Although I’ve been experimenting with a few different films, using ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional at LFW, some Fuji Neopan for Street, and some CineStill for low light nights, I am yet to find a film stock I am consistently more comfortable using than ILFORD’s XP2 Super.

Once I’ve found a style in photography that works for me, like rangefinder composition and focusing, I tend to stick to that workflow. XP2 seems to be the film that works for my needs so far, so I thought it would be useful to write a more comprehensive review of what I’ve found positive and negative about using it.

I’m not usually a technical reviewer (otherwise I’d never stop!) so I’ll be discussing my process for shooting, developing, and printing my images from a standard roll of XP2. I use this film in either my Leica CL, or my Hasselblad XPan – mostly the XPan!

I’ve been using XP2 for personal and street photography, although I’ve also used it on a couple of assignments including MCM Comic Con and London Fashion Week. I hope to continue using XP2 during my work and travels.

I’ll always set the ISO on my meter to 800 as soon as I load a roll of XP2. I treat it as 800 film for a few reasons, including the low-highest aperture of f/4 on my XPan. I’ve never had any trouble with loss of quality at 800, and the exposures are always as I imagine them, so there’s no need for excessive correction in the darkroom.

The most important thing for my black and white photography is the mid tones. I always try to expose for the most detail in areas without excessive highlight or shadow – although I shoot wide open almost always, and have never had an issue with the way the highlights render.

I find that the film is sharp, with fantastic detail in corners and straight lines. My lenses are all Zeiss, Leica, or Hasselblad, and XP2 is the perfect film for these lenses to draw light onto. The grain is fine, even at 800, and doesn’t impose itself on the “look” the way that other, larger grain, films tend to.

I often notice that photographers who learned photography using digital cameras will apply a digital mindset when dealing with film ISO speeds and, vice versa, photographers who were raised on film will use that as a frame of reference for digital. What I look for in a digital sensor is not necessarily what I look for in a frame of film, and when it comes to pushing and pulling film it does take a bit of concentration for me to decide what I want specifically when dealing with film or digital as distinct entities.

I’ve had some unclear results at 1600, but this could be because of poor exposure overall. I have seen other photographers produce useable results at this ISO, so I’m still willing to experiment, but so far I haven’t been happy with any of my extreme low light images.

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I’ve also found the high contrast tricky with double exposure images; I have no results on show here or anywhere else that I would ever be comfortable publishing. I’m open to the idea that this is because of errors on my part, and when I have spent some time working on double exposures specifically I will be better informed to write on the subject.

Developing XP2 is amazingly convenient. I don’t have the capacity to develop my own film, so waiting a week for HP5 and other black and white “native” film chemistries got old very quickly. With XP2 I’m able to get my negatives back within a few hours, as the C41 process is available from basically any lab. This means that any reportage work that might have a deadline, especially fashion, can be off and with the client almost as quickly as my digital edits.

I scan my negatives on my Epson V39, which does the job pretty well at producing a decent copy, with enough latitude to correct and print to large sizes. I want to upgrade to a more recent, more “film specific” model for better sharpness and rendering. XP2 isn’t as curved as other films, so I have no issue having to rig together a means to keep it flat against the glass – I think Fujifilm Superia 400 has been the most curved film I’ve ever tried to scan, and I had to use a piece of flat plastic to use as heavy backing to keep the film from folding in on itself.

I like the exactness of XP2 over HP5 PLUS, which I found to be quite “foggy.” I especially like XP2 to render directional light for portraits, and I’m happy overall that I switched from HP5 to XP2 so soon in my workflow. I like to find what works for me and then continue to make it work for me until I can use it in all areas. I experienced this when working on my compositional style, and hope that my experience with film is no different.

To begin with, I shot seven rolls of HP5 PLUS as my first attempt to take film photography seriously. I am not at all knowledgeable enough about the sheer range of film available, and it is a topic many artists are passionate about so I do not want to make any definitive claims. Seven rolls are roughly 175 frames, which is not nearly enough to produce any kind of attached or passionate decision. However, after receiving my first five rolls of XP2 back (three of which were shot at MCM Comic Con) I felt a lot more comfortable. I “connected” more with the aesthetic of these images, and knew that this was what I had expected from the beginning from film photography.

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While XP2 worked for me in these first rolls I have come to find that I am less sure of using XP2 in my XPan for specifically cinematic work. It may be that I am not sure about cinematic black and white in the first place, and will be shooting Cinestill in the near future to test what I am able to produce in unique colour. As it is I have very few panoramic keepers from XP2 as opposed to my colour panoramas from other cameras.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on ILFORD XP2 Super. If you’d like to read more you can head over to the ILFORD blog, where they published some more of my thoughts on this film. You can also follow my work over on Instagram to see more of my projects.

~ Simon

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About the author

Simon King

Simon is a London based photographer and photojournalist. He is currently working on long term personal projects, and has been shooting on 35mm film since late 2016. You can follow his work on Instagram, or read his personal blog, both linked below.

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  1. I was directed to this post from the Filmtypes app. I’ve been disappointed by most black-and-white film stock. I’ve tried several. Based on your documented experience, I’m excited to give XP2 Super a go.

    1. Best of luck with it! At the moment HP5+ is my go to, but if I were relying on nearby film lab processing then XP2 really makes a lot of sense. If you’re able to learn to develop yourself then you can bend most emulsions to your will via precise manipulation of the chemistry, timings, and agitation methods.

  2. Another thought, if I may.

    Chromogenic films like all color neg and the monochrome XP prefer “over exposure.” The grain becomes less, and you seldom can overexpose, especially if scanned.

    Try shooting as intended, or even slower. I think you will find that 800 is not so good as you imagine. When you need it, sure.

    When XP1, the Agfa film, and the Kodak BCN came out, one feature was its wide exposure latitude. Again, true for chromogenic films generally. But that doesn’t mean it ain’t best in a narrow range.

    “Back when,” when people ran XP’s through the color minilab, the blacks often had a tint. Usually towards sepia, but especially with an inexperienced operator, sometimes garish. Sometimes a very nice effect, other times………….well………..

  3. I remember shooting the new XP – not “2” – many years ago. Did you know that Agfa briefly made one, too? And Ilford used to have a C-41 developing kit designed for home use; lower temperatures OK. And Kodak made one until very recently.

    These days I shoot C-41 color, still some Kodak 400 HD in my lead bag in my freezer. That was a consumer film that was better in definition than any other Kodak offerings other that the Ektars. I also process my own film; this is especially important in this new era of no one hour photos or drug store minilabs.

    I have gotten to love, after 65 years in the darkroom (starting with my father’s when I was little), the hybrid workflow. I sold my enlarger when I moved a few years ago and I don’t regret it one bit. Develop, scan, improve. And, convert to monochrome if I want to, and still have color shots for those that need it.

    My father used to carry two cameras for family, non-professional shooting. A Leica M2 and Rolleiflex TLR. I have both. Anyway, the Leica for slides and the Rollei for B&W.

    Wouldn’t he be amazed?

    1. Yes, I have my film chemically pushed in development, otherwise all I would have done is underexposed the film.

    2. I have found the XP2 is great for underexposing with no push to about 1600. By 3200 and 6400, images can get very muddy if you are shooting in flatter light. I found that the more contrasty the light, the better underrating XP2 worked. I used to get my XP2 processed at Target, who definitely wouldn’t offer pushing and my work came out well with some levels adjustment (pulling in blacks). This is all provided that you are making scans from the negs. I am not sure how optical prints might handle this workflow. Some critics didn’t believe me and questioned why I wouldn’t just shoot real b&w film. But I believe film is worth exploring in every capacity that one may find fun or useful. Here’s a shoot that I did a few years back.

  4. Simon:

    Have you tried yellow or red filters when you expose XP2? The results aren’t quite what you would see with normal b&w film. Also, when you say you shoot the film at an ASA of 800 I take it you aren’t pushing the film when it gets developed – just under exposing it by a stop.

    1. He is pushing one stop. I would avoid underexposing xp2. It can still look ok as others have said, but unlike other films XP2 i find seems to show grain in the shadows and not the highlights. For this reason I personally never underexpose and never shoot it at night where most of the frame may be black. I love to shoot it outdoors in harsh sun though with some overexposure to accentuate the highlights. It seems to me to have massive dynamic range and the highlights look soooo different than other films. It has a look to be sure. For example, a big overcast white cloudy sky will probably be full of grain on Tri-x, but will be milky smooth on xp2.