Accidental cross-processing: Outstanding (and unexpected) results

On a recent trip to New Jersey, I picked-up a Hasselblad 503CW (a story all of its own, which I’ll highlight in its own post soon). Because I didn’t have any film with me, the camera shop kindly threw-in a few rolls of 120 so I could immediately start shooting. Since they also let me choose what I wanted from their film fridge, I opted for three Kodak rolls: Portra 160, Portra 400, and Tri-X. It was a beautiful day, lots of sunlight, so the Portra 160 went into the magazine as my first-ever roll of film in the new Hassy. When I got home, I took it for processing as usual to Englewood Camera. But the results were nothing I was expecting.

When I took the roll in, I took a roll of black and white film as well. The person who took my order completed two separate envelopes as I would have expected; any one or more rolls of black and white, and any one or more rolls of color, or put in separate envelopes. But instead of marking the Portra 160 as color, he made a slight mistake: He checked the black and white box. I didn’t notice this, of course, until I got the processing back — processing that, as you might now surmise, was done in black and white chemistry, as opposed to color (C-41) chemistry.

The appearance of grayscale negative images on the amber acetate didn’t immediately register. Something wasn’t right, and it literally took my brain several seconds to realize that I was looking at black and white images on color film stock. That’s when I noticed the envelope, and that the wrong box had been checked.

My initial reaction was understandably not positive; I put color film in the camera for a reason, and I took the shots believing they were going to be reproduced in Portra’s full, colorful glory.

It wasn’t until I got home and started scanning the negatives on my Epson V800 that I realized what I actually had: Some really nice black and white images, like these:

Because of the amber acetate, these had to be scanned as color negatives, but the scanner had difficulty in automatically identifying the frames. As a result, I manually selected the image areas, resulting in the bits of rebate you see around these images.

In any case, what I uncovered were 12 frames of superbly rich black and white images. The blacks were nice and dense, and the overall tonality is superb to my eye. The shadow detail in these images may be lacking a bit, but not to an extent that I find the least bit concerning. On the contrary, the overall look of the images is just the sort of thing I want out of my black and white shots. You can see all of the ones I chose to post to Flickr here. (That link is all my photos tagged “xpro” which may actually include others in the future.)

Moreover, I think that this series of shots, taken around Westwood where the camera store (Bergen County Camera) is located, are actually better suited to black and white; I think if these shots had been in color, the effect wouldn’t have been anywhere near as nice. Perhaps on a future trip to New Jersey, I’ll take the Hasselblad and see if I can capture the same images in color for comparison.

Bottom line: I had no idea that Kodak Portra 160 would make such a nice black and white film.