Film test: ORWO NP 27 from the year 1969 or 1970

8 Sep

Film Test – ORWO NP 27

Orthochromatic Black and White Film

DIN 27 / ISO 400

Made in Germany by  ORWO

(German Democratic Republic)

Estimated year of manufacture 1969 or 1970

Expired 1973

Used in 2011 (at the time of improvised test the film was 41 to 42 years old).

Test camera – Zenit E

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

The Story

I got several boxes of different ORWO black and white films. Some are of 135mm format, preloaded in cassettes or what the British for some reason call canisters  while the rest are 120 format rolls.

Most films are either NP27 (originally ISO 400) and NP20 (originally ISO 80).

In the 135 format department I got at least a box of each type, a box contains   25 cassettes or canisters.  Although I’ve got other identical ORWO films in my growing film collection, this particular lot is special. I bought it off auction site inGermanyand the seller said  upfront that the film packages are in good shape though of course he has no idea about film usability. What he did not mention was the age of the film. The film is fairly ancient.  Orwo NP27 (originally ISO 400 film stock) expired in 1973 and was made either in 1969 or 1970. It is one of the oldest film stocks I photographed on in a while. I did run though a camera some of 120 format film  from the same lot a while back and have posted surprisingly good results on flicks.

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

What I found absolutely stunning about this lot are the visuals, its’ appearance and its’ smell. It’s hard to believe but the retail packages did look and smell new. If you take anything made of paper, I don’t care what it is, a retail box of some sort, a candy wrap or a whole newspaper, and put it on the shelf, it will age. In 40 years under best of circumstances the aging process in paper would become unmistakable, apparent colors will fade and white surfaces take on the hue of yellowish parchment. The ORWO film I got – at least the exterior – showed no sign of aging, amazingly, in fact unbelievably the individual film containing packages smelled of printing ink, as if they just rolled off factory conveyor belt.

Obviously the film inside is very old and unlike wine photographic film does not age well. This said for display though not photography purposes this film is as good as new.

My son Nikolai - ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

My son Nikolai ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973, used in 2011, Nikolai was born in 2007

The ORWO is an abbreviation of Original Wolfen. It used to be the major manufacturer of photographic film (at one point the Wolfen facility was the second largest producer of photographic film and paper in the world, after Kodak’s Rochester, NY plant) and both a symbol of economic rebirth and a remarkable achievement of the people of the German Democratic Republic who created a world class manufacturing company from scratch, literally out of nothing, under conditions or American, West German   blockade and boycotts. As a Volkseigener Betrieb or people-owned company, ORWO was owned by the German people, workers and engineers, and was apparently managed better than most US corporationы or, in retrospective, better than the AGFA in the   Federal Republic, which happened to be Orwo’s both indirect progenitor and, at least in some national markets, a competitor.  Not all companies in the German Democratic Republic were VEBs (volkseigene Betriebe, or people’s own enterprises), as unlike rabidly ideological Soviet Union, the GDR allowed a number of different property forms, until 1973 there was even one privately-owned camera manufacturer in the republic, the Beier (Kamera-Fabrik Woldemar Beier).

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

ORWO’s progenitor was Agfa. But there is however a small disclaimer in the story, after WWII the Soviet authorities dismantled old Agfa factory and moved all of its equipment to the USSR, to replace manufacturing facilities destroyed by the Nazis during the war. However as it happened with a great deal of dismantled German industrial stock, the equipment from the old Agfa works was never reassembled, languished under open air for years,  rusted away and eventually got lost.  In that respect the ORWO was a new company that used indigenously designed and manufactured equipment and relied on technology recreated from Agfa experience and created anew by Orwo engineers. Until 1964 ORWO used Agfa brand name in a case of split identity where companies in both socialist German Democratic Republic and in the US-protectorate (Federal Republic) used trade names from the prewar state and Nazi Germany which by the 1950s and 1960s were already unrelated though sensationally enough shared corporate names and sold products under identical brands, a vast category that included the Lufthansa airlines which existed in its Eastern and Western reincarnations until the DDR was forced to rename its Lufthansa to Interflug. In a unique case of brand name preservation, the socialist German Democratic Republic managed to keep prewar  name for its railroads, so the rail system of the GDR was rather incredibly called the Deutsche Reichsbahn (Imperial German Railroads) while the rail in the FRG became the Deutsche Bahn (or just German Rail). Agfa name had to go though because although the GDR could market its products in the socialist countries under Agfa brand, the rest of the world became off limits due to the conflict with the West German Agfa. In 1964 the Agfa in Wolfen officially became ORWO. Incidentally the black and white film market in the USSR was off limits to Orwo as well because the Soviet Union was notoriously isolationist even when it came to the socialist states in Europe , so because Soviet industry manufactured its own black and white film, the ORWO NP stock was generally not imported into the USSR lest it would compete with Russian-made films.

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

To cut a long story short. The film went more or less bad from the standpoint of average user or for application in what one would describe as normal photography (on the other hand the film in general can no longer be considered a material of or for normal photography as all normal people went digital). Amazingly Orwo NP 27 did not lose much of its speed – I shot it as ISO 200 – incredibly it is still fine though definitely not fine-grained, I even managed to take a few pictures indoors, under dim light conditions of a bar, and still every single frame had recorded an image. The late 1960s ISO 400 film was probably incredibly grainy to begin with. After four decades of  “maturing” what is left of it is just atrocious grain. That is not necessarily too bad as the images now have surreal qualities of a drawing executed by a human hand in a rough manner with either a soft pencil or fine charcoal stick.

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

ORWO NP 27 black and white film from the year 1969 or 1970, expired in 1973

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2 Responses to “Film test: ORWO NP 27 from the year 1969 or 1970”

  1. Paul Eustace November 24, 2011 at 20:01 #

    Very interesting………..thanks!

    I’ve acquired some of the last DDR-made 35mm NP20 and NP22 (expiry 1990/92), and it’s really quite nice. I shoot it in my collection of Prakticas, and wanted some DDR film to keep things in keeping. The NP20, shot at box speed of ASA 80, is very good, with decent grain and tonality. The NP22, again shot at ASA 80, is a little grainier, but still quite usable. I mostly use my usual development method of 1:200 dilute Rodinal, allowed to stand for 75 minutes.

    Thanks again for posting……….ORWO is certainly excellent film. BTW, I’ve also got various old ORWO printing papers; again, they have kept remarkably well for their age and are very usable, with only a slight loss of contrast in some cases.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Film test: ORWO NP 20 from the year 1970 or 1971 « photoroobit - October 1, 2011

    […] This destruction of a roll of Orwo NP 20 was occured  concurrently with the mindless sactifce of NP 27, which I’ve depicted and described here along with a longish story about ORWO, its now […]

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