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Film review: ILFORD FP4 PLUS 35mm, 120 format and sheet film

If I want to shoot a film with buckets of character and great, deep contrast at a moderate box speed, then more often than not, I’ll be packing Ilford FP4+.

It’s not my everyday ISO100-200 film, primarily because it’s not always easy to come by (more on that later!) but if I’m in the mood to capture something a little special in black and white, then this is the stock for me, no questions asked.

Perhaps its something to do with plucky Brit mentality, or that they seem to be able to produce stuff that’s greater than the sum of its parts…I’m not really sure. What I do know is that shooting FP4+ gives me such immense pleasure that after discovering and shooting my first roll of this emulsion a few years ago, I promptly went out and grabbed a fresh 35mm 100ft reel so that I could bulk load my own. Since then, I’ve taken this film beyond what I thought was possible and have been consistently amazed by the results.

Ilford FP4+ - shot at ISO125

Ilford FP4+ – shot at ISO125

It’s one of the most forgiving black and white films I’ve ever used and right up there with Kodak Tri-X 400. It’s also a very fine-grained emulsion that is rather easily controlled or destroyed in development (the latter being why you hear so many naysayers complain about it on Flickr).
Ilford, who?

Ilford are a relatively new player to the photographic film market, having only just opened their doors a little over 135 years ago. Let that sink in.

FP4 in its original 35mm form at ISO125 was released for general consumption nearly 10 years before Kodak’s Tri-X and a year before the 1969 Moon shot (editor: that’ll be 1968, then.)

If you’ve not heard of them before, or have skipped past this hugely important company, I’d highly recommend having a read of this exhaustive chronology.

Ok, let’s see what Ilford have to say about their blue and white champion:

For high quality black and white photography, ILFORD FP4 PLUS is unrivalled. Its very fine grain, outstanding sharpness and high acutance make it the film of choice whenever a job demands great enlargement or the subject contains a wealth of fine detail.

Nominally rated at ISO 125/22, ILFORD FP4 PLUS has become the benchmark against which other medium speed films are judged. With enormous latitude for exposure error above and below its ISO 125, ILFORD FP4 PLUS is very suitable for most photographic subjects under a variety of lighting conditions.

 

Ilford FP4 Plus 125

Ilford FP4 Plus 125

NameIlford FP4+
VendorIlford
TypeBlack and white (negative)
Format35mm, 120, sheet
Speed (ISO)125
Exposure latitude–-1.5 to +6 stops
Push processing6 stops
Cross processingN/A

 

 

 

What’s it like?

Ilford FP4+, like HP5+, it’s based on older emulsion technology and has “cubic grain”, as opposed. To “T grain” found in Delta and Kodak’s TMAX.

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO100 on 35mm

A different kind of Kickstarter – Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO100 on 35mm

Speaking of which, the grain is beautiful.

As with all black and white film, development is hugely important when trying to control, or manage grain. I mostly use Rodinal 1:50 in a semi-stand for my Ilford processing but have also recently switched to Ilfotec, as it gives me much sharper contrast.

The most valuable advice I can give when developing this film is to control your temperature. Keep your chemicals down at around 23 degrees C, minimise your agitations and make sure you give it a good soak before you get started.

If you’re new to developing this film yourself, here are a few general rules I find work for me:

  • Want fat grain and high contrast? Bump your temperature and keep a low chemical dilution.
  • Want fine, fine grain with bags of contrast? Keep the temperature down, increase chemical dilution and use moderate agitation
  • Want fine grain, great shadow detail and still keep the contrast? Low teperatures, high dilution and moderate agitation will give you what you need.

 

Whilst some people do so, I don’t think it’s fair to directly compare this film to Ilford’s own Delta 100 Professional, as both the grain and the way it’s laid down are rather different.  That said, I find the resulting images from both stocks to be quite similar.  If you want supreme sharpness with great contrast, go with Delta. If you want to add creamier grain to the mix, then grab a roll of FP4+

Ilford FP4+ - shot at ISO125

Ilford FP4+ – shot at ISO125 – 35mm

Ilford FP4+ - shot at ISO125

Ilford FP4+ – shot at ISO125 35mm

Ilford FP4+ - shot at ISO125

Ilford FP4+ – shot at ISO125 – 35mm

FP4+ is performs equally as well for both indoor and outdoor photography, it’ll take portraits, landscapes, architecture and macros all in its stride. Being a forgiving sort, it’s also happy to be pulled down to ISO50, or pushed 6 (yes, six) stops to ~ISO8000.

If you want to see how it performs close to its extreme 6-stop limit, have a look below at a few images shot at ISO6400 (35mm).

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO6400 on 35mm

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO6400 on 35mm

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO6400 on 35mm

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO6400 on 35mm

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO6400 on 35mm

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO6400 on 35mm

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO6400 on 35mm

Ilford FP4+ shot at ISO6400 on 35mm

There will be more from this roll, as well as other tests at ISO400, 800 and 1600 in the very near future. Stay tuned.

FP4+’s fine grain and wide, forgiving exposure latitude means that I nearly always have a roll on standby. I mostly shoot it in 35mm and will happily overcook it in development to serve my own high-contrast fetish. Compared to Kodak’s TMAX 100 in 35mm, I find that FP4+ gives me results closer to my mind’s eye. Of course, this is just my own personal view.

It’s a wonderfully “punchy” film and has contrast in bags.

 

 

 

In conclusion

To close off this review, I’d like to say that FP4+ is probably one of the best general purpose moderate speed black and white films available. It’ll eat up so-called “basic” black and white photography, whilst also being suitable for “fine art” black and white and reproduction work. More so than most black and white films, your input in development will define the results, so play around and see what works for you.

Ilford don’t have the distribution reach of Kodak, or Fuji, so you may find this film to be harder to find and a little more expensive than the alternatives. I’d say it’s well worth the small extra investment!

 

Wonderful grain, excellent tonal gradation, excellent sharpness on the one hand; fat grain, blocked out shadows and supreme contrast on the other. A true chameleon that works to the whim of the photographer’s needs.

If you’re willing to play around with it and learn how to make the most of it’s extreme flexibility, Ilford FP4+ might quickly become an obsession.

 

We’ll be following up this article with our Ilford FP4+ experimentation guide soon.

 

 

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About The Author

EMULSIVE

Self confessed film-freak and film photography mad-obsessive and OVERLORD at emulsive.org. I push, pull, shoot, boil and burn film everyday, and I want to share what I learn.

24 Comments

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  1. I’ve not used this film for about 35 years but came upon an in date roll yesterday at my photo club.
    A poor chap is having his foot amputated, so was disposing of all his camera gear.
    I found my treasure in one of his camera bags.
    This excellent review has convinced me to load up the M2 and head out into wilderness of Greater Manchester.

    Reply
  2. Hi! Just received an old 100ft roll of FP4+ and I was wondering if you had any experience forcing it to 400/800 and using Ilfosol 3 as a developer.
    Loved the article, cheers!

    Reply
    • Not directly but there are some nice examples out there. My preference for pushing is to use HC-110. Jump on over to Twitter and I’ll see if I can help you find some assistance.

      Reply
  3. Holy monkey! I love FP4, but I had no idea it could be pushed so well. If I like what it gives at 400, it might very well become my go-to B&W film. I’m currently using ID-11 developer that’s not far off a year old (but still working very well) and was thinking of switching to Rodinal when it runs out. I love the creaminess you get from this film with the ID-11, so I hope it doesn’t get too coarse with Rodinal. I’m also a bit impatient and tend to use quite high temps, so I might have to moderate that tendency as well.

    Reply
  4. Thank you so much for this article, it’s just what I was looking for in terms of development (grain vs contrast). I have been using DD-X 1:4 with moderate agitation, and finding the grain more than I expected from 125 speed film. I’m going to drop temps and use 1:9 for the next batch as I do enjoy the tonality from HP4.

    Reply
  5. Hey again Mr. Emulsive ! Thanks for the comment dated 17th of August, unfortunately I missed it. I found it because I was searching once again for an answer of how to expose correctly in low-light :-). It makes a lot of sense ! I always felt it was a bit strange to cut the exposure time when you wanted more light, especially to go from 1600 -> 3200. I am planning to shoot at night later on this week, so I will try it. Thanks again for the super-interesting web site.

    Reply
  6. Thanks a lot for this review – it is great finding stuff like this. I ordered a brick of the stuff after reading this, which has just arrived. I’ve tried four rolls of TMAX-100 and I really wasn’t impressed. On your page the FP4+ looks great and I am sure it will end up on my 52rolls project, even though I said at the start I would only shoot tri-X :-).

    Reply
  7. Hi!I only have HC110, the syrup kind. It seems like it will last forever! What would be the ideal dev time for solution B on HC 110,will you please let me know?
    much appreciated.
    carla

    Reply
    • Hey Carla, thanks for stopping by. For FP4+ at EI 120 and using HC-110 B (1+31), I’ve previously used a time of 9 minutes at 20c with an initial minute of slow agitation and then 5 seconds of agitation each minute thereafter. If you want a bit of a contrast bump, bump that time to 10 mins!

      Interestingly, the stand time for this concentration/EI/temp is about 60 minutes, so why not give a stand a try, too? You’ve got to use up all that HC-110 somehow 😉

      Reply
      • Hi, I never thanked you for your reply. I just saw it now, more than a year later – thank you!
        My HC110 syrup is now at it’s very end, and brown like cooper. Is it ok to use it? I bought Rodinal for the first time but I keep using HC110.
        Thanks for your time and for sharing all this : )

  8. Enjoyed your article. I’m based in the UK so Ilford is typically quite a bit cheaper than Kodak. I shot some FP4+ last summer and loved the results. I think I will get some more! I wasn’t aware it could be pushed so much.

    Reply
    • Thank Eugene. I’ve taken it to EI1600 and 6400 before with lovely results. at EI6400 is gets VERY contrasty and packs a lovely low-shadow-detail punch!

      Reply
      • I find that in these situations (the 52 Rolls example), a push development incorporating over development can work wonders.

        The issue you’ll have is that in dark environments with a single light source that only illuminates part of the scene, the dark areas will essentially become totally blocked out if you’re trying a normal exposure at what would be daylight, or low-light shutter speeds (i.e. not a long exposure). Reciprocity works both ways!

        If you’re planning on long exposures, then go ahead and use the reciprocity data provided by ilford but if not, then I’d suggest metering for EI 1600 and developing at 3200 as a starting point

        A word of warning: unless you’re shooting outside in flat light, pretty much any medium to high contrast areas will become totally stark and shadow detail will be pretty much totally lost.

        An EI 1600 development in LC29 1+19 at 21c with 1 minute + 5 seconds each minute agitation will come in at ~24 minutes. Make that ~34 minutes for EI 3200 (my tests).

        I’d be really, really interested to see your results!

  9. I’m currently using Xtol with good results. Going to try Pyrocat-hd and see what happens.

    Reply
    • People keep mentioning Xtol. I think I’ll have to give it a try. Thanks for the comment, Bryan.

      Reply
  10. FP4+ in Edwal FG-7 is also wonderful. FG-7 gives you the option of adding or omitting sulfite (as well as dilution flexibility,) making it a very handy developer.

    For those who can’t easily obtain Ilfotec, Kodak HC-110 is an alternative, and a developer that was my standard for many years.

    With Rodinal I prefer stand development or initial agitation and then either every 3 minutes or once at the half-way mark.

    Reply
    • Good point. I use HC-110, Rodinal and Ilfotec LC29 as my mood takes me. Have some D96 for special applications and gladly moved away from D76 some time ago.

      That said, I’ve never used FG-7. Must I’ve it a try!

      Reply
  11. How do you define low and moderate agitation? My standard developing method is D-76 at 1+1 for 11 minutes (68 F), with an initial five second agitation and five seconds every 30 seconds thereafter. Sometimes I get great results and sometimes not so great, which I’ve mostly attributed to lighting or other factors while shooting rather than developing, which I try to be pretty consistent at.

    Reply
    • I find that D76 is great for some films and not so great for others. It has a habit of blowing out the grain in my experience.

      Your agitation scheme sounds ok. I personally go for 30 agitations for the first minute, then 10 seconds each minute thereafter for a normal development, or 10 secs ones every 30 minutes for a stand development.

      I also find that less than 21c for a normal, non-stand, low dilution wash is too low. Try bumping your temp up and using Rodinal, or Ilfotec 🙂

      Let us know how that works out!

      Reply
  12. Hi, I would like to ask you what is the appropriate time for developing FP4+ when shot at 6400 ASA

    Reply
    • Sure!

      Rodinal 1:50, or Ilfotec LC29 1:29. Both at 22-24℃ for 120 mins.

      Agitate slowly for the first minute, followed by 10 second agitation/inversions every 30 mins thereafter.

      All that and you should be good to go!

      Reply
  13. good read!
    those general rules you listed are specially good. you feel those work equally well for both rodinal and ilfotec?

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words. My experience with Ilfotec and FP4+ is a little limited but so far, the results seem comparable to Rodinal. Contrast is definitely higher in like-for-like stand developments, which is always good in my book. Hopefully I’ll be updating this guide with better info in the near future!

      Reply

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