View Full Version : Best black and white film for a beginner

Paul Cutler
3-Mar-2005, 10:51
Hello everyone, I am based in London and am fairly new to large format photohraphy having bought a lovely old MPP Mark 8 a couple of months ago. This is my first post but I have been following the group discussions with great interest (it is almost as addictive as that unspeakable auction site!). I have had some success with Velvia slides and now want to take some black and white pictures and develop them myself. Having done a lot of web based research I think I am going to use the BTZS tubes approach to developing but I am totally new to the darkroom experience having moved in reverse transition to most people from digital to film based photography! Anyway, my question is, what black and white film would members recommend as a good beginners film to shoot and develop on a 5*4 camera? There is so much choice in black and white film it seems to me. I guess I am looking for one that will be quite forgiving of my inexperience. At the moment in my enthusiasm I shoot almost anything (inside and out) but I guess my main interests are people and landscapes. I would also be interested in any recommended developer combinations with it too.
Many thanks and best wishes to everyone

steve simmons
3-Mar-2005, 10:57
Everyone will have their favorites. IMHO T-Max can be finicky unless you have it mechanically processed.

My favortes are F4+ and Tri X.

steve simmons


steve simmons
3-Mar-2005, 11:11

M favorite developer with these fims s the Hutchings PMK forula.He is the author of The Book of Pyro.

This is an A and B solution tha is mixed wth water andused once.

steve simmons

Oren Grad
3-Mar-2005, 11:22
HP5 Plus in D-76 - it's widely available, offers consistent quality control in manufacture and as high a speed as you'll find in a sheet film, and is forgiving in exposure, development and physical handling. I think it's the closest equivalent in large format to the classic, ultrafriendly combination of Tri-X/D-76 1+1 in roll film.

Note that Tri-X sheet film (labeled TXP rather than TX), is completely different from TX roll film. The sheet film has a very unforgiving tonal response that combines low contrast in the darker tones with high contrast in the highlights. Stay away, until you have more experience.

If you keep at it, there's a good chance that eventually you will find other films with different characteristics that you want to use for some or all of your work. But if you want the simplest way to get started making negatives that are easy to print and deliver very presentable results, I think HP5 Plus is the way to go.

Richard Littlewood
3-Mar-2005, 11:25
FP-4 rotary processed using ID-11 diluted 1+1 @20c for 8 mins is a good starting point, and if you ditch the ID-11 in favour of another developer at some point FP-4 is still a cracking film (and easy to get hold of here in England)
Enjoy the shooting!

Donald Qualls
3-Mar-2005, 11:41
The Forte ISO 200 and ISO 400 films (probably available to you as Classic 200 and Classic 400 via Retro Photo or fotoimpex.de) are very good, and inexpensive. Inexpensive is a good thing, you'll be able to shoot without so much thought of the cost of film, and thus can put more effort into learning by doing instead of overanalyzing. If they carry it over there, the Pro 100 (coated, cut, and imported from China specifically for J&C Photo, but possibly also available through fotoimpex) is also nice, if you avoid temperatures above 20C and acid stop bath (very soft emulsion, though), and it's probably the cheapest film going in 4x5 -- I've shot some in 120 and like it, now that I've gotten the knack of avoiding pinholes and bubbles by not overstressing the emulsion, though I haven't used any of the 4x5 yet (got 50 sheets, just haven't got the camera ready). J&C says the emulsion is identical to the 120, so it should be nice.

Unlike a lot of "modern" films like Tri-X (any flavor) or T-Max, the Pro 100 and Forte films respond well to expansions and contractions, and stain well in pyro and other staining developers -- a big bonus on top of their excellent pricing.

I also like Fomapan 100 a lot in sheet format, but it's only available in centimeter sizes, as far as I know -- you might check, it's also inexpensive (that side of the pond, it might be less than Pro 100), and it might well be that the inch sizes just aren't imported here because there are so many other inch films available.

Steven Kefford
3-Mar-2005, 11:57
Not an answer, but another question. What do people think of Fuji Acros? I have got some free, and have not used it yet. Also what about developing? I have some (a lot actually) ID11.


Steve Bell
3-Mar-2005, 12:09
I looked into this myself a few months back when a I started using a 5x4 Toyo 45A. I settled on Ilford Fp4+, developed originally in FD10 as ID11 had disapeared, now using D76 1:1. I now also use HP5 to get higher shutter speeds when its windy. I have been using a Yankee tank, but although they have a bad reputation, I've had no problems. They do use a lot of chemicals, so now I'm about to try out a Paterson Orbital Processor with motor drive. I intend to try out a pack of TMAX 100 ready loads, usefull for when I'm away for a week and can't reload my film holders. If I don't like it then I'll buy more film holders off eBay.

Benno Jones
3-Mar-2005, 12:27
I'm an Acros fan. I was developing it in old daylight tanks, but now have it professionally processed as I don't have a darkroom of my own and I got tired of my film being wrecked by the stupidity of others at the rental darkroom where I do most of my work. I rate it at EI 50 and the lab (Panda in Seattle) does a great job with it. I also love Quickloads, so that's another bonus for me (I just carry my Polaroid 545 holder, meter at EI 100 for the Polaroid Type 54 film, do a test shot, if it's good, I just click to one shutter speed slower and insert the Acros quickload and shoot my neg.)

My first post here, btw. Hello!

Benno Jones

Seattle, WA USA

MacGregor Anderson
3-Mar-2005, 12:48
I have only been using large format for about a year and am still quite a beginner, so listen to the more experienced folks here first.

I started out with Tmax 100 and Ilford Fp 4 125 and HP 5 400. I used D-76 developer.

I decided early on to do some testing of the film. Not with a densitometer, but just eyeballing it to get an idea of how I needed to expose it to keep detail in shadow area (personal film speed) and how the contrast changed with different developing times.

I found that I simply could not replicate results with TMax 100. My aggitation method changed, my developer was off by a degree or two, my timing might have changed a little. It was very unforgiving. Think of it like a sports car. I think it must be a very powerful tool for the experienced and highly disciplined photographer. For me, I had some shots that looked great, and a lot that looked terrible.

Both FP 4 and HP 5 were much more predictable and foregiving. And I liked the look of the images. Classic, you might say.

You'll probably find that you are shooting your large format camera at much slower shutter speeds than you would expect from a background with handheld cameras. You might also find soon that you don't take nearly as many pictures in bright light, but instead seek out good interesting light that also happens to require slower shutter speeds. It's not unusual to start creeping up to that 1 second or longer exposure, especially if you use a filter. And things start getting funny then. Reciprocity problems. A two second exposure indicated on your meter will come out very thin. You'd need ten seconds or eight or five.

So, the extra speed of the HP 5 is valuable.

Generally, one avoids faster films because they are grainier (that's extremely simplistic but probably fair for most amateurs used to shooting smaller formats). That doesn't seem to be a problem with 4x5 negs. Unless you plan on mural sized enlargements. I've been very happy with 16x20s using HP5.

So you could maybe narrow this search down to films rated by the manufacturer at 400 or so.

And you could maybe narrow it down to more traditional type films instead of the "t-grained" modern films like T-Max.

Then consider cost, availability. And you should be all set.

By the way, my developer choice is fairly random. There are lots of good developers and maybe someone else can steer you there. You won't go far wrong with HP5 and D-76, though.

One suggestion. If you don't feel like testing right out of the gate, you might just rate your film slower. Ask here for guidelines on development times based on that rating. I shoot HP5 at 320, and many shoot it at 200. All this does is prevent you from losing detail in your shadow areas. There is plenty of info on testing here if you get interested. But that's a good guideline.


Michael Jones
3-Mar-2005, 12:53
For BTZS tube development, I'd recommend Tri-X and D-76. Good luck.


Curtis Nelson
3-Mar-2005, 13:34
My preference is Ilford HP5+ in HC-110. I've been using it for awhile now and like the results. I especially enjoy working with HC-110 for the one-shot convenience.

Mike Davis
3-Mar-2005, 13:49
I use FP-4 with the alternative dip and dunk method using the HP combi tanks described by Eugene Singer on http://www.largeformatphotography.info/alternative-developing/.

With Ilfosol-s I get good results (no streaking, good density, reasonable times), when I rate the film at 100. Like HC-110 Ilfosol offers one shot use (though you can get more than 6 sheets per liter of diluted solution (9:1), I generally use a liter for one batch only.

Tray development with Pyrex meatloaf trays (~$4 US each) is more chemically efficient and certainly cheaper for the hardware ($4 vs. $59). It uses 500ml of (9:1 solution). I have used a tray for up to six sheets as well, but I tend to get fine scratches on at least one neg of each batch when I shuffle them. Tray development with rocking agitation works great for me for single sheets.

I have had problems getting Ilfosol recently and I'm considering switching to HC-110 or FG7, but I still have one liter of concentrate left.

ronald moravec
3-Mar-2005, 14:23
FP4, HP5, and D76 should get you started very well. Do one sheet at a time and print it to see what you are getting.

D76 needs to be stored in small one time use quantities for the most consistent results. Exposure to air in a bottle causes unpredictable changes.

Hold you dev temp the same from run to run.

Gem Singer
3-Mar-2005, 15:46
Hi Paul,

No matter which method you use to develope your 5X4 sheet film, I suggest that, at least you try Ilford FP-4+ and Ilford HP-5+ film. Living in the UK, these films should be readily available to you at a reasonable price. Both are conventional grained B&W films. They are forgiving and easy to work with. Go to the Ilford website (www.ilford.com) and download the tech sheets for those films. They will give you all the information you will need for tank, tray, or rotary development.

I can recommend Ilford DD-X liquid film developer very highly. Although it can be used with most brands of B&W film, Ilford formulated DD-X specifically for their own films. The tech sheets will give you the dilutions and development times. Good luck with your adventure into the most enjoyable and intellectually stimulating (often frustrating) aspect of LF photography.

John D Gerndt
3-Mar-2005, 16:12
Pick a film or maybe two that you know will be around for a while. Getting to know a film takes time. There are Many, many good films. Pick a developer that has been around for a while and will continue to be around for a while. Film and developer do interact, get to know this "middle of the road" very, very well before you get pulled off to the margins.

My recommendations are Ilford film and HC-110 developer. There is an entire lovingly prepared website for the use of HC-110 you can find through Google. I have been using it for many years now and it is SO easy to use while being quite versitle. Ilford stock is very consistant and that counts for much as you try to pin down your technique. Read Phil Davis' book every night for a year or until it sinks in, whichever comes first. Keep it simple as you can. What everyone tends to forget is that photography is the exploration of light. If you keep track of light and what it does to film and paper, you will be an extraordinary photographer!

Good Luck,

John Sarsgard
3-Mar-2005, 16:13
HP5+ in D-76. The film is faster than Tri-X sheet film, has a beautiful tonal range, and decent exposure latitude. It's not finicky. D-76 is always available and reliable. Just follow Ilford's directions for starters. Use their specified EIs and development times and see what you get before you try the exotic stuff.

3-Mar-2005, 16:15
for 4x5 I like delta 1oo and d76. Almost fool proof. T-max is good too, and I have not found it to be finicky.

Robert Ley
3-Mar-2005, 16:19
Hi Paul,
I'm with Eugene on this one. If you are in the UK go with HP5+ and DDX developer. The DDX is great stuff, a liquid concentrate that you dilute before using and use once. It has great keeping qualities in concentrate and unless you are going to be doing alot of B&W you are better off with a developer that will keep for a while. Good luck and welcome to the world of the darkroom!

Graham Patterson
3-Mar-2005, 16:26
I like Delta 100, too, though I use FG-7. In the UK the nearest equivalent liquid concentrate might be Paterson's Aculux. I am about 5 years out of date as regards the UK market, however.

Pick something fairly conservative initially. You are looking at enough variables with a film, chemistry and processing method without adding any extra complexity.

3-Mar-2005, 17:43
Slight problem at the moment is that Ilford liquid developers are mostly out of stock (but allegedly starting to arrive - check with Silverprint - if anyone has some, they will) and powdered developers are extinct (at the time of writing).

I would just repeat what others have said: FP4+ in a developer that comes as a liquid (for simplicity's sake). If you have trouble finding DDX, have a look at Rodinal. It has a shelflife in an opened bottle that exceeds the lifetime of the known universe, it has good graduation and sharpness and it's legendary grain is not an issue in 4x5...

Have fun. Bob.

Jim Rhoades
3-Mar-2005, 17:59
In the mid '60's I started out using Tri-X and D-76. For about 35 years I chased after silver bullets. I always seemed to go back to Tri-X & D-76. Then a friend in the industry started giving me lots of free film. Bad news. Back to Tri-X.

When I retired I swore I would use Tri-X and D-76 and no more silver bullets. The Lone Ranger is long dead and his supply of bullets lost to history. Since staying with one film and developer my printing has made a quantum leap.

Living in the UK using Ilford HP5 or FP4 would make sense. Any standard developer is fine. Stay away from the newer boutique films until you really find a need to change.

Now if only Kodak would stop fooling around with Tri-X and leave it alone.

David Beal
3-Mar-2005, 18:44
Welcome to the Land that Time Forgot ...

Everybody has contributed useful information. I'll put in my 2 cents (or pence, as you folks across the pond would say).

Support Ilford if at all possible. Landscapes are superb done on Delta 100. I personally like Delta 100 at ISO 50, in Rodinal 1:50.

People look better on conventional grain film. Tri-X is pretty hard to beat. A lot of folks shoot HP5+. I've tried it, but I haven't found the majik yet...

If Fuji made Neopan 400 sheets available in the US (it is available in Japan), I'd use that instead of Tri-X.

D-76 is pretty hard to beat; but if I lived in England, I'd buy ID-11 (and when I can get it here, I do).

Good shooting.

/s/ David Beal
Memories Preserved Photography, LLC

Dave Moeller
3-Mar-2005, 20:27
Regarding Acros: I love it at ISO 50 in Rodinal 1:50. It's more forgiving than TMax in my experience. But if you're just starting out, I think the advice to stay with traditional films and developers is sound, and would highly recommend HP5+ in D76 1:1. It's an extremely forgiving combination, so you should get some positive feedback early on. Also, it's a very flexible combination so you'll be able to explore different developer dilutions, pushing, and pulling without much trouble. HP5+ is by far my favorite fast film, and it works very nicely with D76. (If you want a slower film, FP4+ is a great film to start with...but remember that grain isn't going to be a problem for you very often in 4x5.)

Also, although the temptation will be strong, do not ignore the advice to stick with one film and one developer for a while. If you don't, you'll waste a lot of film, lose some shots, and eventually come back around to one of each. You might as well avoid the costs involved in making that mistake (as many of us have already walked that particular path and it leads to nowhere good).

Pete Watkins
4-Mar-2005, 00:08
Have a look at Silverprints on line catalouge. They are based in the back streets around Waterloo and are nice people to deal with. Parking is on a yellow line but they have a camera outside and a moniter behind the counter so that you can spot the traffic warden. They are in Kenny's Zone and they don't open on Saturdays.

John Berry ( Roadkill )
4-Mar-2005, 00:56
I like fp4 and acros both in pyro. I used to use a jobo with good results but I just switched from diffused to condenser enlarger, and even with a presoak, it was too much agitation for my needs. For acros I use ISO 64-80, 10 min in ABC pyro 30 second agitation. This is for a condencer enlarger, diffused would be to a higher C.I. John Berry

Paul Cutler
4-Mar-2005, 02:17
Thank you everyone for the advice and support - I feel privileged to be able to benefit from so much experience. Reading through the responses I think I shall try Ilford FP4 and HP5 in the first instance as these seem the most conventional and safest. I was really getting lost in the maze of black and white films but now I feel I have a reference point to get started with. I also know from my own nature that it will not be long before I want to experiment so more and try some of the other recommendations people have posted here. I think the complexity of variables in black and white makes it seem both daunting for the beginner but also magical - a bit like looking out the window of your plane as you descend on a new continent when travelling. Here in the UK we have a lot of snow at present so weather permitting I shall get out this weekend and try to shoot some film. Large format certainly feels like the "land that time forgot" as David described it but it is so much fun and feels so real compared to the other stuff and as a beginner I am just so excited about the journey I am starting. Thanks again to everyone.
Best wishes

4-Mar-2005, 06:35
For very long exposure times the better reciprocity characteristics of Tmax 400 are sometimes helpful. You will find that as times increase even Tmax 100 will be faster then HP5. I normally will use HP5 but for those situations I keep some Tmax 400 loaded. And it seems like I can get some pretty good prints from it.

Paul Butzi
4-Mar-2005, 09:32
Lots of good comments on various film/developer combos, but alas, no comments that a lot depends on your intended use.

For example - print size. If you're not planning on working in very low light, or with very long exposures, then I'd recommend Acros (which has excellent reciprocity departure characteristics), or Tmax-100 (TMX) or perhaps Tmax-400 (TMY).

If you envision making very large prints, then I'd suggest either TMX or Acros.

If you're planning on scanning the negatives and then printing them digitally, I'd go with either TMX or Acros.

If you plan on working well away from your car, and/or will need to carry large quantities of film, then again, TMX and Acros are available in readyloads/quickloads.

If you're looking for film which is forgiving of processing errors, then you should avoid TMX and TMY, which are more sensitive to time/temp variations, and especially avoid Acros, which is even more sensitive to time variations than TMX is.

Charlie Skelton
4-Mar-2005, 10:25
Y0u could try Bergger film, a great merit for a beginner is that it is almost impossible to overdevelop if your doing your own. You will learn a lot from your initial exposures and arguably whatever you use, the fine points of film and developer combinations will probably not be your initial problem, the intricacies of handling the beast take quite a bit of getting used to. A few things that may help with the practicalities:
Loading darkslides gets easier with practice . If you don't have nails, unloading is easier if you turn the holder upside down and give it a tap.
You might like to try experimenting with rises and tilts eg. take a picture with the camera low down and try and get everything sharp ( a pavement is good for this). Try correcting verticals with front rise.
Y0u can do quite a lot of learning without taking a picture at all as with a ground glass, what you see is what you get! or put another way, if you can't get the image right on the ground glass then adding a slice of film into the equation is not going to miraculously change things ( I used to have an MPP, sometimes the movements are not quite enough in challenging circumstances).

One of the things I liked about the MPP ( with the caveat that mine was well used and shabby) was that you could leave it on the tripod and dump it in the back of the car, closed up it's surrounded by a thick aluminium shell and is pretty bombproof.

I live in Leigh on Sea near Southend, if you fancy a trip out this way, email me, it's only an hour away.



Pete Watkins
4-Mar-2005, 10:58
Silverprint list Berggrer. Nice offer Charlie.

4-Mar-2005, 11:11
The best advice I can give is what ever you decide on . Pick a film and a developer and stick with it.If you're going to be doing alternative processes you might consider a pyro developer. such as ABC, PMK, PyrocatHD or Wimberly's w2d2. The older style heavey emulsion films work well with pyro such as efke pl 100 JandC 200 and 400. But the main thing is work with one and refine your techniques. Once that is accomplished you can start experimenting with others.. But the main thing is have fun with it