The neglected beta-test roll
Before it's eventual release, Lomography sent me a roll of a 13 ISO black and white film with an invitation to test it out and give my impressions and some sample shots to coincide with the launch. This was back in February 2020... and the year took an interesting turn to say the least. Therefore, many projects were sent to the backburner for me, including testing the roll I was sent. Given it's low speed and inherent suitability to being shot outside, it was hard to find the right situation and time to shoot it, and the film was eventually released as "Babylon Kino". I had shot their other "Kino" black and white cinema films in the past, and was impressed with both of them.
Eventually the time came where I loaded my roll in my Nikon FE and exposed it in various scenes whenever the opportunity came up, over the period of a few months. My bulk-loaded test roll only ended up being 20 frames in length, so I was a bit surprised to finish the roll when I did, but equally excited to finally see the results. It was a little tricky finding scenes and situations that suited such a low speed film, but I actually enjoyed the challenge. I avoided using a tripod for everything but the below indoor shoot of a dark bathroom window with some nice light hitting it.
Besides this, I shot the roll handheld and relied on the light gathering ability of my Voigtlander Nokton 58mm 1.4 lens, and/or bright outdoor situations such as the below images at the beach.
I had set my meter to 12 ISO on the Nikon FE, and ever so slightly leaned towards overexposure (with most shots) as I generally do with most negative films. My roll was home-developed in Kodak HC-110 (B) for 6 minutes. I then scanned the negatives with my Canon 5D and the Essential Film Holder as per my scan guide article here. As you can start to see from these results, the film has quite a strong "character" look much like the previous two "Kino" films. It also shares the smooth charcoal look to the blacks, and the overall lower level of sharpness or "bite" compared to modern panchromatic stocks from Ilford and such. Exposure latitude seems good, and contrast naturally increases with darker exposures. My images exhibited a medium contrast overall, with some higher contrast images intentionally achieved by going for the chiaroscuro effect as with the following scene:
Practicality of a 13 ISO film?
You may question the extent of practical use for a 13 speed film, and I wouldn't blame you. But, one of the advantages is if you like to shoot "wide-open" with shallow depth of field in bright situations. This was well demonstrated when I was able to make a few portraits of my friend Damon during a photo walk outdoor in the afternoon, and use the Nokton at f1.4 without hitting the ceiling of my camera's shutter speeds. This aspect would be especially useful if you have a camera with lower than average max shutter speeds such as 500 or 250. This could also be useful if you want to achieve intentional motion-blur more easily in the day time.
Other advantages include the low level of grain (a standout look on 35mm, especially) and resultingly smooth characteristic of the images. These aspects combined with the ease of shooting wide apertures gives a look reminiscent of larger formats such as 120! Disadvantages of this stock are the usual limitations of super low sensitivity, and the slightly lower acutance compared to something more modern. But, if you like that classic black and white cinema look, with the option of with dreamy shallow depth of field in the daytime, this film stock is worth a try!
If you've read my review here or heard me talk about it on the Youtube channel, you'll know that one of my favourite black and white films is another low speed option; Ilford's Pan F+ 50. It would be hard for me to pick Babylon over Pan F for most situations, but they do offer something a little different from each other (which is a good thing!) Pan F and Rollei's RPX 25 are the main low-speed black and white films I could compare this to, both offering a more modern look. I found Lomo Kino to offer more character out of the box than either of those stocks, despite having a similar level of grain. Ferrania's P30 is another one I've tried which comes closer the cinematic look of Babylon, and I've shared a video review here if you're interested. I would suggest if you like the look of lower speed black and white films in general, don't be too afraid of the 13 ISO rating and give this one a shot.
I'd be interested to see what other people are achieving with Lomo Babylon Kino 13. If you do try it, I invite you to share your results in the Pushing Film Discord Server. Would I shoot it again? For sure! I especially liked the results with the more abstract images focusing on shape and texture, since the low grain doesn't distract from those elements.
I'm thankful for the continued support of Lomography with the opportunity to try unique films like this one. If you'd like to check out Babylon Kino or any of their other products, follow this link to their online shop. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed these first impressions!