View Full Version : Why do so many LFers use slow films?

Bruce Watson
29-Sep-2003, 22:27
I'm just curious. I feel like I'm missing something here, and don't know what it is. It's not the first time, and it surely won't be the last, but...

Why do so many LFers use low speed films (ASA 100 or lower)? Put another way, why aren't you using higher speed films (ASA 400 or higher)?

I for one want all the speed I can reasonably get. Tri-X in XTOL 1:3 gives me an EI of 400, and I use every bit of it hanging around waiting for the wind to die out for a 1/8 second exposure that I would love to be taking at 1/60 or better. Two stops slower would drive me beyond the bend.

Oh, wait. I'm willing to hike 8 miles up a trail with 30 pounds of LF gear - I must already be crazy ;-)

I'm not making any judgements here. I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong. I'm just curious. So tell me: Why do you use FP4+ when you have HP5+ available?

30-Sep-2003, 00:21
Why not? LF photography isn't a fast process and long exposures are frequently the norm. Using a film that's one or two stops faster won't usually make any difference. So why hurry if you still have to wait for the light?

(well beyond the bend)

Michael S. Briggs
30-Sep-2003, 00:59
I have wondered the same. Besides the frequent mentions of slow films on LF forums, there are some additional indications that slow films are more popular. For example, Ilford dropped Delta 400 in sheet sizes but still makes Delta 100. Kodak sells only Tmax-100 in Readyloads. Presumedly these decisions are based on sales experience.

I too generally use a 400 speed B+W film. The extra speed is valuable when one doesn't want the effect of motion blur in leaves or branches.

Perhaps the predilection for slower films is because most of use started in smaller formats and needed slower films in those formats to obtain the results that we wanted. The mindset that slow films are best sometimes isn't reevaluated when people move to larger formats. Or perhaps people want films that will allow very large enlargements without grain.

CP Goerz
30-Sep-2003, 01:58
I get far better shadow separation with the slower speed films than the faster emulsions. HP5 was pretty flat after using FP4 all those years.Grain isn't a problem ever, even with 4x5 its a minor issue with 8x10 even less so. Its the contrast the film has built into it that I like.

CP Goerz

Michael Veit
30-Sep-2003, 02:00
Slower films often put shutter speeds in the range where "hat-exposure" is possible. I have at least one barrel lens I use on my 8x10 that becomes useless in many situations without slow film. For that reason, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if there were a bias for slow films in sizes 5x7+ while faster films hold their own in 4x5.

William Marderness
30-Sep-2003, 02:01
FP-4+ is my standard film, and I use HP-5+ only when I really need the extra speed. Why? Because I do platinum printing, and FP-4+ is much better suited for this. It has low fog, compared to HP-5+'s high fog. FP-4+ can be developed to the high contrast needed for platinum. I cannot get more than N development for platinum out of HP-5+ no matter what developer I use. I even tried developing HP-5+ in straight D-19, but could not get the contrast up. Past N development, the overall density increases, giving a true push or speed increase, but not more contrast. Another problem with HP-5+ is that it is very grainy when developed to high contrast. The grain shows up as gritty highlights in contact prints. Sullivan and Weese report this, and I have also noticed it. I would prefer to use a 400 speed film if it were easily developed to high contrast, had low fog, unnoticeable grain in contact prints (when the film is developed to high contrast), and were readily available in ULF sizes.

Jay DeFehr
30-Sep-2003, 02:46
I shoot portraits, and usually need all the speed I can get. I shoot HP5+ in 8x10 (rated @ei 100)unless I'm using my Verito lens in its studio shutter, in which case the wide apertures and long exposures conspire against a fast film. William, I develop my HP5+ by inspection in ABC pyro to a c.i. of about 1.6-1.8. How dense are your negs for Pt printing? At this c.i. my contact prints are grainless.

William Marderness
30-Sep-2003, 04:51
Dear Jay,

I target a density range of 1.7, like you. I use straight DK-50 to get the contrast. I know with pyro, one can get greater contrast from HP-5+, but I would rather use FP-4+ with conventional developers, than push HP-5+ to its limit. Also, HP-5+ has a shoulder when developed to high contrast, but pyro may help this, too.

David A. Goldfarb
30-Sep-2003, 06:40
My own preference is Tri-X, but one attraction of T-Max 100 is its excellent reciprocity performance, which makes it faster than Tri-X or HP5+ for long exposures.

Ted Harris
30-Sep-2003, 07:23
My standard black & white films of choice are Fuji Neopan ACROS 100 (which I often shoot at 80 or 50) and efke 25. I use a wider variety of color emulsions but seldom any that are faster than ISO 100 and I frequently rate them slower. For example I generally shoot ASTIA at ISO 80. There are a number of reasons for these choices but the primary ones relate to grain, resolution and acutance. Films in this ‘speed’ range tend to have a finer grain structure, more pleasing grain structure and alignment and higher resolution than ‘faster’ films. For the black and white films I feel they also have a more pleasing tonal scale.

There are many reasons to choose LF over MF or 35 mm and the ability to reach, or come closer to reaching, ultimate image clarity is one of the more important ones for many. The film, not the lens, is often the limiting factor in terms of maximum achievable resolution. The resolution limitations of the film become more of a factor as you move toward the ‘faster’ emulsions. For example, the manufacturer’s specifications for Provia 400 and Provia 100 describe the 400 film as about twice as ‘grainy’ (RMS of 15 v. 8) and with significantly lower resolution (40 l/mm v. 60 l/mm). Similar comparisons hold with all films that I can think of. This is not meant to be a deep technical discussion of the characteristics of one emulsion v. another but just to point out the different characteristics.

Couple the above with the comments made by earlier posters about the lack of need for fast shutter speeds in MOST situations and I can only think of a few reasons where you would want to use the ‘faster’ emulsions. High wind where you want all the help you can get to maintain image clarity and some portrait situations (although I prefer to control the resolution with the lens not the film) are the two that come most readily to mind.

Call me a Luddite but I still mourn the long-ago demise of Panatomic X and the ISO 25 color emulsions. In those situations, generally portrait or landscape, where few if any movements are required, the indefinable “thing” that sets LF images apart from all the rest is the depth of the final print; depth that is achieved by our ability to come so much closer to the ideal of what the human eye sees because of the capability of the larger film. So, why compromise this image in any way?

Donald Miller
30-Sep-2003, 07:54
I think that for myself it is a matter of being able to build a density range sufficient to print on long exposure scale materials. As others have indicated HP5, while an excellent general purpose film, is limited in it's ability to build negative contrast. Density ranges that may work very well for conventional silver enlarging materials will be inadequate for Azo, Pt-pd, Carbon. I target my density range for grade two Azo at 1.60. Many of us when we move to 8X10 and larger are wanting to create the best print possible. That means using the alternative methods and materials already listed.

N Dhananjay
30-Sep-2003, 08:29
The trouble I have typically had with fast films is that none of them provided the gradation characterisitics I liked. At least among the films I've tried, very slow and fast films seem to depart more from straght line characterisitics. Fast films also seem less pushable, although this is a grouse I have with all modern films. So, I guess it comes down to a question of which film gives you the prints you want. Cheers, DJ

David Mark
30-Sep-2003, 08:39
Hogarth, I have often asked myself the same question.

At present, I am using hp5+ in DD-X 1:6. In my darkroom I am able to print only to 16X20. At that size, my prints are grainless. Also, printing on Ilford MG, I am happy with the tonality and density range of my prints. So for the moment I see no reason to experiment with a slower speed film. I see the same benefits that you do in the faster film: reducing the potential for motion blur in portraits and landscapes. I always seem to be setting up my camera in some exposed and gusty spot. If Kodak came out with an 800 speed sheet film I would be first in line to try it.

Two slow films, Acros and TMax, are available in ready-loads, which have obvious advantages: you skip the tedium of loading film holders; your film is always clean; and you can carry more film in the field. Also, both films are said to have excellent reciprocity characteristics. See the post, above, of David Goldfarb.

About reciprocity performance: last December, the estimable Mr. Phil Davis published the results of his extensive reciprocity testing of more than 40 film/developer combinations. His tests confirmed that Acros does indeed have excellent reciprocity characteristics in most popular developers. TMax, surprisingly, did less well. In at least two developers, DD-X and XTOL, HP5+ actually had better reciprocity performance than TMax; and, of course, HP5+ starts with the advantage of being a two stops faster film.

Few of us have the time to confirm or refute by careful empirical testing the generally accepted understanding of the characteristics of various films and film/developer combinations. That is why I find Mr. Davis's newsletter so valuable. I know two phtographers who have been struggling with the notoriously finicky TMax just to have the benefit of its supposedly superior reciprocity characteristics. If Mr. Davis's results are valid -- and I have no reason to doubt that they are -- these photographers might have saved themselves the bother and continued to work with the more forgiving HP5+.

Dan Fromm
30-Sep-2003, 09:09
Um, er, ah, with low top shutter speeds, using a fast film costs free choice of aperture. Its even worse with close-up flash out-of-doors, when using a tiny aperture is a terrible idea.

In my 35 mm incarnation, I mourn Kodak's decision to discontinue KM and dread the day when I run out of it. In my 2x3 incarnation, I grit my teeth, use ISO 100 E-6 emulsions, and try to make shade when ambient is too bright. Yes, I'm aware of RVP. Others like it, but I don't. Tastes differ.



D. Kevin Gibson
30-Sep-2003, 09:35
well for one thing they don't make any in transparency and hardly any in colour print - especially 8x10

"I for one want all the speed I can reasonably get. Tri-X in XTOL 1:3 gives me an EI of 400, and I use every bit of it hanging around waiting for the wind to die out for a 1/8 second exposure that I would love to be taking at 1/60 or better. Two stops slower would drive me beyond the bend."

Why are you wating for the wind to die out? Camera shake?

David G. Gagnon
30-Sep-2003, 10:38

If my earlier post prompted this question I'll be glad to answer why I use the slower films.

When I started out in LF six or seven years ago, I was coming from 35mm where grain was always apparent in an 8x10, sometimes in much smaller enlargements. I chose tMax 100 to minimize grain and stuck with it. I realize that a 16x20 enlargement from and 8x10 negative will show little grain, even with the faster films. But when using a packard shutter, as I do with some of my lenses, faster can create a problem with not being able to operate the shutter fast enough. Most of my exposures 1/2 second and slower.

My aversion to grain began back in the seventies, when everyone was shooting 400 (color)in their 35mm cameras. I, too fell into this trap to avoid having to use a flash as much. Films have come a long way, but I still like the slower films. Kodak has finally ceased production of Royal Gold 100, my preference. A lot of people ask why I would use such a slow film, but the prints aren't grainy!

Sorry, got a little off topic there! Or at least off of LF!


30-Sep-2003, 11:18
I use high-speed films about 80% of the time because for the type of equipment that I use (ULF) and shooting conditions (very early morning and near dusk, or heavy overcast) slow speed films are not an option. With ULF work it is almost always necessary to close the lens down to at least f/45 or f/64 to get any depth of field, and working with a slow speed film like FP4+ in the low light levels always gets you into reciprocity levels, plus the slow speeds necessary result in a loss of sharpness if there is any movement in the scene, such as leaves or grass being blown by the wind.

However, regarding straight-line characteristics, if this is what you want try TMAX 400. I develop this film in Pyrocat-HD and the curve is absolutely straight-line once it moves beyond a very short toe. Better in this respect than any other film I have ever tested. Unfortunately TMAX 400 is not available in ULF size except by special order.

Christopher Condit
30-Sep-2003, 11:28
I shoot mostly cityscapes, buildings don't move, and I don't care if the few tress move a bit, they are not the point. Also, for color there's no choice.


30-Sep-2003, 11:28
With a barrel lens, as said before, you NEED a slow film. In sunlight I usually shoot TMX 100 rated at 50, with 2 stops ND and another filter also, exposed at f/45. That's the best I can do. At times I can get up to ISO 100, and for work under hotlights I can use my TMY. I'm getting low on TMX, so in the future I might try pulling TMY by a stop or two. I shoot 8x10 and contact print, so grain won't be a big problem.

30-Sep-2003, 12:29
DJ: "At least among the films I've tried, very slow and fast films seem to depart more from straght line characterisitics. "

Sandy King: "However, regarding straight-line characteristics, if this is what you want try TMAX 400. I develop this film in Pyrocat-HD and the curve is absolutely straight-line once it moves beyond a very short toe. Better in this respect than any other film I have ever tested. "

Hear that, DJ? It's wonderful in ABC, too. I'm sure this means that they'll discontinue it any day now. Enjoy it while you can.

Jorge Gasteazoro
30-Sep-2003, 14:10
I second Sandy, if they sold 400 TMY in ULF it is all I would use. I use it for 8x10 and I am very pleased with the results. The only thing I dont like is the extended red sensitivity. but using a green or blue filter (blue if there is no sky) brings back the response to similar films like Tri X. For a moment I considered going to Tri X as I love the tonal response of this film, but reciprocity gave the thumbs up to TMY. For the 12x20, fp4 is beautiful.

What puzzels me is the ACROS users, pheww...expensive film! and not significantly different than Delta 100, why pay so much more for that film? I bought a box from Badger graphics, I liked the film but for the price....thanks, but no thanks....

Brian Ellis
30-Sep-2003, 16:28
I'm with the fast film crowd. I use HP5+ at EI 200. I also use T Max 100 in Readyloads at EI 50. Since I'm photographing often in dim light with small apertures and foliage of some sort in the image, the two stop increase in shutter speed I can get with HP5+ is very helpful if there's even the slightest breeze. The only time I really like the slower film is with running water. If the light is bright it can be difficult to use a shutter speed slow enough to produce the effect I want with HP5+. Except in that very limited situation I'd much rather have the faster shutter speeds I'm able to use with HP5+.

Steve Gangi
30-Sep-2003, 18:05
I like the slower films. I usually photograph things that do not move (not much anyway), in fairly bright sunlight. So, I can still stop down a reasonable amount. Also, like some of the other people have already said, faster films like HP5 look sort of flat in comparison.

Dick Roadnight
1-Oct-2003, 12:20
Films continuse to improve...but if you move to a large format, and use foour times as much film area, and use a film two stops faster, you end up with no more detail, and no less grain.

On MF I used some FP4+ because it was all I coud get at short notice - and it was terribly soft - so I went bact to 50 ASA Pan F.

Jay DeFehr
1-Oct-2003, 18:06
Hi Dick. Your post assumes that increases in film speed are proportional 1:1 with grain, and that resolution is inversely proportionate to grain 1:1. Both assumptions are false, and vastly oversimplified.

Dick Roadnight
2-Oct-2003, 11:30

There is a trend, rather than a direct relationship between grain and speed.

Some people use LF cameras because they are masochists, or they enjoy the exercise, but if you want an improvement in picture quality over MF, you need to use decent low speed, fine grain film.

I expect, also that modern MF cameras can resolve as much detail as the original LF cameras, and that the 400 asa films of today are a bit better than the ones I used in the sixties!

Jorge Gasteazoro
2-Oct-2003, 12:26
but if you want an improvement in picture quality over MF, you need to use decent low speed, fine grain film.

I have to disagree with this, a 4x5 400 speed negative will surpass the quality of a 100 speed MF negative if both are enlarged to the same size. I am not even going to touch making 8x10 contact prints with 400 speed negatives as opposed to enlarging a 100 speed MF negative to 8x10. Simply not even close.

Even if you are talking about making equivalent enlargements, lets say 4x the quality of a LF negative is still greater than MF. If what you say was true, then nobody would be using LF and everybody would be using cameras which were big enough to be at the treshold of the no longer noticieable improvement in quality. Let me give you a hint, it is not because we are masochists and many of us who use ULF really get very little exercice from them as we usually shoot a few feet from the car....:-)

Ole Tjugen
2-Oct-2003, 14:29
My problem has always been getting films that are slow enough!

I like to have full control of DOF, so I'm likely to shoot at f:3.5 to 4.5 - depending on the lens. Using the "Sunny 11 rule" (16, modified for high latitudes) at f:4 gives 1/2000 second at EI 125...

All my lnses are old, many of the shutters don't even go to 1/100 second. To use these at full opening (f:4.5) in sunshine, I need a film speed of not more than EI 12.

When I do stop down, I've got a tripod...

Jay DeFehr
2-Oct-2003, 14:52
Hi Dick. I have, use, and love my RB67, but Jorge has got it right. There is no substitute for area of film. Grain is only one element of overall image quality, and its primacy is debatable. I think the fact that it's possibly the most recognizable component of degradation of image quality, along with ease of measurement might contribute to its position in the minds of many photographers. Other factors and characteristics like, local contrast, acutance and length of scale could be said to contribute more to the quality of an image than the grain size. If one is to consider contact printing vs. enlarging, then there is little to debate. All of that being said, in the '60s I was more interested in my BigWheel than matters photographic, so I respect your experience. Respectfully, Jay

Bruce Watson
2-Oct-2003, 14:52
My purpose in starting this thread was to learn, and I have. What a diverse set of answers. It is really interesting to me that there are so many ways of working - so many demands to place on film. Thanks to all for their responses!

4-Oct-2003, 00:48
A question to all of you participating in this thread...

As an adjunct to the issue of film and shutter speeds I'm rather curious as to what combinations of lenses and f-stops are being used with what films.

Ole has already contributed his answer but... how about the rest of you folks?


Jay DeFehr
4-Oct-2003, 02:01
Hi Henry. When using my 14 1/2"Verito in studio shutter, I shoot from wide open (f4.5) up to about f11 with FP4+ 8x10. With my 17 1/2" Kodak Copying Ektanon in Copal #3 I shoot wide open (f9) up to f22 with HP5+ 8x10, and with my Turner/Reich triple convertible I shoot Wide open (f6.8) up to f22 HP5+ 8x10. All of the above are for available light portraits.

Ole Tjugen
6-Oct-2003, 17:29
Now don't assume I always shoot at full opening! I'm just as likely to use a 121mm SA at f:80 as a 135mm Planar at f:3.5 - or a 300mm Xenar at f:4.5. But I'm serious about modern films being too fast, though...

Michael M.
7-Oct-2003, 11:08
Last Sunday we were in the mountains with my friends, but there was an overcast sky and too rainy even to step out off the door. So I arranged a nice tabletop (to be accurate: restaurant table-top) macro shot - and it was a surprise when I got (taking the reciprocity and bellows factor into account) 22mins@f/45 :-) Some incidental observers couldn't believe when I pressed the shutter, sat down, ordered my meal, ate it and then closed the shutter...
Sometimes, when shooting landscapes, nominally the ones with some water streams, I appreciate as-looong-as-possible exposures since they calm down the wavelets and incidental movements of leaves.
Now I allow myself the luxury of double-thinking and not-hurrying. This is the reason I went from 35mm to large format. And a reasonably slow film helps me hit the goal. Michael