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Thread: Best black and white film for a beginner

  1. #1

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    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

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 1999

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    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

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Dec 1999

    Best black and white film for a beginner


    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

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    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.

  5. #5

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    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!

  6. #6
    Donald Qualls's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    North Carolina

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    The Forte ISO 200 and ISO 400 films (probably available to you as Classic 200 and Classic 400 via Retro Photo or 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.
    If a contact print at arm's length is too small to see, you need a bigger camera. :D

  7. #7

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    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.


  8. #8

    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Aylesbury, Bucks, UK

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    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.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Mar 2005

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    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

  10. #10

    Best black and white film for a beginner

    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.


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