Essay, Film Photography

Ilford HP5 Plus could be the best value in film today

Film photography will always have ongoing costs — every time you want images, you first have to buy a roll of film. Then you either pay a lab to develop and scan/print it, or buy the equipment and chemicals to do it yourself. The costs mount with each roll you shoot. As a result, all but the most wealthy of us keep film photography as affordable as we can.

Last year I wrote about five relatively inexpensive films you should try to help keep your costs low. I still like those films for all the reasons I listed in that article. But since then, some of them have become hard to find. Moreover, some of those films offer limited versatility, working best under certain lighting conditions and offering little exposure latitude. And some of those films, it is whispered, have iffy quality control.

One film emerges in 2022 as a great value: Ilford’s HP5 Plus black-and-white film.

By value I mean not just price — you can buy other films for less than HP5 Plus. When you also consider quality and versatility, for the price it’s hard to beat HP5 Plus. It’s also in stock pretty much everywhere that sells film, unlike many other popular films in this era of shortages.

I surveyed the usual online film shops and found Ilford HP5 Plus available right now at these prices:

  • 35mm, 24 exposure: $6.50 – $7.00
  • 35mm, 36 exposure: $8.00 – $8.50
  • 120: $7.00 – $7.50

If you think eight bucks is a lot for a roll of film, consider that adjusted for inflation, $8.00 is equivalent to $6.45 in 2012, $5.04 in 2002, $3.93 in 1992, and $2.68 in 1982. I don’t remember exact film costs from 40 years ago, which is about when I started buying film for my old cameras in earnest. But I would have been pleased as a kid on a meager allowance to pay under three bucks for a roll of film.

Market Street towards the Statehouse
Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor

HP5 Plus offers a classic black-and-white look with a well-managed traditional grain structure. Properly exposed and developed, it offers both rich blacks and a good range of middle grays. I find it hard to blow out the highlights or block up the shadows with this film. It’s rated at ISO 400, but you can shoot it anywhere from EI 100 to EI 3200 and, with compensating development, get perfectly usable results. Some have successfully pushed it to EI 6400!

Inland Bldg.
Olympus Stylus

Why HP5 Plus and not other films? Ilford’s FP4 Plus is a close second. It costs only slightly more than HP5 Plus and offers similar exposure latitude. Kodak’s Tri-X is every bit as good and versatile as HP5 Plus, but its prices are a couple bucks a roll higher. The T-grained films — Ilford’s Delta and Kodak’s T-Max lines — are a couple bucks more per roll as well.

For years I’ve used inexpensive color films such as Fujicolor 200 to test new-to-me old cameras and for general photography when I just have the itch to shoot. I have a stash of the stuff squirreled away, but in this time of color-film shortages it won’t last forever. I’m switching to Ilford HP5 Plus.

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24 thoughts on “Ilford HP5 Plus could be the best value in film today

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    No doubt about it, if you’re actually depending on something you’re photographing turning out, you have zero other option in black & white but to go with the Ilford line of films, factory fresh and correctly stored. I love messing with Foma, and others, but wouldn’t chance it if someone was expecting me to perform to my professional abilities. Repeatability….

    • You know, I’m tired of putting up with the limitations of the budget stocks. There are times when Fomapan 100 is just the right choice, but otherwise I need films that perform under whatever conditions I find myself shooting in. This is why HP5 is so brilliant.

  2. dmitrizzle says:

    I love HP5. Indeed, Ilford is one of the few brands that hadn’t had its prices go up this year. Though I still prefer Tri-X, it’s a lot more expensive now.

    Is it OK for me to share my tool based on database of film stock prices I’ve been tracking since 2018? It only covers the most popular stocks in 35mm/36exp. though the trends usually are pretty close along the formats.

  3. Good stuff here, Jim; all excellent points. I need to replenish my 400 speed b/w film and have vacillated between HP5+ and Delta 400 (two completely opposite films, I know). I prefer to bulk load, and whatever I decide it’s a commitment for the next 15-18 rolls. But yeah, HP5+ is an option that can hold up to just about anything you want to throw at it.

    • It has surprisingly managed grain, for having a traditional grain structure. In other words: it’s smooth! And it pushes and pulls so well. Hard to beat it!

  4. Completely agree about HP5. I was okay with Tri-X until having to deal with scanning. Then, last year when the price increases were announced, I decided to go with HP5 and stocked up. I shot two rolls in 120 and the images were absolutely beautiful. I have enough to last a good while, but I dread what the price will be the next time I need to buy.

  5. I’ve tried a lot of black and white films over the past two years, since I’m returning to film and wanted to get the feel of the different stocks. While I like the T-Grain stocks like TMAX and Delta, the price means I usually relegate that to my half-frame camera where the per-frame cost goes down and the advantage of less grain really comes into play.

    But I do like HP5 and Tri-X and I’ll most likely be shooting more HP5. I want to narrow my stock selection down and the price of HP5 is just right. My local lab is selling the 36 exposure roll at $7.25! Tri-X is now north of $10. I also liked the couple rolls I’ve shot of the current Agfa APX 400, and that’s even slightly cheaper ($6.89 at Blue Moon). Maybe I’ll try a few more rolls.

    Any opinion on Kentmere 400, the “little sister” to HP5? It’s still a couple bucks a roll less than HP5. I’ve liked the results I’ve gotten, though I have not developed it. It’s a lot more predictable than Fomapan. I just wish they made it in 120.

    • I bought my first two rolls of Kentmere 400 in January and haven’t shot them yet. I have heard that Ultrafine Extreme 400 is Kentmere 400; if so, then I’ve shot a few rolls. I wasn’t in love with the Ultrafine, but I’m not sure I’ve dialed in the development yet. At box speed, with the dev time from the Massive Dev Chart, I got thin negatives.

      $7.25 for HP5 is a good deal!

      • I have learned to live with UFX 400 to the point where it is acceptable. Although, I still use it only for testing. It would be great if Kentmere 100 were also UFX 100–I love UFX 100, and my stock is getting low.

    • There’s quite a lot to suggest that Kentmere 400, Rollei RPX 400, and Agfa APX 400 are all the same film stock under different branding, so if you can get any of them cheaper than the other, go for that one. HP5+ is my go to 400asa film, but I’ve been happy with the results I’ve had with Kentmere 400 and Agfa APX too.

      • Good to know. That means I’ll just stick with Kentmere 400 when I want a cheaper alternative to HP5. Blue Moon has it for just $5.25, which is usually where I pick it up.

  6. Jim, my local camera store, Mike’s Camera has 36-rolls of HP5 for $6.99 and 10% off if you buy 10 or more, so for $6.29 I consider that a bargain. Among the lowest cost for my favorite BW film. Though there’s still tax.

    Online, Pictureline in Salt Lake City (who I’ve never tried), has it or $6. https://www.pictureline.com/products/ilford-hp5-plus-135-36-film – I put in a sample order for 20 to see, and it came up $120 and free shipping, no tax. Though I tried it with 10 rolls and it came up $66.95 with $6.95 shipping.

    I like it for its look, plus it doens’t curl like Tri-X does on me, which makes it better for scanning.

    • Those are good deals on HP5+! I most recently bought some at Central Camera in Chicago and the 24-exp rolls I bought were something like $6.50.

      In my town is the US distributor of Ilford. They have a retail store. I really ought to go in there and see what they charge for a roll. They’re a little out of my way so I’ve never done it.

      Agreed: HP5+ is so much easier to scan because of lack of curl.

  7. mike r in colorado says:

    HP5 is one of my favorites. Oh yeah, HP5+. I use it in all formats from 35mm to 8×10. If I need less grain, I use bigger film.

    I remember in late 1974 when I was photographer for the school newspaper, Tri-X 35mm — probably 24 exp — was about $1.00.

  8. I decided last year that I would not spend more than $10 on any 35mm film stock. HP5 Plus made the cut. Shooting Ilford HP5 Plus reminds me of my early days of 35mm film photography (30 years ago) when I exposed and developed Ilford HP5 400.

    As for the cost of the film, since I can’t go back to 1982, I can only look at what something costs now. The price of all film stock has gone up and is going up rapidly. No amount of rationalising will make that stop. Have you noticed how challenging it is to find 35mm film to buy?

    If you develop at home ( I do not ), the prices of some of the developing chemicals have increased.

    In all likelihood, I think this trend will continue.

    • I fear you are right. I think prices are rationalizing themselves for the new volume. When Kodak spit out a bazillion rolls a year and consumers snapped them up, Kodak could price low and sell on volume. No more.

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