Looking for a medium speed black and white film with buckets of character and great, deep contrast at moderate box speed? Pack ILFORD FP4 PLUS. It’s traditional grain structure and long tonality make it one of the most diverse films in this bracket today.
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 PLUS 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 in terms of its ability to create gritty, grimy photographs. That said, it’s a capable, fine-grained emulsion that is rather easily controlled in development, if that’s what you’re after.
FP4 in its original 35mm form as an ISO 125 film was released for general consumption nearly 10 years before Kodak’s Tri-X and a year before the 1969 Moon shot (that’ll be 1968).
If you have a few minutes, I’d highly recommend having a read of this exhaustive chronology of ILFORD
What ILFORD have to say about their blue and white champion:
|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 PLUS, like HP5 PLUS, it’s based on older emulsion technology and has “cubic grain”, as opposed. To “T-grain” found in Delta and Kodak’s T-MAX.
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 temperatures, high dilution and moderate agitation will give you what you need.
Whilst some people do so, it’s not fair to directly compare this film to ILFORD’s own Delta 100 Professional. Both the grain and the way the newer film is laid down are rather different. That said, I find the resulting images from both stocks can 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 PLUS.
FP4 PLUS performs equally as well for both indoor and outdoor photography, it’ll take portraits, landscapes, architecture and macro all in its stride. Being a forgiving sort, it’s also happy to be pulled down to EI 50 or pushed six stops to ~EI 8000.
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 EI 6400 (35mm).
FP4 PLUS’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 PLUS 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 PLUS 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! In short:
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 its extreme flexibility, ILFORD FP4 PLUS might quickly become an obsession.
Thanks for reading and if you’re looking for development times for FP4 PLUS, you can find them right here covering various developers at EI 100-6400.
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