Radically faster film hailed as revolution in pictures

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FRENCH SCIENTISTS say they have found a way to produce photographic film that is 10 times more sensitive to light - an advance that could make true-to-life pictures of candlelight dinners possible without a flash or muted colours.

Agfa, the European film manufacturer that sponsored the photographic study and holds the patent, would not say when the film might become commercially available. Researchers also acknowledged that more work was needed to determine how well it could reproduce certain colours. But if the approach works, it could revolutionise photography, improving on the design that has been around since the 1840s.

In the study published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, researchers at the University of Paris-Sud said they had captured all available light on film by adding a chemical. "A real breakthrough," said Richard Hailstone, a scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The film uses two kinds of light-sensitive crystals - halide and silver - to produce an image. When light strikes one of the halide crystals it breaks an electron loose. Ideally, that electron combines with a nearby silver crystal.

Later, when placed in a developer, the silver crystals darken and stick to the plastic. The result is a negative. The researchers added a chemical called formate to the crystals, which kept the loose electrons from recombining with the halide. It meant that every electron knocked loose was captured by a silver crystal.

Jacqueline Belloni, the chief researcher, said the technique could be used to make images with greater clarity or to take pictures in very low light without a flash.