CineStill BwXX: A Newfound Love by Drew Evans

Medium format b&w film image of a path through the woods - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Drew Evans

Back when I started my film journey, I was quickly enamored with the grainy looks and the pastel hues that photographers were able to capture.

I tried for years to emulate that on digital, but I could never get the end results to match up well enough (not to mention the tactile process of shooting film).

When I made the jump and (somewhat rashly) abandoned my digital setup, the colors took over my work. I was shooting flowers, sunsets, the classic Victorian homes of San Francisco… really anything that was saturated and vibrant. It felt like the analog process was built for color film.

I fell in love with Portra 400 and 800, Fuji Pro 400H, Fuji Superia 400. They all rendered tones differently, and they all had different places in my bag. But they were always there, and I rarely ventured away from them.

Medium format b&w film image of a path through the woods - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film

Finding My Love of B&W Film

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.

Medium format b&w film image of the beach - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film
Medium format b&w film image of a building - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film
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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.

Find CineStill BwXX on Amazon.

Medium format b&w film image of the ocean - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film
Medium format b&w film image of a kitchen - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film

Shooting CineStill BwXX and the Results

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.

Medium format b&w film image of a subway seat - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film
Medium format b&w film image of a plane seat - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film

Final Thoughts

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.

Medium format b&w film image of the ocean - CineStil BwXX Review by Drew Evans on Shoot It With Film

Thank you so much, Drew! Drew is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out his other articles here, such as the Leica M6 35mm Film Camera Review and Mamiya 7 Review: Does This Medium Format Rangefinder Live Up to the Hype?.

You can also check out more of Drew’s work on his website and Instagram.

Leave your questions about CineStill BwXX below in the comments, and you pick up some for yourself on Amazon here!

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Drew Evans

Drew Evans is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film, and he specializes in cityscape and landscape film photography. Find his other articles here, such as Lecia M6 35mm Camera Review and 6 Tips for Buying and Shooting the Leica M6.

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Blog Comments

The photos are great, but this film is incredibly expensive, compared to other B&W films

Hey, don’t feel bad – I popped the bottom off my M6 thinking it was taking the card out of my M10! Fortunately it was a dark hotel room so all wasn’t entirely lost.

Eastman 5222 is a GREAT b/w film!

Besides the CineStill, the exact same emulsion is also available from Film Photography Project as “X2 – Eastman Kodak Double-X” in 24-exposure rolls. (Perfect for the Pen F half-frame camera I’m using: with careful loading, I’ve been getting 52 negs per roll.)

So… I’ve been shooting Kodak Tri-X forever – since the mid-1960s – and it remains my go-to b/w film. But you know, Tri-X has been “reformulated and improved” several times over the decades. It’s still great… but it’s not exactly the same film it used to be.

Alternatively, Double-X/Eastman 5222 remains UNCHANGED SINCE ITS INTRODUCTION IN 1959. It has an even more classic old-school look than today’s Tri-X. And yeah, it somehow looks “more cinematic” too.

I’ve really been impressed with this film in my Pen F. It has similar latitude to Tri-X (I’ve been rating it at 200… but mainly estimating exposure without a meter), slightly coarser grain, and incredibly deep and rich blacks. It’s gorgeous.

Whichever vendor you choose, Double-X is absolutely worth trying if you’re looking for that classic b/w look!

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