B&W Showdown Results
Sometimes I surprise even myself
Back in May I purchased eight rolls of different black and white 120 roll film for a comparison (six Ilford stocks, two Kodak). The rolls included some I was familiar with, and some I had never shot before, with the intention that through shooting all films of similar subjects and in the same style, I'd be able to determine which B&W film best matches my style, or if I could even tell them apart at all.
The test was not scientific. Differences were not tightly controlled. I started with the Fujiflim GA645Zi and switched to the Pentax 645Nii halfway through. Some days were overcast, some were bright sunshine, some were rainy. What did remain the same is that I shot all rolls unfiltered, on the street, during daytime, with natural lighting. But, as you'll see, little beyond that remained constant.
What I expected
Even though I openly admit I have no idea what I'm doing with B&W film (or, for that matter, with color film, photography in total, or in life overall) I had certain expectations based on past experience. After all, I haven't been shy about sending Ilford's FP4 Plus and Pan F Plus winding through my cameras, nor Kodak's Tri-X or T-Max. So, I expected to like those films – FP4 for it's range, Pan F for its contrast, Tri-X for its grain, and TMax for its lack of grain.
Were my expectation met?
The world may never know. The world will now know. I've picked my favorite three frames from each of the eight rolls. Scroll down to see them (in no particular order).
I was not impressed with Tri-X in these shots. I actually feel like these photos would be better served by a different film stock. I think Tri-X looks great (even though this roll looks heat damaged), but not in the situations where I'm shooting. Bummer.
Ilford HP5 Plus
I believe HP5 is seen as Ilford's answer to Tri-X, maybe some subtler tones or something. This was my first roll of HP5 I've ever shot, and for what I shoot, I don't see much difference, and I also feel no particular attachment to the film's look. Again, nothing wrong with HP5 Plus, it's just not the correct film for me.
Ilford Delta 400
This is another new-to-me film stock, one that is sometimes labeled as a film for beginners. Well if that's the case, call me a newbie! I loved it. The heightened contrast, the detail work, the pleasant grain aftertaste, I enjoyed seeing the world rendered in Delta 400. I'm glad to add this to my repertoire.
This is Ilford's monochrome option that's sensitive into the infrared range, although without an appropriate filter on the lens it's just a panchromatic film. I included it in the test just out of curiosity, never having shot this or any other infrared sensitive film before. The results here are fine but don't sway me one way or the other – the SFX neither added or removed anything from the resulting images.
Ilford FP4 Plus
My old buddy FP4 won't let me down, right? It sure didn't. I love these FP4 images here, like I have loved them before. FP4 is the master of rendering the gradation across shadows. High-five, FP4! Yeah! You did it!
Ilford Delta 100
I like the way this slower Delta renders in much the way I liked its faster 400-speed cousin. It exemplifies the difference between shooting a true B&W film and shooting a digital sensor with B&W conversion in software: the highlights and shadows remain visible in these photos right beside less extreme intersections of light and dark, and the Delta captures them all. I'm impressed.
Kodak T-Max 100
Of all the film stocks tested here, I was most surprised and impressed by T-Max. The smoothness of the rendered image, the subtle shifts in grays across the image, the delicate balance between light and dark, this T-Max base was the clear standout winner for matching my style and elevating my images. I am blown away by how superior a look this T-Max has, and I'm thinking the next step is to run several rolls of T-Max through the camera again, this time each with a different color filter on the lens. That will help hone in on the exact look that speaks to me.
I did not expect this from T-Max; I had used it before, but I hadn't paid the film any specific attention. As far as I was concerned, it was just B&W film. Now I know better.
Ilford Pan F Plus
I thought I loved Pan F. I do not love these images; Pan F was not the correct film for them. I think it may not entirely be the Pan F's fault, though. I used the GA645Zi camera for these images, with its slow f/4.5-6.9 maximum aperture. Combined with Pan F's slow speed and my handheld shooting style (it was bright sunlight, after all), I think I picked a poor combination. This does give me some ideas, though, about doing daylight long exposures using Pan F. But I believe Pan F is crossed off the list for "walking around" film.
Thank you for going down this photographic journey with me! This was mostly a personal thing, but if you found it useful then I guess I'm ok with that.