I Shot Wolfen NC500, a New Color Film from ORWO

I Shot Wolfen NC500, a New Color Film from ORWO

2000 1125 James Tocchio

In May 2022, the German film manufacturer ORWO launched their first new film in over fifty years. The new film, ORWO Wolfen NP100, is a fine-grained 100 ISO black-and-white 35mm film. Neat! But what we film photographers really need are some new options in the color film segment. And it seems that ORWO agrees. The storied film manufacturer from Germany has followed Wolfen NP100 with another new and more exciting product; a color film called ORWO Wolfen NC500.

I recently had the opportunity to take a rare vacation with my family, a sunny week away, a week of good food and natural beauty and warm beaches and quaint lighthouses and sherbet sunsets, and happy memories photographed. I shot it all on ORWO’s new color film.

My results have been mostly aligned with the expectations established in ORWO’s press release and on their website, the take-away being that ORWO Wolfen NC500 is an unusual cinematic film that will appeal to film photographers seeking a more “nostalgic” look.

What is ORWO Wolfen NC500

ORWO Wolfen NC500 is a color negative film with an ISO of 400. It has no remjet layer, which means that it can be processed anywhere that processes normal C-41 color film. It’s available in 35mm canisters of 36 exposures each.

The picture profile, according to ORWO’s documentation, is that Wolfen NC500 makes images with green overtones, de-saturated shadows, and enhanced grains. I’ve found that only some of this is true.

At its heart, Wolfen NC500 is a cinema film. The chemical formula for the film is reportedly based on an old Agfa film type called Agfa XT320, a film that was used to shoot movies such as Out of Africa, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

ORWO is careful to mention their intention with Wolfen NC500. In their press material, they state: “We are not trying to imitate current stocks available on the market, we are creating an alternative, something with different characteristics and a different palette.”

That sounds like Lomography-speak, and I suspect it’s a way for ORWO to distance the new film from the competition and to perhaps deflect any direct comparisons in the areas of grain structure, tonality, and dynamic range (areas where, after my initial testing, ORWO doesn’t exactly stand toe-to-toe).

But hey, a new color film! Let’s shoot it.

My Experience with ORWO Wolfen NC500

To start, let’s look at the name. ORWO Wolfen NC500.

The “Wolfen” part, I get. The stuff is made in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, where ORWO has manufactured film since 1910. That’s neat, I suppose. I’ve never been there. The place could be a hell-hole, for all I know. But let’s be charitable and assume it’s a beautiful place. I’m sure it is.

But then we have that numbering. NC500. Five hundred.

“Okay, so we’re looking at a 500 ISO film?” I ask.

“Nein!” exclaims ORWO. “It’s ISO 400.”

“Then why didn’t you call it NC400?”

“Because, you fool, we already have a film called NC400!”

And it’s true. They do have a film called ORWO Wolfen NC400. It was developed and released alongside NC500, and is remarkably similar to NC500, except it presents images that are more saturated, finer-grained, and much cooler (blue toned). Incidentally, they’re both rated as ISO 400 films.

But that’s enough of that. I load the film into a Nikon N60 fitted with the classic Nikkor 50mm F/1.8, load a second roll into a Canon Snappy Q, and search my splayed carry-on bag’s disheveled contents for the snorkel that I’m sure I packed.

A few hours later I’m standing incongruously upon a sandbar in the Gulf of Mexico. I didn’t find my snorkel, and I used all of the sunscreen on my children, leaving none for myself. I’m sure that I’m on my way toward sun poisoning.

A pair (or a dozen, who can be sure?) of dolphins are mere meters away, hunting fish, breaching the turquoise waves, getting closer and closer. I apprehensively wonder if dolphins are truly as friendly as people say, and ineffectually ponder over how weird dolphins are, if you think about it. (They’re slippery grey tubes and they produce milk.)

I find a sea urchin and, for some reason, pick it up. I’ve never seen a living sea urchin, much less held one, and as it tickles its way across my palm with its myriad spiny feet, I take a moment to wonder if it’s poisonous. I show it to my girls and they scream and flee. The urchin is eager to get back into the water, and I oblige it.

I decide it’s time to take some pictures.

Shooting ORWO Wolfen NC500 is the same as shooting any other film. Put it in a camera, point the camera at what matters, and take a picture. Here are some of my real-world results.

[NOTE: Since returning from the deserted beaches of Florida, I have shot additional rolls of NC500 in more controlled and various situations, and have bracketed exposure testing completed. I will update this article when those images are processed. Interested photo nerds should revisit this article in June.]

My images made with NC500 appear de-saturated, slightly under-exposed when shooting at box-speed, low in contrast, high in grain, very green and very yellow.

Lightroom corrections have helped to bring the film closer to what I consider acceptable white balance, but straight from the lab, the scans were too yellow and too green. This could be a result of the film lacking an orange base-layer, so expect to color correct if you all don’t love the ultra-yellow look.

After years of shooting expired color film, often with mixed results, I’m inclined to think that these shots would have come out better had I cranked the exposure compensation to over-expose by a stop or two.

Diving a little deeper, let’s look at the grain structure. It’s heavy and exaggerated, and it does tend to diminish some of the detail of the film. Color films from Kodak’s Pro line certainly render sharper and cleaner images, and even ORWO’s own Wolfen NC400 has finer grain. Recall, however, that sharpness and cleanliness are not the intended goals for Wolfen NC500. Wolfen NC500 is not a true-to-life film. Not even close.

The de-saturation is certainly a vibe. Colors are muted across the range, but especially so in the blue tones. Believe me when I say that the skies of Florida and the waters of the Gulf are all far bluer than images from this film indicate. Plants are greener, too. For those seeking to simply document the colors of the world as it is, Kodak’s color films are much better in this regard.

Lastly, ORWO’s new color film is not cheap. Pricing ranges from shop to shop, but NC500 typically costs in the area of $17 per 36 exposure roll. Compared with some other color films, ORWO is pricey.

But ORWO is not seeking to make a competitor to Kodak or Fuji’s color film. As per their own press material, ORWO Wolfen NC500 is intended to be an eccentric film that makes images with a nostalgic, cinematic flair. Like Lomography (a brand for whom ORWO manufacturers color film, incidentally), ORWO is attempting to create a niche within a niche. With this in mind, I believe Wolfen NC500 is a success.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Merlin Marquardt May 17, 2023 at 9:00 pm

    Not a fan of this film.

  • Like it.
    And very happy to find this review.

  • Great reading a real world review rather than the same copied and pasted 15 words to describe this film! Can’t wait to see the next results you get from this emulsion.

  • I can get the same look for $5 vs $17 just by buying expired film…

    • So true! I paid for rolls when it was first announced based on the images on Wolfen’s website. The real-world images look nothing like Wolfen’s. Not happy…

    • Yes, get some real old ORWO instead. It’s great that they make consumer film again but they won’t sell much at that price. The look is nice though and I’d buy bulk if available.

  • I preordered when they first announced last June sometime, and still have not received anything despite a huge number of emails and chat requests and such. I originally heard it was delayed due to the Royal Mail cyberattack but I don’t believe that in the slightest due to the fact that at that time it was “already boxed and just waiting for Royal Mail to start operating again” and that was in I believe January or so. I heard from them yesterday after repeated emails again with a very generic “we have lots of orders that we’re processing” basically. I don’t know that it will ever come at this time but we’ll see. 🙂 Thanks for posting examples up at least. I’m not encouraged by how grainy it seems to be but I guess I’ll give it a shot if it ever shows!

  • John Squillace May 21, 2023 at 9:51 am

    Hi, James – looking at the photos (which I really like), I wonder if some of the issues would be solved by more exposure – maybe for example it’s closer to an ISO 250 film than 400?. I bought 2 rolls that I haven’t used yet; time for some experimentation!

  • I shot two rolls of NC500 (and one of NC400) and like them very much. The film is completely different from the vibrant Kodak or Fuji and you can’t expect it to replace those.
    My first roll shot on canonet ql17 seemed underexposed. I took some night photos and some shots in horrible winter weather and they came out dull and tasteless. I was shooting at ISO 320. What came out beautiful were some of the portraits of my daughter taken inside. delicate hues and low contrast – i love them (maybe because i love her so much 😉 )
    Second roll was shot in may and i loved the results. Nikkormat EL at ISO400. delicate hues, nothing vibrant. pink blossom, some street shots and some interior in mixed light. Again, those mixed light shots were the best. Warmer tones and beautiful greens, yellow and oranges. Desaturated reds and absent blues. I guess this is what this film is good at – the palette between greens and oranges. The rest of the spectrum is hard to capture.
    NC400 is similar in how it handles colours – works best in warm interiors with plenty of light. It allows more blue to be captured though and the texture of grain is less pronounced. great overall, but not an everyday all-purpose film just like NC500.

    You can see some of those shots in my instagram – i tried to cover both stocks in my posts

  • At 400 ISO, these shots are underexposed, even in bright sunlight! Looks like at best this is a 200 ISO film, maybe closer to 160 or even 125.

  • Great review! Now I have to try another film…

  • withtragediesadorned May 28, 2023 at 12:59 pm

    Poor results for brand new film stock. I’d expect such results from badly expired film that has been stored in warm environment, but not from fresh new roll. Thanks, but no, thanks.

  • Looks like long expired material. No way it’s worth the price they want for it.

  • I used some ORWO slide film during the 90s. I think it was ISO 100 & was very cheap. It was grainy & contrasty & had a cool palette that was different to any other film. Skin tones were awful compared to those of the big manufacturers.

    It wasn’t for everyone or all occasions but, as a change, I loved it.

  • I hated the result. It’s overhyped and overpriced.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio