Featured Article: Silberra Films
Company: Silberra films
Owners: Vladimir Vishnevsky and Konstantin Shabanov
Shoot Film UK in conversation with Silberra. October 31st 2017.
We are thrilled to share with the Shoot Film UK community our very own exclusive interview with Silberra Film. Started in Spring 2017, their brand new black and white film is already gaining positive attention via social media as they pursue their exciting new venture with the support of film lovers the world over via their IndieGoGo campaign.
The wonderful guys at Silberra have kindly taken time out of their busy schedules to answer a few of our questions and tell us more about the incredibly in-depth work they have been doing in order to manufacture new products for the analogue market. Silberra have been producing film chemicals and darkroom supplies since 2009 and are best described as "both a young and experienced company".
"We’ve been fans of photography since our childhoods, and some time ago we decided that we should try to build an analog photography supplies company out of our small hobbusiness (which stands for a mix of hobby and business). There was a long road between this decision and Silberra’s birth earlier this year but we’re now able to offer quite a wide assortment of supplies for film photography."
Silberra PAN200 Prototype
SFUK: Hey Silberra, thank you for taking the time to speak with us about the exciting new film stocks you are currently developing. Let’s start with a little history about your brand. You describe yourself as “both a young and experienced company”, you’ve been manufacturing film chemicals since 2009 and made the decision to expand and build the Silberra brand in spring this year (2017). So what made you decide to take the next step in producing your own film stocks and how do you think it’s gone so far?
SF: Hi, Karl! Thank you for your questions: we hope that our answers will allow film photographers throughout the world to know more about Silberra.
Let us tell a bit more about Silberra’s background. We’ve been producing the chemicals since 2009, that’s right. For the moment we have more developers to offer than any manufacturer in the world; we also have quite many unique developers, never available before. Besides we run one of the eldest online stores here in Russia: FotoApteka (https://d-76.ru), and we´re official distributor of Foma Bohemia here in Russia and official dealer of Ilford. We also run an off-line serious photography school, one of the top-3 in Saint-Petersburg (http://spb.artphotoschool.ru/). That’s the only school in St-Petersburg which offers 2,5 years long professional photography course. So we have quite a history in film photography.
With all that, we HAD to think about our own film production. We had to think about entering the worldwide market. That´s why this spring we decided to create Silberra. We thought it should be the brand name for our chemicals, but as the name was derived from the German word “Silber” which is “Silver” in English, you can certainly say that we were up to the film production by that moment.
To tell the truth, our film manufacturing story started in February 2017. That was the month we visited Micron, one of the oldest labs here in Russia, with more than 80 years of experience in synthesis and coating of emulsions. They are not playing in the mass market, but they do coat some holographic and copy films for various companies, and they have all the technology for coating orthochromatic, isochromatic and panchromatic films. Moreover, they have a coating machine. Not the most sophisticated one, but still functioning. So we decided to try engineering orthochromatic emulsion for still photography at Micron lab.
First coatings of ORTA were real problematic: emulsion was going off the substrate, as ISO80 sensitivity gives new qualities to the emulsion (e.g. viscosity is completely different) so Micron had to find the right adhesive and hardening component dilution to provide both nice emulsion quality and good adhesive properties. Now that problem is solved, and you can see some ORTA80 and ORTA50 shots on our IG account. ORTA film has some slight flaws in the emulsion layer, but that’s not a major issue and easy to overcome.
Besides we found an option to get nice panchromatic film from Agfa (not directly, of course), which was derived from surveillance film. Engineering such an emulsion and manufacturing that film on our own was too much for us, it costs even more than we’re trying to raise at IndieGoGo, but we found the company here in Russia which was buying lots of special film in bulk for their own needs and we managed to develop a subcontract with them (sorry, folks, NDA prevents more details here). Such a move provided us good film at a very reasonable price. That’s how Silberra PAN film was born. With all the inherited qualities of original surveillance film it gives you very nice tonal range and provides high resolution image, with lower contrast and wider dynamic range when compared to the original. We fell in love with that stock and decided that we must make it available for the mass market.
We had to find a good bulk loader, recycled film cartridges, stickers for the cartridges and plastic cans to pack the film. Bulk loading is easily accessible, and recycled film cartridges aren’t that hard to get. But as for the rest… When there is not a single retail film manufacturing facility in the country, these tasks weren’t that easy. But as you can see, we solved those riddles too. Now it’s time to transfer our manufacturing from hand rolling to full scale. So we’re trying to get enough funds for that challenge.
There are several options to do it, where one is a contract with one of the manufacturers who already has a packaging line ready, the other one is to create small semi-automated packaging lines here at Micron. With coating machine at our disposal there are still some difficulties to create new products, but we do know every option we have and we’ll be able to choose one or another in accordance with the sum we’ll be able to raise through our crowdfunding campaign.
SFUK: It’s right to say you’re classed as a “small company” based in Russia and you mention it sometimes seems like you’re doing the impossible, but you’re certainly not doing anything by half which reflects both your dedication and extensive knowledge of film photography. Can you tell us a little about the varying stocks you are manufacturing and why you think it is important to make so many options available to consumers?
SF: We do know that film photography was going through a dark period lately. But we’ve never lost our faith in film photography: film is the instrument which shall be available for amateurs and professional photographers, whether we’re in digital age or not. Film makes you feel different when you make shots, film makes you think thoroughly about every shot. And it gives a photographer full control over creating an image: since the moment you press the shutter button until you print your photo in the darkroom you’re the only creator of that piece of art.
The film photography market shrinks to about 5% of the scale we had back in 2004. That’s the challenge for large scale corporations, as they don’t have enough flexibility to react upon fluctuations in the market. They must synthesize emulsion in such a large volume that the market won’t be able to consume it fast enough. And that’s the time for us and Bergger, and JCH and FilmFerrania and many-many others to get into the market being flexible enough to offer small batches of the film.
We think that film is like paint for the painters. That’s why there is no competition in the film photography market. It’s almost impossible to compare yellow and blue paints and that’s the reason to offer as much film as we can: there’s always a way to use one paint more when you’re drawing a picture.
As for the tech side of the film we offer, we have quite a detailed description at our web-site, www.silberra.com and the description is available in English. We also do run a lot of tests now to set a correct development time for each of our films and for each of the developers we have for all the popular films on the market. As that’s the part we’re doing alone we’re quite slow at that point, but we do add some information on the web-site at least a couple of times per week.
Silberra PAN50 Prototype/Example
SFUK: In order to release the films you have already produced and to continue your R&D into new variants of emulsion and film types you have started an IndieGoGo campaign. How will you campaign help Silberra develop?
SF: Raising the appropriate sum of money will allow us to speed up Silberra development in several ways.
First, we’ll be able to buy the components we need to upgrade coating machine Micron has: we need to fix minor faults on the rolls (some of them need to be replaced, and producing those metal rolls with high class surface finishing costs almost 1000 USD per roll), we need to enlarge the length of the coating field for better drying of the film, we need to buy some control equipment to enhance coating quality.
Second, we’ll be able to buy good substrate for ORTA film. We’d like it to be the same as we have in PAN series: with anti-curling layer, nice anti-halation layer, thin and reliable. For the moment we have to use cheap substrate with no anti-halation layer and without an anti-curling layer – it makes experiments with emulsion way cheaper.It will make us able to produce high quality master rolls of ORTHA80 and ORTHA50 film.
As for the PAN series there are at least two options mentioned above: depending on the acquired sum we’ll be able either to create our own packaging line here at Micron, or to subcontract one of the manufacturers who offer that packaging service. Both ways are not that cheap for us to make it happen on our own, that’s why we need help from the backers. The film itself is ready, but we’ll need to buy it in master-rolls for a sub-contract scheme, or we’ll need to create machinery here to process packaging in small batches. We do know how to manage both options in details.
We also must go on with R&D, and we need to pay for scientific work too: we have to implement Isochromatic and our own Panchromatic emulsions, and it takes quite a number of components to waste for unsuccessful experiments and lots of hours of work to make the experiments successful ones. Scientists are very enthusiastic people, but they need a salary too.
Silberra ORTA 25, 50 & 80 Prototypes
SFUK: Upon completion of the campaign you will be sending film to backers who pledged money to help support your venture. How accessible will the film be to people outside of Russia once the IndieGoGo campaign has finished and you are ready to package and distribute the film? Do you have distributors ready to stock your film and can we expect to see Silberra film on shelves in 2018?
SF: We have several offers from different distributors already, so we’ll make sure the film is available as soon as we have enough stock. We’re going to open an international online store too, as we have quite an assortment to offer apart from films including developers, fixers, photo paper and some more items for analog photography. That’s also one of the plan B’s in case we won’t reach the goal: we’ll go on with hand rolling and semi-automated rolling, providing the film not only to the backers but for sale also. Anyway, the short answer is totally positive: you’ll surely be able to find some Silberra film on shelves in 2018. Would it be sooner or later through the year – that’s up to the extent of the funding we receive.
Collection of Silberra Analogue Products.
SFUK: We notice your IndieGoGo rewards offered are different variants of film, either 35mm or 120 format. You also have a great history of developing and producing darkroom chemicals. Have you thought about perhaps offering a combination of the two, as a higher paid reward to those more experienced photographer who might be interested in shooting and developing/experimenting with their own film?
SF: The problem is that liquids/developers aren’t that easy to send and weight of the shipment increases also. But we’re up to that. We hope we’ll be able to make several more perks this week. We’re flexible, remember?
Silberra PAN100 Prototype.
SFUK: You are still working out some flaws in your ORTA series film which I assume is why the estimated ‘reward’ date on IndieGoGo is a little later in the year. Can you tell us a little about this and how you’re going to get past these minor complications?
SF: Coating machine we have at Micron needs some fixing, that’s the only problem we have. Due to some worn machinery parts it gives scratches and friction fog sometimes; we need to replace some details and we need the substrate for coating – that’s it. We do know how to fix both problems.
(Above) Development of the very first rolls of ORTA film coatings. Images show disruption in emulsion layer.
(Below) Example of progression made by Silberra with ORTA film.
Silberra ORTA 25.
SFUK: You already have a beautiful collection of images shared across your social media accounts, shot by photographers around the world who are testing the film out indifferent “real world” applications. Can you tell us what their response has been to your product and how you feel about their results?
SF: One of the first testers has sent us feedback in written form, you can read it at Update #2 at our Indiegogo campaign. We haven’t received any negative feedback at all at the moment, except one embarrassing case when we managed to send to one of the folks pre-exposed film (that was really embarrassing, we can’t imagine how could we mix pre-exposed film and promo kit films). Actually, should the film be crap, none of the photographers would share their frames, and we have over 700 frames with #silberra at the moment!
Silberra PAN200. Images: Jammi York @jammi_york
SFUK: Finally, is there anything else you can tell us about the future of Silberra and things we can look out for?
SF: We do have lots of ideas, more to implement, but let’s save them for one more interview. Thank you very much for a chance to share all these details today!
A huge thank you to Silberra and all those involved so far, for their time and also for their dedication and huge contribution to the world of film photography. We are very keen to see this product and brand evolve and hope you have enjoyed this featured article. Please do share and if possible, support Silberra by visiting their IndieGoGo campaign and contribute as much as you can. Remember every little helps!
Follow and keep up to date with their progress via their Instagram @silberrafilm
For more information check out the fantastic Sunny 16 Podcast - Episode 73 featuring Graeme and EmulsiveFilm's Em as they do an exemplary job at discussing Silberra's new film in depth.