B&W Film Review

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After 40 years of shooting color slides and prints, and noticing that all of the photographs that I admire are B&W, it finally dawned on me "Give it a try!!" I would like to know if there is a web site or a page that will help me understand the different films available, what is prefered for different situations, and lead me to some decisions of what to use.

Richard Venneman

-- Richard Venneman (rcv48@home.com), July 04, 1999


I don't know of any such web page. But, basically, almost any film will give you good results if you use it properly. My favorites nowadays are the Ilford films, especially Pan-F and Delta 100 and 400, developed in PMK--but I have gotten exquisite results from many different films and developers. Some people like the Kodak T-Max films, but I find them (a) problematical to develop, (b) difficult to fix and (c) highly prone to scratching (when developing sheets in a tray). If in doubt, good old Kodak Tri-X is a great film, tried and true, very malleable, durable, and easy to work with. My advice would be to stick with one film (or series of films), one developer and one paper. (I presume you plan on processing and printing yourself, which, in my opinion, is really the only way to get good results with black & white.)


-- Peter Hughes (leonine@redshift.com), July 05, 1999.

I too favor Delta 100 and Pan F+, but I also get great results with T- Max 400. I recently tried Delta 3200, rating it at 800 and developing in PMK--it enables me to hand-hold my medium format camera.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edbuffaloe@earthlink.net), July 05, 1999.

Have you played with the Ilford or Kodak T400CN? They take C-41 processing and are very nice. The "grain" is very fine and you can control contrast in exposure. Check it out.


-- David Palermo (space7@aol.com), July 05, 1999.

I am not aware of any web site, but I could recommend two books. One is the classic

"The Negative" by Ansel Adams

It will not teach you a lot about the different current films, but it will help you to understand how b&w films react in general, and how you can influence the results.

"Perfect Exposure" by Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz

is a nice and comprehensive book on exposure in colour and b&w, and it will teach you a lot of useful stuff, not only about different films. This book is quite recent (1999), so it also deals with chromogenic and high-chem films.

There is also a book on b&w photography by the same authors, and one purely on the choice of films. I haven't read these (yet), but if they are written in a style similar to that of the one on exposure, they will be nice to read and informative.

For starters, make a decision if you wish to develop films yourself right from the start. It is easy to do, but you will have to get some more equipment. If you wish to try b&w shooting w/o developing yourself, stick with the chromogenic films, such as T-max 400 CN and Ilford XP2, because they can be developed with good results by the store at the corner. (The process is the same as for most colour films.) Also, these films are quite forgiving as far as over- and under-exposure are concerned.

If you come from colour photography, remember that the b&w image contains less information. Some colours, though appearing quite different to the eye, will appear as nearly identical tones in the b&w image. This means that some objects which appear clearly differentiated when you look at a subject, may not contrast with the background at all in a b&w image. To get an impression of what the b&w image looks like, it helps to use a Kodak Wratten #90 filter to look at a subject before shooting it. (See "The Negative".)

-- Thomas Wollstein (wollstein@compuserve.com), July 06, 1999.

Hi David,

How do you control contrast with Kodak T400CN or Ilford XP2 in exposure? I want to try these films but do not see how to conrol contrast except by changing paper grade...


-- Gert Raskin (gert.raskin@med.kuleuven.ac.be), July 08, 1999.

What's wrong with changing paper grade? Unless I'm in a studio I end up needing different contrasts anyway for the various images on a roll.

-- Tim Brown (brownt@ase.com), July 08, 1999.

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