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12-13-2020, 03:42 AM   #1
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Recommendation for low-light B&W film


Looking for some recommendations for a film.
I intend to use most of the film to shoot my cat - all black face, white whiskers and eye brows - it can be hard to capture any detail without a flash but I'm hoping to avoid the flash.
It's winter here in Manchester England, very short days with dark skies most of the time!
Lighting will be whatever natural light there is plus ceiling lights.
He's terminally ill so won't be going outside.

I don't shoot black and white very often but have a few in the fridge...
Kodak 400 TX
Kodak Tmax 100
Kodak BW400CN
Kodak Double X
Ilford XP2 Super 400
Ilford HP5 Plus 400

I've used the BW400CN and Double X before, and had nice results but with much better lighting and different subjects.

The lab I use also stocks Ilford Delta 3200 and Kodak TMax3200.

Am I best buying a 3200? If so which one?
Or should I use the 400 and accept I need flash?
Is there another film I should try to get?

I will be using a Pentax MX with the 50mm f1.4.

I appreciate it's probably a bit subjective but any advice is appreciated, normally I would just try it and see, but time isn't on my side so I'm hoping to get it (mostly) right first time.

12-13-2020, 05:28 AM   #2
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Iíve shot XP2 many times. The BW400CN gives nice results, better than the ilford chromogenic imo. I like both their looks in night photos. .in many cases it is possible to go as far as 1600asa and get usable and pleasing results. In really low light or night lights, I would get the Delta 3200 , itís a safe choice. But , of course, you might wanna use low iso films with a tripod and compensate the exposure (Watch the reciprocity in that case). Depends on the grain you are willing to forgive and what you wanna shoot. My cats never stand still for over two seconds. So I imagine you are gonna have some 1/180 at least. The delta 3200 sounds like a reasonable idea.
12-13-2020, 05:57 AM   #3

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I personally like the look of Delta 3200. Might pick some up for myself once I've expired my expired film stash.
12-13-2020, 06:35 AM   #4

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Are you going to make prints and who is going to develop the film?

12-13-2020, 07:02 AM - 2 Likes   #5
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As you push b&w film, contrast rises, dynamic range gets squashed, and the ability to capture subtle shading and detail is lost. Is lighting required to be natural only? If you can get a bit more it will help.

With that said, take a few moments to meter the situation as is. Check with both 400 and 3200. Determine if you need the three stops difference or not. If you can get by with 400 it will have better tonal range I believe.
12-13-2020, 08:49 AM - 1 Like   #6
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Hopefully with some decent window light you'll be able to make do with ISO 1600 rather than pushing to 3200. I've found 3200 really is too far to get results I really like. That's what I use for indoor and with a fast lens, good manual focus skills (or reliable AF) it's enough.

Of what you have available I'd recommend the Tri-X. HP5 is a bit grainier and doesn't have the great tones but the difference probably won't be too great. I got a good deal on some HP5 this year so I'm mostly shooting that and Kodak P3200 both at 1600 for my indoor stuff at the moment. I haven't developed or scanned any of it yet though, so can't post any examples.

Forget anything under ISO 400 and the 400CN and XP2 Super I think are both C41 B&W films, meaning they'd colour process films but in B&W. I'd stick to traditional B&W for pushing.
12-13-2020, 10:08 AM - 2 Likes   #7

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I'd exercise caution about claims of one classic cubic grain film has finer and better tones than another without clarifying in which developer just to keep variables of different films of the same speed to a minimum. Your resulting grain and tone is a function of the developer too.

For example, in Kodak's Tri-X Data Sheet you will find some characteristic curves (film's response to increasing exposure) near the end of the document. Kodak gives results for T-Max developer and D-76. Look at the solid curve portion below density 2.0 (about all you can typically reproduce). In D-76 the curve is flatter in the low density values meaning not as contrasty in that range for equivalent exposure than using T-Max developer. A Rodinal version would be noticeably different too both in grain and tonal response.

Last edited by tuco; 12-13-2020 at 10:40 AM.
12-13-2020, 03:59 PM - 1 Like   #8
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I would second all of the advice here so far. Very good points. If you can get away with 400 ISO or just a wee bit higher, you could use a speed boosting developer like Ilford Microphen, which should comfortably give you a half to one full stop extra on HP5 but without the drawbacks of doing a push development with, say, a standard developer like ID-11. Tones from Microphen will be very smooth with somewhat muted contrast, and grain will still be reasonably fine. Lovely combo, HP5 in Microphen. Apparently Ilford's DDX can give a bit of a speed boost also, which makes sense as it also uses the same base chemistry - phenidone and hydroquinone.

Both of these are also supposed to be excellent with Delta 3200, although I have no experience here. I would take a look at Ilford's tech sheets on their website -- lots of great info there.

Good advice on metering the scenes beforehand to see what kind of film speed you really need, then go from there.

Hope this helps!

12-13-2020, 04:00 PM - 2 Likes   #9
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When I was using film I had good luck with Ilford Delta 400 in Xtol. Of course it depends if the lighting and your lens max aperture allow for a 400 ISO film. Assuming that you will be scanning your negative I suggest developing your film for maximum resolution (detail). You can always add sharpness in post processing. Your subject matter may require 100 ISO film and good lighting to resolve whiskers and fur, In that case an indirect flash bounced off the wall might do the trick. with pleasant results.

Last edited by ShawnH; 12-13-2020 at 04:08 PM.
12-14-2020, 02:58 AM - 4 Likes   #10
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I have pushed HP5 to 6400 ISO developed in Microphen for 1 hour.

12-14-2020, 06:22 AM   #11
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Original Poster
Thank you all for the advice, its really helpful and much appreciated.
I'll speak to the lab about their developers - not got the room at home to develop it myself yet - but I think I'm going to have to be creative with the lighting!
It'll be an interesting if slightly unwelcome challenge!
12-14-2020, 08:53 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by fs999 Quote
I have pushed HP5 to 6400 ISO developed in Microphen for 1 hour.

Thatís a great shot and Iím sure the bright stage lighting helped. I wonder if the high contrast results achieved would show much detail in a black cat lit by available light.
12-14-2020, 10:24 AM - 3 Likes   #13

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This is HP5 400 pushed to ISO 3200 in DD-X. The negatives were thin, maybe even longer developing would have helped. If you get this done by a lab and they also scan it, the scanner should give better results, I feel my cheap Epson flatbed was struggling with the thin negatives. I often push 400 film to 800 and it's a lot easier to work with.

---------- Post added 12-14-20 at 12:30 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by moldypirate Quote
Am I best buying a 3200?
Something else to take into account: usually labs charge extra for pushing, and I've seen it also tiered by the extent of it. So depending on how much you paid for the 3200 film, it may be more economical to do that instead of pushing.
12-14-2020, 10:42 AM - 1 Like   #14

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QuoteOriginally posted by aaacb Quote
This is HP5 400 pushed to ISO 3200 in DD-X. The negatives were thin, maybe even longer developing would have helped.
Nice picture.

The OP's picture is going to be of a black cat. Pushing film loses shadow detail. And you can develop for infinity and that won't add much noticeable low value shadow detail. It's the exposure that sets how much dark is recorded. Developing time places the highlights. And if you are under exposing, you are not capturing the low shadow detail you'd otherwise get with a good exposure.

A good exposure and development captures a fixed amount of shadow detail. Zone 1 and 2 shadow detail is obviously very dark. When you push film say 2 stops, you do not move zone 1 up to zone 3 in shadow detail. It hardly moves at all. It's the mid-tones and highlights that move up in value in a non-linear way. Highlights develop faster than shadows.

Last edited by tuco; 12-14-2020 at 11:01 AM.
12-14-2020, 11:07 AM - 2 Likes   #15

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QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
The OP's picture is going to be of a black cat. Pushing film loses shadow detail.
Excellent points, somehow I missed that detail. I also have a black cat, this is how she looks like on tmax 400 and developed normally... indeed no shadow details, digital or film this cat is very difficult to photograph in low light, or see for that matter


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