Ilford SFX 200 is probably one of the least-used films from Ilford, judging by the low number of images that show up on image-sharing platforms when searching for its hashtag, but undeservedly so.
This film packs a punch, opens creative doors that would otherwise be closed, and if you’re a fan of contrast in black and white images, you’re going to love shooting with it.
Ilford SFX as a Near Infrared Film
There are various infrared films that exist which capture light beyond the visible spectrum and produce a dreamlike effect, but these can be difficult to find and require loading in complete darkness.
While it’s not a true infrared film, SFX 200 is sensitive to longer wavelengths off the bottom (red) end of the visible light spectrum.
The advantage here is that it still gives some infrared effects (turning blue skies deep black, and green vegetation white with the right conditions), but it does not need to be loaded in complete darkness like a true infrared film; subdued light will work.
Ilford markets SFX 200 as “medium speed black and white camera film for creative photography”, which means that it can be used as a conventional black and white film, but its extended sensitivity means that it excels when using filters for more creative effects.
There are many filters you can shoot this film with for varying levels of effect, ranging all the way from yellow to deep red.
I’ve found good results from using a red 25 filter since it enables access to some level of infrared effect, but it’s also practical in that it’s not too dark, and you can still see through it when composing a shot.
Some deeper red or infrared filters are nearly opaque, meaning that you need to use a tripod and compose/meter before installing the filter, and then compensate for your exposure by several stops.
Focusing with Ilford SFX 200
Infrared light is a longer wavelength than what your eye can visibly interpret, and therefore the focus point will be different than what you see through your viewfinder when shooting with infrared filters.
Many lenses have a mark on the barrel that will enable you to adjust to the infrared spectrum after you’ve found the correct focus point using the visible light as a reference.
Here is what this commonly looks like:
A good example of what can happen if you don’t adjust for the focus can be found below.
While this image was tack sharp in-camera, the final image came out softer than anticipated:
Another tip with short to medium focal length lenses is to stop down to a smaller aperture which will help naturally sharpen the focus as the light is forced to pass through a smaller hole.