JCH Street Pan 400 - A Story of Friendship
I know what you are going to say. I cannot be impartial with my review of JCH Street Pan 400. After all, Mr. Japan Camera Hunter is a friend of mine. Of course I’m going to like his film. It is a no brainer. That is just a foregone conclusion. I mean, it wouldn’t be in my interest to insult the point man of my camera modification project. That being said, it’s not as if I’ve been modifying any cameras anymore with him or anyone else. For that reason, there really is nothing stopping me from jeopardizing my friendship.
And besides, is friendship really all that important? I suppose there was a time in my life when I used to value the friends that I once had. But, you would be surprised at how many friends a person could lose in the span of a decade or so - just by quitting the bottle and living a healthier life. I mean, they didn’t even want me as a designated driver. My deep dive into the science of senescence and my journey into prolonged longevity has made me become a social pariah reputed to sap the pleasure out of everybody’s parade.
Well, at least I’ll be living when they all drop dead from living life to the fullest. Good riddance to them all! Oh, calm down! Of course, I am just kidding. It is not as if I wish any of them ill for abandoning me. Although to be perfectly clear, I am convinced that I will outlive them all. It is just a simple matter of science by the numbers. Over the years, where most of them put on weight and became increasingly sedentary as their metabolic rate slowed down, I lost weight and became more active to stave off the inevitability of time.
With my impartiality established, how do I feel about JCH Street Pan? Well, I was given my first roll three years ago - give or take. I accepted it out of good manners. My TV mother taught me never to look a gift horse in the mouth (seeing that I was raised by after school syndicated reruns). At the time of receiving that first roll, I was somewhat entertained by it. For me, JCH Street Pan was a boutique film. It was a departure from the tried and true industry staple which I was accustomed to favoring like Kodak Tri-X 400
In other words, I didn’t think much of it - positively or negatively. In fact, I really did not think I was going to use it at the time. I mean, I was already shooting Kodak Tri-X 400. Why would I want to switch to another black and white film? So, I just left it inside my duffle bag - the same bag I schlep around as carry-on baggage, which I frequently expose to TSA X-rays before my flight. Well, you can guess how that worked out. When at last I shot with it, all the photos I had taken did not turn out at all. Nothing was on the roll.
After that, I did not shoot JCH Street Pan for quite some time. It wasn’t until a subsequent visit to Tokyo, over a year later, when I tried it again. Once more, Mr. Japan Camera Hunter offered me a roll, after I mentioned that I needed to get some black and white film at Yodobashi. As you would expect, good manners insisted that I graciously accept. So, I loaded it into my Hasselblad XPan. And with it, I shot that roll casually - relying solely on automatic metering - which resulted in noticeably inconsistent rendering.
It was really frustrating how I kept on striking out with JCH Street Pan - given that Mr. Japan Camera Hunter is a friend. By comparison, the photos I shot on Tri-X 400 were consistently reliable. With Tri-X, you could always expose it without careful metering, be off by two to three stops, and still recover lost details in shadows and highlights when correcting the exposure in post. By comparison, JCH Street Pan is nowhere as forgiving. Off by more than stop, and it really shows you what kind of a hack you are.
It made no sense to me why anyone would want to endure such hardship with any film. I mean, who wants to be subjected to that kind of introspective doubt and admit to be less of a photographer? Never had Tri-X 400 made me feel inadequate. Whenever I shoot like a hack with Tri-X, I can always fix the digitized files after the fact in post production and still project myself as a proficient film photographer. Given that, I just find it really difficult to understand why JCH Street Pan cannot be more like Tri-X 400.
Then came an epiphany. JCH Street Pan is not Tri-X 400. It never intended to be Tri-X 400. If it were Tri-X 400, it wouldn’t be JCH Street Pan. The world does not need another Tri-X 400 since it already has a Tri-X 400 called Tri-X 400, which is an immensely forgiving medium of capture. As for JCH Street Pan… well… not so much. For that reason, you cannot shoot JCH Street Pan like a novice. And for the most part, most online reviewers have been shooting it as such - folks who really know nothing about film capture.
I can’t tell you how many online reviewers have gotten JCH Street Pan wrong. A while ago, I recall watching two popular Youtubers reviewing JCH Street Pan. They shot it casually by exposing the film as if it were Tri-X 400. The results were awful with the telltale signs of careless metering discernible in faded grays where true blacks should have been found. Naturally, they faulted the film and not their shooting fundamentals, which were clearly imprecise. As such, they failed to appreciate the full extent of what the film can render.
To shoot JCH Street Pan correctly, one must shoot it like film. In the digital era, photographers have forgotten how to meter correctly. We tend to evaluate the exposure of the photo opportunity by assuming that the light is the same throughout the frame. That is fine with digital imaging and Tri-X 400, which are easier to fix in post. But with JCH Street Pan, you must be more selective when evaluating the light, which varies throughout the frame. Either you opt for spot metering from afar or center weight metering at point blank range.
Failure to do so will result in crushed details of foreground subjects underexposed under direct sunlight or blown highlights of foreground subject overexposed in front of deep background shadows. The prospect for recovery is reasonable within a stop of variance. Beyond that, JCH Street Pan doesn’t offer the same wiggle room characteristic of Tri-X 400. That said, blowing the exposure beyond a stop isn’t a mistake a proficient photographer would typically commit. You’d have to be a hack to expose the film that inaccurately.
Still, why bother with the trouble of less forgiveness in exposure. The thing is, if you cannot shoot JCH Street Pan correctly, you’ll never know how it’s suppose to render. But if you can shoot it correctly, you’ll understand the appeal of its rendering. Only then will you realize how phenomenal a film JCH Street Pan really is. In my opinion, there isn’t any film quite like it. When exposed correctly, the look it renders is reminiscent of heavy newsprint where true blacks in-frame are exceptionally pronounced relative to the entire tonal range.
So thick is the black that you would think the image is dipped in ink, rubbing off onto your hands at the faintest touch. And because the black is overweighted in tonality, fine details tend to be less defined, which gives JCH Street Pan a more flattering impression at times. The blackness in tonality imbues its rendering a somewhat more dramatic appearance that reminds me of the Renaissance painting technique of chiaroscuro. This gives JCH Street Pan a more solemn look, which is a departure from the ubiquitous chirpiness of Tri-X 400.
For that reason, I am gratified that JCH Street Pan is not another cookie cutter black and white film. Overall, it offers photographers substantive variety in rendering. That said, JCH Street Pan isn’t as forgiving in exposure, and thus require more care in execution of proper shooting fundamentals - as already stated. Thus, you can’t shoot it like its Tri-X 400 because it’s not Tri-X 400. If you shoot like a hack, you’ll never be able to get the best out of this film - which is a shame given how aesthetically unique it renders when exposed correctly.
Last, I am relieved that I actually like JCH Street Pan. Not that I value friendship in the same way that I did, during my former bon vivant years. But, it’s nice to not having to lose yet another friend because of me being me - though to be frank - it’s not like me being me has stopped me from being me.
If you get a chance, you should give JCH Street Pan a try. But for the umpteenth time, just remember that you cannot shoot it like a hack or a yob (being the designation that Mr. Japan Camera Hunter may bestow onto those who cannot shoot film properly). Frankly, it’s not that difficult to meter film correctly. It just takes an extra step in the shooting process.
For my sake in all this, I have found a friend for life with JCH Street Pan. It is a wonderful film.
All images have been digitized on a Pakon F135, cropped automatically from full negative during the scanning process, and some fine tuning of black and white values in Adobe Lightroom. All photos shot at box speed. In fact, I only shoot at box speed because that is what most of us do anyway.
NOTE - It has come to my attention that I haven’t disclosed my developing process to you. I don’t develop my own film. I haven’t done so since having a lab assistant over a decade ago while gainfully employed. And now that I am not as gainfully employed in that capacity anymore, I rely on a lab. What you see is what I get back from the lab, which you should know derives from the lowest cost solution in developing.
The reason why I’m making this disclosure is because I just read another review of JCH Street Pan from two years ago. The results were gorgeous! The tonal range is without a doubt out of this world. From what I’ve been told by Mr. Japan Camera Hunter, the folks at Casual Photophile live out of their darkroom, which is why their abilities put me to shame. I’m not worthy, to quote from Wayne and Garth.
That being said, I know I still won’t develop my own film. However, I might try a different lab.