Ilford Black and White Film Guide – Which One is Right for You? by David Rose

Black and white cityscape on Ilford Delta 100 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
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Written by David Rose

The world is never black and white. Except when you’re shooting monochromatic film, then it very much is.

I’ve been on a mission this year to shoot as many black and white film stocks as possible, with the ultimate goal of shooting every B&W film currently purchasable on the market…

However, what I didn’t realize when starting this project is that there are over one hundred B&W films currently in production, so it’s safe to say that this has turned into a multi-year endeavor.

In the meantime, I wanted to share an overview of some of the Ilford films I’ve shot thus far, and compare and contrast them with example images so you are able to choose the best Ilford black and white film to match your specific shooting style and preferences.

Ilford Black and White Film Stock Comparison
Ilford Black and White Film Stock Comparison
Ilford Black and White Film Stock Comparison
Ilford Black and White Film Stock Comparison
Black and white image of beams under a pier on Ilford FP4 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Ilford FP4 Plus

Comparing Ilford Film Stocks

Here are the B&W films we will be comparing in this article:

  1. Ilford Delta (100, 400, 3200) (find on Amazon)
  2. Ilford FP4 Plus (find on Amazon)
  3. Ilford HP5 Plus (find on Amazon)
  4. Ilford Pan F Plus (find on Amazon)
  5. Ilford XP2 Super (find on Amazon)

Quick rundown on Ilford black and white films, most of their current offerings are bisected into two distinct lines – PLUS and DELTA PROFESSIONAL.

According to Ilford, the main difference between the two is that DELTA PROFESSIONAL films use a newer emulsion. This gives them the advantage of a lower grain-to-speed ratio (marginally cleaner, sharper look).

Whereas the PLUS films use their classic emulsion technology, which has more exposure latitude than DELTA films (making them better for push and pull processing and less sensitive to over processing, which is ideal for learning film photography).

Black and white beach landscape on Ilford HP5 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Ilford HP5 Plus

To sum this up:

  • DELTA PROFESSIONAL = less grain at equivalent speeds, cleaner and sharper look
  • PLUS = more grain, better for pushing/pulling, more forgiving for over-processing.

Note: All example pictures are shown as originally scanned with no post-processing whatsoever for greater objectivity in comparison.

Find me on Instagram if you’d like to see additional example shots or if you have comments or questions!

And if you’re interested in an overview of color film stocks, check out my article: Guide To Choosing A Color Film.

Black and white of Horseshoe Bend on Ilford Pan F film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Ilford Pan F

Ilford Delta Professional (100, 400, 3200)

There are three different types of Delta films in the lineup from Ilford: Delta 100, Delta 400, and Delta 3200.

As with other films that offer the same base with varying ISO levels (Kodak Portra films are a good example), the higher the ISO number, the lower the contrast and the greater the film grain.

Ilford Delta 100:

Starting with Ilford Delta 100, you’ll get amazingly clear images with almost no visible grain.

I love the deep contrast and fine details this film provides, even if you must sacrifice some light sensitivity with it being a slower film…

Speaking of which, this is also a great film for shooting in bright daylight conditions since you can shoot wide open for some serious bokeh and subject isolation (i.e. the “3D pop”).

Ilford Delta 100 Examples:

Black and white cityscape on Ilford Delta 100 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white family portrait on Ilford Delta 100 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white miniature train on Ilford Delta 100 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Grab the free Quick Guide to Choosing a Color Film Infographic!

Ilford Delta 400:

Ilford Delta 400 is an amazingly fine grain and versatile film.

I’ve mainly shot this film at box speed (setting my light meter to ISO 400), but as you can see from the examples below, this results in a lot of mid tones, which may or may not be your thing.

Personally, I prefer more contrast and grain, so pushing this film a stop or two may be a good choice if you feel the same way.

You can read more about shooting and pushing Ilford Delta 400 here.

Ilford Delta 400 Examples:

Black and white mountain view out a window on Ilford Delta 400 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white image of a tree on a mountainside on Ilford Delta 400 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white landscape on Ilford Delta 400 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film

Ilford Delta 3200:

Ilford Delta 3200 is a forgiving film that is both hungry for light and handles overexposure like a champ.

As the name implies, it can be shot rated at 3200 ISO (which is how I was able to capture an image of the NEOWISE Comet below without star trails). But most of the time, it’s better suited to be shot at ~1000 ISO.

It’s speed makes it ideal for low light photography or capturing fast moving subjects.

Ilford Delta 3200 Examples:

Black and white landscape on Ilford Delta 3200 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white image of a woman on a long pier on Ilford Delta 3200 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white image of a pier on Ilford Delta 3200 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film

Ilford FP4 Plus

Ilford FP4 Plus is a good all-purpose film that performs best in good lighting conditions.

The original FP4 was launched in the 1960s, so it has definitely stood the test of time. It has since been updated in the 90s to the new and improved FP4 Plus.

Personally, I prefer using FP4 as a general purpose daily-shooter type of film.

Ilford FP4 Examples:

Black and white image of a captain's box on Ilford FP4 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white image of a fruit stand on Ilford FP4 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white landscape on Ilford FP4 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film

Ilford HP5 Plus

If you’re looking for a film stock that takes a lickin’ but keeps on tickin’, then look no further…

Ilford HP5 Plus has been one of the most popular Ilford films for a while. And for good reason – it has medium contrast, a wide exposure latitude, and is perfectly suited for action or documentary style photography.

HP5 was originally introduced in the 70s, and upgraded to HP5 plus in the late 80s. It is seen by many as Ilford’s response to Kodak’s legendary Tri-X 400.

Ilford HP5 Examples:

Black and white of a woman standing in a stream on Ilford HP5 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white image of the Las Vegas sign on Ilford HP5 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white landscape on Ilford HP5 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film

Ilford Pan F Plus

I’m seriously impressed with the results I’ve gotten from Ilford Pan F Plus so far.

This is a notably slower speed film (ISO 50), but the way it renders landscapes with exceptional tones and details is second to none.

It boasts exceptionally fine grain, outstanding resolution and sharpness, and is best suited for bright conditions and sunny days.

Ilford Pan F Plus Examples:

Black and white landscape on Ilford Pan F Plus film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white landscape on Ilford Pan F Plus film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white landscape on Ilford Pan F Plus film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film

Ilford XP2 Super

Ilford XP2 is a rather unique B&W film since it doesn’t fall into either the PLUS or DELTA PROFESSIONAL camps.

This film is developed using C-41 chemistry, which is normally used for color films. Also, you can actually shoot it at any speed between ISO 50-800.

It’s one of my favorites since, not only are the tones and aesthetics great, but it’s also the cheaper option for shooting black and white since most labs can batch develop for color film chemistry, which cuts down on costs.

Ilford XP2 Examples:

Black and white image of a woman near a roadway on Ilford XP2 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white image of a woman standing in the center of a road on Ilford XP2 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film
Black and white image of a woman at a drinking fountain on Ilford XP2 film - Guide to Ilford BW Film by David Rose on Shoot It With Film

Ilford Specialty Films

That about wraps things up for the comparison of the “standard” film offerings from Ilford, but there are also some additional specialty films such as Ilford SFX 200 and Ilford Ortho Plus 80.

Ilford SFX 200 has extended red sensitivity that can produce infra-red style images, and Ortho Plus 80 is an Orthochromatic film that’s blue and green sensitive but not red.

You can read a detailed review of Ortho Plus 80 here.

These are next on my list to try out!

Thank you so much, David! David is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out his other articles here, such as his Guide to Choosing a Color Film and 10 Common Film Issues and How to Fix Them.

You can also find more of David’s work on Instagram!

Leave your questions about Ilford black and white films below in the comments, and pick up some for yourself on Amazon here!

David Rose

David Rose is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find his other articles here, such as Guide to Choosing a Color Film and 35mm vs 120: Choosing a Film Format.

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Blog Comments

Thank you for the great article! Can you also share processing details (times/temps/chemicals)?

Tim

Hey Tim, thanks for the comment and great question. I’ve done some self-developing in the past, but currently rely on The FIND Lab to process my film so I don’t have any specific tips on times/temps/chemicals to share…

On an unrelated noteI’ve been a fan of your work for a while since I found you on Instagram, and just realized you are also on the team with Analog Forever Magazine which is pretty cool (I just ordered my copy of issue 2 the other day)!

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