For decades Kodak was the world leader in both consumer and professional film. Basically anywhere a photographer could find themselves they could also find a fresh supply of Kodak 35mm film. That was one of the companies biggest claims to fame. It was also, due to a large brick and mortar network, part of their ultimate downfall. This brings us to the present situation. No more Kodak 3200. Tri-X is also facing an uncertain future as Kodak restructures and sells off their film division. Will someone buy the patent and continue to make it? Perhaps not. Then what? Fujifilm is up to much of the same. Both are ditching film brands like they’re going out of style (pun intended). Where is a photographer to turn in these troubled times to find a consistent supply of quality film. Ilford? Okay, so they too have been around a long time, essentially from the beginning but aren’t they the underdog? If you were one of those people who thought like this â€“ you better think again!
Ilford is quickly becoming â€œtheâ€ world leader in both consumer and professional black and white film, if they are not already there. Founded in 1879 Ilford has been on the scene alongside Kodak and Fujifilm all along. However, unlike their peers, Ilford has renewed their commitment to producing quality black and white films into the distant future. They’re not jumping ship! This commitment includes their popular HP5 (often likened to Tri-X) and their Delta 3200 (virtually the only currently available high speed black and white film in North America). So no sweat photographers. Relax. You still have a supply of black and white film. And, according to Ilford, it’s not going away anytime soon. The only question that remains is â€“ can these films replace that spot in my bag forever occupied by Kodak? I set out to investigate this question. Ilford was very kind in providing me with some film for this review. Here is what I found:
Let me begin with HP5. I love this film. Now, let me say that this review is not a technical account. No scientific tests were carried out here. I simply just shot the stuff and am giving my opinion on its real-life use in the field. The first thing I noticed with this film is its increased contrast when compared to Tri-X. I like the tones better. I also like the grain. It’s present but not overwhelming. It is a perfect street or reportage film. Rated at 400 it is also very good at handling most of the common lighting situations. The film meters well. It also pushes easily with more than acceptable results up to 1600. Not only would this film be more than acceptable for me were I faced with the extinction of Tri-X, but it will now be my 400asa film of choice regardless of the availability of Tri-X. Simply put, I like it better. These photographs were shot on Ilford HP5 with a Rollei 35S.
Delta 3200 is also a great film but my love here is weaker. Given that it is the only ultra high speed film available I will likely find myself using it but would not necessarily choose it if I were given more options. The grain in this film is almost overwhelming at times. It’s very present and very coarse. For some types of work this is quite desirable, for other things it gets in the way. The film is rated at asa1000 and therefore is pushed to achieve a 3200 speed. In most situations I would rather push HP5. The results will be comparable if not better in some aspects and the film is cheaper. Delta 3200 here in Canada will cost you nearly ten dollars a roll before you get out of the store. Quite a price for thirty-six frames. This film also tends to blow highlights when exposed to brighter conditions. But don’t get me wrong. There are things to like about this film. It certainly produced better â€œatmosphereâ€ in my night shots when compared with digital results. There is just a little â€œmagicâ€ in this film that brings out ones imagined vision in the final product. How often do we trip the shutter with one thing in mind to only get another. This was not the case with Delta 3200. The shots I got matched up perfectly with my vision and that is not to be overlooked. This film meters well and tackles a variety of lighting situations. In fact, it can be shot in near darkness or in broad daylight. Despite its mixed bag results this film will without doubt find a place in many bags as it is THE high speed choice. The following photographs were shot on Delta 3200 with a Leica M6 and a 35mm Summarit.
In closing, I like these films. HP5 will be my new everyday film without a doubt. As a street photographer you cannot ask for a better more versatile 35mm film. Period. Delta 3200 will find its way into my bag less frequently. But, should I need to do some night shooting this film will be the one I run to for predictable results. Kudos to Ilford for not only making great film but for committing to it even in this age of all things digital. Worth mentioning here is that Ilford is releasing two new disposable cameras as I write this review. Black and white disposable cameras are a hard find at the best of times. This is a welcome addition to their product lineup. As a â€œsnapshot photographerâ€ I have produced published photographs from disposable cameras time and again. Disposables are not to be underestimated, as they produce distinct photographs with a haphazard vintage feel. I look forward these new disposables from Ilford and will get a review out as soon as possible. Look for it. Also, if you’re reading Ilford… you might think about a colour film in your future. No doubt Portra will be in jeopardy soon enough. Take advantage Ilford… the world is yours!
So, is Ilford the new Kodak? You bet. Get shooting!
More information on these films and Ilford’s other products may be found on their website located at www.IlfordPhoto.com
Michael Ernest Sweet is a Canadian educator, writer and street photographer. His first published collection of street photography is forthcoming in 2013 from Brooklyn Arts Press in New York City. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Popular Photography and on The Leica Camera Blog. Michael divides his time between Montreal and New York City. His online portfolio may be viewed at MichaelSweetPhotography.com.