Review: Ilford ORTHO Plus ISO 80 Black and White Film (35mm)

Ilford ORTHO Plus is a fine grain film that can get a whole lot of detail and treats reds/oranges like darks.

When Ilford ORTHO Plus launched last year, we were very curious about it. It’s a low grain, high detail film that needs a lot of light. But most interesting is its lack of sensitivity to reds and oranges. What this means is that the red leaves of trees during the autumn will come out looking dark. Red and orange sand will be very dark. Red cars and lipstick will be nearly pitch black. So when it comes to creativity, Ilford ORTHO Plus allows a photographer to have a more playful mind.

All scans and development were done by the Fujifilm Wonder Photo Shop.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from their website listing

ILFORD ORTHO PLUS is an orthochromatic black and white film. Designed as a high-resolution copy film for negatives, ORTHO PLUS offers superb photographic potential thanks to its fine grain and sharpness.

Ideally suited for landscape photography, the blue and green sensitivity of this emulsion enables the film to be handled in deep red* safelight conditions making processing and inspection easier.

Its lack of red sensitivity also means that reds and oranges in your frame are rendered darker with stronger contrast than standard panchromatic films (all other ILFORD and Kentmere films are panchromatic).

ILFORD ORTHO PLUS is DX coded for ISO 80 for daylight / natural light shooting. For tungsten work a manual ISO setting of 40 should be used. Alternatively, a 1 stop exposure correction can be made. Whether shooting at ISO 80 or 40, it can be processed as standard. Development times can be found in the technical data sheet or on the inside of the film cartons.

Ease of Use

First off, Ilford ORTHO Plus isn’t the easiest of films to use due to its low ISO. ISO 80 is very, very slow film. It’s nowhere as versatile while shooting casually through your day as ISO 400 or ISO 200 film. And it’s also black and white. Top all of this off with its unique properties involving red and orange and you’ve got something that nigh expert level. With that said, I’d recommend not carelessly shooting about with Ilford ORTHO Plus. Instead, make a project of it. In fact, I’ve seen some beautiful projects made with it involving sand and sun. But what I really regret not being able to do is shoot with it in the studio as we just didn’t have a lot of time to do so. Further, when testing a film like this, it’s often a balance between working in a studio and realizing that most film shooters spend their time going about life and simply just shooting. 

Here are some examples of what I mean:

You can probably barely see the text on the sign. That’s because it’s orange. Ilford ORTHO Plus renders orange as dark.

Here you see a deep red car. But the red is rendered very dark. It almost looks like blood or wine if it were converted to black and white.

In this image, all of the interiors were orange. And so the play on the scene is fascinating.

When it came to shooting in graveyards, we found that the leaves need to be very orange or very red. The deeper those colors are, the darker that they’ll be rendered. Here’s an example.

Now of course, this can lend itself to very fun effects. Anything from an apocalyptic looking sunset to a tangerine being hit with just the right light will look super awesome. And that brings us to the importance of light with Ilford ORTHO Plus. When you have cooler light hitting surfaces, it will lighten the effects. With warmer light obviously being more orange tinted, the light will also change. It’s the difference between tungsten and daylight.

Either way, you should know that Ilford ORTHO Plus film can be VERY sharp. Of course, the best results come with high-resolution scans and a good scanner. In my opinion, photo scanners these days are pretty much useless when a macro lens and a high megapixel mirrorless camera can give you arguably more details.

Image Quality

Conclusions

The Ilford ORTHO Plus film emulsion is a novelty film within an already novelty way of photography. It’s unique for sure and also a fun film to play with. But I have mixed feelings about it. The quality in and of itself is great. However, folks would really only use this film if they want that specific look. While I acknowledge and low the photos that I’ve seen done with Ilford ORTHO Plus, I’m still trying to wrap my head around whether or not someone will want to buy it in bulk. And personally, I can’t see why someone would vs Ilford’s Delta series. I encourage every photographer to give it a shot and think carefully about the scenes that they photograph. But I can’t guarantee that you’ll keep a healthy stock of it in your fridge. 

Give it a shot, and pick some up on Amazon.