There probably aren’t many places in the world that you can go to and shoot a film with the same name while you’re there. Ilford in London, Kentmere in the north of England, and Mount Fuji in Japan are some that I can think of. Perhaps Kodiak in Alaska too if you can ignore that extra i.
And then of course we have Shanghai – home of the Shanghai GP3 100 35mm film we’re reviewing today. A film that was long available in 120 and other larger formats, but only relatively recently in this smaller one.
Having lived in the city for so long, it was important for me personally to shoot a roll before I left. Not that anything would have changed if I didn’t, but I just really wanted to do it. So I did, and I was very pleased with the results it gave me.
I detailed the little project I shot with the film on this post here, whereas the one you’re reading now is all about the film itself. A comprehensive Shanghai GP3 100 35mm review. If it makes you want to shoot some too, your best and possibly only bet for finding some is going to be eBay.
What is Shanghai GP3 100 35mm film?
The backstory of 35mm Shanghai GP3 100 film goes begins in 1958 when the 120 version and possibly other larger formats too began to be produced at the city’s Shanghai Shenbei Photosensitive Material Factory.
The factory, which also made the industrial and medical x-ray films that were needed by the country, has since changed to the Shanggong Shanghai Photosensitive Material Factory and is today run by the large Shanggong Shenbei Group Co., Ltd.
Or 上工申贝(集团)股份有限公司 in Chinese, and SGSB as an initialism.
Made in China and with little chance for it to be exported and sold outside of the country for decades after its inception, the 120 Shanghai GP3 film remained relatively unknown in the wider world for quite a long time.
It was only really once we were blessed with the internet and some entrepreneurial individuals in Hong Kong figured out they could sell things to foreign bargain hunters on eBay that Shanghai GP3 120 film entered the greater western consciousness.
For a while, the 120 version of Shanghai GP3 had a reputation for inconsistent quality control and was often bought as a cheap film to test cameras with. Those issues seem to have been put to bed in recent years though.
Apart from a brief hiatus in 2015 and 2016 when SGSB were moving to a new factory, the 120 Shanghai GP3 story continued to tick along. It was a decent enough film, made in China and sold on eBay to anyone who wanted to buy some.
That doesn’t mean that SGSB wanted to continue bothering to sell it, however.
Despite their name still appearing on the box of the 120 film I shot, as you can see above, SGSB have now offloaded the Shanghai GP3 film business to someone else.
As a large conglomerate with more lucrative business interests than just a hobbyist’s photographic film, you can’t really blame them.
The GP3 name and everything that goes with it was picked up by a local Shanghai film and photo equipment supplier called Jiancheng Sheying. Or Jiancheng Photography. Or 剑诚摄影, in Chinese.
It was on Jiancheng’s WeChat account that the news broke in 2019 of a 35mm Shanghai GP3 100. Of course, deciphering all of the information to tell you exactly what exactly this new stock is, is not a straightforward task. These things never are.
It’s only by digging around on forums threads like this one and the very helpful posts that people make on them that we can really piece things together.
In the press release on their WeChat account, Jiancheng did state – in Chinese – that they’re working with ORWO on the film coating. This is because changes have been made to the formula to ensure it meets current environmental standards, and the facilities in China are still unable to achieve this.
Future batches of the 120 and sheet films will apparently shift to this new emulsion at some point too.
Because the first 10,000 rolls of Shanghai GP3 35mm were a pilot run, they didn’t want to pay to change the words on the film rebate, meaning that early batches will still say ORWO on them.
However, another reply on that forum thread states that ORWO have no industrial scale coating facility of their own either, and used other people’s facilities – including Harman’s – to coat their own films.
This muddying of the waters means that cynics will say that Shanghai GP3 35mm is simply ORWO UN54 in a different box.
I couldn’t possibly say for sure whether it is or not, although as a man with a positive outlook I choose to believe it really is a grassroots attempt to bring a new film to the market.
Something else that backs this up is the self-designed plastic canisters the film comes in, which was necessary because Lucky Film are the only people in China with the ability to make metal ones. If this really was a repackaged ORWO film, wouldn’t Shanghai be using their metal canisters too?
What does seem to be true however is that this 35mm Shanghai film isn’t being made in the same SGSB factory as the 120 and sheet film versions. According to the video and as mentioned on that same forum thread, the team had to put the film into the plastic canisters themselves once it got delivered to them.
The fact that the box features the Jiancheng name where the 120 packaging featured the name of the old plant, as you can see in the next image, is a bit of a clue there also.
It does thankfully still feature the city’s Waibaidu Bridge, which I stood on whilst taking this photo, and Broadway Mansions in the background of it too.
So to recap – what is Shanghai GP3 100 35mm film?
The simple answer is that it’s an ISO 100, panchromatic black and white negative film.
The longer answer is that it seems to be a new, reformulated emulsion produced in conjunction with ORWO for the time being, by a company who bought the Shanghai name from its original owners, and is being packed at a different site to the original 120 and other larger formats.
But is it any good? We shall find out in the next section of this review.
Shanghai GP3 100 image qualities
There are a couple of things to say up front about this film’s image quality and qualities before we get into what they’re actually like.
The first is that everything outlined in the last section, about what this 35mm version of Shanghai GP3 100 is and what they’ve done to get it to market, would be made immaterial if the film wasn’t any good.
Because if it wasn’t, people would buy some, shoot it, and then not bother again. Or simply read reviews online saying it’s no good and just not buy any in the first place.
The second thing is that I personally wanted it to be good, perhaps more than any other film I’ve shot before. This goes back to my affinity to Shanghai, which led to wanting the set of pictures I shot there using this film to come out well too.
So with all that said, I’m happy to report that, in my opinion at least, Shanghai GP3 100 35mm film does produce pretty good results. Certainly ones that fit my own taste, at least.
On the images below, I was specifically impressed with the detail retained in the backgrounds of the first two and the sharpness in the patterns on the building in the third one.
The contrast between light and shadows is what stands out to me on the next three – especially on the lady’s face in the final shot.
Street photography with 35mm Shanghai GP3 100
When I lived in Shanghai, wandering the streets taking photographs was my main pastime. First with vintage lenses on a digital camera, and then latterly for a few years with film.
Thinking back, I’m pretty sure I never used to set my old Sony mirrorless to ISO 100. Because why would you?
Why would you restrict yourself and risk missing out on shots because you couldn’t get a quick enough shutter speed when nobody would tell the difference in your shots if they were taken at ISO 200 or 400 anyway?
But because I shoot everything at box speed, I didn’t have that luxury with film. If I’m shooting an ISO 100 stock like this GP3, then ISO 100 is what it’s going to be.
Fortunately, Shanghai the city gave me plenty of days where the light was plenty good enough to be able to shoot out in the streets with such a film. I did it with Fujicolor Industrial 100, I did it with Kodak Ektar 100, and I did it with Kodak Pro Image 100 too.
And my thinking has been the same every time. That while people like using ISO 400 film for its versatility, shooting street photography on ISO 100 film is nothing to be worried about. So long as you have enough light, you’ll have enough shutter speed too.
On top of that is the idea that only shooting when the light is good means you’ll end up with better-looking results. And because you need good light to shoot an ISO 100 film, you can only really shoot street photography with one when the light is good.
This means your results will probably be good because you must have been shooting when the light was good. That’s some roundabout thinking, but I believe it makes sense in the end.
Put that good light together with the cleanliness and contrast of Shanghai GP3 and I think you’ve got a film that will give you very nice results when shot out in the streets.
I’m happy with mine, shot in the Yashica Electro by the way, and at no time was I left wishing for more shutter speed.
Shanghai GP3 100 specs and development
Shanghai GP3 100, or 上海 GP3 100 if you prefer, is an ISO 100 panchromatic black and white negative film, available in the 35mm format we’re reviewing here as well as 120 and a number of sheet film sizes too.
The 35mm version comes in plastic canisters, DX-coded with the abnormally long number 9783083040118 next to its barcode. Every other film I’ve ever shot with a number here only has a six-digit one.
I haven’t developed this film myself and there isn’t much information about the 35mm version online at present, so this is going to be a short section of this review.
There are some details for developing the 120 format out there but it should be noted that 35mm and 120 development times are sometimes different, so there’s no guarantee the information here will be optimal for the 35mm Shanghai GP3.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much else to go on. As ever though, perhaps the best place for raw numbers is the Massive Dev Chart.
As far as chemicals go, when I researched for my review of the 120 film, I did find quite a few anecdotal mentions of people having good results developing GP3 in Rodinal.
This Flickr thread extols the virtues of Xtol too.
Where to buy 35mm Shanghai GP3 100
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Shanghai GP3 100 35mm film will not be something you’ll find in your local photography shop, unless you’re in China, and certainly not in places that also sell film like a pharmacy or petrol station.
Having been around for so long, the 120 version of Shanghai GP3 at least is established enough that you can find it on Amazon and at B&H Photo. The 35mm stock isn’t quite at that level at the time of writing though, which leaves you with one clear winner in where to buy some.
That’s right. Those entrepreneurial Hong Kongers have done it again, and eBay is the place to get find some 35mm Shanghai GP3 100 and have it shipped over. Perhaps if the stock gains traction in the future your options will expand but, for now, eBay is your best and maybe only one.
You can check current prices and availability through the link below:
Final thoughts on Shanghai GP3 100 35mm film
I can’t imagine there are many people who would call Shanghai GP3 100 their favourite film. I certainly wouldn’t be one of them. But I will say that finding out they’d released a 35mm version of it made me very happy at the time.
For a few years whilst living in Shanghai, I’d looked at the 120 format GP3 and thought it was something I probably wouldn’t shoot while I was there. I wanted to, but getting hold of a 120 camera seemed expensive.
Because that meant my shooting Shanghai film in Shanghai itch had actually been scratched, it perhaps wasn’t the simple fact that a 35mm GP3 100 was coming that I was most glad about when it happened.
I think it was more that it happened while I was still there.
I can understand that for most people, this is of no concern when wondering whether to buy and try some of this film and that such a decision will be made with far less emotional attachment.
It was important for me though, and this is what I got from a roll of it.
Whether I’ll ever shoot another roll now, I don’t know. I kind of have no reason to. Unless I ever find myself back in the city, that is…
That’s not to say it’s not a good film, though. As mentioned earlier, it gives a look that I like. High contrast and low grain. And for what it’s worth, the packaging is pretty cool too.
But for now, I’ll wrap up with this. I hope the people producing Shanghai film these days make a success of it. I hope their ambitions of having all of the production done in-house and one day using metal canisters come to pass.
And I hope that one day we’ll be able to buy it from more places than just eBay.
Because if that happens, we’ll know that they have indeed made progress from when I shot mine and wrote this. 🙂
If you found that Shanghai GP3 35mm film review useful, why not take a look at these posts to learn about even more great films:
- A comprehensive review of Shanghai GP3 120 film
- A review of another cheap monochrome film made for the Asian market
- Check every single film review on My Favourite Lens
And if you think others will enjoy or benefit from this film review too, help them find it by giving it a share. 😀