Saturday, 8 February 2014

B&W Film Choices

Ilford FP4+, Nikon FM2

In my previous post I was discussing my issues with GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and my decision to temporarily halt and spend some time shooting film again. I'd noted that I had 300' of HP5+ and a brick of Neopan 100SS.

Just to explain the terminology here, 135 format film comes packaged two ways, the first is in the standard, ready to shoot, 135 format cannisters, usually (and incorrectly, although I'll use the common terms) called rolls. Rolls are truly rollfilm, 120 and 220 typically, that come spooled on rolls with paper backing. A brick of film is a bulk package of these preloaded cannisters, typically a plastic-wrapped package containing 10 individually boxed 135 format cannisters, but can also refer to items like Fuji's Press Packs, with 20 rolls, packages in plastic containers but not individually boxed, in one large box.

The other way that 35mm film comes is in bulk rolls, usually 100' for stills emulsions (movie 35mm emulsions are usually much longer). You load these 100' rolls into a bulk loader, and use that to load your own reloadable 135 format cannisters to shoot. This illustrates one of the long-forgotten oddities of naming conventions. Because 35mm film is originally a motion picture stock, and motion picture films are denoted by their nominal width, to this day we refer to 135 format film as 35mm. But correctly 35mm is the film stock, and 135 format is the result of loading 35mm film stock into a 135 type cannister.

So what I've got is 3 100' bulk rolls of Ilford HP5+ for bulk loading, this is generally the cheapest way to shoot 35mm film in large quantities, as you get 18-20 rolls per bulk roll (depending on how you load, I do 35 frames so they fit on a single 7x5 type archival negative holder). This tends to run me about $2.50 a roll for Tri-X, my usual film choice. I'm shooting HP5+ right now because I got 4 bulk rolls cheaply due to water-damaged packaging, the film was fine. I'm a fan of both films, but normally shoot Tri-X because it's significantly cheaper in bulk rolls (about $20/roll last time I purchased any, that's about $1/roll once loaded), the price difference these days seems to be reversed so my next purchase will likely be HP5+ again.

And the second thing I have is 10 rolls of Fujifilm Neopan 100SS, I got a couple bricks of this cheaply (about $1/roll) due to it being short dated, or close to its expiry date. Note that film, if properly refridgerated, can last well beyond its expiry date, especially if it's slower film and/or B&W film. Now Neopan 100SS is not a personal favourite, but it's a solid perfomer and I typically shoot 3-4 rolls of HP5 or Tri-X for a single roll of anything else so I tend to experiment more with my slow film choices.

Now in terms of film choices for B&W film, the first thing you need to do is choose whether or not you're going to buy a modern grain (or T-grain) film, or a classic grain film. Modern grain films have a much more regular sizing of the film grains and tend to produce a smoother, less grainy look. They also tend to be pickier about exposure & developing. Classic grain films tend to be grainier, and have that rougher, classic B&W look. Personally I prefer the classic grain films, with the exception of Fuji's Neopan Acros 100, which combines the smooth grain of a modern grain film with exceptional reciprocity characteristics and a complete lack of the developing and exposure sensitivity usually associated with modern grain films. I also don't shoot any of the super-speed films. If I need more than ISO 400 I will push-process an ISO 400 film rather than shoot one of the ISO 1600 or 3200 films.

In terms of film choices, my first choices are almost always Tri-X or HP5+ for a fast film (ISO400) and Acros or PanF+ for slow films (ISO50-100). I tend to avoid the modern films both because they are not to my taste and because they're typically more expensive than the classic grain films I prefer. Other films I've been fond of were the Agfa APX line (25, 100 and 400), and to some extent the Kentmere branded films from Ilford, which are Ilford's budget films. I've tried some of the eastern-european stuff and while interesting they generally are more trouble to work with than the Ilford films I'm semi-standardized on. Once the Neopan is gone I'll likely just buy a couple bricks of PanF+ and stick with that and HP5+ for the long term.

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