CatLABS X 80 Film Review

CatLABS X 80 Film

We recently got in our first batch of the CatLABS X 80 film and wanted to share our initial examples and thoughts on it.

We are always intrigued when a new film hits the market. These days, particularly in the b&w film world, it seems like there are more options than ever. But the world of film manufacturing is a bit murky. There are only a handful of plants worldwide actually producing film - far more than there are brands selling it. So when a new film arrives on the market that doesn't say Fuji, Kodak, Ilford, Agfa or Lucky it can mean a couple of different things. The first, and most likely, possibility, is a brand such as Rollei, JCH, or Lomography has contracted with a manufacturer to produce a unique emulsion to their specs on the agreement that they will buy a huge batch of it, package it on their own and sell it off. The LomoChrome Purple as a good example of this type of arrangement. The Purple film is certainly not a repackaged emulsion, but something completely unique, created for Lomography. The other possibility though is that a brand/company has gotten a hold of a batch of either currently unavailable film, or currently available film on the cheap, and is simply reboxing it with their brand, or modifying it somehow, and selling it. Cinestill is an example of this, as they are working with the Kodak Vision 3 films, removing the remjet layer to allow the film to be processed in C-41 minilab machines and marketing it under their brand.

In the process of stopping to make this image, two passerby saw our camera on tripod and stepped up next to us to make selfies of this point of view.

In the process of stopping to make this image, two passerby saw our camera on tripod and stepped up next to us to make selfies of this point of view.

Ok, with that intro out of the way, when we came across the CatLABS X 80 film for the first time, the initial question was, "What exactly is this film? Something new, or something old?". CatLABS for their part claims that this is not a previously existing emulsion but rather a new emulsion made for them by one of the existing manufacturers out there. Our light research, initial findings and educated hunches suggest this to be the case. There are not too many ISO 80 emulsions being made, the only one we can think of being Aviphot 80S from Agfa (AKA Rollei Retro 80S) and this is definitely not that film, notably because the CatLABS film demonstrates no near-infrared capabilities (more on that below).

CatLABS has stated that they see this film as being similar to the old Kodak Panatomic X emulsion. Samples we saw online seemed to support this, showing a lower contrast, tonal image. But one must always be careful with online samples since the method of developing and scanning can have a distinct impact on the look of the final image. In fact, our samples that we produced had a great deal more contrast than the samples we had seen online, so we don't know how that film had been processed or if it had been scanned flat, but we are definitely seeing something with a bit more punch than we had been led to believe.

But let us tell you how we went about producing the sample images we are sharing here, and then you can draw your own conclusions. So we exposed this roll through a Rolleiflex TLR. We took the roll out and shot the portrait of staff member Peter Carlson under a covered area in soft, shady light. The other images were made on an overcast in open conditions. We rated the film at ISO 80 and shot our first image unfiltered, then one through a red filter and finally a third through an R72 (we have learned it pays to check if a film has IR sensitivity). The R72 frames came back blank, so no deep near-IR sensitivity there. But the red filtered images had much more of a glow than we were expecting, see the comparison between the two Peter portraits to see what we mean.

Peter unfiltered - in more ways than one.

Peter unfiltered - in more ways than one.

Peter with a Red 25 filter. He’s much more “glowy”.

Peter with a Red 25 filter. He’s much more “glowy”.

As we unloaded the film, we noticed that the sealing strip on the backing paper said Shanghai on it, so that seems to be a big clue as to where the film was finished for CatLABS. The backing paper is pretty cheap feeling and our darkroom tech noted that the film itself felt really tacky under hand, a tactile characteristic unlike any other films we handle in the darkroom.

We processed the film in XTOL 1:1 for 10.5 minutes (as per the Massive Dev Chart) via a rotary drum method. Then the film was scanned on a Noritsu S-1800 with typical settings. The images were corrected for a black and white point but otherwise largely left alone. Furthermore, we made test prints on our optical mini-lab machine to see how an analog print would look. And that folks is our process here.

This film is pretty inexpensive, at only $5.55 a roll. It also feels cheaply manufactured. That backing paper in particular gives us some concern of seeing backing paper numbers imprinted into the emulsion as we have seen with other films recently. But so far this has not manifested itself. We found the film to have more contrast than the samples we had seen on-line and are chalking that up to the many variables involved with exposing, developing, scanning and printing film. We would not go out of our way to call this an especially fine-grained film, but its grain structure is quite nice and has a traditional look to it. The CatLABS X 80 film does not have any real IR capabilities to note, but responds more heavily to a red filter than your typical b&w film. And it does seem to be its own thing, as opposed to an already existing emulsion in a new box.

So there you have it. Do we recommend trying a roll? Of course! The more film we buy, the more film we'll be supplied with, and supporting new options is our best way of guaranteeing there will be more options kept available to us. Plus it is an interesting film to shoot and it is easy on the wallet. This film is only available in 120 at the moment though. It is also currently in stock and available at our shop, so here is a link to our website if you would like to grab a roll, or you can stop in the shop to pick some up.

If you have any questions or feedback on this film, we would love to hear from you. Send us an e-mail!

CatLABS X 80 film unfiltered photographing a bright, green tree under the St. Johns Bridge.

CatLABS X 80 film unfiltered photographing a bright, green tree under the St. Johns Bridge.

An “uncorrected” scan of an image made in overcast conditions. Despite the range of contrast with the backlit bridge, the film still nicely caught some shadow detail. Faint black scratches can be seen in the sky areas of the image that appear to have been caused during manufacturing.

An “uncorrected” scan of an image made in overcast conditions. Despite the range of contrast with the backlit bridge, the film still nicely caught some shadow detail. Faint black scratches can be seen in the sky areas of the image that appear to have been caused during manufacturing.