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.
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!
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.