Black-and-White Film Roundup

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Despite film being “dead,” there’s still a surprising amount of different and unique films to choose from in 2020, ranging from the classics from the major manufacturers to some more creative films from up and coming, smaller brands.

Here’s an overview of the current black and white films available right now.

Kodak

It’s hard not to start with mother Kodak in an article like this, with all of the history—the ups and downs—Kodak is still one of the true household names in all of photography. In regard to its black and white catalog, the company currently offers four different roll films, plus an additional type for sheet films.

Kodak Professional Tri-X 400 Black-and-White Negative Film
  • Tri-X 400 is still the most famous black-and-white film, and still one of the most popular films for veterans and novices. It gives the classic gritty black-and-white look that you’re probably thinking of when you look at some of the most heralded photos from history. Even if it’s not your film of choice, everyone should respect and be familiar with Tri-X 400.
  • T-Max 100 and T-Max 400 give what I would describe as a more contemporary look than Tri-X. Whereas Tri-X is grainy, T-Max is smooth; it uses a T-GRAIN (tabular) emulsion for a finer grain structure and cleaner appearance. The tighter grain also makes it especially well-suited for scanning.
  • T-Max P3200, which was recently resurrected, is the fastest film in Kodak’s stable and is ideal for working in low-light situations. As a T-GRAIN film, it has a relatively fine grain structure, but it’s still a 3200-speed film at heart and will provide the classic “salt and pepper look” of high-speed black-and-white films.
  • Tri-X 320, unfortunately only available in sheet film sizes, is another classic film that offers surprisingly very different results from it’s similarly named sibling. Tri-X 320, or TXP, has a lower-contrast profile than the 400-speed version, along with a smoother grain structure and unique highlight rendering, making it suitable for portraiture and studio applications.

Ilford

The other heavyweight of the film world, Ilford also has a rich history of film manufacturing and was actually founded nine years before Kodak. The company is known for its strong dedication to the craft and still produces a full line of films, darkroom papers, and chemistry to supply all aspects of a black-and-white workflow. Here are its current films:

Ilford HP5 Plus Black-and-White Negative Film
  • Pan F Plus is Ilford’s slowest film, and one of the slowest available from any manufacturer. As such, it gives a distinctly smooth appearance with almost no perceivable grain and a broad tonal range.
  • FP4 Plus is a traditional medium-speed film offering fine grain, normal contrast, and a wide exposure latitude; it’s a simple film giving predictable and consistent results.
  • HP5 Plus is a versatile film with a wide exposure latitude, making it suitable for use in varying lighting conditions and for push/pull development. It’s one of classic films available and, like Tri-X, a film that everyone should use at least once in their life.
  • Delta 100 and Delta 400 are Ilford’s tabular grain, or core-shell crystal technology films, that yield finer grain results than the equivalent FP4 and HP5 films. Their smooth grain structure is ideal for scanning and both films support over- and underexposure to achieve different contrast profiles.
  • Delta 3200, like the other Delta films, has core-shell crystal technology to provide a relatively fine grain structure that makes this high-speed a film a bit more versatile than traditional emulsion equivalents. It responds well to under- and overexposure, making it suitable for daylight or nighttime use.
  • SFX 200, XP2 Super, and Ortho Plus are the final three films in the lineup, and each is a specialized, unique option. SFX 200 has extended red sensitivity, which can be used to achieve some infrared effects when paired with a dark red filter; XP2 Super is the sole remaining chromogenic B&W film, meaning it can be conveniently processed in C-41 chemistry; and Ortho Plus is, well, an orthochromatic film, which means it’s only sensitivity to blue and green light and is typically used for copy and technical applications.

Rollei

Even though the Rollei name is best known for classic TLR cameras, in recent years the name has been used in conjunction with a film-manufacturing effort to produce a wide variety of different black-and-white options. Ranging from traditional, high silver content emulsions to more contemporary fine grain options, here’s a look at what Rollei has to offer:

Rollei Infrared 400 Black-and-White Negative Film
  • Infrared 400 is one of Rollei’s most popular films, likely because it is the sole remaining true infrared film available. There are other films with extended red sensitivity, but Infrared 400 has true IR sensitivity up to 820nm, and produces the distinct halation effects associated with IR photography.
  • Retro 80S and Retro 400S are a pair of distinct films with extended red sensitivity, which is used to slightly reduce haze or fog, as well as smooth blemishes when used for portraiture. They have classic silver-rich emulsions with moderate grain and are coated on a clear polyester base to suit scanning needs.
  • RPX 25, RPX100, and RPX 400 films comprehensively cover slow to fast speeds with a similar look and feel. The special thing about these films is their lack of quirkiness; they are simple, straightforward films with fine grain, a transparent film base, and flexible latitude to suit working in a variety of lighting conditions.
  • Superpan 200 is another extended red sensitivity film, up to 750 nm, that is designed to reduce the effects of haze and fog when shooting outdoors. It’s based on Agfa’s AVI PAN aerial film, giving it more of a technical film appearance with high contrast and a moderate grain structure.
  • Ortho 25 is an orthochromatic film (blue and green sensitive) that is typically used for technical and scientific applications, but can be used for pictorial situations for creative effect. As a slow film, it has a very fine grain structure with high sharpness and resolution. Also unique, this film can be used in conjunction with reversal processing methods to produce black-and-white transparencies.
  • Copex Rapid is one of the more specialized films available, and one that benefits from a specific developer (Spur Modular UR) for pictorial results. It is a microfilm, with extremely high sharpness and resolution, and naturally renders scenes with a high degree of contrast and density. When tamed during development, though, it can yield some extremely sharp results with a full range of tones.

Lomography

Best known for its toy cameras, plastic lenses, reintroduction of classic Soviet cameras, and a very distinct overall aesthetic, Lomography also produces its fair share of films. While mainly concentrated in a bevy of unique color options, there are also four black-and-white options:

Lomography Earl Gray 100 Black-and-White Negative Film
  • Earl Grey 100 and Lady Grey 400 comprise a pair of traditional black-and-white films, both with similarly smooth grain structures and broad tonal ranges. They are simple and timeless films, perfect for experimenting with or for just having on hand to capture any kind of subject.
  • Potsdam Kino 100 and Berlin Kino 400 are two distinct films “inspired by the New German Cinema.” These black-and-white films are characterized by their silver-rich emulsions that lend a classic, almost historic look to them. The 100-speed film shows less grain with higher contrast, while the 400-speed film has moderate grain with a lower contrast profile; both are suitable for daylight shooting and have a wide tonal range.

Adox

Definitely a specialist film manufacturer, Adox has some of the more curious and unique options available, including reversal films, high silver content films, and extended red sensitivity options:

Adox Silvermax 100 Black-and-White Film
  • Silvermax 100 is, as its name would suggest, a silver-rich film that supports negative and reversal processing. It’s a slower film but has a wide tonal range, up to a claimed 14 stops when developed with the dedicated Silvermax Developer.
  • SCALA 160, like the classic Agfa Scala, is a reversal film meant for making rich black-and-white transparencies. The increased silver content lends a deep tonal range with a high Dmax and, alternatively, it can be shot as a negative film with a slower exposure index for more conventional processing.
  • HR-50 has an extended red sensitivity, or what Adox refers to as a super panchromatic spectral sensitivity, for reducing haze while shooting and achieving unique IR-like effects. It’s also a slower technical film that yields high sharpness with very little grain.
  • CMS 20 II is another slow-speed film with high sharpness, fine resolution, and very little discernable grain. It’s intended to be used with Adotech II or III developers for pictorial use and can be over-exposed to help tame the high-contrast profile.

Foma

Another historic manufacturer keeping current with a useful array of black-and-white films, Foma is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary of producing traditional films. From Czechia, Foma’s films offer a distinct Eastern European aesthetic with their silver-rich emulsions that produce a wide dynamic range. The current offerings include:

Fomapan 100 Classic Black-and-White Negative Film
  • 100 Classic, 200 Creative, and 400 Action, three panchromatic films offering different combinations of speed versus graininess. All are relatively fine grained, but have a traditional appearance with a wide exposure latitude. Repackaged versions are available as Retro 100, Retro 200, and Retro 400, which feature a limited edition 1930s-inspired box.
  • Fomapan R100 is a reversal black-and-white film intended for making slides with a broad dynamic range and a realistic transference of colors to grayscale. A dedicated processing kit is available for developing the film and producing vivid transparencies.
  • RETROPAN 320 soft is a unique panchromatic negative film with notably low and manageable contrast, making it easier for traditional printing in a darkroom. It also has a distinctively high grain structure, which makes it more appealing for large format photographers and larger film formats in general; especially in 8 x 10" for contact-printing applications.

Additional Films

  • AgfaPhoto APX 100 and APX 400 are reformulated versions of the classic and beloved APX films, which are distinguished by a traditional appearance, but with finer grain. These films have wide tonal ranges and are well suited for underexposure/push development processes.
  • Arista EDU Ultra 100, EDU Ultra 200, and EDU Ultra 400 are traditional films that, as their names would suggest, are perfect for students and other educational purposes. They are flexible, versatile films that respond well to push processing and offer high consistency and a fine grain profile.
  • Bergger Pancro 400 is a newer film that was uniquely originally introduced in sheet film sizes only, and then ported over to the more common roll film sizes. It has a “dual emulsion” design that gives fine grain results and high resolution, and offers a truly distinct tonal response with medium contrast.
  • CatLABS X Film 80 and X Film 320 are silver-rich films that produce a very traditional look with a broad tonal range, medium contrast, and moderate grain. They are also designed to be flexible in terms of speed, for adjusting contrast response using different exposure-and-development combinations.
  • Cinestill BwXX Double-X is, like its color films, a cut-and-re-spooled movie film for still photography use. Making use of the unique traits of cine film, this classic film has subtle tonality, low contrast, and high sharpness, making it suitable for difficult lighting conditions and for controlling extreme highlights.
  • Japan Camera Hunter StreetPan 400 is a high-speed panchromatic film that also features a dual emulsion design to reap the benefits of a fine-grained film and a classic silver-rich design. It has a classic feel with extended red sensitivity and is coated on a transparent base to suit scanning applications.
  • Shanghai Film GP3 100 is another traditional medium-speed film with fine grain, deep blacks, and panchromatic spectral sensitivity. It’s suitable for scanning and optical printing.

With so many films to choose from, what are some of your favorites? Do you stick with the classic or stray to the edges with some of the more creative options? Let us know what you like to shoot or ask any black-and-white film questions in the Comments section, below.

3 Comments

Wow, this is great. I'll come back to take notes. Also: I didn't know Tri-X is still available. Nice!

Hello Kathi,

Glad you enjoyed article and thanks for leaving feedback, much appreciated!  Here's another post you may find interesting: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/black-and-white-photography-digital-era.

Enjoy!

Good reference list for those of us who love black & white film photography.

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