Wide angle living - Part 8: Orwo film review

I took advantage of a snowy day in Frankfurt to test out a motion picture film from the original Easter German Orwo company. Join me for another wide angle living and rare film post, with some very intriguing results. 

About Orwo

The Orwo company (standing for ORiginal WOlfen), is an old film company established in  Germany in 1909, also being the basis for the Agfa film brand. With its main plant in Wolfen, Germany. It has a fascinating and long history, intertwined with Germany's changing fortunes. With the partition of Germany after WW2, its plant became located in the Soviet zone of Germany, and as such large parts of its infrastructure (and staff) were used to form the Soviet colour film industry. Its film stock became very well known in the communist era.

It is said that the Wolfen factory became the second largest film factory in the world, employing 15,000 people. After the re-unification of Germany, and going through various company changes over a few decades, the company FilmoTec GmbH was founded in 1998 as the successor of the old ORWO brand.  FilmoTec continues to manufacture a range of 16mm and 35mm film, also expanding in North America and supplying black and white industrial film to important clients such as the US Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. 

About the film

I purchased the Orwo 35mm film from Nik&Trick photo in the UK, which supply me with a lot of the "rare" films I test. The only problem was that I mistakenly bought a few rolls of two different Orwo films: Orwo N74 Orwo U54, not an issue in of itself, but one is ISO 100 and the other is ISO400. I had not realised they were different (same white label!), so I shot a few rolls all set at ISO 100... perhaps that is one of the reasons why I had some interesting results!

So, the films I shot were:

ORWO Universal Negative Film UN 54

(EI 100/21°)

Product description:

ORWO Universal Negative Film UN 54 is a panchromatic medium speed black-and-white negative camera film for both outdoor and indoor usage. 
According to the ORWO Instruction 4185 the UN 54 film can be processed as black and white reversal film and be used to produce direct positives.

AND....

ORWO Negative Film N 74 plus

(EI 400/27°)

Product description:

ORWO Negative Film N 74 plus is a high speed black-and-white panchromatic camera film for both outdoor and indoor usage. Its wide exposure latitude makes it especially suitable for use under low light illumination and difficult light conditions.
Applications include documentary films, news coverage, underwater and industrial cinematography. Use of N 74 plus is also recommended under normal light conditions when greater depth of field is needed. 
The N 74 plus is a marked advance over its predecessor, thanks to improved slippage, extremely low shedding and excellent antistatic qualities.

About the photos

The weather this year has been quite interesting to say the least, going from 10 degrees and sunny one day to -5 and snowy the next. This happened one Saturday a few weeks ago, where I woke up to a blanket of bright snow. I thought, "great, an opportunity to try out this rare ISO 100 film!" So off I went with (unintentionally) both sets of films, and went for a walk around the river. 

Shooting is snow is also not that easy, as the brightness of the white snow confuses a camera's light meter, ending up with incorrectly exposed shots. I think the general rule of thumb is to overexpose by 1 stop or more, as light meters are calibrated to take an average brightness reading of a scene (the typical 18% gray view), and the bright snow throws it off, resulting in an underexposed image. 

All shots were taken with my Hasselblad Xpan camera, mostly along the River Main in central Frankfurt. 

Bockenheimer Warte U-Bahn station. Pretty funky underground station entrance if you ask me! This kind of looks like something out of a movie set, so works quite well with the cinematography grade Orwo film.
A rather bleak day. Actually it was very bright out, so not sure even which film this was. I think I shot everything at about ISO 150, so if this was the ISO 400 film it would be quite underexposed. Many of the shots have a lot of grain too. I still like the shot though, very 'moody' indeed!
There's a lot going on in this image, but I like the leading line of the train tracks that seemingly disappear into the structure at the end of the image.
Bleak and cold looking, certainly not a day for being out on a tourist boat.
I like this shot and it reminds me of a similar one taken with Kodak Double X in Madrid.
A blur of grain and underexposed mess. Even the cross sign agrees. 

Frankfurt's skyline under haze (and loads of grain). Usually on Saturday's the river side is packed, but too cold on this snowy day!

One of my favourite shots and I think properly exposed. Really very clear and contrasty.
Wind angle living and wide empty spaces! I really love how wide the Xpan camera is, you just get so much in the scene. 
Bridges are always good structures to test how sharp and contrasty a film is, a good result here I think.
Brrrrr. Cold. Actually I don't mind the grain at all, it adds a lot of personality.
Old and new. A view from Frankfurt's old quarter, with the Commerzbank building rising above it.
Postcard shot.
I never got the obsession with padlocks on bridges, but fun enough to photograph them. The ECB building in the distant background.
Inside Bockenheimer Warte station and could easily have been part of my 'Empty Spaces' blog post, very clear and sharp photo too.
Lovely sharpness and contrast in this shot.

Overall observations

It is hard to be conclusive about this film as I shot it under difficult lighting and also didn't get the ISO right, but aside from that I enjoyed the results. It is also really fun to shoot a film that has such a rich history to it, and that it is still being produced. I am a big fan of film types like this, Agfa films, Fomapan, etc.

Where the shots were properly exposed, these looked similar to ones I have seen online, and have a great cinematic feel to them. I think shooting with the Xpan adds that extra wide dimension to the shot, which reinforces the cinema type look. 

For all other shots, you've got to enjoy a bit of analog grain every now and then, it is so much better than digital noise, even if it is not what I had intended! That being said, this classic film renders much better than the shots I have above, so I can't wait to try it again and really double check I have the right ISO set on my light meter! 

I hope you've enjoyed another Wide angle living post, see you next time!

Neil