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.
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 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.
|Type||Black and white (negative)|
|Format||35mm, 120, sheet|
|Exposure latitude||-1.5 to +6 stops|
|Push processing||6 stops|
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.
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+
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).
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.
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.
Contribute to EMULSIVE
EMULSIVE NEEDS YOU. The driving force behind EMULSIVE is knowledge transfer, specifically engendering more of it in the film photography community. You can help by contributing your thoughts, work and ideas.
Help drive an open, collaborative community – all you need do is drop us a line and we’ll work something out.