My first experience with Bergger Pancro 400 was a complete disaster. Several years ago I tried a box of 8x10 film, which I developed in BTZS tubes, and all the images were irreparably scratched. That’s because Bergger has two emulsions, one silver-bromide, and the other silver-iodide, coated on each side of the film base. Those two emulsions are said to give Pancro 400 its creamy quality, but, because the emulsions were on different sides of the film base, one of the emulsions came into contact with the inside of the tube, shredding the images when I pulled them out. I swore I’d never use it again.
Never is a long time, and my memory is a bad one. Recently, while visiting the camera store, the salesperson recommended the Bergger Pancro 400 in the 120 size. Since I’m now developing in a Patterson tank on reels, I decided to give the film another try.
My first results, using Kodak’s HC-110 dilution B, were surprisingly grainy. After some research, I learned that a complaint about Pancro 400 is that the grain appears in the highlights, as evident in my high-key images. Bergger's website says that each of the two emulsions gives a different amount of grain, and it appears that the emulsion activated by the higher zones is more pronounced. But I loved the film’s tonality, so instead of giving up, I decided to experiment.
With some adjustments in exposure and development, I no longer find the highlight grain objectionable. In fact, it's hardly noticeable. What I’ve learned is that Pancro 400 isn’t a film that likes to be over-exposed (unless you want a lot of grain), or over-developed, at least not in HC-110. Most other films don’t relish overexposure or overdevelopment either, but Pancro 400 seems particularly averse to either, with such pronounced grain that it looked like I’d photographed with a 35mm camera instead of medium format. Bergger recommends developing the film for 9 minutes at 68 degrees, and I’ve scaled my time back to 8.5 minutes to great benefit, and may pull back further to 8 minutes. While processing, I continuously and softly invert the tank for the first 30 seconds and then perform two gentle inversions every minute, which is less aggressive than my previous agitation. With this new approach, I’m happy with my negatives.
More importantly, I’ve realized that this is a film, again at least when paired with HC-110, that loves the low values. So there’s plenty of rich differentiation in the tones below zone 5. That’s a little different than I’m used to, but I’m coming to love it more and more. In my case, I meter at ISO 400 or even a third to two-thirds of a stop less, which brings the film alive.
Pancro 400’s rendering of those delicious darker zones is what has kept me returning to the film.
I've also returned to this film because of the price. Bergger is more affordable than many other films, such as Rollei, at least in America. People were critical of the cost when Pancro was first released because it was so expensive. That's changed, and this lower price makes Bergger even more enticing to shoot.
Next, I'm going to develop it in Ilford ID-11 to see what happens.