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:
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:
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.