The staying power of traditional black & white photography is amazing: there are more monochrome films on the market today than there are colour films, and the popularity of this classic technology shows no sign of going away.
Here is a complete list of the mono films that we know are still being produced. Please do get in touch with any additions or corrections.
Films from Ilford
Ilford FP4 Plus
This fine-grain film is often described as bomb-proof for its forgiving nature, both in the camera and the developing tank. Somehow, you can stuff-up exposures and developing times yet still end up with a printable negative. For this reason it’s been the film of choice for students for years, and continues to hold a special place in the hearts of photographers even when they’ve honed their skills. The box says it’s rated at ISO 125, but over exposing a little and going for ISO 100 can produce better results.
Ilford HP5 Plus
The faster speed cousin of Ilford FP4 Plus is rated at ISO 400 for an extra couple of stops of sensitivity. It’s just as forgiving of errors as FP4 and if you need to push it then it won’t complain, though you might find it a bit on the grainy side.
Zoom in on a scan from HP5 and you’ll that this is not what you’d call a fine-grain film, but then that’s rather missing the point. When printed well the grain from an HP5 neg is gorgeous and describes the image well.
Once the finest grain Ilford film, we think you’ll get finer from Delta 100 these days, but Pan (or ‘Pan F’, as it used to be called) is still a favourite with landscape photographers who are looking for something s-l-o-w. Rated at just ISO 50 this is a great choice when you want to shoot with long shutter speeds to blur motion, especially when combined with an ND filter.
Ilford XP2 Super
When Ilford introduced XP1 in 1980 it was very well received. A black & white film that could be processed in colour print film chemistry (aka C41) opened up mono photography to those without a darkroom and who liked to process their films at the chemist.
Fast forward to today and the film has gone through a few iterations – it’s now know as XP2 Super, but the same principle applies: process it in colour print chemicals and you’ll get back negatives that are easy to scan (you can use Digital ICE to reduce dust) and have tons of exposure latitude.
This film’s only competition was Kodak BW400CN, but this was discontinued in 2014, leaving XP2 Super as something of a unique emulsion that is very popular.
Ilford SFX 200
This medium-speed black & white film is more sensitive to red and near-infrared wavelengths (down to 740nm) than conventional films, making it a good option for experimental or special effects. It can be used with a filter that blocks all visible light to record pictures comprising solely infrared light, or shot sans-filter for a more traditional look and feel.
This is a manufactured-on-demand film, so it can be hard to get hold of. But try specialist retailers, like Silverprint or AGPhotographic, who should be able to advise you when they expect some in if they don’t have stock already.
Ilford Delta 100
Ilford’s Delta series of films came a decade after Kodak’s TMAX emulsions, which they are similar to in some degree. Described as tabular grain films, they use flatter silver halide crystals to deliver much finer grain that their traditional counterparts.
Ilford Delta 100 is Ilford’s finest grain film and yields silky smooth prints, both conventional and inkjet. It’s perhaps not as bomb-proof as the traditional FP4 Super, and is best exposed accurately for the best results.
Ilford Delta 400
Examine the grain of this ISO400 Delta film and you’ll see how much finer it is than other films of the same speed, like HP5 Plus and Kodak Tri-X. It scans well too, making it a good option for shoot-and-scan practitioners.
Ilford Delta 3200
Actually rated at ISO 1000, this high speed film is so forgiving that it can be exposed at its box rating easily. In fact, push it to ISO 6400 and you’ll still have useable images. Expect grain the size of golf balls, mind you. It’s part of the appeal.
Films from Kodak
The most famous film in the history of photography? We think so. Tri-X, which was introduced in 1940, revolutionised the ability to tell stories and report news with photography – what we now take for granted as photojournalism.
The product you can still buy today bears little resemblance to Tri-X of old (a reformulation in 2007 made it finer grain, but was controversial with fans), but this is still a popular film. Every now and again the death of Tri-X is rumoured, and notable professionals rush out to stock up their freezers full of the stuff. Photojournalist Don McCullin has gone on record as saying he loves it, and music photographer Anton Corbjn told Pro Photo magazine recently that it’s the only film he’s ever used.
If you fancy shooting with your own piece of history, expect coarse grain and huge latitude. Just what black & white should be.
Kodak TMAX 100
Kodak’s Tmax technology makes use of tabular film grain – ie. grains of silver halide crystals that grow in long flat shapes that lie along the direction of the film substrate. This maximises the surface area of the crystal exposed to light while minimising the amount of light that’s scattered by the crystal’s depth.
The resulting extra sensitivity is used to make film with much lower levels of visible grain than a conventional emulsion. TMAX 100 is rated at ISO 100 and is one of the most (if not the most) fine grain films out there today.
Kodak TMAX 400
Using the same principles as TMAX 100, this ISO 400 speed film can resolve the same number of lines per inch (200) as its slower counterpart. Amazing performance for such a speed of film. As such, it can be used to make large prints of outstanding quality.