank the stars that I did find that truth. If I hadn’t I would never have come across CineStill BwXX.
An Overview of CineStill BwXX
If you’ve never used the film or don’t know anything about it, it’s purportedly rebranded Eastman Double-X 5222 motion picture film, used in some of the most popular movies in history.
It’s especially good in low light situations and is actually a variable speed film (200 in tungsten lighting or 250 in daylight, and you can rate it up to 1600). The result is a particularly cinematic and versatile film.
The first time I shot CineStill BwXX, I was at the famous Land’s End in San Francisco with a few friends at sunset. I was feeling extra frustrated – I had been victim to the classic film photographer trap and had opened up my camera before rewinding the film (I know you’ve all done it at least once).
Unfortunately for me, I had done it on back-to-back rolls of Portra. I pulled out a roll of BwXX and tossed it into my Leica. I rated it at 400 (I think), not having a clue what to expect.
When I scanned my negatives, I was blown away.
I think its biggest strength as a film is its dynamic range. Even near sunset and just after, the film had no problem picking up detail and staying sharp.
I’ve now shot this film at 200, 400, and 800 with no change in development, and they’ve all turned out beautifully.
I’m also a big fan of the contrasty scenes it produces. I’ve personally always gravitated towards black and white images that are high contrast, which is probably why I love using BwXX so much.
The biggest thing I’ve taken away from CineStill BwXX is a newfound love and appreciation for black and white film. I’m sure many readers are offended it took me this long to find out how powerful of a tool it can be.
But this film specifically, with its strong contrast and seemingly endless use cases, really pushes me. It forces me to see light through my viewfinder in a way that I never really bothered to see before.
At the end of the day, I can confidently say that I’ve produced some of my favorite images using CineStill BwXX. And for a film stock that I begrudgingly threw into my camera one evening without any expectations, it’s become one of my favorites.