An ode to Ilford

I’ve started taking pictures “seriously” only 13 years ago, yet only the last 4 years of increasing usage of film seem to give me the pleasure of making (compared to taking) a nice picture. Having a plethora of stocks to choose from (not to mention the combination with several different developers) was a good thing to keep the interest alive, and I still find quite satisfying the moment I buy new rolls even though I don’t really need them. I realised recently how important is consistency if you want to develop a style of your own and, while I am still open to experiment with new things, I came to the conclusions that 1) I prefer BW for portraits and 2) I love Ilford! There are a lot of reasons to do that (Matt Day, another film lover quite popular on the web, explained it perfectly in a recent video) but for me it all comes down to the consistent results I get, especially in some circumstances. To be fair, this should be an ode to HP5+, a truly incredible film that rewards me every time I use it with my Hasselblad and I push it to 800, and to a lesser extent to FP4+ (truly magnificent if you have enough light, which is why I had great results in my Sicily and only frustration in London). My experience with other Ilford films is more limited but quite nice nonetheless: I recently gave PanF+ a try and I shot a couple of rolls of Delta 3200.

HP5+ is a panchromatic film with traditional grain structure (as opposed to T-grain film like Delta or TMax) that shows and incredible flexibility on over and underexposure. Being a fast film, it naturally shows less contrast than slow films (which could be a good thing when used in hard daylight conditions). In my case as I said I usually push it at 800 to have that nice contrast increase that usually is missing on the light conditions I often choose for my portraits. Grain is not really a problem in medium format (and honestly, not really a problem generally speaking) and the range of tonalities that you get whatever exposure you choose is unbelievable. Another nice plus, at least in my experience, is that the film is perfectly flat, making the scanning process much easier.

As for the endless debate with the Kodak counterpart, I think I have been attracted to Tri-X only because of its glorious name (and if you read carefully, you realise the old Tri-X formula is different than today’s one). I managed to get nice results but I somehow missed the consistency of the HP5+ (I keep buying Portra 400 though, which on the color side is the only real option I can see myself using for ages). The only open question I have is: could Fomapan 400 really be an option? I have two rolls waiting on my fridge and I do recall the very nice results I obtained two years ago so…we’ll see.

Technical info:

  • Hasselblad 501CM > Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80 CFE and Sonnar T* 4/150 
  • Pentax 67 > SMC 105mm f2.4
  • Ilford HP5+ pushed at 800, FP4+ shot at 100 developed normally

4 thoughts on “An ode to Ilford

    • On the past I used labs so I don’t know exactly what they used. In the last year or so I’ve been using Ilford DD-X 1:4, with very gentle agitations…and I like the result very much. DD-X is a speed enhancer developer, good for pushing, and it keeps grain quite low (hence with a slight lower sharpness)

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