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Finding film part 11: ILFORD SFX 200

Welcome back to another round of #FindingFilm! At the time of writing, it has been a while since I have been out with the camera, shooting black and white film. I have shot several rolls of colour (shock horror, I know! EM made me do it…), as well as doing a couple of weddings and events, working with digital. I do branch out from the world of black and white film every now and then, dear reader. This tends to be around this time of year (July-August at the time of writing), as, to put it bluntly, I hate summer. Not a fan, never have been, probably never will be. I’ve always loved autumn and winter, and feel I produce my best work during these months with the light available to me.

Anyway, I digress. It’s a beautiful, summer’s day here in Norfolk (great!). The sun is out, and there are no clouds in the sky. Not even a hint. So I decided to head out early, to try and get some sunshine before it disappeared, or before I melted from being outside in the heat. This is the one time I had to break my anti-summer stance, as today, I will be shooting ILFORD’s SFX 200 near-infrared film. As far as British weather goes, this was my best chance to shoot “infrared” film without waiting 10 hours for the exposure to complete, or without visiting the surface of the sun…or the equator.

Contrary to popular belief, Ilford SFX 200 is NOT an infrared film. Ilford even mention this on their website, where they list it as “near infrared” and having “extended red sensitivity for creative photographic applications”, whatever that means. So if you have a red filter, or an infrared (R72) filter, this may be the film for you.

I had to shoot this as my next film, as during my last outing with Rollei Retro, I mentioned that film had near infrared results…despite me not using an infrared filter. This had me intrigued as to what I could capture using an infrared filter. Now I do have an infrared filter (Hoya R72, others are available but this is seen as the best infrared filter money can buy), having dabbled with it on my DSLR. It has sat dormant in the bottom of my bag for a very long time, as I hated the results I got with it on my DSLR. I never have really enjoyed infrared photography in any form, as I struggle to see a use for it (other than making it look like it has snowed outside), but I am prepared to give it another go for the FindingFilm series. So I dug it out and then realised it was too big for the Fuji. So I invested in some step-up rings, and voila, infrared on my Fuji GW690 III.

As with all the images in this article, please click on the thumbnails to expand.

Feeling less than enthused, I headed to my local woods, to see what snowy-goodness I could cook up. I decided to be technical during the shoot, and take one shot without the infrared filter (treating SFX like a normal black and white film rated at ISO 200), and then a second with the filter attached.

 

 

 

Exposing ILFORD SFX 200

With the filter in place, I increased my exposure times by 5 stops as recommended by Hoya, and later confirmed by EM during a chat about SFX. This meant the film was rated at ISO 6. I did this so I could compare the results, as I was curious to see the effect the infrared filter had on the film.

The shoot went fine, and the light didn’t change throughout. The unfiltered black and white images were shot at 1/125, f/11, ISO 200. The “infrared” images were shot at 1/4, f11, ISO 6. For each exposure, I used my spot meter to expose for the part of the tree/plant/bush that had the most sunshine on it, as I didn’t want to blow out the highlights on infrared film.

 

 

 

Developing ILFORD SFX 200

My darkroom experience was also good. The film has a slightly more premium feel to it than other film stocks I have used. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, or why, but it felt much better than other films I have handled so far. The development went well, using Ilford DD-X for 10 minutes (1+4, 20c), using stand development, with the usual Fotospeed SB50 as my stop bath, and Fotospeed FX30 for the fixer. The negatives didn’t curl one bit, even when fresh out of the tank. The negatives scanned well, causing no issues whatsoever.

 

 

Results

I shot and developed 2 rolls for this test, so there are 16 images, with 8 unique compositions. Here are all of the results from the 2 rolls. As always, I have only corrected crops, straightened wonky images, or removed dust that was picked up during scanning.

The unfiltered black and white images appear on the left in each pair below. The right hand side images show my results with the Hoya R72 filter. Click on the images to zoom.

 

In the first composition, the black and white, non filtered version has some infrared qualities to it. This surprised me a little, and reminded me of the Rollei Retro film from my last article. This was soon ended when I saw the second composition, which looks like an ordinary black and white film stock.

The other shots appeared more like a traditional black and white film, with good contrast and nice shadows. The highlights disappointed me, as they look quite muddy in my images. I would like to say it was a bad roll, but both rolls disappointed me.

 

As for the infrared elements of the film, it did exactly what I expected it to do. Everything looks snowy white, and produced the results I had expected in my head when taking the shot. Ilford SFX does infrared well, when paired with the filter, even if I am not a fan of the results.

The remaining images turned out well, except for the last two, which for some reason, look totally awful. I don’t understand what happened here, but the film looks overexposed, which is odd given that I metered each composition twice (with and without the filter).

 

 

 

Closing thoughts

So, Ilford SFX 200. A “near infrared” film. Does it produce infrared images?

Yes, if you pair it with a suitable filter. There was a hint of producing them without the filter, but this was only 1 of the 8 non-filtered images I took, so I wouldn’t recommend chancing it (if you don’t have an infrared filter, give Rollei Retro a try and see if you like the results before investing).

The black and white, non filtered images looked OK; not amazing, but OK. The infrared, filtered images looked exactly how I imagined, which is fine, if you are into this sort of thing, but for me, personally, it really isn’t my cup of tea. The film was fine to work with, developed well, didn’t curl and scanned fine, which is more than can be said for other films I have tried.

Now here’s the kicker. Ilford SFX 200 is expensive. I managed to pick up my 2 rolls for £9.99 each. At the time of writing, Ilford are selling it on their website for £12.16. I have seen it sold elsewhere in the £10-12 price bracket. With my 690, I get 8 shots to a roll. At just over £1 a shot, the results I got will not have me rushing back for more. As I mentioned before, it’s not that Ilford SFX 200 is a bad film (I love Ilford’s films, they produce great film), I just don’t like infrared photography. I wouldn’t even want to use it as a black and white film, as I have had better results with cheaper film that I can buy 2 rolls of for the price of 1 roll of SFX.

Ultimately, that’s what it boils down to; cost. I would only ever use this as a black and white film, and given that I had better results with cheaper film, I would rather have more film for my money, which is why, I will be giving SFX a miss in the future.\

You catch up on all articles in my Finding Film series by following the links below:

Thanks for reading!

~ Tom Rayfield

 

 

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About The Author

Tom Rayfield

Photographer with a passion for shooting (and developing) medium format film.

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  1. Great article. Thanks. I’m not a huge fan of infra-red, either, but for one huge exception: the film Soy Cuba, shot in the early 1960’s entirely in infra-red. Of course, the various story lines are great, but maybe the shape of palm tree leaves are better suited than plain old aspen and oak for the other-worldly effects of infra-red.

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