Vintage Agfacolor Umkehr Ultra T (1960) developed to color

Vintage Agfacolor Umkehr Ultra T (1960) developed to color

Since 2018, after buying a roll of each Agfachrome 50S and 50L, I found out that there were various predecessors before E-6 development, and I couldn’t send my films in for development, so I decided without further ado to dive into film development.

“Naturally”, as a complete photo lab novice, I decided not to start with black and white development, but immediately set about an obsolete color reversal development process (it couldn’t be that hard…).
After experimenting with Agfa AP-41, and considerably stretching the limits of my frustration tolerance, I moved on to Orwo’s C-9165.

I can warmly recommend the site to anyone who wants to learn more about this subject. The author provided me with my first C-9165 chemicals and was available via email for advice and support. It is also one of the very few sources for Agfa’s Process 41.

At some point I mixed my own chemical sets and kept my eyes open every now and then for interesting ancient material.

On a well-known portal for classifieds, I stumbled across a bundle of black and white films that also included two “Agfacolor Umkehr Ultra T”, expiration date January 1960.

After a short negotiation with the somewhat cranky seller, I was a low double-digit amount poorer and the owner of several black and white films from 1958 – 1960, as well as said Agfa slide films.

Unfortunately, there was no further information about the storage conditions and due to the somewhat gruff communication style, I refrained from further inquiries.

Still “Made in Germany” instead of “Made in GDR”

to develop until January 1960

So now I was the proud owner of my oldest slide films to date, and my ambition was aroused!

But — where to start? From painful experience with a Ferraniacolor E-3 film, which dissolved already at 24°C development temperature, I knew that these ancient emulsions can only be developed at low temperatures.

The imprint “VEB Filmfabrik Agfa Wolfen” led me to the conclusion that it must be a forerunner of the Orwo UT series. A look at Erhard Finger’s book “In Color” (also highly recommended) enlightened me that this film was produced between 1954 and 1964. So I was already very close to the first (or second) Agfacolor (15° DIN or 25ASA), which was produced from 1938 to 1948, followed by the Agfacolor type T (13°DIN or 16ASA; 1948-1955).

Incidentally, the Umkehr-Ultra T was so called because it was the most sensitive color reversal material in the world at that time – hard to believe nowadays, at 16°DIN or 32ASA!

Because of the relationship to the Orwo UT series, I decided to do at least the color development process in C-9165. It paid off that I had taken the trouble to portion out and stockpile some developer kits some time ago – so I could get started (almost) right away.

Self Mixed C-9165 Chemistry

The look into the film box was promising, obviously the film canister had never been opened – the original tape was still around the film canister, remarkably made of aluminum with nice embossing.

Agfacolor UT 16
Orignal sealed film canister Agfa Reverse Ultra T
Film can with embossing
Film cartridge itself, plastic

The odor test was positive, and without further ado I inserted the film into my Nikon FE, selected my standard subject and made an exposure series from ISO 32 descending to ISO 0.75 – something would be there.

I was well aware that expired color reversal material should not be overexposed, but I had a plan to experiment with different first winders, and to minimize the very likely base fog by “pulling” it.

Inspired by Friedemann’s post “Kurzer Prozess – Uralte Ablauffilme gefügig machen” I had already used B&W paper developer as first developer for heavily overlaid material in the past, and resorted to “Orwo B104”, which I had bought in a bundle of developer chemistry at some point. To counteract the formation of base fog, I added 0.2g/L benzotriazole.

I started the race with 20°C and a short 10 min initial development time.

It’s alive! Best image definition at ISO 0.75

I was fascinated – the 62-year-old emulsion seemed to still be alive! It was late on a weekday and so I went to bed satisfied.

To be honest, I had little hope that the color couplers had also survived the long storage period, but at least I wanted to give it a try. A few days later, I set to work again and performed the remaining C-9165 development steps, but with the temperature reduced to 20° C and the times extended accordingly.

C-9165 Bleach bath

While still immersed in the bleach bath I could already tell – this doesn’t look like a total loss!

The finished result, considering the age of the film, was impressive!

Agfacolor Umkehr Ultra T while drying

Scanned (transmitted light without guide) resulted in the following image

Agfacolor UT-16, ISO 1.5 and ISO 0.75

Placed in the film holder, scanned with my Epson V750 and Silverfast the following image.

Agfacolor Umkehr Ultra T, ISO 0.75

Now you also know my “standard subject” for testing film material, a model beetle. I still drape different colored objects around it to test the color reproduction. Green has almost gone black, but the rest is still very recognizable.

Obviously I was not completely wrong with my method, only the very poor sensitivity utilization left much to be desired. Since I also couldn’t detect any base fogging, I assumed that I had been a little too tight with the time in the first developer.

I decided to expose three more test strips, which completely sacrificed the first film. These should then be developed in different first developers to approach the optimum.

These were in the following:

Orwo C-07 (the standard developer in the C-9165 process) + 0.1g/L benzotriazole (20°C, 19min initial development time, equivalent to the standard time of 12min at 25°C).

First development in Orwo C-07, strong base fog

The intermediate result with C07 was sobering – very strong base fog. I suspected a colored image after the remaining development steps, but very pale images.

Candidate #3 was Ilford Perceptol + 0.2g/L benzotriazole (20°C, 15min).

First development in Ilford Perceptol, very good definition, no base fog

I was totally blown away – wonderful drawing of the negatives, no ground haze, wonderful contrast. Pretty ideal for second exposure and color development. If I had to bet money, I would have put it all on Ilford.

After color development, the result was as follows:

Agfacolor Umkehr Ultra T in C07 first developed, ISO 8

As expected, the test strip first developed in C07 – pale positive, but color-correct. Perhaps a shorter development time could have made a difference here. But the color balance did not bring significant improvement to the test strip developed in B104.

Drum roll for the promising first-developer Perceptol…

Agfacolor Umkehr Ultra T in Ilford Perceptol, ISO 0.75

Ouch! After losing this bet, I would have been poor. Hardly any picture, only muddy brownish colors – I didn’t expect that. A tad frustrated, I went to bed and resolved to take another run at B104 with extended first development time in the next few days.

I pondered over the following days what might have gone wrong and came to the conclusion that for some reason the Perceptol did not penetrate all the emulsion layers, and consequently not all the layers were exposed a second time.

Here, the chemical-physical relationships would be interesting, which is unfortunately beyond my knowledge – I would also not know who to turn to in this regard. Maybe I’ll get in touch with the Wolfen Film Museum about this.

The following weekend, I set to work again and developed in Orwo B104 as described above, but this time with 16 min. I chose a generous color development time of 30 min at 20°C. As far as I know, it is not possible to overdevelop in the second development, because only the complementary image of the first development is developed. So a few more minutes won’t hurt here.

The result is impressive.

Agfacolor Umkehr Ultra T (1960) , ISO 3

Keep in mind that the film has already presumably reached retirement age 😉

Overall, I’m very pleased and will expose and also develop the second roll sometime in the spring or summer. You can’t capture moving images with ISO 3 now, but I’ll certainly still be able to use it for some portraits and landscapes.

However, I still have a few questions:

Why didn’t the development in Perceptol work?
What is the exact composition of the developer B104? My Orwo recipes book from 1983 unfortunately gives no information on this…. I would also be interested in the exact chemical/physical processes and how I have positively influenced them with my methods (keyword base fog, pulling, and development in “modified” chemistry).
Are the slight “spots” that the emulsion has after development already reticulation, which would indicate too high temperatures?

In summary, it was an exciting journey into the past – perhaps someday there will be an opportunity to experiment on the original emulsion from the 1930s or 1940s.

Alex Bulowski

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