What is the best film for beginners?

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I am a beginning photographer interested in black and white photography. I own a Canon T50 35mm camera. My question is, what is the most forgiving black and white film available on the market? I'm still learning about f-stops and such and need a film that will produce reasonable results in spite of my mistakes.

-- Jeffrey Bean (eanbay@yahoo.com), September 09, 2000


Tri-X is a good choice since it's reasonably fast and tolerant of exposure. The grain isn't excessive. HP5+ from Ilford is another good choice. Stay away from t-grain films for a variety of reasons, until you feel confident in what you're doing. I'm also tempted to say "anything cheap!" since you'll learn the most by shooting lots of film. There's no substitute for practice.

-- Conrad Hoffman (choffman@rpa.net), September 09, 2000.

Another vote for Tri-X. A great film for beginners, and still a personal favorite for plenty of uses after 35+ years experience. Develop in D-76 1:1 for dependably excellent results.

If you're going to be in mega-bright light or require prints larger than 8x10, Plus-X (which is slower and finer-grained than Tri-X) is another good choice.

If you're in an English sphere of influence and they're notably cheaper, the Ilford equivalents, HP5 Plus (125) and FP4 Plus (400), are pretty similar. If you're in Europe, Agfapan APX 400 and 100 are also similar (and the 100-speed in particular is a very beautiful film).

Just stay away from those newfangled Kodak T-Max films and Ilford Delta films - they're wonderful in their way, but a bit tricky for beginners. When you have your darkroom technique down solidly, be sure to give them a try... In some ways, this is the golden age of b/w film - there's quite a selction, and they're basically ALL excellent!

-- Michael Goldfarb (mgoldfar@mobius.com), September 09, 2000.

BTW Ilford HP5+ is the ISO 400 film and FP4+ is the ISO 125 film.

But as the others have said, Kodak Plus X or Tri X or Ilford HP5+ or FP4+ are all good films.

Develop in Kodak D-76 or Ilford ID-11 (bascially the same developer, pick the one that is easier to find or cheaper) or Kodak Xtol. If you try Xtol make sure that the date code on the wrapper of the 1L packages says 0025 or later (0026 is later than 0025). The earlier packages had some trouble.

These combinations are very good and will produce reasonable results starting out. Many of us use them today. I am just starting working with the Ilford films and Xtol, but have used a LOT of TriX in D-76 over the years.

-- Terry Carraway (TCarraway@compuserve.com), September 10, 2000.

Let me chime in with Tri-X in D-76 1:1. The most forgiving film developer combination I have ever used. You can't easily mess this stuff up.

-- Robert Orofino (rorofino@iopener.net), September 10, 2000.

Jeffrey, the most forgiving film on the market is Ilford XP-2 rated & shot at ISO 200. HOWEVER, it is a C-41 [color] process film that needs to be developed by your local lab.

Read 'Gradient Light' - The art and craft of using variable contrast paper by Eddie Ephraums, and what he has to say about XP-2.

Another forgiving regular b&w film is Fuji's NEOPAN 400.


-- Christian Harkness (chris.harkness@eudoramail.com), September 10, 2000.

I also vote for XP2 Super rated at 200...several years of teaching beginner B+W Darkroom and Photography to people who were quite often using cameras whose meters were "questionable" at the best...reinforces this opinion. XP2 Super saves the beginner from having to master negative processing before the can start printing...I tell my students shoot a roll of XP2 Super, pay $2 to get it processed...it will only take 20 minutes to get really easy to print, highly enlargable, dust free negs...then as Ephraums says in his brilliant book 'Gradient Light' - The art and craft of using variable contrast paperuse your time to learn to printjim

-- Jim Vanson (primary_colors@hotmail.com), September 10, 2000.

Another vote for HP5+. I find it easier to control than Tri-X.

-- Sriram (r_sriram@bigfoot.com), September 11, 2000.

Oops, sorry about confusing the Ilford films. No sleight intended - they're very comparable to the Kodak films. (I just don't use them personally very much, and find their 2-letter-1-number names a little hard to remember.)

-- Michael Goldfarb (mgoldfar@mobius-inc.com), September 11, 2000.

All the films so far recommended are excellent. Any one of them can fill an art gallery with wonderful pictures. My only addition to the comments so far: pick ONE of these and shoot at least 20-50 rolls of it before trying anything else. It really does take that long, and after that time you should be so comfortable with the film, you can just worry about getting the good shots. Then maybe try another. Have fun, take notes, but don't worry too much.

-- Paul Harris (pharris@neosoft.com), September 11, 2000.

Jeffrey, Please do not overlook the T-Max films. Used in conjunction with the T-Max developer, I have found them to be great films to use. The comment that they are tricky to use is much to harsh a description for those film. I have used both the 100 and 400, and have found them both to be easy and reliable to use at the beginning and after several years of use. Tri-X, although a fine film and I used it for years,is no longer in my refrigerator since I discovered T-Max.

The suggestion that one should use several rolls of one type until you've learned it's characteristics is a good one. Whichever film that was suggested by others is the one that you start with, stick with it until you know it. However, don't limit yourself.

LaRoy Owen

-- LaRoy Owen (Takeapic@aol.com), September 11, 2000.

I don't know about you guys, but I've been shooting for only bout' two years now (yes, I'm only 20)and when I started, I had to use kodak T-400CN because it cost 17-20 bucks to have real b&w developed (per roll), and took 2-3 weeks at best before you could see your results.... Really, until the beginner in question decides he's gonna invest in a darkroom, (like I did quickly!!) he's gonna get more short-term satisfaction out of his new hobby (it's what kept me goin') if he can have his pics in an hour instead of weeks. T400CN is a good film for beginners, but TMX and HIE are better for pro's like me (yes, yes, I get paid just like the rest of you guys and gals out there...)

"wow, look at the bellows on THAT beseler... :> "

Jason Tuck

-- Jason Tuck (jtuck80@csi.com), September 13, 2000.

You don't need a darkroom to process your own film. You just need a changing bag to load the reels and then someplace to do the work. Or even load the film in a closet at night.

But the C-41 processed films are great to try B&W. If you are going to have them printed on real B&W paper, the Ilford XP2+ works better becuase of the lack of orange mask. The Kodak films (especially Kodak B&W Select) print better on color paper at the mini labs.

WRT TMax films, they are known to be more sensitive to time, temperature, and agitation than the older technology films. They just don't have the latitude for typical beginner mistakes like the older emulsions.

-- Terry Carraway (TCarraway@compuserve.com), September 13, 2000.

I second the recommendations for Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5+. Another film that works well for tripod situations (e.g., landscapes, still lifes) or with large aperture lenses ((e.g., 50mm f/1.4) is Ilford Pan F. This is an ISO 50 film with very fine grain that I have found tolerant of exposure and developing. Another suggestion is to get a bulk loader and a changing bag. If you develop your own film, bulk loading can reduce your total costs to under $2 a roll.

-- Bert Krages (krages@teleport.com), September 13, 2000.

I started out with Ilford Universal 400. Really cheap, grainy, and is oh-so-forgiving. When I developed my first roll, I mixed the developer so badly its frightening! And the roll came out pretty darn good.

I use a film changing bag to load my developing reels. It takes a little bit of practice before you can do it right without looking at it, so waste a roll of film and practice loading the reels in normal light.

-- Brian C. Miller (brian.c.miller@gte.net), September 15, 2000.

About film changing bags... while I use one all the time for loading 35mm film onto reels, I was having a hell of a time with 120 until I discovered that the heat and perspiration from my hands was making the film slightly sticky, and that combined with the film being less stiff because it's wider made it impossible for me to consistently get it onto the plastic reels I was using.

Once I started loading film onto reels in a completely dark room without a changing bag, 120 was no longer a problem for me.

-- Mark R. Wilkins (mark_wilkins@yahoo.com), March 11, 2001.

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