Who is the manufacturer of Lomography films is one of the questions that are asked when anyone usually gets his hands on a piece sold by the lomographic society; If it is true that several of their films are simple rebranding, there are also in-house productions, or rather from multiple manufacturers.
The case of Lady Grey, black and white ISO 400 film, is quite interesting because according to information gathered between users this presents two film emulsions which have nothing in common between them depending on the chosen format, 120 or 135. Aside from the 120 roll, here we focus on 35 mm film that seems particularly interesting: substantial entries give it as a rebranding of none other than Kodak T-Max 400; the purpose of the test was primarily to establish whether this is true.
The Lady Grey is sold in blister packs of three 36 frames rolls for an average price which is around € 5.60 per roll, even higher than that practiced by some retailers and other aligned for TMax 400 in the same format; a film so expensive that the price would be motivated solely by performance and quality control.
Taking hold of the package, you notice the bottom a very promising (Made in U.S.A.), different from the one that appears on the similar Lady Grey in 120 format (Made in China); Here, it is confirmed that the two films are different. By opening this package, then we face the classic transparent plastic package with grey cap, common in Kodak Portra and Tmax packs: second interesting clue. The third clue is given by the film rosy colour, typical of kodak antihalo layer combined with a decidedly plastic support aligned with Kodak products.
I went searching for the final clue by trying some developers on a series of Lady Grey and comparing with similar prints made with TMax 400; rolls were processed in classic in Rodinal 1 + 50 dilution, Xtol in stock solution and in T-Neg by BWork in dilution 1 + 6. Were performed a series of shots with two identical cameras, one loaded with Tmax 400 and one with Lady Grey, later developed with the same processing time to obtain a normal contrast negative and then printed on VC paper with constant filtering, a method more than enough to make impressions “by” without claim of measures with densitometers et similia.
A look and comparison of prints showed a substantial equality between the two films behavior if developed with T-Neg or Xtol, while the Lady Grey developed in Rodinal 1+50 was found to have a higher grain, though not unpleasant, at 18 x magnification.
Grain with films developed in Xtol on T-Neg remains contained up to 24 x 30 format where it begins to become predominant even if well ordered, with no major differences between the two developers; with a focometer you can appreciate it better and, comparing it to that of the “true” TMax 400 small differences emerge in favour of the latter: one explanation could be that being in front of old lots of TMax or “second choices” discarded by Kodak for its product. In particular, using the T-Neg, TMax 400 is virtually indistinguishable from the lower sensitivity sister TMax 100, whereas in the case of Lady Grey the difference you see.
With regard to tonal range, T-Neg again is the winning developer and that goes for the Kodak, assuring the best extension more than Xtol and Rodinal. None of the negatives however presents major issues in printing, with only some difficulty in optimal detail in highlights exemplary in Xtol. The film processed in Rodinal is the one presenting the best sharpness as can be expected from high acutance development; dilution 1+50 and stirring scheme aimed at reducing the effect on grain that anyway, as said, is higher than the other two developers.
The Lady Grey is configured as an excellent medium-speed film suitable for widespread use and capable even in small format (if supported by quality lenses) to resolve detail and tonal variations with great precision and extension; in bright sunlight and contrasted scenes it succeeds, if properly processed, to maintain an extended tonal range with good control at the extremes: “correct” graded 2 print was perfectly paired with the T-Neg dilution 1+6 with a processing time of 6 min 45 sec at 20° c. Not that with the other developers is less good but corrections made in print are more consistent, although nothing complicated (adjusting the contrast and gradation of a bit and some dodge and burn operation). Clearly these are just guidelines to make a comparison, directions that could very well be inconsistent with the interpretation of a negative that the printer would like to give.
Shooting indoors and dimly lit showed instead how the exposure latitude is in line with that of the more famous Kodak sister. Regarding the behavior with long exposures and its manifest lack of reciprocity, it confirms what goes for TMax 400: up to approx. 10 seconds, the correction needed is minimal (from 1/3 to 2/3 stop) while exceeded that threshold rises rapidly up to two stops for about 30 sec metered exposure, acting from this point onwards as a film less sensitive than the TMax 100. These are extreme situations, which do not affect everyday use in common situations.
The speech at this point moves on other factors: given that this is the same film (second choice or maybe a little more seasoned) when it is worth it? Certainly, if you need a well-defined ISO 400 from which you know exactly what to expect it doesn’t have many rivals, and if it is found at a price substantially different from the original it is definitely to be purchased; However, if the price is close (in some cases is even higher!) then the most sensible choice is probably original Kodak. On quality control little is known but it is likely that until the seasoning and paving the same Kodak, assuring its (high) standard. Shame that the Lady Grey in 120 format is a completely different film!