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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Film Photography

Ilford HP5 Plus at EI 800

Ilford HP5 Plus has a solid reputation for versatility. I’ve been shooting a lot more of this film lately to prove its reputation for myself.

Until I started developing and scanning black-and-white film at home, I was dedicated to Kodak black-and-white films. I put a lot T-Max and Tri-X through my cameras. But HP5 always turns out great in my preferred developer, HC-110. Crucially, HP5 dries nice and flat. It pops into my scanner’s film holder with no fuss. I miss Tri-X, but that stuff curls a ton, and it’s a fight to get it to lay in the film holder.

I’ve shot plenty of HP5 Plus at box speed. I’ve also shot it at EI 1600 to see if it would make a good substitute for films like T-Max P3200 when I’m shooting indoors. This time, I wanted to see what HP5 would look like shot at EI 800. On my January trip to Chicago, my last morning in the city was dull and gray. It was the perfect day to try HP5 at 800.

I made this photo inside Macy’s on State Street, the former Marshall Field flagship store. The building features a glass mosaic ceiling designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. It’s spectacular in color (see my photo here) but still very interesting in black and white.

Tiffany ceiling at Macy's

I shot the rest of the roll while walking around in the Loop. HP5 at 800 handled this very gray scene nicely.

In the Loop

I shot this roll in my Olympus OM-2n through my 40mm f/2 Zuiko Auto-S lens. This was a wonderfully compact kit that fit nicely inside my coat on this 15-degree day.

Up the el

After scanning, I boosted contrast on all of these images in Photoshop. That’s the only post-processing they required.

In the Loop

I am pleased with how managed the grain is in these photographs. It is much more noticeable at EI 1600.

Two one ways

I’ll keep experimenting with HP5 Plus. I’ll try it at EI 200 and EI 3200 yet. I feel sure I’ll get a good look at 200, but 3200 might be pushing it too far. We shall see.

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Film Photography

Ilford HP5 Plus at EI 1600

My kids came over for my birthday in August, so I loaded some Ilford HP5 Plus into the Nikon N90s and mounted my 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor lens. So I could shoot comfortably indoors, I set the camera’s ISO to 1600. I developed the film in HC-110, Dilution B, at the time for 1600. I scanned them on the Minolta ScanDual II. The images needed next to no post-processing, which was nice.

Here’s my son Damion, VRing.

Damion VRing

Here’s our granddaughter having her lunch.

Arya lunching

I didn’t upload most of the family photos to Flickr because I generally consider family photos to be private. I finished the roll around the house, though, and got some nice images. Our rosebush survived the late-summer drought okay and kept flowering.

Rose
Rose

I just love this ceramic pot and photograph it often.

Thing

Who needs T-Max P3200 or Delta 3200 when you can shoot much-less-expensive HP5 this fast, and get results this good?

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Subway sign

Drive thru open
Olympus OM-2n
40mm f/2 Zuiko Auto-S
Ilford HP5 Plus
LegacyPro L110, Dilution E (1+47)
2021

South Street is the south border of Indianapolis’s historic Mile Square. You can probably guess the names of the north, east, and west border streets.

You’ll find this Subway and (behind it in the background) an Arby’s on South Street, as if they were out in the suburbs someplace. This land is becoming valuable, and I wonder how long it is before both restaurants are razed in favor of apartments or condos.

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Film Photography

single frame: Drive thru open

Fast food places whose days are probably numbered.

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Film Photography

New construction in southern Downtown Indianapolis

Downtown Indianapolis is again becoming a hip and happening place to be, which has led to lots of new construction. There are tons of apartments Downtown now, all in the four-over-one style with a concrete main floor and wood frame upper floors. This growth kicked into gear well before the pandemic; it’ll be interesting to see whether it resumes or not. But the buildings are here regardless. The growth was so strong for a while that it expanded into the previously unfashionable south end of Downtown.

CityWay

I benefit from this, as I work nearby now. Some of the amenities, such as a CVS pharmacy, are useful to me. I popped in not long ago to buy a box of tissues for my desk.

Area sidewalks are brick, in this interesting multi-color pattern.

Brick sidewalk

The Aleander is a four-star hotel. Or so I hear, since I don’t stay in hotels so close to home. I did attend an event here once, and found the space to be very nice.

The Alexander

One old building remains in this area: this onetime livery stable, now home to the Indianapolis branch of Taxman Brewing. The first time I visited here, most of this construction hadn’t been started yet. Taxman was far enough away from the heart of Downtown that I wondered why they located here. They clearly knew what was to come.

Taxman Brewing

Olympus OM-2n, 40mm f/2 Zuiko Auto-S, Ilford HP5 Plus, LegacyPro L110 H (1+47).

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Film Photography

Walking the south side of Downtown Indianapolis

My new job is located Downtown in Indianapolis, but a couple blocks south of what’s considered to be Downtown’s heart. My last job was about two blocks east of Monument Circle, amid Indy’s tallest buildings. My new job is seven blocks south of Monument Circle, amid some very old houses, brand new expensive apartments, and decayed light industrial buildings.

I am in the office every Tuesday now, and sometimes on Friday as well, as I ease back into working in the office. On my first day back, I loaded some Ilford HP5 Plus into my delightful Olympus OM-2n. I hadn’t used my compact 40mm f/2. Zuiko Auto-S lens in a good long time, so I mounted it. I developed the film in LegacyPro L110, Dilution E (1+47) and scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II. I made these photos over about a three week span, on lunch hours and afternoon breaks.

In this part of Downtown, there are no parking garages. We all park on large surface lots. Fortunately, my employer picks up the tab. My previous employer did not, and it cost me $1,700 a year to park. These stairs lead to the popular LaRosa lot.

Steps to the parking lot

I don’t know what this lot is called but it’s immediately north of LaRosa. That this lot is empty says a lot about the state of returning to work in Downtown Indianapolis. In the background at left is the complex of buildings in which I work.

Kiosk

A lot of railroads used to converge in Downtown Indianapolis. The tracks were all elevated about 100 years ago; the infrastructure remains even though the railroads do not.

Under the bridge

A large building, which I would guess was once a factory, is within line of sight of the building in which I work. Part of it is a brewery today.

Ellison Brewing Co.

Other businesses take up other parts of this building, while other parts appear to be vacant.

Door

This is the entrance to the main building in the office complex where I work. I’m told this used to be a high school — it looks the part. The specific building in which I work is brand new and stands next door.

Union 525

Our building is on Meridian Street, which is Indianapolis’s main north-south street. But because of the campuses of a couple of large employers and the location of a couple Interstate highways, this section of Meridian Street is cut off from the rest of it to the north and to the south. The buildings in the background are hotels and are brand new.

Cars and old houses

The Indianapolis Colts play at Lucas Oil Stadium, which is just a couple blocks away. It provides an interesting backdrop to these old houses.

Cars and old houses

These houses are a block to the west. These houses all seem so very old, from the late 1800s I’d guess. I wonder what kind of neighborhood this was in its time.

Old houses

This grand dame is around the corner from my office. It houses some sort of business today. I’m very curious about what it looks like inside.

Old house

That’s a quick look at most of the area around my new office. I haven’t shown you the new construction yet; that’ll be in a post to come.

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