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Tuesday, June 25

SPUR: More exciting developments

Thirty years ago, the big film and chemical manufacturers would regularly come out with news about new products they were testing, many of which would subsequently be reviewed in the main photo magazines of the day.

I can remember, for example, reading with some astonishment a review of Ilford's XP1 as it was then, marvelling at the absence of grain in comparison with the likes of Tri X and HP5. I always enjoyed reading about these materials more than about cameras and lenses as film and chemistry seemed to fulfil the promise that the mechanical and optical side of things just dangled in the breeze.

The advent of digital imaging effectively stalled much, if not most, development on the real photography side of things with few new ideas or products reaching the market. I have to say, though, that the German company, SPUR, is doing a brilliant job of recreating the heady days of old, coming out with a steady stream of photo-chemistry that gives me real hope for the future of our shared interest.

Ralf's test negative - read on for more

The company has some cracking film and print developers one of which, Acurol-N, I tested last month and found to be a great brew, as did Erwin Puts, the famed Leica aficionado, when he turned his attention to it.

Now, SPUR have told me that they believe Acurol-N, in combination with Rollei Ortho 25, is set to redefine sharpness. SPUR owner, Heribert Schain, tutors at black and white photography workshops in Brittany with Ralf Sanger and it's Ralf's testing which has produced a level of sharpness he describes as "sensational".

The key seems to be a high dilution of Acurol-N and the inherent qualities of the MACO-made, Rollei-badged, high contrast and bitingly-sharp film. Ralf did an "N" development for a condenser enlarger using the 120 version of the film rated at 12 ISO. He used Acurol-N at 1+200, soft tap water, a temperature of 20C and a time of 33 minutes. Inversion of the tank was permanent for the first minute and twice every five minutes thereafter. Take a look at the impressive results below. The bottom pic is the equivalent of a 4.5m square enlargement of the image above. Even Ansel Adams wasn't that ambitious with his murals from 5x4 and whole plate negatives.

Ralf said, "We should have another, new word for sharpness. I think this is the sharpest I've ever seen. The detail contrast is great. Tonal values look superb. The disadvantage is that I'm a sucker for that film now!"

Extraordinary claims, as they say, require extraordinary evidence and I wouldn't like to endorse Ralf's findings until I've had a chance to see for myself. I do know, though, that Acurol-N does produce very sharp negatives and I'm in good company as Mr Puts said of it, "The Acurol-N developer is a major improvement for the darkroom workflow and should be a premium choice for anyone who is engaged in the silver-halide workflow...".

Further testing by SPUR found that the necessary development at 1+200 for a diffusion enlarger would be too long - somewhere around one hour. SPUR wanted to stick with just one dilution for both enlarger light sources and hit upon 1+150 as offering the same picture quality as the weaker mix whilst reducing the development time.

SPUR's recommended regime for diffusion enlargers is:

Film speed 12-16 ISO
Compulsory pre-wash of 2 mins at 20C with soft or distilled water
Acurol-N 1+150 (3.3ml of concentrate per 500 ml working solution) using soft or distilled water
Time: 37mins at 20C
Agitation: First min constant and then twice every five minutes

Fixing is longer than usual because of the film's high silver content. If you don't use a pre-wash then be prepared for spotty negatives! The resultant negs after correct development will be slightly brownish in colour due to the high dilution and isn't anything to be concerned about. The 1+200 dilution can be used if you're prepared for the 60 minutes development time.

For condensers, it's the same process but the development time is reduced to 29 minutes.

Both developer and film are available separately on the market right now but SPUR is in talks with MACO with a view to producing a test set of two Rollei Ortho 25 120 films and 50 mls of Acurol-N for the German market. I'd imagine this would be available through some of the German retailers such as PhotoImpex. Here's a link to the film on their website and to the developer.

AG Photographic don't seem to stock either. Silverprint did have Rollei Ortho 25 on sale a while back but are out of stock except in 5x4 and don't know when they'll be getting it in again. Keyphoto ( are listing Acurol-N alongside a comprehensive list of SPUR products but don't have the film.

Ortho film is different from normal panchromatic black and white material. It's insensitive to red wavelengths which can produce some odd tones such as black lips. Blue skies often appear washed out but this can be helped with a yellow or green filter. In fact, it's not unlike paper negatives in the way it responds to daylight.

Isn't it great, in this age of digital imaging, to learn that there are still exciting new developments taking place in the world of photography. SPUR is a company that deserves our support. The more players we can keep in the game, the more secure photography materials will be in future - and all the cheaper, too!

Fluent German readers can check out the SPUR announcement on the company's Acurol blog. It will also be worthwhile keeping an eye or ear out for a further SPUR announcement in the near future as I understand there's something in the wind...

UPDATE: If my schoolboy German hasn't let me down, it looks as if Heribert Schain has revealed as a follow-up on his blog that the two Rollei rolls and 50mls of Acurol-N kit will have a price of €14.90.


morris1800 said...

That is good news Bruce .I have tried the rollei ortho (5x4) and was impressed with the film. I stand developed it in aph09 at 1-200. I purchased the film from Firstcall in the U.K I have posted a sample shot in your flicker group, would love to try it in the Spur developer !! Thanks for highlighting this product it must be difficult for any company promoting new products in film these days.


Hi Andy,

Your Rollei Ortho shot looks very sharp indeed. When I look at the stuff you have in your Flickr photostream I wonder if there is any technique or material you have left to try!

morris1800 said...

You are right there Bruce , I guess every photography book I have ever read advises you to concentrate on a film and developer to master it. That sounds like all work and no play to me. But sadly the reality is I have 5 film types in my fridge that I bought in the last 12 months that are no longer produced Adox 25 Adox 50 , efke 820, Fuji velvia and fulvia..... so Bruce where can I buy the Spur products in the UK ? :-)