Maco's Cube 400c
A New Universal Application Classic Film

Maco is not a name that is particularly familiar to most zphotographers--and those who do know the name are inclined to say "great products, shame about the documentation." Examples of the shortcomings of the latter are easy to find. For example, the same film-developer combination is given different development times, depending on whether you read the film box or the developer instructions, and "ISO" speeds are given for different contrasts (ISO assumes constant contrast, of course).

This will change. In the words of Herr Schroeder, at the Maco headquarters (Hans O. Mahn) in Germany, "First, we got the product right. Then we got the distribution right. Over the next 12 months we shall get the documentation right."

The bright stone on the left of the arch through the tower, lit by sun through the doorway; the overall gloom (there is no artificial light); the dark cross (in which you can see texture in the original print); all bespeak a superb tonal range.
Photos © 2003, Roger W. Hicks, All Rights Reserved

Enter Cube 400c
The film which should bring their name to the forefront more than any other is Maco's Cube 400c. It is astonishingly good. Until I tried it, I should not have said that any ISO 400 film could tempt me away from Ilford's HP5 Plus, except perhaps XP2 Super. Now, I'm not sure which I prefer. Given my extremely high opinion of Ilford films, I can give no higher praise.

The pictures that accompany this review are, I think, among the finest I have ever shot on medium format; I am very, very pleased with them. My wife Frances Schultz printed them, beautifully, on Ilford Multigrade IV from 6x6cm negatives shot with a Kowa 66 and standard 85mm f/2.8 lens. Remember, they are test shots, taken in an afternoon, not "fine art" shots. They were taken at the Eglise de St. Martin at Noize, three or four miles from where I live. The basic structure of the church is 10th century, though it has been modernized from time to time in the last thousand years.

"Old Tech" Film
Like Ilford's HP5 and Kodak's Tri-X, Cube 400c can be classified as "old technology": no tabular grains, epitaxial crystals, that sort of thing. But also like HP5 and Tri-X, "old technology" does not tell anything like the whole story. It benefits from all the advances in emulsion design of the last few decades, and it can fairly be called "state of the art" in its class.

It is coated for Maco in Croatia, but it is not just a re-badge of an existing emulsion. Nor is it a rehash of some decades-old formula. This is a seriously clever film, made exclusively for Maco, and many of the staff at the coating plant are Ph.D.'s and research scientists.

At the size of the original print--just 61/2" square, a little under a 3x blowup--the quality is truly akin to that of a contact print, in both tonality and detail. 3

A Different Start
The intriguing thing is that it wasn't originally made as a general application film. Like Ilford's SFX, it started out as a traffic surveillance film for speed cameras--a market it invaded with remarkable speed and efficiency. Then Maco realized just what a superb film they had on their hands, and started selling it in 35mm and 120. And like SP815/SFX, it has extended red sensitivity, out to 730nm.

The ISO 400 speed is as claimed. The effective speed of Cube 400c ranges from about ISO 200 in fine-grained developers to about ISO 650 in speed-increasing developers; it is probably a true ISO 400 in Kodak's D-76 or Ilford's ID-11. Note that these are true ISO speeds, meeting ISO standards for contrast and shadow details, not Exposure Indices (EIs).

The IR Connection
When used as an IR film with true IR filtration--deep red, almost visually opaque, cutting off almost all light below 715nm--the speed drops to EI 6 at best. EI 3 is better and even EI 2 will not give overexposure. As with any IR film, exposure with this sort of filtration is a matter of guesswork, experience, and what sort of meter you have: some meters are much more sensitive to IR than others.

Like most negative films, especially "old technology" films, Cube 400c is far more tolerant of overexposure than of underexposure. The penalties for overexposure with all conventional films are reduced sharpness and increased grain (chromogenic films such as Ilford's XP2 or Kodak's T400CN still give reduced sharpness though grain is actually finer) but many people are willing to take the hit on grain and sharpness in return for even better tonality. There is rarely any sense in giving more than a stop extra, but note the qualification on film speeds that is given in the sidebar.

(Sidebar) Film Speeds
All speeds given in this article are suitable for use with a spot meter. If you use an in camera meter (including automation) or an incident light meter, give anything from one stop extra (bright, sunny weather) to one stop less (dull, overcast weather). On a cloudy, bright day (overcast, but with clear shadows), use the ISO speed. These variations are because in camera meters and incident light meters are designed to give optimum exposure to color slide films, and exposure is therefore determined by the brightest areas in which you want texture and detail. With black and white films, on the other hand, optimum exposure is determined by the darkest areas in which you want texture and detail.

I was deliberately trying to overextend the film with an enormous brightness range in bright sun. But there's texture in the roof timbers and on the sunlit wall, and even on the cross in the graveyard--though that (and the sky around it) did have to be burned a little to hold the detail.

Grain And Development
The grain is as good as the best, and crisp and attractive; but it is not unusually fine for an ISO 400 film. Grain size is commensurate with speed, of course: the film is a lot finer grained at ISO 200 than at ISO 650. The claims for "exceptionally fine grain" are unfortunately the kind of pointless hype that has in the past made photographers suspicious of Maco products.

The only useful and readily available instructions for development are inside the film box, and only for two Maco developers: LP-Cube XS 1+4 and LP Supergrain 1+7. The former is 22.5 minutes at 20ÞC, 68ÞF, and the latter is 7.5 minutes at 20ÞC, 68ÞF. The instructions recommend a pre-wash, to help remove the anti-halation layer, but I don't like pre-washes (they affect film speeds and development times unpredictably) so I didn't give one.

The best source of information, incomparably, is Schroeders Negativ Praxis, ISBN 3-00-010072-5, published by Labor Partner, Hamburg, 2002. It's a parallel text in German, Italian, Norwegian(!), and (idiosyncratic) English. For Cube 400 it recommends 9 minutes at 20Þ for a gamma of 0.65 in Supergrain. I chose this because our enlarger prints very "flat" and the extra contrast is welcome.

The website, www.laborpartner.info--and note "info" not "com"--is of very limited use, being only in German when I checked it, and seemingly perpetuating the instructions that come with the Supergrain developer itself. These say that all films can be developed for the same time (5 minutes at 20Þ). They can't. It's nonsense. This is far too little for Cube 400c, and far too much for (say) Ilford Pan F or Paterson Acupan 200.

LP-Cube XS knocks up to a stop off the film speed and gives significantly finer grain, while the LP Supergrain gives at least the full ISO 400 film speed and probably ISO 500, together with a tonality that I very much preferred. I processed the film in a Jobo CPE-2, as I process almost all my films, so using my usual rules of thumb, I knocked off 10 percent for going up to 22ÞC, 75ÞF, and a further 10 percent for continuous agitation. This gave me 71/2 minutes, though I actually gave 7 for the negatives from which these prints were made, not wishing to overdevelop.

The church interior shots printed well on Grade 4, and the exterior shots on Grade 21/2, so I guess I should have gone to the full 71/2 or maybe even 8 minutes: a clear illustration that you must always be willing to personalize development times until your negatives print on middling contrast grades.

The older I get, the less I like Ansel Adams' faux-wilderness shots, and the more I like his pictures of the California missions. And much as I love to photograph California missions, I like even better to photograph truly ancient churches. This is something of a homage to Adams.

Using Your Favorite Developer
Much the same was true of the LP-Cube XS negatives, from which there are no prints here: I'd have done better with a couple of minutes longer, but this is easily remedied next time. Encouraged by my initial success, I tried developing Cube 400c in other developers, and at other times and dilutions. I soon found that Cube 400c is all but idiot-proof: you can develop it in virtually anything, though I have yet to find anything better than Supergrain. For guidance with your favorite developer, I have found that it requires just a little more development than the new-generation Tri-X; maybe 30 seconds or a minute.

Pushing The Film
It also pushes well. I rarely push films--I prefer to switch to Ilford's Delta 3200 when I need the speed--but there are times when there are few choices. Using Supergrain for 10 minutes at 24ÞC, 75ÞF, I got very acceptable negatives at EI 1600. The only other ISO 400 film I know that pushes this well is Ilford's HP5 Plus.

On a dull day, I'd be inclined to increase development times by up to 50 percent (from my revised figures), and to uprate the film by at least 1/3 stop, as I would with any other top-quality black and white film. On a really bright, sunny day, with inky shadows, I might be inclined to cut development time by 10 or 15 percent and possibly to drop the speed by 1/3 stop. Given that I am quite happy to rate it at ISO 500 in Supergrain or Ilford's DD-X, and ISO 650 in Paterson's FX-50, this means that the minimum speed I would normally use is EI 400 and the maximum is EI 800.

Green/Blue Drain (Not To Worry)
No matter what developer you use, it drains from the tank a funny greeny-blue color. This is because of the extremely clever anti-halation layer, which is coated between the emulsion and the film: something of a Maco trademark. You might be able to reuse the developer, but I don't think I'd care to. Fixing is conventional: you can use any fixer. I don't use stop baths with film, though I do with paper.

And that's about it. This is a really excellent film, which I can wholeheartedly recommend for general use. Today, ISO 400 is pretty much the "standard" speed for black and white, while slower films are reserved for those occasions when the maximum possible sharpness and the finest possible grain are required. For me, the pantheon of truly great ISO 400 films now has three members: Cube 400c joins Ilford's HP5 Plus and XP2 Super. Actually, make that four. The new Tri-X is also gorgeous, though my wife Frances will be addressing that. Whether you're an Ilford user wedded to HP5, a Kodak user addicted to Tri-X, or a fancier of one of the other ISO 400 films on the market, you owe it to yourself to try this superb film.

For more information on Maco's Cube 400c film, visit Cachet/Fappco's website at www.onecachet.com.

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