Best black and white film of 2022

Black-and-white film is one of the oldest photography tools, and it’s incredibly easy to use – a big reason why beginner-level photography courses only teach students how to photograph in black and white. Black and white film was used to capture some of the world’s most iconic photographs and it remains hugely popular to this day. Monochrome photography forces a photographer to focus on how light, shadow, and shape interact in a frame to create an image. Knowing how to shoot in black and white will go a long way to helping your photographic eye, and ultimately can help your digital photographic work as well. Plus, you don’t need a lot to get started. A basic 35mm film camera won’t cost much in the secondary market, and film is generally less expensive than color film cameras.

Types of black and white films

Black and white films are either graded in tabular grain or traditional grain. Traditional grain films can be considered the original film format and include films like Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5+. Tabular grain films hit the market in the 1980s and create images that provide more detail through finer grain.

Black and white movies also vary by speed, which is very similar to setting the ISO on your digital camera. Low speed films with a rating of 100 are generally not as light sensitive and have finer grain and perform better when shot in sunny weather, mid range films in the 400 speed range are good for cloudy days or indoors, while high-speed 3200 films are best for black-and-white photography at night or situations where you want to use their graininess for creative purposes. As you shoot, you’ll probably find out which film stock is your favorite.

Things to consider when buying black and white film

Finding the right film stock for you has a lot to do with your personal aesthetic as a photographer. You should also consider the subject you plan to photograph and the photographic equipment you have. The majority of mainstream films fall between 100 and 400 and are a great option if you’re shooting with a fully manual camera and plan to do most of your work outdoors. If you’re more of a night owl and plan to film at night, a 1600 or 3200 high-speed film might be a better option for you. If you’re using a film camera with flash and are shooting in a poorly lit location, 400-speed film will likely do the trick to help balance your subject and background.

In addition to film grain and speed, many films have unique characteristics in the way they interpret color. Some films will be high contrast, while other film stocks will depict the world in much more subtle shades of gray. How you shoot and develop your film will also have a big influence on the final product.

Many movie photographers like to shoot their movies at a different ISO than what’s listed on the box in a process called push or pull. If you have a 400-speed roll of film, you can push it by setting your camera to a higher ISO speed. You will intentionally underexpose your film and then compensate for the difference in development. Push film works best in even lighting conditions. Shooting film is when you shoot it at a lower ISO than it’s rated for and will generally reduce the contrast of your film. If you push or pull a roll of film, be sure to let your lab know so they can adjust the development times on your rolls.

Best Fine Grain Black & White Film: Fuji Neopan Acros 100 II

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 II offers incredibly fine grain that renders detail beautifully. It has a nice amount of contrast and is very sharp, making it a good all-around film for a variety of subjects. Although this is a 100 speed film, it can easily be pushed to 400 for even higher contrast images. This may be the best black and white film for landscapes if you like that poppy look.

Best black and white film for beginners: Ilford HP5+

Ilford HP5+ 35mm black and white film

A film stock long preferred by first-year photography students, Ilford HP5+ is extremely easy to use and gives beginners plenty of leeway with their exposures. It’s on the grittier side and is a great movie to learn the basics of how light and shadow interact to create an image. It’s very close to the digital monochrome look of most cameras and photo editing software, and it’s much cheaper than other film. The low contrast aspect makes it one of the best black and white films for portraits.

Best High Speed ​​Black & White Film: Ford DELTA 3200

Ilford DELTA 3200 black and white film

If you love photographing nightlife, this film is for you. This 3200-speed film can be pushed really high without losing detail and has a nice grainy aesthetic. It’s ideal for shooting in low-light scenarios like concerts or bars, even without the use of a flash. It might be a bit pricey, but if you’re off on plenty of nighttime adventures with your camera, you’ll thank yourself for paying the extra.

Better hhigh contrast black and white movie: JCH Street Pan ISO 400

JCH Street Pan ISO 400 black and white film

This high contrast black and white film was designed for street photographers. This panochromatic film is excellent for cutting through the haze and fog common in big cities to create incredibly sharp images with very little grain and very moody. This film has a very thin emulsion, making it one of the best black and white films for scanning.

Best grainy black and white movie: Kodak Tri-X 400TX

Kodak Tri-X 400tx is the best grainy black and white film.

While some black-and-white films strive to minimize grain, others simply embrace it. The Kodak Tri-X 400 is one of the most recognizable film stocks in the world and a favorite of photojournalists and documentary photographers. It has a gritty look from all the grain and if you grow it yourself at home, it’s easy. If you’re ready to embrace film grain, this film is for you. Many famous shooters started out with basic photography gear and a few rolls of Tri-X.

FAQs

Q: What is the best black and white film to shoot outdoors?

Choosing the right black and white film for shooting outdoors has everything to do with the quality of the light outside. If it’s a sunny day go for 100 speed film, if it’s an overcast day use 400 speed film, if you’re shooting late at night choose something with 1600 film speed or 3200. Kodak’s T-Max 100 is a low speed tabular film, which will give you the smallest possible grain and the sharpest images.

Q: What is the best developer for black and white film?

There are a variety of chemicals you can use for black and white film development if you intend to develop at home. Both Ilford and Kodak make developers that are used in three stages, while Cinestill makes a developer called D96 which uses only one step. If you are having your film developed by a lab, just be sure to tell them that you want black and white processing on the rolls. Kodak D76 is a good starter developer, and Adox Rodinal will last extremely long after mixing.

Q: What type of black and white film should I use with a flash?

Any black and white film can be used with a flash, just make sure you measure before you shoot so you don’t blow out the highlights in your image using artificial light. Flashes tend to add contrast to a scene, so you can lean into this look with something like Tri-X 400 or tone it down with something more understated like Ilford HP5+.

Final Thoughts on Black and White Film

Even if you’re typically a digital photographer, shooting a roll of black and white film can be a fun way to spark your creativity. There’s something really appealing about taking photos and not knowing exactly what they look like and shooting in black and white will change the way you look at the world around you. Once you start filming, we’re guessing you won’t want to stop.

About Debra D. Johnson

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