Finding black and white film is just not as easy as it used to be. But that doesn’t mean that black and white photographic films aren’t out there for you to buy and use anymore.
There are several black and white films still available, if slowly disappearing off the market. This is where our guide comes in.
You’ll learn not only where to find black and white film with our handy list, but also what to look for. Our examples cover 35mm, medium and large formats.
There’s no excuse not to go out there and shoot.
[ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]
Black and White Film
There are two types of photographic film available for analogue camera systems. One is colour and the other is black and white. Within these two types, each film can differ a lot.
Without going into much detail, the brand, the treatment, and the manufactures all have their own unique style. It may take a while to find own that fits to your photographic journey.
Black and white film is just that. It is devoid of any colour at all. When you photograph on black and white film, you aim to create a negative.
From this negative, you either digitally scan or analogically print the image in a darkroom. The benefit of this is that black and white developing and printing can be done at home.
This film was the main film type until well into the 50s. Colour film had been used before, but was not commercially available until Eastman Kodak made it in 1935.
Black and white photography was easier to process. The chemicals were widely available and photographers had a long understanding of the treatments and chemicals used.
It stays with us as it can be seen as a more artistic venture. Black and white photography is great for all fields of photography, from landscapes to street scenes.
How Is the Film Made?
Black and white film consists of three layers. First, a light-sensitive emulsion layer. This emulsion contains silver salt (halides) that absorb light and react with a developing chemical.
This chemical removes the silver, revealing an image on the negative. The second layer is made of plastic, and acts as a support to the emulsion.
The third is an anti-halation layer which stops the light from bouncing back into the emulsion. It also eliminates foggy film and blurry images.
The amount of silver in the black and white film decides if the film is for well lit scenes of low light scenarios. Fine grain film, such as the Arista EDU Ultra 100 requires more light.
High ISO films, such as the Ilford Delta 3200, need less light. This allows them to be used indoors or for nighttime photography. Here, the amount of size of the silver makes this possible.
The bigger the silver pieces, the more light can be captured. This, in return, creates grain. The photographic grain you see are the silver pieces.
Why Are There Different Film Types?
Every different film manufacturer has a slightly different process when it comes to creating the film. They can differ across brands or even ISOs.
On top of this, the chemicals you use can also have an effect on the contrast and tonal range of your negative.
Apart from the basic negative, there are different types or processes you find with black and white film.
Infrared film is sensitive to infrared light. Black-and-white infrared negative films are sensitive to wavelengths in the 700 to 900 nm.
They have a very characteristic glow in the highlights. This is due to the absence of an anti-halation layer, resulting in an over exposure and blooming of well lit areas in the scene.
Typically, these films need to be used with infrared filters. These filters block different coloured light from reaching the film, changing captured wavelengths.
They need to be loaded into your camera in complete darkness. Normal black and white films can be loaded in subdued light.
This film is very rare and getting rarer. There are a few options available, such as the Rollei Infrared 400, which is available for all formats.
Slide film was very popular in the 60s onward. Many holidaymakers preferred to show their travel images using a Kodak Carousel slide projector.
Photographers continued to use these films as they offered a great archive of the image. they were easier and safer to store than the options available for negatives.
Slide film, when processed, gives you a positive rather than a negative. When holding these up to the light, you can see the transparency as if you would by holding up a print.
These films are rare and also very expensive. This is usually down to the cost of the processing included in the cost of the film.
When these films are processed, they are cut up into single frames and placed in double-sided holders. This takes a lot of time and effort.
They use the process and chemicals known as E-6 (slide film). This differs from the C-41 (negative film) process, as the chemicals create a positive, not a negative.
Push processing is a handy process you can use with your black and white film. It is often referred to as uprating, as you treat the film as if it was faster than it was.
For example, if you uprate your 800 ISO film to 3200 ISO, you increase the films sensitivity. This film developing technique involves developing your film for a much longer time.
This technique results in effective over-development of the film, compensating for underexposure in the camera. You would use this when the light situation you are photographing in changes substantially.
Cross-processing became very famous in the turn of the century. Creative camera manufacturers, such as Lomography, aimed at creating very vivid colours for artistic images.
Cross processing, or Xpro, is the deliberate processing of film in chemicals intended for different types of film. The most common being E-6 film in C-41 chemicals.
By taking a slide film, and processing it as a negative, you gain some colour shifts in the final product. Depending on the film type and manufacturer, your prints will place an emphasis on select colours.
This is typical for colour film, but black and white will also be affected. You may find that an orange mask sits over your images.
Also, another possibility is to process colour negative film in black and white developer. This makes the contrast softer, resulting in a pastel-like tonal range.
You may see the words panchromatic and orthochromatic. Panchromatic gives a realistic reproduction of a scene, where the latter is only sensitive to green and blue light.
Here, blues appear lighter and red ones darker. A cyan filter can be used with panchromatic film to create that orthochromatic look.
Choosing the Best Film
Truth be told, there is no ‘best’ film. It is what film works best for you and your style. You may find that one black and white film serves in perfect harmony to your wedding photography.
Yet, another black and white film may be better for landscapes, portraits and architecture. It will also heavily depend on the light settings. For indoor photography, anything less that 800 ISO may give you nothing.
You can of course uprate the film, but you receive more grain than if you were to use a faster film.
Instead of giving you the best film, here is a list of the films I have tried and place my trust in. You’ll find links and a brief description of each film.
You will need to try a few to find your own favourite. Research more depending on your style and subject matter. For me, the best black and white film is the Ilford range.
They are the only manufacturer that has a dedicated film above 400 ISO. The contrast and use of grain is unsurpassed, unless you are going for a very small ISO.
The most popular black and white films are the Fomapan 400, Ilford HP5+ 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400. The ISO 400 gives you more versatility when it comes to light and darker scenes.
To purchase these films, see our list of Where to Buy Film for Old Cameras.
CMS 20 – No other film is sharper, no other film is more fine-grained, no other film resolves more lines per mm. For 35mm and Large format.
100 SilverMax – Fine grain ortho-panchromatic film. For 35mm format.
160 Scala (slide film) – Same film as the SilverMax but rebranded to show its suitability for reversal process. For 35mm format.
Copex Rapid 50 – high resolution black and white Panchromatic microfilm. For 35mm and medium formats.
APX 100 – General purpose fine grained film. For 35mm format.
APX 400 – General purpose mid-grained film. For 35mm format.
EDU Ultra 100 – Fine grain and high sharpness with a wide exposure latitude. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
EDU Ultra 200 – Lacks contrast, but very fine grain. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
EDU Ultra 400 – Great tonal range, yet the contrast is a little flat. Expect long developing times. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
XXB&W – A classic B&W film stock left relatively unchanged since its release in 1959. For 35mm format.
Fomapan 100 – due to its wide exposure latitude the film gives good results even when overexposed by 1 EV (as ISO 50) or underexposed by 2 EV (as ISO 400) without any change in processing. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
Fomapan R 100 – Reversal film version of the above. For 35mm format.
Fomapan 200 – Modern general purpose panchromaticfilm using both hexagonal core and shell tabular ‘T’ grains. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
Retropan 320 – Characterised by its fine grain structure along with good resolution and edge sharpness. Offering a wide tonal range and classic appearance. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
Fomapan 400 – This negative film can be overexposed to 200 and underexposed to 1600 with no change in processing technique, making it a quite forgiving media. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
Neopan 100 – Fine General purpose film, wide exposure range. For 35mm format.
Neopan Acros 100 – Very Fine Fine grain quality for a wide range of photography applications. For 35mm and medium formats.
Neopan 400 – Fine Wide exposure latitude, push processing capability up to ISO 1600. For 35mm and medium formats.
Pan F50 – Extremely Fine Very fine detail and lack of grain; good for fine art photography. For 35mm and medium formats.
Ortho Plus – It has a high-resolution, fine grain structure and long tonal range. For Large format.
Delta 100 – Fine General purpose film, wide exposure range. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
FP4 125 – Very Fine Can be underexposed by 2-stops or overexposed by 6-stops. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
SFX 200 (infrared) – Produces beautiful skin tones with low grain. I would highly recommend always shooting +1 or +2 stops with this film. For 35mm and medium formats.
HP5 400 – Fine Ideal for low-light or outdoor scenes, can be pushed to 3200. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
Delta 400 – Fine Flexible film for fine art photography. It maintains the fine grain and level of detail normally associated with ISO 100. For 35mm and medium formats.
XP2 400 – Excellent details in highlights and improved shadows. Enhanced negative contrast. For 35mm and medium formats.
Delta 3200 – Ideal for fast action and low light photography such as night time, sport, or indoor architecture. It has great grain structure and tones. For 35mm and medium formats.
T-Max 100 – Extremely Fine General purpose film, narrow exposure range. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
Tri-X Pan 320 – A good choice for photographing dimly lighted subjects or fast action. For large format.
Tri-X Pan 400 – Fine Ideal for low-light or outdoor scenes, rich tonality maintained with overexposure and underexposure. Can be pushed 2-stops. For 35mm and medium formats.
T-Max 400 – Fine Dim lighting or fast action, can be pushed 2-stops. For 35mm and medium and large formats.
T-Max P3200 – Multi -speed continuous tone ‘T’ grain panchromatic film. Originally launched in 1998 the film was discontinued in 2012. Re-launched in USA and Europe 4 March 2018. The “P” means that although it’s an ISO 800 film, it’s designed to be push processed to an EI 3200 or higher. For 35mm.
Orca 100 – This film offers a medium grain structure and high sharpness to benefit working with the extensive depth of field. For 110 medium format.
Earl Gray 100 – General purpose, panchromatic film. Currently Fomapan 100. For medium format.
Lady Grey 400 – Boasts super-fine grain and a wide tonal rang. Perfect for formal portraits or spontaneous shots. Expect stark whites, lovely greys, and stunning blacks. For 35mm or medium format.
Berlin 400 – Unique in its high dynamic range and ability to produce distinct yet equally stunning results.
Due to its impressive latitude, you can push the ISO up to 800, 1600 or 3200 while retaining an impressive tonal range and detail. For 35mm format.
Ortho Plus 25 – Characterized by extremely high sharpness and resolving power, this unique film also features an impressively fine grain structure and is also well-suited to reversal processing for black and white transparencies. For 35 mm, medium and large formats.
RPX 25 – Extraordinarily fine grain. It also has great resolving power and high acceptance. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
ATP 32 – This film is characterised by fine grain, high sharpness and variable contrast. For medium format.
Retro 80S – Super-panchromatic film (extended red to 750 nm). For 35mm and medium formats.
RPX 100 – General purpose, medium speed Panchromatic film. Similar to Kentmere 100. For 35mm and medium formats.
Superpan 200 – Super-panchromatic film (extended red sensitivity). For 35mm and medium formats.
Retro 400S – Super-panchromatic film (extended red sensitivity). For 35mm and medium formats.
Infrared 400 – It has high contrast, very fine grain and excellent sharpness. Perfect exposures can be reached, using special infrared filters, leading into results with an unusual tonal range. For 35mm, medium and large formats.
RPX 400 – Yields a fine grain texture with notable sharpness and a wide tonal range. The film also features a broad exposure latitude, making it well-suited to push and pull development For 35mm, medium and large formats.
The list of film manufacturers seems to be growing. There are at least 18 different companies who are releasing or recently released black and white films.
These are very small manufacturers, so their film might be difficult. For a continuation, look at the Wikipedia page here.
For more film photography tips, check out our new post about pull and push film processing next!