UK-based photographic film retailer Analogue Wonderland recently celebrated its fifth birthday, and as part of that celebration the team at AW have just unveiled their very first own-brand film, WonderPan 400.
When I heard that another option in film was coming, I knew I had to try it. I sent a cheeky email asking if AW needed a product tester and the team there was kind enough to oblige me. They also offered to develop the film for me, but I opted to do it myself since I wanted to see how the film performs in the hands of an enthusiastic amateur who enjoys engaging with the entire process of film photography.
But before we get to my experience with WonderPan 400, and my results, let’s first explore a bit of the history of Analogue Wonderland, and what we get when we buy a roll this film.
What is WonderPan 400?
Over the past five years, Analogue Wonderland has grown quite a bit. The brand began with its founder, Paul, distributing film from home. Now it is a film distribution business with several employees and a film lab, servicing customers from all around the world.
To celebrate their success, Paul and the team wanted to try something new and inspire people in the process. A brainstorming session brought forth the questions, “How do we encourage people to get creative with their film?” and “How can we encourage people to experiment with push processing their film?”
From that launching point and after conversations with one of their film suppliers, AW purchased a batch of 100 ISO film with the plan that they’d release it as a film intended to be push-processed (the film is meant to be shot at 400 ISO, and the canisters are DX coded to this sensitivity).
You may ask “What is ‘pushing’ film? And if this film is actually 100 ISO film, why is it intended to be shot at 400 ISO?”
Here are the answers.
“Pushing” film is shooting a film at one or two stops above its nominal rating in order to deliberately under-expose it. Once the film is shot we then develop the film for a longer period of time than normal in order to compensate for the reduced exposure times. Pushing and push processing not only allows us to shoot in lower light conditions while maintaining high shutter speeds, it also adds contrast and grain to the final image, which changes the character of an image completely.
WonderPan 400 in Use
WonderPan 400 film canisters are labelled with a DX code so that cameras with automatic DX coding capability will set their meters to 400 ISO. Cameras without DX coding capability will need to be set manually, of course. But once the film is loaded and the meter set to 400, there’s really no additional special requirements when shooting WP400. Just shoot it as normal.
I loaded my roll of Wonderpan 400 into my Olympus OM-2, set the film speed to 400 and shot it over the space of a week or two during the lovely weather we had in the UK at the beginning of June 2023.
Yes, it was sunny in the UK! It doesn’t rain here all the time you know.
I shot half my roll on a walk with my grandsons close to my home, and the other half at a boating lake near my daughter’s home during a recent visit. On both days, the sunshine was very bright, hardly a cloud in the sky. I hoped that shooting a 100 ISO film at 400 would reduce the exposure time and help tame the harshness of the light. The only way I would know for sure would be when I developed my film, which is exactly why I shoot film to begin with. I never tire of the anticipation of seeing the results of my work when pulling freshly developed film from the tank.
Once I had shot my roll of WonderPan 400, I set about figuring out the developing times. I could have sent it back to Analogue Wonderland where the good folk in the WonderLab would have developed and scanned it for me, and done an excellent job of it, too. The lab techs have been experimenting with various developers to get the best out of this film and have a growing database of developing times and recipes available on the Analogue Wonderland website.
The beauty of shooting unknown film is in the development. When I went all in on B&W film, I wanted to learn to shoot and develop it, I would darkroom print it if I had access to one and the last three years have been quite an education for me. I developed my roll of WonderPan 400 for 17 minutes in Kodak HC110 dilution B (1+31) at 20 celcius.
Pulling the film off the reel to hang it to dry never gets old. It doesn’t matter what the film is, nor if you pushed, pulled or shot it a box speed. That first sight of the film you just developed emerging before your eyes still has me feeling like a kid at Christmas.
Would my film be any good? I gently released the end of the roll from the reel and held it up to the light to behold my freshly developed WonderPan 400.
I immediately knew I had chosen the right development time and dilution with HC110. My WonderPan 400 looked to be nicely developed and full of contrast, but obviously I wouldn’t know for sure until I had scanned it. With a contented grin on my face, I left my WonderPan hanging in my bathroom to dry.
The next day I scanned my roll of WonderPan with my trusty Ion Slides2PC 35mm scanner and processed the photos with Affinity Photo 2. I could see the oodles of contrast each image has once I had them on my PC monitor. It’s not quite all or nothing either, despite the rich blacks and mighty whites. A few deft moves with a slider is all you need to dial in the contrast to your own personal taste in a digital darkroom, and I also removed dust spots and scratches.
There’s a noticeable graininess to this film, but that’s true of all films that have been pushed two or more stops. I quite like it, to be honest, as it gives a timeless quality to the photos. Don’t be afraid to embrace the grain once you turn your negatives to positives. You could revive a classic camera and let your eyes guide you, it’s all part of the fun.
I would love to make a darkroom print of a couple of images that I am particularly fond of. The first half of my roll of WonderPan 400 was shot during a walk with my grandsons and the second half was shot during a walk with my daughter, so this roll has more than just a casual interest for me. Photography is all about preserving memories and WonderPan has captured those memories with a timeless quality.
WonderPan 400 is a limited run of 1000 rolls, and once they are gone, they are gone. If pushing film and trying something new sounds interesting, try not to miss out.
I had a lot of fun with WonderPan 400 and I have great images to remind me of two walks in the countryside with my family. It won’t be long before I do this again.
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