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Why did I wait so long to start shooting Ilford?

Market Street towards the Statehouse

I actually know why: so many fine childhood photographic memories that involve little yellow boxes. It leads me to reach for Kodak first. But I’ve been missing out.

The Lacy Building

Ilford HP5 Plus is a fast (ISO 400) black-and-white film with a traditional grain structure. As you can see, it delivers plenty of lovely grays evenly at every level between white and black. No “chalk and soot” here, no sir.

Lime scooters

The only thing I did with any of these photos in Photoshop was boost contrast and exposure a little to suit my tastes. But truly, I could have used these images without any post-processing. I almost never get that outcome with film. Oh Ilford, I’m sorry I waited so long!

The table is set

I shot this roll in my Nikon N90s with my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens attached. I have to think this camera’s advanced (for its time) matrix metering helped get even exposures on this blindingly bright day.


These scenes are all from Downtown Indianapolis, where I work now. It’s lovely to take a camera on a lunchtime photowalk. The sun directly overhead typically provides the harshest light; conventional wisdom is to go earlier or later. But noon’s when I can get out, and Ilford HP5 Plus is just the film for it.

Bus terminal

There’s so much to photograph Downtown now! I last worked Downtown in 1996, and revitalization had only just begun. I wish I had made lunchtime photowalks then for then-and-now comparisons!

Nicky Blaine's

If you’d like to try Ilford HP5 Plus for yourself, you can order it from Analogue Wonderland here. They provided me this roll of film in exchange for this mention.

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22 responses to “Shooting Ilford HP5 Plus”

  1. Gerald Greenwood Avatar

    These are great. I’ve ordered two rolls of 35mm and two of 120!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What I like most is how good the exposures are on what was a blisteringly bright day. Tones are even everywhere.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I love Kodak Tri-X, the 400 speed stuff in 120, not the 320 “Pro”…B-U-T, I ordered a bunch of 120 HP-5 a while ago, which I’ve been using steadily! Ilford is trying to eke it out supporting the film community, and Kodak really doesn’t care; the minute Tri-X falls below a certainly profit margin, they’ll just pull the plug on it, like they’ve done everything else! Better to learn the ins-and-outs of the film of a company that has a commitment to the film community!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I picked up somewhere that HP5 was similar enough to Tri-X that they were interchangeable films, but I don’t find that to be the case at all after shooting this one roll. I have another here that I’ll put through a different camera soon to get more data for an evaluation. But this one roll I shot was fabulous. The Ilford FP4 I shot a couple months ago was just awesome. I can see myself moving toward these Ilford films and using them as my defaults.

  3. Jon Avatar

    Nice pictures Jim, the scooter picture is my favorite. I don’t think I have ever shot a roll of Ilford in my life, I have a lot of respect for that company though. There is a good video on YouTube of how it’s made at the factory. I remember back in the day when I shot a lot of film I knew people who swore by Ilford film because it was so consistent, and Kodak would tweak their film stocks just often enough to be annoying to people that did their own processing. I was and am a Kodak loyalist, but have grown to like Fomapan 200, and Ultrafine Online 400 in 120.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve got nothing against the Kodak b/w films. I’ve gotten nothing but great results from Tri-X and T-Max. But the outstanding results I’ve gotten from this HP5 and the roll of FP4 I shot a couple months ago lead me to keep using these films and get to know them better.

      I used to be on this quest for a good inexpensive b/w. I think Fomapan 200 is my choice for that. I want to keep some around all the time for camera tests and la-de-da shooting. But my frugality is misplaced. I can afford the non-budget films. I really need to just keep some good stuff like this HP5 on ice and use it liberally.

  4. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    It’s my go-to B&W film. I love the stuff, and it seems to work well in all manner of situations. It’s not to say I won’t shoot anything else – I will, and I do – but HP5+ is my standard.

    Oddly enough, I didn’t really like the first roll I shot in 35mm, but I think that was a result of my failings as a photographer rather than the film, and I think I might give the negs a fresh scan to see how they look through more experienced eyes.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I can see why. It’s just great. I can’t get over how I shot this whole roll on a super bright, sunny day, yet I got not one blown highlight.

  5. Dan James Avatar

    Jim, some lovely looking black and whites indeed. I’ve been struggling a bit with digital exposures lately so am trying to understand exposure and dynamic range more. Do you think you got even tones across a range of levels of brightness mostly because the film has enough latitude to absorb it?

    You said about your camera’s metering helped you get good exposures. But as I understand it, however advanced the metering, the shutter speed and aperture remain at one setting at the moment of exposure, and the camera can’t expose different parts of the film at different amounts, just because there are different levels of brightness in the scene. So do you think your Nikon just evaluated the scenes really well and went with a setting that was the best average of the brightness levels across the whole scene, then the film’s latitude did the rest of the work?

    I think I’m trying to understand how, if you have a photo where simultaneously the brightest parts come out too bright (ie over exposed) and the darkest parts too dark (ie underexposed) then what can any metering sytem do about that? Is it down to the dynamic range / latitude of the film/sensor not being able to capture subjects that bright and that dark in the same scene, so you have to lean one way or another and put up with blown highlights and everything else ok, or lost shadow detail and everything else ok?

    Hope that makes sense!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I do think I got good grays across the range on this bright day because of (a) excellent exposure latitude and (b) matrix metering on the N90s. My Pentax ME, for example, does some version of center-weighted metering and if the meter patch was in a shadowy or bright spot that’s the metering I would have gotten even if it wasn’t right for the overall image. The N90s’s matrix metering meters at a bunch of points and does some sort of calculation to determine the best likely aperture/shutter speed for the conditions. There are ways to game center-weighted metering but I’m not wise to them.

  6. Doug Anderson Avatar

    Very impressive results! What developer was used?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t know exactly. Fulltone Photo processed and scanned the film. My experience has been that commercial processors use D76 or a clone (like Clayton F76), but I don’t know for sure what Fulltone uses.

      1. Doug Anderson Avatar

        Thanks! I’ve developed HP5 Plus in Ilfotec DD-X and Rodinal and I don’t like the results with either as well as yours. The difference could be the scanning as well as the developer. Time for some more experiments.

        One additional benefit of HP5 Plus as well as FP4 Plus is that they dry flatter than other film film stocks I’ve used. This helps a lot with scanning. Tri-X is the worst I’ve found in this respect.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Good to know as I’m about to start processing my own b/w. I have all the gear, just need to make some time. I guess that in Rodinal the grain really, really comes out with the faster films.

        2. Doug Anderson Avatar

          Negatives developed in Rodinal have sharp edged grain because there is no solvent in the developer. Negatives developed in Ilfotec DD-X, for example, have softer edged grain because of the solvent in the developer. The practical effect is that in a uniform light part of a print, like the sky or the skin in a portrait, the grain in a Rodinal image will be more apparent than then grain in a DD-X negative. OTOH the detail in a sharp edged part of the print, like the eyes in the same portrait will appear sharper in the Rodinal image than in the DD-X image. Like many other choices in photography there are trade-offs.

          Developers differ in the amount of solvent action. Rodinal has none.

  7. analogphotobug Avatar

    After spending my Spring with HP5, I’m starting to back away from “the high contrast all the time” of my T-MAX. There’s a place for everything and HP5 has found a place with me too!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hunh, I’ve not experienced T-Max to be uber contrasty. But then, I also shoot things like Fomapan 100 which is pretty much chalk and soot. HP5 is just a lovely, lovely film. Looking forward to shooting more.

  8. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    I like the first shot a lot. Indianapolis is clearly quite a bit larger than Lansing, but that view of the capitol between tall buildings is very familiar.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve never been to Lansing; perhaps I’ll go someday and find out for myself!

  9. […] If you want to see how to properly shoot Ilford HP5 Plus 400 see Jim Grey's post on Shooting Ilford HP5 Plus. […]

  10. Khürt Williams Avatar

    I’ve attempted to shoot Ilford HP5 Plus but my results have been mediocre.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hm. I wonder what that’s about. I hope you get on with it better in the future. Thanks for the avalanche of pingbacks!

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