When speaking of black and white film stocks, Ilford HP5 Plus (amzn.to/38ncTg9) is the first one that comes to mind, in my case at least.

So today I decided to write a review about it, comparing it to the “competition”, like Tri-X from Kodak (amzn.to/35bfuaV).

That said, we can start!

Introduction

Lets start with a general description of the film, for who doesn’t know it that well:

Is a black and white, 400 iso film, made by Ilford in England from 1931 (from 1960 as 400 iso) and is available in all formats, like 35mm (amzn.to/38ncTg9) and medium format 120 (amzn.to/2RPPXjR).

Motorcycle guy with a Dainese jacket, shoot on Ilford Hp5 Plus
Shot with a Mamiya C330f on Ilford HP5 Plus
at 400 iso (box speed)

HP5 isn’t my “favourite film”, not for a particular reason but because i believe in: “the right tool for the job” and sometimes HP5 is it, other times isn’t.

Still, is one film stock that I use a lot and I have a lot of experience with it, so I’m going to explain you why, hoping that this could help some of you with the choice of film stock for a specific need/occasion.

Dynamic Range

The first “pro” of this film stock is its wide dynamic range that allows you (especially if you scan your negatives) to recover a lot of details from both shadows and highlights.

Vano motore di un Suzuki Samurai, shoot on Ilford HP5
Shot with a Nikon FM2 on Ilford HP5 Plus
at 400 iso (box speed)

This makes it easy to shoot, especially for who is starting with film photography, but also to who wants to try shoot sunny 16.

So is a “forgiving” film and is easy to manipulate both in the dark room and as a digital file.

Contrast

As previously said, the Ilford HP5 Plus has a wide dynamic range but this also means that is going to have a “softer” contrast, compared to Tri-X.

Ragazzo su un cubo in cemento
Shot with a Nikon FM2 on Ilford HP5 Plus at 400 iso (box speed)

We have to specify that this is by no means a “low contrast” film, also giving its speed of 400 iso, but the ability to easily recover the shadows means that those shadows won’t be pitch black.

All in all this characteristic doesn’t bother me at all, because it’s way easier to add contrast than removing some. If you want to obtain a more contrasty negative straight out of camera you can always push the film, and this take us to the next point…

Latitude

This is a film that handle push processing really well, even to 3200 iso (3 stop)!

Bassista durante un concerto (Atlante)
Shot with a Canon AE-1 Program on Ilford HP5 Plus at 3200 iso

I personally shoot it at 1600 iso most of the time, obtaining more contrast but also more grain.

Grain

Continuing the previous point, pushing this film you’ll get a lot of grain, but this won’t be distracting or annoying in any way.

Quadro strumentazione di una Alfa Matta
Shot with a Nikon F2 on Ilford HP5 Plus at 1600 iso

Even at box speed the grain is well visible, and has a “randomic” way of displaying itself, organic; comparing it to the one of Tri-X, the HP5 one is more present so is a point to consider when you are choosing what film to shoot.

How, when and why

Now that I’ve described the “most important” points that characterize this film stock, I can talk about my approach to shooting it, so the how, when and why I use it.

Starting with the “how”, I shoot it in two formats (35mm and medium format 120) and with 35mm I usually push it at 1600 iso, gaining contrast and “punchiness”.
You’ll get a look near to the old reportages even if the grain is more present, it serves the stylistic choice.

While on medium format I usually shoot it at box speed, obtaining smooth passages between highlights and shadows. I use it for portraiture work for its “linearity” in the rendering of light, that helps to make a pleasing image.

Foto di una ragazza su un divano
Shot with a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II on Ilford HP5 Plus at 400 iso (box speed)

Clearly on 120 format the grain is minimal, giving really clear results with a high resolution, keeping the “analog” look.

For “when”, the answer could seems trivial, but is always! It’s a film for all subjects and conditions, without any problem, so is always a good time to shoot some HP5!

The “why” of this film has to be found in the ease of use of it: It’s a forgiving film but if shot correctly, delivers crazy good results. Another motivation is the price of it, it’s pretty cheap (at least in Italy) compared to Tri-X.

Final thoughts

I you still haven’t tried this film, what are you waiting?

It is one of few black and white films that I consider in the Olympus of this “category”, it is perfect to start shooting film but also for a more “meditated” use or as a “walk around” film for all occasions; there are no excuses, If you still haven’t tried a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus you are missing quite a thing.

I suggest you to start by shooting it at 400 iso (box speed) only then try to push it or pull it to get a different style.

That said, as always I invite you to follow my social profiles like Instagram to see my work, visit the Shop to buy a print and also my Youtube channel. See you in the next article!


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