Film

Kodak Tri-X 400 FIlmKodak Tri-X 400 is my personal day-t0-day standard and is one of those classic black and white films that are classics for a reason.  Even though the film has changed over the years I still love it and rely on it daily.  I love this film in all formats: 35mm, 120 medium format, large format (4×5, 5×7, 8×10).  I think of Tri-X 400 as an all purpose film that I can use in just about any situation but it also gives me the creative freedom with choice of a wide exposure latitude and developer options to craft the type of print I ultimately want.  I find it to have fine grain with a wide exposure latitude making it very hard to beat.  By default I rate my Tri-X roll film at EI 200 when developing with traditional developers like HC-110, D-76 or XTOL and when developing with Diafine I rate it at 1250.  For large format my EI is 250.  I shoot so much of this film that I buy it by the case.  If I were forced to only use one film, Tri-X would be my choice.

Kodak T-max 100 is an old standard for many professional photographers for good reason.  It produces professional high quality negatives suitable to print on any paper.  This is a T-grain film that is suggested to provide extra sharpness with very high resolving power.  The grain is very fine and is great for fine art, portraits and any subject requiring the highest level of detail. Some people are scared of T-max because of blowing out their highlights but that is because they have not tested and worked out their processes.  These are not serious or professional photographers and have probably been reading too many Google search results versus investing time into learning their craft.  I rely on T-Max in large and medium format on a regular basis and it is my staple for landscapes and night photography.  Many photographers don’t realize that T-Max 100 is a faster film than Tri-X 400 after 1 second of exposure time because of the reciprocity characteristics.  I develop it in HC110 for large format and XTOL typically in medium format.

Ilford Delta 100 claims this is the world’s sharpest ISO 100 black and white film.  Based on my personal experience I think it is a sharp film but I think it has a little more grain than T-Max 100.  The film grain is however very fine helping produce very big quality enlargements with a wide tonal range and exposure latitude. If you like Ilford products then you can’t for wrong with this film.  This film is a great choice for the studio, fashion and portraits as well.  It can be rated between 50 and 200 for push and pull.  My personal tests indicated an EI rating of 80.

I love Delta 400 for all the same reasons I do the ISO 100 version.  So, when I need the extra film speed Ilford Delta 400 is a good choice.  I really love this film because of the wide exposure latitude and level of sharpness as well as the rich contrast for a medium speed film.  Sharpness and grain and two of the key characteristics that I balance when deciding on 120 film and Delta 400 definitely performs very well.  This film is a good choice for portraits, fashion and even fine art.  Don’t be afraid to shoot this film when you need the speed because I think you will be very surprised at the results.  In fact, if you shot a roll of ISO 100 and ISO 400 side by side and mixed up the prints, I seriously doubt you could consistently tell the difference.  However, I think you will find that T-Max films have less grain.  I have tested this film and my EI rating was EI 250.

HP5 Plus 400 is great for action images or for general purpose photography with a lower level of available light.  I have tested this film when I needed the speed over ultra fine quality, but it can be a toss up when deciding between HP5+ and Delta 400 in many cases.  I would generally recommend the Delta lineup for fine art and HP5 Plus for action or low light scenes.  Keep in mind that Delta is tabular grain film where HP5+ is conventional.  In my personal testing I found that EI 800 was about the limit of what I was willing to do with this film.

Ilford FP4 Plus ISO 125 is an amazing film that has very fine grain with medium speed.  It is ideal for very high quality outdoor and indoor photography when very big prints are the goal and it is a conventional film.  I’ve printed 40″ prints using this film with beautiful results.  This film can be rated from ISO 50 to 200 without any problems however my tests have given me an EI rating of 100.  You could use this film with great results from every day general photography to scientific and technical work.  The grain is very fine with a wide exposure latitude and a high degree of sharpness.  I have used this film for just about everything from portraits to architecture and even landscapes.

Ilford Delta 3200 is an amazing film for low-light conditions to include fast-action sports or wildlife in poor lighting.  The measured speed of this film is ISO 1250, but is designed to be push processed to achieve its nominal speed of EI 3200.  If an available low-light situation would typically rule out you taking some photos, then this is the film to turn to for black and white prints.  If your photo is best viewed with some grain then this film may be a perfect choice artistically even when low-lighting is not an issue.  I tend to use this for indoor photos and portraits late in the day when the available light is low or challenged and I am beyond EI 1600 with Tri-X.  This can be a life saver for environmental work when you just don’t have the amount of available light that you may prefer.  I am not afraid to use this on a 35mm system when paired with fast glass like an f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens.  If you have even a little natural light in your scene you will absolutely love the look and character of your photos.  This isn’t an every day type of film for most people, but I highly recommend keeping a roll or two on hand because it can be the difference between getting the shot and missing the opportunity.  You will also find photographers that shoot it for the “look” it produces even when they have plenty of available light.  I have rated this film at EI 25,000 and developed in Microphen with excellent results.

If you want a virtually grainless, super high level of detail in your photos with rich contrast, then Ilford Pan F Plus ISO 50 is your choice.  I wish this was available in 4×5 large format sheet film.  Ilford Ortho ISO 80 is probably the closest choice to this film.  I have used Pan F Plus 50 for some of my high end fine art work that demands a great degree of detail with rich contrast, assuming I have enough available light.  The shadow and highlight detail is probably second to none with this film at this speed.  The price difference between this and a roll of Delta 10o is usually between 25 and 50 cents per roll so the cost should not be an issue.  The rich tones, high degree of contrast and the incredible level of detail will speak for itself when you see it in your own work.

Color Slide Film

For slide film it is hard to beat Fuji.  I have included a quick review of the Fujichrome that I have used.

  • Fuji Velvia 50Velvia 50 -The standard for landscape and wildlife/nature photography.  I love the deep reds in this film and the yellows are awesome.  This film produces the most vivid and borderline surreal images I have ever seen. I sort of think of this as HDR on film.  The last time I ordered it is no longer available in large format 4×5 sheet film so I had to order Velvia 100 which makes me very sad.  It was however available in 120 medium format.  This film is perfect for landscapes, sunsets and nature photos when you can use ASA 50.  Even a red classic car with Veliva 50 will nearly bring tears to your eyes.  There really is nothing like it. Velvia 50 has the highest maximum density to date for more profound shadows and deeper blacks.  It can be pushed one stop to ASA 100 and has a very narrow exposure latitude so you better get your exposures correct.  When you do there is nothing like a Velvia 50 image.  I normally rate Velvia 50 at 32.  I know other photographers, in particular large format sheet film photographers that rate Velvia 50 somewhere between 32 and 40.
  • Fuji Velvia 100Velvia 100 -This landscape landmark is not quite as saturated and vivid as Velvia 50, but may be a great choice if that is what you are looking for or need ISO 100.  Not nearly as red as Velvia 50 making it a possible choice if people are in your photo.  Definitely not a portrait film in my opinion. Great for macro and nature photography. This film is the closest to Velvia 50 if that is the look you are going for. I use Velvia 100 for a lot of my floral photography because I love the look of the reds and greens in particular.  This is my go to film when ASA 100 is possible for both in the studio and outside.  I normally rate my Velvia 100 between 100 and 125 depending on the conditions.
  • Fuji Velvia 100FVelvia 100F – I think of 100F as a toned down version of 100.  The engineers at Fuji made changes to the original Velvia so don’t confuse these two films.  It is “thinner” to me and the reds are a lot more tamed down.  You can usually get away with portraits with this film, but not my first choice.  Also a good choice when you don’t want those over-the-top saturated colors.  Velvia 100F offers a push/pull processing from – 1/2 stop to + 1 stop with minimal changes to color balance and gradation and it is technically possible to go +2 but I would not recommend that, just shoot Provia 400X if that is the case.
  • Fuji Astia 100FAstia 100F – This film does a great job with pastel colors and skin tones.  Astia does a great job of producing those Fuji saturated colors that we all love while giving us great portraits too.  If you can use ISO 100 at events or people-centric photos this is your choice. Astia 100F offers a push/pull processing from – 1/2 stop to + 1 stop with minimal changes to color balance and gradation.
  • Fuji Provia 400XProvia 400X – Fuji Provia 400X is the slide film of choice if you need ISO 400 and greater.  Of course it does not have the punch of Velvia 50, but you already knew that.  If you want more natural tones without a big penalty for the ISO 400, then this is a good film to try.  Great for event photography.  It does a good job with skin tones and no over saturated colors.  I’ve used it on overcast days with very good results and I have also used it inside for events where all I had was ambient light.  The specs say this film can by pulled/pushed anywhere from -1/2 stop (EI 280) up to 3-stops (EI 3200) with minimal changes in color and gradation; can push to 3.5 stops (EI 4800).  I have successfully used Provia 400X at EI1600 (2 stops) with very good results.  Keep in mind you have to tell your lab to push or pull accordingly.  Some people are cross-processing this film and like it, but I have not tried that yet.  This film is expensive usually coming in at about $10 for 135-36 and $6 for 120 but I think it is worth it.  My hit ratio when using this film is typically 9 out of 10 exposures.

Instant Films

The choices are very narrow these days for instant films and I am thankful that Fuji has stepped up to the table and continues to project high quality instant films.  I use them on my medium and large format backs and I also still use my Polaroid cameras as well.  Some of my fondest memories as a child was captured on Kodak Polaroid instant film and they still look great all these decades later.

Fuji FP-100CFuji FP-100C comes in a 10 exposure pack.  It is a peel-apart-type instant color film with an ISO speed rating of 100.  Its ability to produce photos of superb quality makes this film ideal for a wide range of commercial uses, including product photography requiring long exposures, microphotography, CRT image recording, and of course identification and portrait photography.  This film, in regular size, can be used in cameras and other photographic equipment that accept instant film with a photo size of 85 x 108mm, and those provided or fitted with an instant camera back.

Fuji FP-3000BFuji FP-3000B comes in a 10 sheet box.  It is a high-quality, fine grained, sharp, instant black-and-white film. Its ISO rating of 3000 makes it perfect for low-light scenarios. This film is suitable for industrial, scientific, ID photography, portraiture and general photographic pursuits.

 

Film Sizes

I have included a simple graphic to illustrate the various sizes of film.  If you look at 35mm as compared to medium format, you can understand why professionals lean towards this medium when enlargements are required.  Large format 4×5 has no competition when it comes to scalability and enlargement potential.  You may also want to read my article “Why Film in the 21st Century“.

Film Size Comparison

Before I forget, there are many times that you need to know how much surface area there is to your films.  For example, how long your chemicals last before they become exhausted.  I will cover the most obvious film sizes for in an easy to remember formula.  If you want to calculate the films below on your own just base it on 80 square inches.

1 roll of 35mm 36 exposure = 1 roll of 120 = 1 sheet of 8×10 = 4 sheets of 4×5.

Film Size and Standard Lens Relationship

Film format Image dimensions Image diagonal Normal lens focal length
9.5 mm Minox 8 × 11 mm 13.6 mm 15 mm
Half-frame 24 × 18 mm 30 mm 30 mm
APS C 16.7 × 25.1 mm 30.1 mm 28 mm, 35 mm
135, 35mm 24 × 36 mm   .95″ x 1.42″ 43.3 mm 45 mm, 50 mm
120/220, 6 × 4.5 (645) 56 × 42 mm 2.21″ x 1.65″ 71.8 mm 75 mm
120/220, 6 × 6 56 × 56 mm 2.21″ x 2.21″ 79.2 mm 80 mm
120/220, 6 × 7 56 × 68 mm2.21″ x 2.68″ 88.1 mm 90 mm
120/220, 6 × 9 56 × 84 mm 2.21″ x 3.31″ 101.0 mm 105 mm
120/220, 6 × 12 56 × 112 mm 2.21″ x 4.42″ 125.0 mm 120 mm
large format 4 × 5 sheet film 93 × 118 mm 3.67″ x 4.65″ 150.2 mm 150 mm
large format 5 × 7 sheet film 120 × 170 mm (image area) 208.0 mm 210 mm
large format 8 × 10 sheet film 194 × 245 mm 7.64″ x 9.65″ 312.5 mm 300 m

If you want to know more about why I choose to use film, then you may want to read my “Why Film in the 21st Century?” For an overview of what black and white film is made of refer to the article “Film – What’s on the inside?“.

Tim Layton

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