Need least grainy 400 ISO film : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Film & Processing : One Thread


I hate grain! All the films in the 100 ISO range are just so much better when it comes to grain as opposed to 400 ISO films. Why such a big jump in grain going from 100 to 400?

Currently I use TMax 400 and XTOL 1:2 and the grain, while better than Tri-X in D-76 1:1, is miles away from ANY 100 ISO film.

Anyway which is the best film / developer combination that will give me the least grain in 400 ISO?

Please help me get rid of grain!

Thank you.

-- Mike Foster (, July 03, 2001


TMax 400 and XTOL are a pretty good combination, though some may like a crisper grain pattern. I don't know of anything much better. If your subjects are low contrast, you might try pushing a slower film. The real answer might be a larger format. Tri-X, TMax 400, and HP-5+ are all just super with a 6x6 or 6x7 neg! Better than 100 speed in 35mm, IMHO.

-- Conrad Hoffman (, July 03, 2001.

A larger format is certainly one good solution. But if you must stay with 35mm, there are a few things you can try.

First of all, there is not a great deal of difference in terms of grain between the various ISO 400 films. The difference between HP5+, Delta 400 and TMY is negligible. So, accepting that, the only real control you have is with processing.

I don't use Xtol, but it seems pretty popular and many say it offers a good balance between fine grain and sharpness. But if you are already using Xtol and you're unhappy, it's time to experiment. Before I go on, however, I'd like to suggest that you give the film minimal exposure for necessary shadow detail and couple that with minimal development. A thinner negative will print considerably sharper than a dense, overdeveloped negative. Try to aim for printing with a #3 filter.

As for alternative developers, my suggestion is you try a staining developer instead of a fine-grained developer. Fine-grained developers tend to produce a softer, less prominent grain pattern, with an attendent loss of acutance. I feel high acutance is paramount with fast films. Therefore, I recommend you try PMK developer. PMK is almost like magic to me. It produces extremely sharp negatives and the stain masks the grain by printing as density, which effectively fills in the gaps in the grain structure. This lends a very smooth tonality to areas that typically scream of grain, such as smooth-toned skies or other expansive gray areas. The first time I printed a PMK developed negative, I was stunned at how sharp and fine-grained the image appeared. I think you'll find this is the answer you've been looking for.

-- Ted Kaufman (, July 03, 2001.

Ilford XP-2+ or Kodak's similar chromagenic films in C-41. No other 400 speed film is even close in either fine grain or sharpness.

-- Bill Mitchell (, July 03, 2001.


Special formulations that promise to keep grain under control, usually steal one or two stops of film speed. So using a 100 ISO emulsion can be the best solution, right from the start. If the subject permits, take a tripod and go ahead. Or, as stated above, try some larger format. C-41 films look great, if you can make decent prints from them. Good luck.

Cesar B.

-- cesar barreto (, July 04, 2001.

I'd second (or is it third?) the suggestion to use XP2+. My daughter shoots with it, and graciously lets Dad do the printing (thanks!). It prints easily, and the grain is the least obtrusive of any 400 speed film I've seen to date.

-- Pete Andrews (, July 04, 2001.

I'll 3rd or 4th the XP2/T400CN films.

If you wish to develop yourself I've found that Ilfosol-S is a fine grain developer with good speed. I haven't compared it with some of the more esoteric developers but of the commonly available products (Kodak, Agfa, Ilford) it is an excellent compromise. I use it with HP5+ in 120 and expect Delta 400/TMAX 400 to have finer grain. I've just found that it is a ascorbic acid formulation (like Xtol) but I've never had the surprise expirations of Xtol.



-- Duane K (, July 04, 2001.

Thanks very much for all the kind replies.

It seems the way to go is the C-41 films, i.e. XP2+. However I process my own films.

Is there a way to process the XP2+ myself? Will any conventional B&W developer work?


-- Mike Foster (, July 04, 2001.

Ilford's XP2 and Kodak's T-MAX 400 CN are both c-41 films. The resulting image is not actually formed by silver but by dye. I've experienced the following problems with XP2 (haven't tried T-MAX 400 CN). I don't like them vey much beacouse you cannot control the deve.lopement process (and I don't trust those people form the minilab), it gets easlily scratched and I don't like the tones it produces. I don't think you'll want to go through c-41 just to process this films (people think twice before doing it for color, which is what it was intended for at first, so I wouldn't recomend that much trouble to do b&w). I'd stick to conventional T-MAX films --which BTW really DO have finer grain than conventional films like Plus-X and Tri-X. You might want to try a fine grain developer like micridol-x or perceptol, if you are not extremely concerned about sharpness.

-- Martin Crovetto (, July 04, 2001.

You may also consider sticking w/ your Kodak 400 but pulling it (i.e. set it to an ISO of 200 or 100) and stick w/ the metering that it tells you at that ISO. I've gotten some good results that way. Also, like said earlier, the thinner your negs, the better in lots of situations.

-- Sassy (, July 04, 2001.

Just another alternative to Tmax is the Iford Delta films, which I've always found to be very fine-grained (try developing in Xtol or Ilfotec-DDX).

-- Ed Hurst (, July 05, 2001.

I've been very impressed with the new Delta 400. Even pushed to 1600 (developed in XTOL 1:1), the grain is minimal. Much better than Delta 3200 @ 1600 in XTOL.

-- Ed Berger (, July 05, 2001.

Another workable combination is to shoot t-max 100 at 320 and develop in Ethol TEC at 15:1.

-- Gene Crumpler (, July 05, 2001.

I'd recommend the new Ilford Delta 400. I've found it to be a big improvement over the previous 400 Delta (more speed, better gradation, nicer grain), with finer grain than Tmax 400 and more speed than HP5+. It's my general purpose film when I need more speed than EI 50.

The new D400 stains very well in PMK (much more stain than Tmax 400 - about the same as HP5+) with very good sharpness, excellent gradation, and smooth, fine grain. (D400 has a very different grain pattern from the blotchy grain aggregation in evenly toned areas that's turned me off of Delta 100.) D400/PMK image quality is virtually the same as HP5+/PMK but with 2/3 of a stop more speed (EI 320 for D400/PMK vs 200 for HP5+/PMK). My D400/PMK negatives rival FP4+/PMK shot at EI 64, but with 2 1/3 stops more speed. With 120 D400 in PMK, I develop by the book at 70F for 16 minutes.

For more speed, D400 also does well in DD-X EI 500, albeit with more grain than with PMK, but better image quality than Tmax 400 and more speed than HP5+. D400/DD-X negs developed in DD-X for Ilford's recommended time are dead on an Ilford Grade 2 (31M, 42Y) on my Omega dichroic (diffusion) enlarger.

-- David R. Williams (, July 05, 2001.

To those "experts" who haven't actually tried it, C-41 is as easy and uncritical to use as most conventional 3 bath B&W process. In addition, it is carried out at 100 degrees, which is a heck of a lot easier to achieve than 68 degrees (or even 75 degrees)here in Florida.

-- Bill Mitchell (, July 05, 2001.

If you want easy, the chromogenics (particularly XP2+) are VERY fine grain. Infact they aren't considered grain but dyes making them Very fine. I would second the Ilford Delta's though in D76 1:1. They are superb.

-- Scott Walton (, July 06, 2001.

Buy Ilford 400 Delta Professionnal, it's the best 400 iso negative film!

-- Hubert Noreau-S (, July 06, 2001.

I would like to point out the few comments placing sharpness (acutance), and fine grain on opposite sides of the scale. I cannot overemphaize how many comments I get on my work shot at 400 and 800 on Fuji's Neopan in FX-2. I use Nikons with prime Nikkors only, and print the resulting negs with a 50/4 EL-Nikkor. If you can get past the stupid (sorry- that's just my opinion) GRAIN Issue, You just might surprise yourself.

I feel however, that good lens choice can make all the difference in the world- and there can be holes in otherwise good lenses- the 50/1.4 AI-nikkor is great from f/5.6 to 16, but is scary from 1.4 to 4. The 180/2.8 AF-N Nikkor is AWESOME wide open to f/16, but avoid 22 and 32, the depth of field isn't worth it. The 105/2.5 is great regardless of aperture, but check your depth of field for optimal "Bokeh".

I hope that you're not working for someone other than yourself, or if you have clients, shoot some personal test stuff with different variables, specifically developers and EI's. If you think it looks good enough, shoot some more and show clients. You don't know how they'll react! Like I mentioned earlier, My EI400 and 800 shots are unanimously sharp, and that's all I care about.

And when I load rolls of Tmax 100 in the same soup- Oh My Goodness!!!

In my opinion, the pursuit of high spped and fine grain is the decline of image quality. Fine grain is done best at EI25-100. Those looking for Fine Grain with High Speed are chasing pot of gold at the end of rainbows- they'll never seem to quite get there.

-- Mike DeVoue (, July 07, 2001.

At least, I feel I wouldn't get there. (Same for Chromogenic-Dye films. No other word but "yuck" comes to mind.)

And I'm alot happier with my sharper, grainier shots.

I would be very sad if grain didn't exist, and I'm sure all others on this forum would agree- After all, photographs are made of grain!

-- Mike DeVoue (, July 07, 2001.


It is been just over a week since my post. I have been amazed with the amount of response for which I am very grateful. I have had vastly different views and ideas from y’all.

Here are the suggestions I have received and my opinions for each of them:-

PUSH AN 100ISO FILM. That is a good suggestion except for the loss of shadow detail and so not useful to me.

GO FOR A LARGER FORMAT. This is bad suggestion in my opinion, even if you ignore the extra weight of the equipment. I need a 400ISO film because the light is low not because I like 400ISO film! Medium format lenses are 2 stops slower than 35mm lenses. So then I would need a 1600ISO film to compensate for the slower lenses. So I might as well shoot 100ISO in 35mm!

C-41 FILMS. This is an excellent suggestion. I shot a couple of rolls of the Kodak variety a few years ago and checked the grain and it was almost non existent. Sadly however I cannot process them myself and so to use these films would imply to be at the mercy of a lab and so thereby ruling out these films too! I have since heard that you can use regular B&W chemistry but the grain is horrendous. So there.

VARIOUS FILM DEVELOPERS LIKE PMK. This is a good suggestion. However the amount of grain reduction, if any would be minimal. So it is not worth my time to experiment.

TRY THE NEW DELTA 400. I feel that this is the best suggestion so far for my needs. And so I have order a roll of this film!

One final note. Some have argued that sharpness is more important than grain. That why is grain so bad? Well that is a personal preference. I like silky smooth tonality and fine grain.

Here’s hoping that the NEW Delta 400 will be the one for me!

Thanks y’all!!!

-- Mike Foster (, July 12, 2001.

In trying to get finer grain with an EI 400 film, use a relatively standard MQ developer such as D-76 or ID-11 either straight or 1:1. A developer that contains phenidone will give slightly more graininess, while otoh it'll give a little more speed and acutance.

You could of course get significantly finer grain by using Microdol-X or D-25, but your EI 400 film would become EI 200 or slower.

Keep process temperatures moderate, 68F to 73F or so; significantly higher or lower will cause more graininess.

Consider your water supply. Excessively hard water will cause more graininess, even if it's only used for the wash.

As for running C-41, it's easy. Remember, you don't have to be concerned about color shifts; the only thing that'll change with temperature or timing variations is contrast. You can put your tank, developer and blix containers in a plastic basin waterbath kept up around 102F with running hot water, and as things cool off as you agitate the tank etc you'll have a development-end temperature of around 98F for an overall temperature of 100F. The blix goes to completion and doesn't need remotely as much temperature control.

Ilford's XP-1 chemical kit was ordinary C-41 developer used at a dilution of the equivalent of about 1:1 for 5'/100F rather than the standard C-41 3'15"/100F. You can use any other C-41 developer at 1:1 with around 5'/100F as a starting point. The reason XP-1 was used at 1:1 is that a timing error at five minutes was much less significant than a timing error at 3'15" and the process was intended to be used in hand tanks.

-- John Hicks (, July 12, 2001.

Chromogenic films are a little finer grained, but they have a couple of disadvantages for wich I don't use them. 1) Low contrast, low D-Max and high "fog". 2) The results change according to the man who developed it at the lab. 2) Very easily scratched (plus they tend to be even more scratched beacouse of comercial lab handling. 3) When you print it (contrast from 3 to 4,5 usually) scratches become very evident. 4) It has an ugly color (maybe only I care for this, but...).

If you want fine grain whith 400 ASA, expose TMAX 400 at 320 asa and develope in microdol-x reducing the time.

-- Martin Corvetto (, July 16, 2001.

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