Film Emulsion Review: Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (35mm)

For some odd reason, I first picked up Ilford HP5 Plus because I was told it would be the perfect film for street photography. Why was I told this? I’m honestly not sure, but besides the work that I’m doing with film this year in 2017, I haven’t shot with Ilford HP5 since 2012. I’ve always had more of a liking for Ilford Delta and Kodak Tri-X; but my tastes have evolved over the years. Ilford HP5 Plus is a low contrast film–one that I’d like to equate to Kodak Portra 400. In fact, if you’re shooting in black and white then I’d like to call Ilford HP5 the Kodak Portra 400 of black and white film. That’s bound to either make you fall madly in love with it, or run for the hills looking for something else. Personally I think it’s fantastic for portraits, but when it comes to street photography I prefer something more raw, gritty, and contrasty.

Gear Used

I’ve used Ilford HP5 with the Voigtlander Bessa R, 50mm f1.5, and the Olympus XA2 camera.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Ilford page listing

ILFORD HP5 PLUS is a high speed, fine grain, medium contrast black & white film making it an excellent choice for journalism, documentary, travel, sports, action and indoor available light photography.

Nominally rated at ISO 400, HP5 PLUS produces negatives of outstanding sharpness and fine grain under all lighting conditions. It has been formulated to respond well to push-processing and can be rated up to El 3200/36°.

It’s wide exposure latitude makes it a great choice for beginners, those returning to film as well as the more experienced professional users.

HP5 PLUS can be processed in a wide range of different developers using spiral tanks, deep tanks and automatic processors.

Getting started in photography and wondering which film to choose? Read this guide.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

DEVELOPER DILUTION TIME ALT
ID11 Stock 7 ½
ID11 Stock 10 ½ 800/30°
ID1 1 Stock 14 1600/33°
ID1 1 1 + 1 13
MICROPHEN Stock 6 ½
MICROPHEN Stock 16 3200/36°
ILFOTEC HC 1 + 3 1 6 ½
ILFOTEC LC29 1 + 29 9
ILFOTEC DDX 1 + 4 9
ILFOSOL 3 9 6 ½
ILFOSOL 3 1 + 14 11
Stop Bath
ILFOSTOP 1 + 1 9 10 secs
Fixer
RAPID 1 + 4 2-5 minutes
CHOOSING THE BEST ILFORD DEVELOPER
Best overall image quality Liquid Powder
EI 400/27 ILFOTEC DD-X ID-11 (Stock)
EI 800/30 ILFOTEC DD-X ID-11 (Stock)
EI 1600/33 ILFOTEC DD-X MICROPHEN (Stock)
EI 3200/36 ILFOTEC DD-X MICROPHEN (Stock)
Finest grain ILFOTEC DD-X PERCEPTOL
Maximum Sharpness ILFOSOL 3 ID-11 (1+3)
Maximum Film Speed ILFOTEC DD-X MICROPHEN (Stock)
One-Shot Convenience ILFOSOL 3 (1+9) ID-11 (1+1)
ILFOTEC DD-X MICROPHEN (1+1)
Economy ILFOTEC LC29 (1+29) ID-11 (1+3)
Rapid Processing ILFOTEC HC (1+15)

Ease of Use

Ilford HP5 is a film that is simple to use overall. Load it into your camera and what you’re going to get are fairly low contrast images when you rate the film at ISO 400 and use vintage glass. If you’re more inclined to use newer glass with the more advanced coatings, you’re going to get more contrasty images of course because the lenses were designed to do this. Underexpose the film and it’s also going to be contrasty. Overexpose it and you’ll get lower contrast. Of course, all of this is relative to your development of Ilford HP5 at ISO 400. In my usage, I’ve found that I probably wouldn’t want to use it for everyday things. I appreciate it’s look and many other photographers may swear by it, but I think Ilford Delta 400, Kodak Tri-X 400, Lomography Earl Grey 100 pushed to ISO 400, and Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 are better suited to street photography.

If I ever had the chance, I’d really want to take Ilford HP5 into the studio and shoot in an extremely controlled environment where the lighting would really allow me to get the images I want. I’d say the same thing about Kodak Portra 400, and for what it’s worth, that isn’t my favorite film for shooting street. I prefer Superia for street photography. But for portraits, I really do enjoy Kodak Portra 400 and a number of the newer Tungsten films that have come out in the past few years.

Ilford HP5 has a very classic look to it and it also prints very well and sharp. However, I strongly believe that I’ve made stronger and sharper prints with Ilford Delta 400. Where Delta 400 is a bit more grainy, constrasty and grittier, HP5 is more clean, neutral, and almost soulless. With that said, it’s a film designed more for a creator than one who likes to capture the moment. The photographer who enjoys being thorough and careful about every single little thing in the image is who Ilford HP5 would most appeal to. Essentially, professional photographers or those with the absolute best and careful eyes. It delivers deep blacks but nothing that is anywhere as inky as some of Ilford’s other films.

Image Samples

Ilford HP5 is a film that, if you are shooting in a low contrast situation, it’s simply just going to become washed out unless you underexpose it a bit. If you’re shooting in contrasty light, then it’s going to neutralize the situation when shooting outdoors in the real world. In the studio, where you’ve got the most control of lighting, is where I recommend that Ilford HP5 will really be used to its highest proficiency.

Voigtlander Bessa R

The Voigtlander Bessa used for this review was in great condition, as was the lens. The coatings aren’t up to modern standards but some photographers like that look. Hence, you’ll get a look that isn’t that contrasty.

Olympus XA2

The Olympus XA2 has lens coatings that make it more contrasty than the Voigtlander. So with that said, you’ll get more contrast in the image. The photos here show off a nice looking film that appears classic in its appearance. Still though, I’m positive some photographers won’t like it for this type of work as much as they’d prefer Kodak Tri-X 400.

Conclusions

I like Ilford HP5, but personally, it’s not my favorite. I think photographers can create great images with the film, but I If you’re going to shoot with Ilford HP5 then be sure you’re more in the creating mood than the capturing mood. It’s a nice film that I think will work really well in the studio. But for what it’s worth, I think this film shouldn’t be used for street photography. I strongly recommend working with Lomography on getting it developed.