The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Lomography is surely the little camera known as the LC-A and the amazing photographs it creates. Images full of vivid, wonky colors and dark, vignetted corners drew people into the photographic cult following. A '90s art movement manifesto quickly became an international society.
The advent of the Lomographic Society helped popularize the technique of intentionally processing film in the wrong photographic chemicals commonly known as cross-processing. One of the most legendary films to cross-process was AGFA’s CT Precisa. This 100-speed color transparency film produced one of the most beautiful color palettes when cross processed. It’s ability to render natural skin tones while still simultaneously over saturating other colors was something almost no other slide film could do when xpro'd. It was a film where the blues and reds would sing the most beautiful songs. Greens and yellows would be as vibrant as children’s coloring books. Films like this brought the LC-A to life and helped bring the Lomographic Society to a worldwide stage, which is arguably one of the forces that helped keep film photography alive today.
The history of the LC-A camera and Lomographic Society persevere in books and magazines, but what is not so clear is the history of AGFA’s modern color transparency film. The story regarding the research and development of this famous emulsion is probably locked away forever as trade secrets, but one can trace the colorful timeline of how this film evolved and what it has become.
Agfa’s color transparency film can be traced back to 1936 with the introduction of Agfacolor Neu. Jump to the 1970s when Agfa-Gevaert’s most popular slide film was CT18, Color Transparency with a speed of DIN 18. This film was processed with AP41, a proprietary of Agfa, that used very hazardous chemicals and did not produce ideal results. The mid-1980s Agfa discontinued the AP41 chemistry in favor of newer process called AP44. This much safer process made the development of Agfa transparency film interchangeable with Kodak’s E-6 or Fuji’s CR-56 method. E-6 is the method currently used today to process positive film. The introduction of new chemistry meant the introduction of the new film. In 1984, Agfa launched the new film line called Agfachrome CT100. This is the great-grandfather of the beloved CT Precisa.
The photographs featured in this article were all cross processed in C-41 chemistry by LOMOLAB, which I took with an original LOMO LC-A in Gdańsk, Poland in 2017. Due to unknown storage conditions and the age of the films the results, especially of CT 100 and CT100i, may not appropriately reflect results if the film was processed before expiration.
The 1990s brought a new contender to the photographic world: digital cameras. Consumer attention was beginning to focus on the new digital trend and this meant film producers wanted to keep attention on their analogue products. During the 1992 Photokina, Agfa launched new films under the umbrella of “High Definition Color.” Their new HDC slide film was said to be an improved version of existing emulsions. CT100 was relaunched as Agfachrome CT100i.
Also during this time Kodak was constantly tweaking and improving its color transparency line of Ektachrome. During Photo Marking Association 1995, Agfa released CT100i’s successor called CTx, which was said to share improvements in color intensity, accuracy, and edge definition along with enhanced pushability. The CTx film is the predecessor of the legendary CT Precisa. In the earlier production runs of CTx, the logo was spelled in dark blue, light blue, and a yellow x. Later production runs have CTx written in all blue. Regardless of this packaging discrepancy, the film seemed to remain the same. This film is rare, but can still be found and if kept stored properly can still render beautiful Agfa colors.
On January 23, 1998, Agfa-Gevaert filed trademark Nº 2,456,580 called 'CT Precisa'.
Thanks to Internet Archive’s ‘Wayback Machine’, it is possible to see Agfa’s Photo Divison webpages before the companies split and demise. In an archive from November 9th, 2001, Agfachrome CT Precisa title was ‘Precision in maximum perfection.’ CT Precisa was claimed to be ‘more exact, more neutral, more differentiated, and more stable.’ The film boasted stronger colors and softer tones. Whether Agfa knew or not, the original emulsion CT Precise would become one of the most coveted slide films to cross process in the history of Lomography. Blacks would be pure. Dull reds would come alive as if they were still fresh with paint. Ultimately the film won people’s hearts for its deep magical portrayal of blues when cross processed. The blues of this film were so rich and full of power. On a sunny day with the LC-A’s vignetting lens, the blues of the sky would be rendered in every possible tone of blue beginning with baby blues at the brightest point to the deep magic of the dark vignetted corners. The look of cross-processed Agfa CT Precise became an instant classic. Also, regarding the age of CT Precisa, later batches of Precisa are written in white while the earlier packaging is labeled in yellow.
In 2004, the photographic division of Agfa-Gevaert would separate and now become an independent company called AgfaPhoto GmbH. The bright colors and intense saturation would not last forever. A growing digital trend would soon bring dark times to the analogue world. AgfaPhoto GmbH only made CT Precisa for only one year before filing for bankruptcy on May 27th, 2005.
Additionally, in 2005 Lupus Imaging & Media was founded, self-described as a “wholesale company for photographic product” and soon to be a major player for the life of CT Precisa. AgfaPhoto would be resurrected now as AgfaPhoto Holding GmbH. Lupus Imaging quickly scooped up the rights to manufacture and distribute these AGFA films. With no physical means of production Lupus turned to the Italian film manufacturer Ferrania to begin producing AgfaPhoto films. Earliest packing of AgfaPhoto Holding’s CT Precisa still featured the yellow boat slide on its packing. The film canister itself still says Made in EU but lacks the disclaimer that the film is not produced by Agfa-Gevaert, which is only written on the box packaging. The film carton featured a very discrete Arti Grafiche Moretti logo and the website printed on one of the cardboard tabs also suggest its Italian origin. Later in 2009, a press statement from Lupus Imaging & Media stated that Ferrania USA, a subsidy of Ferrania Technologies would soon be distributing AgfaPhoto CT Precisa in the US. It is rumored that Ferrania was manufacturing early batches using chemicals purchased from Agfa. First batches still rendered the beloved color palette.
There are two known “Made in EU” versions of the new AgfaPhoto Holding’s CT Precisa. The first discrepancy can be noticed in the labeling of the new AgfaPhoto film canister itself. Earliest ‘Italian’ versions omit the disclaimer of not being produced by Agfa-Gavaert on the canister, and the later “Made in EU” versions feature the disclaimer on the canister itself.
In 2010, Ferrania Technologies ended operations. Not long after, the resurrected version of CT Precisa’s packaging mutated again and so did the emulsion. This time instead of a yellow boat being featured on the film packaging it was now small colorful sheds which is what can be seen on the Agfa films available today. This time, the film states that it is now ‘Made in Japan,’ the first clue pointing to Fujifilm. In a blog post on Kevinthephotographer, its discussed that DX coding suggests that CT Precisa is indeed a Fujifilm product, Fujichrome Provia 100F Professional to be exact. The blog post also links to UK photo supplier Firstcall which on their website for the product description of CT Precisa states “No one knows film better than Firstcall, and we were intrigued to try the new Agfa Precisa CT100 which is not from the old Agfa company at all. In fact, it’s not even made by Agfa but Fuji Provia F in the box.” The current version on AgfaPhoto’s website now refers to Precisa as ‘AgfaPhoto CT Precisa CU 135’. CT Precisa now was reincarnated as a Japanese zombie. CT Precisa no longer sang the same blues and reds of its former German self. Instead now screamed an overpowering cast of mutant green.
But, Lomographers kept shooting Precisa and it seems now the latest batches are beginning to harken back to what it once was. The latest batches are not so toxic green anymore. Other colors are beginning to come to life with the newest batches of Precisa. In natural lighting conditions, the blue skies are starting to shine blue again. Artifical light sources still are being portrayed in green tones, but differently than before. For those who miss and long for the magical blues of the old Precisa try shooting a roll from these newest batches. Remember when cross processing any slide film, the brighter the light the more vivid the results will be.
Regardless of which version of Agfa’s slide film you prefer, the only way to keep analogue film alive is to keep buying, shooting and developing.
Long live the analogue process!