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12-29-2008, 12:03 PM   #1
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The B&W Film Thread

Who here shoots B&W?

I'm in the process of getting service lined up for my Spotmatic, and when I get it back, I plan to dive into the world of B&W film. From what I've seen online, this is not a very cut-and-dried medium. In my area, I have Kodak TMAX 100 & 400, Ilford Delta 100 & 400, HP5 100, and XP2 400. I know all of these need development not found in your local 1 Hour Lab, with the exception being XP2, which is C41.

Now, I don't have a darkroom, nor do I have the money or space to set one up. It would be nice to do it that way, but alas. I'm stuck with sending my film to an outlab if I want to shoot B&W.

My question is, what do you shoot with, why, and what's your take on my options? Also, what are the cons of shooting XP2 and getting it locally developed? There must be a reason the other films require special (E6 or other) processing, or is it worth worrying about when starting out.

I'd just like some seasoned opinions, because I was shamefully snowed by a Black's associate who told me that their ISO 400 Black's film works well for all situations. Perhaps this is the case with a P&S with no manual overrides, but frankly, I thought the output I got from my Spotmatic sucked on that film. I'd like to prevent a repeat of this incident with more professional advice.

12-29-2008, 12:21 PM   #2
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I haven't for a while, but I did my own (and a lot of other people's) processing (I ran a custom B&W lab for several years).
At the time, my favourite film was Ilford FP-4 (which morphed into FP-4+), with FP-5 running a close second if I needed the extra speed.
When the Delta films came out, I tried them in 35mm but disliked the grain structure, so I went back to FP-4 and PanF+, but I did move to Delta 400 for 120.
In 4x5, I always stayed with FP-4, which gives back very nice results with very little effort.

XP-2, while compatable with C-41 chemistry is not compatable with the C-41 process as practiced by minilab film processors.
The emulsion is VERY soft when wet, and scratches very easily, and the emulsion will reticulate if it is dried too fast at too high a temperature.
Any time I had the stuff come in, I had to babysit it through the process, and pull it from the machine before it hit the dryer.
If air dried, it is fine.
The Black's film should be Fuji Neopan 400, which is a good film. Unfortunately, if you are not prepared to process your own film, you need to customize your shooting to the processing you are able to get, and hope that the processing doesn't vary too much.
Most labs over develop the stuff, and most film speeds are over rated by at least a stop, resulting in no shadow detail, blown highlights, and what has been described as a "soot & chalk" look.
12-29-2008, 01:15 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by drewdlephone Quote
In my area, I have Kodak TMAX 100 & 400, Ilford Delta 100 & 400, HP5 100, and XP2 400. I know all of these need development not found in your local 1 Hour Lab, with the exception being XP2, which is C41.
HP5 should be ISO 400, and I'd try that. I'm an Ilford fan and am shooting a bit of Delta 400 but am still fence sitting on the grain structure, I think I'm growing to prefer traditional formulas like Tri-X and HP5. Of course, I do my own development so there's room for error there, but the delta films can sometimes seem a bit muddy despite their reputed edge sharpness.

The only C41 B&W I've shot is the Kodak BW400CN, which gave very nice tonality, but the dye structure is apparent and it lacks that true B&W appeal. As far as the 400 speed recommendation, I can say it's where I start because I bring my camera indoors quite a bit and need the speed for available light shooting.

I don't have the room or time or money for a darkroom, but I do develop my own film in the kitchen sink. It's not as scary as you might think, and it gives you more control. Case in point, I found the one roll of lab-processed B&W a bit flat, so I've taken agitating a bit more during development to boost contrast. I've got to mail my film out of province and wait a few weeks, so it makes sense to go the DIY route; I scan them at home and make prints from the files; there are some shots I'd consider making proper wet prints with.
12-29-2008, 01:47 PM   #4
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I am a fan of T-max 400 (not pan 100). I used to shoot plenty of Delta 400 but I am more into grain these days. Using 400 and pushing 2 stops.

For the past 2 weeks, I had shot 4 rolls of B+W not yet developed. Shooting B+W films really makes one think

12-29-2008, 02:05 PM   #5
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I second the suggestion to develop your own film.
It's easy, cheap and will give you more creative control.

12-29-2008, 03:04 PM   #6
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You guys are gonna make my wife mad!
12-29-2008, 04:06 PM   #7
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I recently started developing my own film again, after the local photo lab went under. Poor guys, but I could, unfortunately, see it coming. All too common now, I suppose. Anyway, I ordered about $50 worth of supplies from B&H (tank, thermometer, D-76, fixer, and a couple of jugs -- that's really all you need) and have been developing in a laundry sink in the basement.

I shoot Tri-x (35mm and 120) pretty much exclusively. It's what I grew up shooting, and I've never ventured. Kind of a security blanket I guess! I like it because it can easily be pushed to 1600. In fact, I rarely use it at 400 -- I just love the look of pushed film.
12-29-2008, 06:02 PM   #8
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i've just started too and have been using Tri-X i bought from B&H, results have been pretty good if you don't mind the grain
i think Tri-X, Fuji Neopan and the HP5 400 are relatively similar in look

12-30-2008, 06:07 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by k100d Quote
i've just started too and have been using Tri-X i bought from B&H, results have been pretty good if you don't mind the grain
i think Tri-X, Fuji Neopan and the HP5 400 are relatively similar in look
Not really, I've found.

Three different continents, three different films.

I've found that Neopan 400 is delicate and crisp ("freshly-pressed linen", if I may get all snobby-wine-critic on you), with the greys turning out soft and light, no matter what the original colour was. A very "light" film. Would be great for glamour portraits, methinks. Just going off the top of my head, now, the grey around the text field in the "Reply to Topic" page is about how Caucasian skin tones end up. Shadows are still solid, though.

Tri-X is between the three films mentioned, but it's been so damn long since I shot any at box speed. I rarely move my Chinon's ISO dial away from 3200 anymore, unless I've setting up some EV compensation. Generally, it looks "slatey", I guess. Caucasian skin tones end up a notch or two lighter than mid grey.

Haven't done much shooting with HP5+, but to me it seems muddy and dark, like, I dunno, tarnished silverware. I've got a roll in my Chinon at the moment - Tri-X is hard to get where I am now - at box speed. I'll report back.
12-30-2008, 06:28 AM   #10
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I'm still experimenting, having recently started shooting b&w film again. Back in the Pre-Cambrian era I used to use Ilford FP4 and HP4, so that's what I've restarted with. In my fridge at the moment there's also some Tri-X 400, HP5 and Delta 100. I've also tried the Kodak BW400CN but it didn't excite me. Having seen some of Lithos' work with Tr-X pushed to the limit, that's something I want to try (although he's a night prowler/street shooter and I tend to shoot landscapes and old farm buildings in brighter conditions. Lithos, can I still push Tri-X for that? And where are you living now?).

I agree with everyone who recommends developing your own negs. It's easy, cheaper by far, gives you full control and you don't grow old and grey waiting for your film to come back. That way, it's relatively inexpensive to try them all.
12-30-2008, 07:44 AM   #11
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Wombat, mate, I've gotta change my location. I'm in Tamworth, now, hoping to land a gig with a local paper. Shooting or writing, I'm easy either way (though leaning towards writing - interestingly, you never see ads for photographers).

Country Music Capital - if anything, the Festival's good for a laugh. Though Mossy's turning up for a few gigs here.

You might wanna pull Tri-X for old farm buildings, a sort of shooting I'll be doing more of now. Since every bastard in this town knows every other bastard in this town, I'll ease back on the street shooting.

Tri-X is indeed cheaper, probably because Kodak clears much more profit than Ilford, which is sort of "boutique" compared to other companies' manufacturing processes. I do commend them for commitment to the medium, however, and it's probably what we'll all be shooting once other companies give up film altogether.

I'd pull, Wombat, instead of push, but Tri-X is good at box speed, anyway. While the "traditional" route for shooting haysheds and the like would be to have a 4x5 loaded with Pan F or some other slow film (because you're using a tripod anyway), ISO 400 in a hand-holdable camera means high shutter speeds for less shake, and narrower apertures for greater sharpness.

Not to mention the portability an ME Super or similar affords - being able to get it into the little nooks and crannies that might offer interesting pictures, or the speed, meaning you can get the picture you want when the sun's made it between the clouds and the light's just right and not shag around with the setup...

Keep in mind that in really bright conditions shooting something painted white, a higher ISO might be a liability, as you might "top out" with the light - not be able to set a small enough ap so as to get a shutter speed below your camera's maximum. I get that a lot if I'm out during the day with a cam loaded with something at EI3200...

And, yes, dev your own! It costs me about 70 Australian cents to do a roll of film!
12-30-2008, 11:23 AM   #12
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For daylight shooting outdoors, I like using Ilford PAN F Plus & FP4 Plus. I just ordered some Fomapan R100 b&w reversal film from the states. I’m looking forward to trying it out, the only drawback is that you have to send it to Denver Colorado to a special dr5-chrome processing lab.

Since you live in Nanaimo you are close to a couple good processing labs in Vancouver. I have used ABC a lot and they are good, but have not tried the other lab

ABC PHOTOCOLOUR - LightJet Imaging Centre
The Professional Digital Photo Lab ~ Full service photo finishing lab located in Vancouver,BC, Canada
12-30-2008, 12:59 PM   #13
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I like HP5 and Neopan 400, myself.
12-30-2008, 02:33 PM   #14
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Tri-X or Plus-X

Its Tri-X or Plus-X for me. The last roll that I shot was Plus and I am very happy with the crispness. I am getting 4 8X10s printed printed from that one roll of 36.
I stay away from C-41 "Black & White" films. I find the tones muddy and prints on color papers to have a color cast. The color cast may not be an issue if you can find a lab that prints on B&W papers but that is hard to do.
12-30-2008, 03:12 PM   #15
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Another thing to consider is how you are going to use the negatives. If you are going to scan them, you should do a bit of searching on some of the forums to see what people think about which films scan best and then experiment a bit.

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