The surprising cost difference between Kodak and Ilford black-and-white films

I have a stash of 35mm Kodak Tri-X expired since 2001 that I shoot from time to time. It curls like mad, in large part because the film has been wound into those canisters for more than 20 years, but also because Tri-X just curls.

That natural Tri-X curl makes the film frustrating to load into my scanner. Ilford’s similar HP5 Plus dries nearly flat. For the last few years I’ve been buying HP5 Plus for easier scanning.

For many years, decades even, these two films cost about the same. But now price is a strong motivator to shoot HP5 Plus over Tri-X. Check out these screen shots from B&H: Tri-X is now 45 percent more expensive.

All of us film photographers know that film prices have been on the rise for the last few years. Kosmo Foto recently reported that Kodak would be raising prices 17 percent on average starting in March of this year. In contrast, Ilford has managed to hold the line on its prices over the last few years.

Interestingly, for these two companies’ ISO 400 T-grained films, the price difference isn’t so strong. T-Max costs about 23 percent more than Delta.

CORRECTION. Someone on Facebook pointed out today that I captured the 24-exposure roll cost for Delta 400, not the 36-exposure roll cost, which is the benchmark I’m setting. In this case, 36 exposures of Delta 400 are more expensive than T-Max 400.

Either way, these price differences make it easy to keep choosing Ilford over Kodak. Here’s hoping Ilford holds to their lower prices as a competitive advantage, rather than deciding to match Kodak for fatter margins.

At least for traditionally-grained films, it’s easy to choose Ilford. For T-grained films, Kodak has the slight advantage. Fascinating times we live in.

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19 responses to “The surprising cost difference between Kodak and Ilford black-and-white films”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I’ve been concentrating on Ilford film for a number of years, mostly because I feel that Ilford has a commitment to film photography, and Kodak is really just a marketing company now. I’ve been teaching myself to use and like HP5 plus, altho I was always an FP4 user from way back into the 80’s, I always hated Plus X, and when Kodak killed Verichrome Pan, it was all FP4 for me (with a smattering of APX 100 when available). I use Foma 200 on occasion, mostly because I like the 200 intermediate speed. I’m not sure any 400 speed film is as good as Tri-X, but I’m not sure modern Tri-X is as good as it was in the 70s and 80s, either.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What was it about Plus-X that you didn’t like? I don’t see much difference between Plus-X and Verichrome Pan; what differences do you see?

      It wasn’t until I started shooting this expired Tri-X that I saw how different the modern stuff is.

    2. Ben Avatar

      Hi Jim,
      I too am very displeased with Kodak’s pricing over the past several years. I have used Kodak film for over 70 years as my go to film. Including Plus-x and Verichrome Pan until both were discontinued by Kodak. I have my LAST roll of Plus-X (a 220 roll of 120 film) in a camera now and a few rolls of expired Verichrome Pan (120) still in the freezer. I have used the various types of Ilford film more recently (FP-4 and HP-5) and have found that they are well suited to my photography as well. Their pricing is still better than Kodak and I hope that remains the same for the foreseeable future. In addition I find Kentmere films (also made by Ilford, i.e. Harmon…) are a nice option as well (now both in 35mm and 120) and a bit less expensive than FP-4 or HP-5.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        For my purposes the Ilford films are direct replacements for the Kodak films. I can see some differences but for my work it doesn’t matter at all.

        I have used the Kentmere films and I have had mixed results. So I tend not to shoot them when the photographs really matter.

        Thanks for chiming in!

    3. Johnny Martyr Avatar

      Ben, Alot of what is being said here is emotional hyperbole in my opinion.

      “I feel that Ilford has a commitment to film photography”

      They are certainly committed to b&w film photography, no doubt. Of course, they don’t make color though.

      “and Kodak is really just a marketing company now.”

      “Kodak” currently consists of three main entities as I understand it; Eastman Kodak who makes film and chemicals. Kodak Alaris who sells and distributes Eastman Kodak film. And Sino Promise who sells and has some hand in production of Kodak branded chemistry, which is made not only by Eastman but other undisclosed suppliers.

      So when you say “Kodak is really just a marketing company now” this statement doesn’t really make any sense and can’t be supported. Firstly because you are talking about a company which, really consists of at least three completely separate companies without identifying which branch you’re talking about. Secondly, I would agree that Alaris and Sino, on the surface appear to have done nothing more than bought rights to use the Kodak name and to profit from Eastman’s products. But let’s not forget that Eastman Kodak “killed” TMAX P3200 and Ektachrome and Alaris “resurrected” them. Alaris also found another supplier for the end caps on 35mm film during the pandemic when the black ones could no longer be supplied. Alaris also shifted much of Kodak’s chemical production BACK to the United States and out of Germany where Tetenal was about to fall over. So Alaris has been doing much more to demonstrate “commitment to film” than you are representing. Sino is two years new to the game and while they don’t look very good so far, we have no real metrics to examine.

      1. AndyUmbo Avatar

        I think you said it right there when you admit the two company’s seem to have just bought the Kodak name to use and profit from products. This is probably also why my in box is consistently bombarded with Kodak branded products that have nothing to do with film and chemistry, but tote bags, jackets, and tons more. After my 40 years in retail related advertising and photography, that pretty much says marketing and branding the name to me. As far as I know, the British pension division of Kodak is responsible for the ongoing interest in film products, and are desperately trying to claw back film, and film related products and production to increase their market and make profit to refund the British pensions.

  2. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I prefer to shoot Kodak film, but have been moving more and more towards Ilford because of Kodak’s cost and availability. And I still have a brick of Plus-X in the freezer from some of the last batches Kodak made. Unlike Andy, I adore Plus-X and will miss it when the last of my ten rolls is gone.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I live in the town with the US distributor of Ilford and I can walk there from my Downtown office, so if nothing else Ilford is easier for me to get now.

      I have about eight rolls of Plus-X in the freezer as well, purchased last year from a fellow who bought it new and froze it. I mete it out little by little to stretch out the enjoyment.

  3. Shaun Nelson Avatar

    While I want to say Kodak’s price increase hasn’t hit me yet, it’s only a matter of time. I have enough black & white stashed in my film fridge to keep me busy for several years, but at some point, I’m going to have to buy fresh. If you haven’t seen this post today, Johnny Martyr has a blog post about paying as little as possible for fresh film:

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve been slowly hoarding C41 film. It’s expensive but I worry it will just become moreso, so when I find some I buy it. B/W I tend to buy more just-in-time. Thanks for the link to Johnny’s terrific article!

  4. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Plus X always looked flat and lifeless to me, no sparkle in the highlights, and the base always seemed to be kind of heavily toned, which seem to impact the sparkle. I have Kodak darkroom material someplace, from 50 years ago, and Plus X in HC110 is “not recommended”, but they never said why back then, could have been because of short processing times, or that it looked even uglier. There were many film/developer combinations listed as not recommended back then, and mostly for poor results in white to dark “scale” (I.e. unnaturally flat or contrasty).

    I processed Plus X in both D76 and HC110 back in the 70s, and liked neither. Professionally, I used FP4 and APX100, and Ektapan 100 in sheet film (made specifically for best results in strobe). When it was available in quantity, I used Verichrome Pan. It was very long scale with a very clean, clear base, but the dirty little secret is that is was almost, if not entirely, as grainy as Tri-X. In a way, Verichrome Pan just seemed like an asa 125 Tri-X. BTW, I thought when Ilford FP4 changed over to FP4+, the base got thicker in tone and more hard to get a sparkle out of.

    I don’t mean this as a “dis”, but were you even processing film when fresh Verichrome Pan was available? As far as I remember, fresh Plus X and fresh Verichrome looked markedly different on a light box! Maybe fresh PlusX looks like out of dateVerichrome Pan? Even frozen out of date film is going to change from gamma ray bombardment!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve only processed my own film for the last 3-4 years so no, I’ve never processed fresh VP, or PX for that matter. I’m also still developing my eye for looking at a negative or a scan to see its characteristics.

      FP4+ is in my opinion the most beautiful b/w film in regular production today. T-Max 400 is in second place for me.

      I have developed PX in Rodinal and HC-110. Both look fine to me.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Ditto, if I had to shoot for a professional client, I wouldn’t even be messing with Foma, Arista, or anything else, and it would be just straight FP4+, and HP5+. Repeatable
        standardized results are the key to professionalism!

  5. Johnny Martyr Avatar

    Not that it’s nearly as large a gap with Tri-X/HP5 but I keep pointing out to people making these comments that Delta 100 is a dollar more than TMAX 100 and Delta 3200 is $1.05 more than TMAX P3200. And of course you found on your own that the TMAX 400 comparison was not correct.

    These margins are slimmer but have been consistent in favor of Ilford being higher for years before Kodak’s prices began rising as they announced openly in 2019. I know this because part of the reason that my go-to film has become Kodak TMAX 100, Kodak Tri-X 400 and Kodak TMAX P3200 is that until only recently (since 2019) has Tri-X increased beyond Ilford. Someone may have some archived pricing comparisons that differ from my longer term/overall memory but at the points in time that I was doing comparisons on which I made choices to build my photography business, what I’m saying was true. And regardless, my point is that Ilford is not this angel of economy that they are being painted as lately – though they admittedly are much more stable of course.

    So I don’t fully understand the one-sided price comparisons that I keep seeing people make. I can only imagine it’s happening out of frustration because people perhaps also largely prefer to use Kodak and are getting angry.

    And I also realise that I come off as being “in Kodak’s pocket” as one person told me. Because Kodak shares my work, gives me film (very little compared to how much I shoot) and has been my general brand of preference for the last ten years. But I swear, much of the reason I’ve stuck with Kodak (primarily, not exclusively) has had to do with economy and available resources. If their economy is currently in flux, which it undeniably is, I think that could be temporary. Or it might be permanent. But it’s much too early to be certain and start a mutiny in my opinion.

    I personally believe that as the globe’s single producer of color film (arguably), Kodak has alot going on in terms of all the demand that has been shifting to them for color since Fuji has been pulling out of color. Kodak Rochester apparently even makes Fujicolor now. It’s entirely possible that some of the price increases on b&w are to throttle demand in order to keep pace with color, which, as I understand is made on the same lines.

    Jim, you might be interested in an article on HC110 that I recently posted on Petapixel. I don’t know much about the supply chain for Kodak’s chemistry but learned a lot when investigating the HC110 shortage that we are currently in. I also blogged recently about how I keep curls out of my film and believe it has more to do with local environment than brand/type but my opinion is not a popular one!

    Anyway, I don’t mean to be so contrarian but please understand that I am seeking as factual, unbiased and objective a perspective on the problems with costs in the film community as everyone else, I’m sure, is.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m not clear on something. Do you think I’m making a one-sided price comparison?

      My intention with this article was basically to say “holy shit, lookit how expensive Tri-X is compared to HP5!” and that was about it. Originally it was also calling out T-Max/Delta as well, but I goobered that one up pretty good.

      And being contrarian is part of your brand, so no worries! :-)

      1. Johnny Martyr Avatar

        Sorry Jim, I just mean the general conversation about Kodak’s price increases. Thanks for “getting” me :)

  6. Steve Rosenblum Avatar
    Steve Rosenblum

    If you are willing to bulk load film, the difference between Tri-X and HP5+ is even more remarkable. You can still buy a 100′ roll of HP5+ from Midwest Photo Exchange in Columbus for $87.95. The BH price for a 100’roll of Tri-X is $152.95!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wonder what’s going on that makes Tri-X so expensive now, and T-Max less expensive than Tri-X.

      1. Steve Rosenblum Avatar
        Steve Rosenblum

        Not sure. I suspect it is related to some supply chain issue with an ingredient. However, it’s puzzling because Kodak is still able to make 5222/XX, another old traditional grain film, cheaply. I can buy a 400’ roll from B&H with my EDU discount for $273, so $3.80/36 exp roll. However, this may be influenced by the movie film market as some Hollywood movies are still shot with 5222 and they buy miles of film. Since I use a hybrid film/scan approach the switch to Ilford films like HP5+ is a no brainer. It’s easy to add contrast to a lower contrast film in post.

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