Bergger BPF 200 Film And Prestige Paper

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Prestige Variable CM, one of several pleasantly stout fiber-based papers manufactured in France by Bergger, has a richness and luminosity that has almost become a thing of the past. For those who like really thick prints, Prestige Silver Supreme is coated on an extra premium-weight 100 percent cotton rag stock.
Photos © 1999, Tom Fuller, All Rights Reserved

As French-made Bergger black and white film and paper meet virtually every requirement of the exacting large format worker, "Fine Materials for Fine Photography" would also be a suitable title. Bergger BPF 200 film, available in a wide range of standard and specialty sheet sizes, is a very close replacement for Kodak's much-missed Super XX. Pair it with the dense blacks, gentle tonal gradation, and thick base of Bergger Prestige, a line of silver-rich papers able to hold their own against any premium offering on the market, and you have a combo that impresses even those of us who remember when Kodachrome came in red--or was it yellow--metal cans.

Like Kodak Super XX, Bergger BPF 200 provides a nearly straight-line density gradient that allows wide exposure control with almost any developer, a particularly endearing quality to Zone System practitioners who expand and contract scene values on a picture-by-picture basis. The panchromatic emulsion offers good resolving power, exceptional exposure latitude, and linear color sensitivity, the last making BPF 200 an excellent choice for dye transfer and color separation work. In everyday pictorial photography, this linearity translates to accurate gray-tone rendering of blue skies without a yellow filter over the camera lens.

BPF 200 has been called a "thick emulsion" film, a misnomer for the traditional design in which hunks of silver halide are suspended in a single gelatin layer. Unlike newer approaches that use multiple layers and/or platelet-shaped particles, "old technology" manufacturing relied only upon particle size to determine film speed. The advantage is that these emulsions work well with many developers and processing methods, including pyro, for maximum creative flexibility. While the grain of such films may be slightly coarser than that of new ones, the small degree of enlargement required of large format negatives makes this of consequence only to 35mm and medium format users.

In my tests BPF 200 came through with flying colors, being able to record an exceptionally wide subject brightness range with normal development at its labeled speed. The film is rated at ISO 200, a figure that proved to be a good starting point for producing brilliant negatives with excellent shadow detail using tray development for nine minutes in Kodak D-76 (1:1) at 68°F. The manufacturer's starting points with other soups are 4.5 minutes in Kodak HC 110 (Dilution B), 18 minutes in Rodinal 1+50, and 6.5 to 11 minutes in PMK Pyro. Reciprocity correction is not required for exposures from 1/1000 to 1/2 sec.

BPF 200 did a respectable job of capturing detail in the shadow and highlight areas of this scene.

BPF 200 is coated on a 175 micron polyester base and produced in 4x5", 4x10", 5x7", 8x10", 8x20", 7x17", 14x17", 12x20", 20x24", and 30x40cm, with other sizes available from the factory upon special-order request. The securely packaged film is interleaved with thin semigloss paper that is very difficult to detect even with bare hands, so use care when loading so as not to insert a sheet into the holder with its protective sheet on top.

Designed by the former chief chemical engineer for Guilleminot and Boespflug of France, fiber-based Bergger Prestige paper is available in double weight, premium weight (300g/m2), and, with Prestige Silver Supreme, an extra premium weight (320g/m2) base. Except for Silver Supreme, these silver-rich papers are offered in neutral and warm tone, graded and VC, and in standard sizes from 8x10" to 20x24", including 12x16". Silver Supreme, produced only in 40x50cm and one (Normal) contrast grade, is coated on an exquisite 100 percent cotton rag base.

Prestige NB is a double-weight glossy neutral-tone bromide paper, with Prestige NM having the same bartya-based emulsion in matte finish. Both are available in grades 1 to 4. Prestige Variable NB is a double-weight glossy neutral-tone VC paper that responds to Kodak and Ilford filters, or the corresponding values set on a dichroic or VC enlarger head. Prestige CB is a double-weight glossy warm-tone chloro-bromide paper, with CM having the same emulsion on premium-weight stock. Both are available in grades 2, 3, and 4. Prestige Variable CB (glossy) and CM (semimatte) are warm-tone premium-weight chloro-bromide VC papers, with Prestige Silver Su-preme's bromide emulsion giving a neutral, semimatte image.

Prestige exposure times were a little on the long side, but the paper is by no means what I would call slow. I experienced some fogging with a yellow (OC) safelight, so I recommend taking the manufacturer's advice and using a red (1A) filter in a dim fixture. Of course, my original filter may have been defective, but I had no further trouble with a 1A in the same unit. Almost any developer works well, but I found 21/2 minutes to be a good starting point in Dektol 1+2 with graded and VC versions. Two minutes in 1+40 selenium gives the image a nice, gentle tone, but the possibilities are almost endless by varying toner dilution and/or treatment time.

Finding the words to describe a good image is like finding ones to characterize a fine wine, but to put it simply, Prestige is an exquisite paper. The blacks are bold, the base is bright, and the image possesses a unique "depth" that is seldom seen today. While I can't yet defend this with facts and figures, I believe it is simply the "old" design of its emulsion--the absence of brighteners, topcoats, incorporated developing agents, and other additions common to "new" papers--that gives Prestige this distinctive quality. Prestige paper and BPF 200 film are fine traditional materials for the discerning photographer who, young or old, can savor the visual feast offered only by a meticulously executed black and white photograph.

Bergger products, along with the Lotus line of view cameras and large format accessories (see our review of the Lotus View Rapid Field camera in the July, 1999 issue), are distributed by Lotus View Camera/North America, 5955 Palo Verde Dr., Rockford, IL 61114; (815) 282-9876; fax: (815) 282-0902; e-mail: viewcam@wwa.com or web site at: www.lotusviewcamera.at/.
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