Kodak Ektascan B/RA film review

June 18, 2014  •  5 Comments

Calla Lily Leaves Mt. Tamalpais, Marin, CA. 8x10 Ektascan B/RA With my newly acquired 14x17" ultra large format (ULF) view camera, a strange hybrid of Fatif monorail and Richard Ritter back, I knew that I would have to start venturing into the world of X-ray film - simply to keep costs down and allow for experimentation. Once you go above 8x10" in size, film options become limited and expensive. Really the only reliable choices in 14x17" are Ilford's yearly special order of FP4+ / HP5+ or ADOX's CHS 100 running at $20 and $16 a sheet respectively! So the quest was on for an alternative.

Remember the old days when you had a chest X-ray and they actually used a large piece of film in a big cassette. Well in some parts of the world they still do it that way and the film they use is 14x17". The X-rays go through your body (some absorbed by bone) and comes out the other side to hit a layer of phosphorescent material on the front side of the cassette. The phosphorous glows when irradiated which exposes the film which is usually sensitive to either green or blue light.

This all sounds peachy except that regular X-ray film has a number of downsides:

  • It's orthochromatic, meaning it doesn't respond to red light. Remember all those old photos pre-1900, sometimes they look a little funny. Panchromatic film only came into being in 1906.
  • It's has double sided emulsion, I guess so that an operator doesn't have to remember which side to load the film. This means you use twice the developer and possibly have slightly fuzzier images.
  • The emulsion is really thin and prone to scratching. Even loading and unloading the stuff into film holders can give you nice long scratches.

But it's one upside is that it is super cheap! In 8x10" it's 35¢ a sheet and in 14x17" about $1.06 a sheet. Well I couldn't do much about the first issue, the film being orthochromatic, but it turns out there is an X-ray film that deals with the other two issues rather well. It's called Caresteam / Kodak Ektascan B/RA and "is a medium speed, single coated, tabular grain, orthochromatic medical x-ray film for photography of cathode-ray (CRT) tubes. It is coated on a blue, 7-mil blue-tinted polyester support with a dyed pelloid backing which affords anti-halation protection. The film orientation is that the emulsion side is up when the notch is at the right-hand side of the top edge of the film." So in translation, its thick and hardy and only has one side of emulsion! This film is quite easy to find in 8x10" at about 80¢ a sheet in a 100 sheet pack. 14x17" is another matter and at the moment its only found in 500 sheet units (five 100 sheet boxes in a pack) at Z&Z Medical. Cost is $920.00 a box or $1.84 a sheet. Ask them to wrap it in bubble wrap and put it in an additional box to protect the product as its heavy and easy to damage. Also since there are always people looking to try out cheaper films for their ULF cameras you will probably find others happy to take several of the 100 sheet boxes off you for cost and shipping - about $200/box. That just what I did on the Large Format Photography Forum.

Once you have the film, the fun begins. But I would suggest considering starting with the 8x10" size first because the film is half the cost of 14x17" and a lot easier and cheaper to process at home. So far I've found the best way to develop the film as follows in my Jobo rotary processor:

  • Expose the film at an ISO of 80 - slightly overexposed due to the high contrast of the film
  • Develop the film in Adonal (1+40) for 7 minutes at 20C - slight underdevelopment to reduce contrast.
  • Water stop bath 3 minutes
  • Fix 8 minutes
  • Hypo Clear 2 minutes
  • Final Wash 10 minutes

If you are using 8x10 film and plan to do post processing in Photoshop/Lightroom I highly recommend playing around with the Gamma settings to tame the contrast of the film and get a good black and white image. Contact printing Ektascan B/RA in 14x17" size will be my next challenge both in silver gelatin and platinum alternative processes. I look forward to writing another blog post to share what I learn at that time.

 


Comments

Fr. Mark(non-registered)
I have been using Ektascan B/RA mainly for 5x7 cut down from 8x10. I also use it 8x10 and 4x5. It's easy to cut with the safelights on.
Someday, I hope to work with 14x17, and some other sizes (like whole plate) as cameras get made...
I rate it 80, but it depends on the kind of light. It needs more exposure under Tungsten light (1-2-3 stops?) and if it's early or late in the day when the light is less blue/UV or more red where the film is not sensitive. One fellow on LFPI forum says 1 stop per hour before/after 10-3 in the US. I tend to develop in Pyrocat HD, though Rodinal works for a lot of people. In pyrocat HD I can get full tonal range out of new cyanotype by Dr. Mike Ware: navy blue that's basically black to the paper base (or close to paper base). Because I want pretty dense negatives I've been using 2:2:100, I'm away from notes which are packed in a box anyway, but I think the dev. time is around 8 minutes at 70 F, but under a red (not yellow!) safelight you can carefully watch development. Rodinal 1:100 also works. I've also stuck left over strips (about 1" x 10") of Ektascan in a Olympus OM-1 and made a few great exposures that enlarge to 5x7 and beyond quite well. The film base is really too thick to run through the camera but it will make nice single pictures if you cut it an appropriate size and load/unload in the darkroom which isn't so bad since you can have the red safelights on.
David Drake(non-registered)
Hi Angus
Thanks for introducing me to Ektascan B/RA film! This is such a great post (and a great image to boot!).
I ordered two boxes of 8x10 from Z&Z Medical and I'm getting good results right of the bat, which is such a relief after experimenting with lith film & x-ray dupe film for enlarged negatives! Direct 8x10 negatives are so sweet!
I'm using Ektascan to produce negatives for alt process (kallitype), so the fact that it seems a contrasty film works in my favour.
I'm still a little perplexed as to the speed of the film though. They refer to it only as a medium speed film (a little vague). Still not sure what to shoot it at?
David
Frankie Rodriguez(non-registered)
Thanks for the film review and especially for the developing recommendation. I'm about to buy a 8x10 camera and so x-ray is necessary to get move over the figuring-it-out hump. A single-sided x-ray film is going to make it even easier to get the hang of it.
Angus Parker Photography
Dear Randy:
Thanks for the kind comments. I'll keep sharing as I get more experience with this film. Just bought a monster scanner - so I can go digital with the results if I decide that's what I want to do. But I'm keen to master contact printing this film.
Best, Angus
Randall Moe(non-registered)
Hi Angus,

Thanks for posting your source, as I had lost it, and your review is excellent information.

I may be stocking up soon!

I also look forward to your contact printing results. I have been busy on too many fronts to nail it down on silver paper.
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