Shanghai GP3 Film - A Personal Review and Photo Essay 上海GP3黑白胶片评鉴
Shanghai GP3 Film Review 上海GP3黑白胶片评鉴
Prologue: Mourning Has Broken
I recently had the experience of mourning the loss of an old friend.
Over the course of several exchanges on Twitter about the friend’s demise, I went through the familiar stages of denial and anger on the way to nostalgia, and finally acceptance. And with that acceptance, I was able to reflect on all the wonderful things I shared with that friend over the years, and to reach a feeling of gratitude for our time together and the memories that will live on.
I was at peace with my loss, having experienced the departure of other good friends in recent years. Like every such loss, it acted as a touchstone for a swarm of fond memories and experiences - and even some nightmares. As I age and gain a smidgen of wisdom I always come out with a more accepting, philosophical perspective, and that was the case here.
I guess even Charlie Brown would say it was a good grief (sorry!).
Imagine my relief and delight when shortly thereafter I learned that rumors of my friend’s demise, although technically accurate, were nonetheless premature, and that my friend was alive and well!
The “friend” of which I speak is not a flesh and blood human, but an old favorite film stock called Shanghai GP3. I’m thrilled to have learned that, having resumed production after a move to a new facility, Shanghai GP3 is once again available in 120, 4x5 and 8x10 formats. This is especially welcome news given the confirmed demise of Fujifilm Acros, the last of the Fujifilm monochrome emulsions and long a reliable personal favorite. As various emulsions are discontinued and disappear, the sight of the familiar black package with white and baby blue lettering, stamped with a date in the future, is particularly comforting and welcome.
Information on this film is quite sketchy, even in Chinese. According to this article in Chinese, dated 1 September 2016, production of Shanghai GP3 ceased for around two years, and has resumed in a new facility.
As can be inferred by the name, Shanghai GP3 is produced by the Shanghai Shenbei Photosensitive Materials Group (my translation from 上海申贝感光材料厂), in Shanghai, China. Although it may have been available in 135 format years ago, I have only known it as available in 120 roll film, and 4x5 and 8x10 sheet film formats.
During my long residence in Taiwan, Shanghai 上海 GP3 was my no pressure medium format film - something available so cheaply I could always grab a roll to experiment with or test a new camera or lens around the neighborhood. It was always inexpensive worldwide, but after direct cross-strait ties were established there was a time when I could buy it in bulk via Taiwan’s top auction site for NT$50, or less than two US dollars a roll. That crept up slightly over the years, but I can’t recall paying more than NT$75/roll (around US$2.50) for a roll in 120 format.
But it wasn’t just cheap. Despite having a tendency to spoil almost as quickly as produce when left out at room temperature, and issues with curling, chintzy backing paper tape, and backing paper print-through issues, the emulsion itself was beautiful. And for two bucks a roll and a bit of freezer space, it was even better!
A few years back the supply seemed to dwindle, and the sellers I’d relied on at a local Taiwanese auction site no longer had it available. Still a fan of the emulsion, a friend and I went in on a bulk order from Taobao, China’s eBay, and got scammed for 25 rolls each of unusable film. We tried contacting the seller and Taobao, but got nowhere.
Lacking a reliable supply of the film, I continued to reach into my freezer from time to time to shoot a roll, presuming that was the last few rolls I’d ever have to use.
But now it’s back!
Since learning via the eminent EM of Emulsive Film and confirming independently that GP3 is back in production, I have purchased a fresh batch from an eBay seller in Hong Kong dated February 2019. The price, including worldwide shipping, is more than double what I used to pay, but still around $2/roll lower than similar films from major manufacturers.
So far I have only shot one roll of the revived GP3, and it performed flawlessly in my Kiev 88CM (AKA "Hasselbladski") with my new favorite lens, the Industar-29 (Russian name “Индустар-29″), a Soviet-era copy of the venerable Carl Zeiss Tessar optical formulation.
Hello, Contrast My Old Friend
Although I have shot a few sheets of GP3 in 4x5 format, my experience with this film is far more extensive in 120 roll film format. Off the top of my head, I have shot it in plastic Holgas and Dianas, pinhole cameras, Mamiya 645, Mamiya C330, Mamiya RB67, Kiev 88CM, Kiev 60, Pentacon Six, Kowa Six, Kalloflex, Pentax 67, Yashica Mat 124G, Rolleiflex 3.5E, and Fujica 645 cameras. I have shot it in full sunlight, on cloudy days, in the rain, in the woods, and in the studio with strobes, rated at box speed (100) and pushed up to 800 (three stops).
I don’t know much about the technical aspects of the emulsion, but I have found it to have smooth tonality and medium to strong contrast, with very fine grain when rated at the box speed of 100 ISO. Many photographers compare it to the beloved (now also discontinued) Kodak Plus-X, a native 125 ISO panchromatic film with fine grain and medium contrast. That said, I have pushed it two to three stops many times, and love the resulting rich shadows and strong contrast. When pushed up to 800, the grain remains silky smooth and does not become chunky or brittle, and contrast increases as can be expected.
Known Issues with Previous Iterations
As noted above, the film has not been without its issues.
First, unless cold stored or frozen while still quite fresh, the film can get spotty, like it’s molded. Worse, the backing paper can print straight through to the emulsion, leaving dots and numbers (see below). And at the end of the roll there is no sticky tape or adhesive to secure the roll tight, so it is always a good idea to keep rubber bands at hand to keep used rolls wound tight and prevent unwanted light leaks.
Lastly, the film base tends to curl quite a bit, which makes placing in a scanner a royal PITA.
A pleasant aspect of the film is the deep aqua blue color resulting from pre-soaking the film prior to processing. I presume this is from the anti-halation layer rinsing off, but (again) don’t quote me on that. For this reason, it is recommended to pre-soak GP3 and rinse several times until the water comes out clear before proceeding with processing.
New and Improved?
Rumor has it that paper backing print-through and curling have been resolved since production resumed in 2017, making the rise in price a bit easier to swallow. According to the manufacturer, the film is made using an “imported acetate base,” which may or may not resolve some of its previously reported and experienced issues.
Viable Fujifilm Acros Substitute
For anyone looking for a replacement for the discontinued Fujifilm Acros 100, I wholeheartedly recommend jumpstarting the healing process by picking up a few rolls of GP3 and getting out there to shoot!
I like to dunk it in Rodinal, but HC-110 works great as well, especially when push processing. I’m not too fastidious about keeping processing records, but in my experience it seems to respond best to higher developer dilutions, which tend to preserve good tonality in the shadows.
About Shanghai GP3
Shanghai GP3 is produced by the Shanghai Shenbei Photosensitive Materials Group (my translation from 上海申贝感光材料厂), formerly Shanghai Photosensitive Film Manufacturing 上海感光胶片厂, established in 1958.
The above link relates that the company produces Fujifilm color photo paper under a cooperative licensing arrangement with Fujifilm of Japan, as well as X-ray film for medical and industrial use, and “specialized digital imaging materials.”
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