Film photography has been pushed to the background for the past few decades. Digital cameras have come a long way, and their popularity has soared. And that popularity has been at the expense of analogue photography.
But film is not dead. There are still many enthusiasts that love working with analogue cameras. Digital cameras can switch to black and white at the press of a button. But they can’t replicate the feel and texture of a roll of black and white negative film.
The trouble is, film is becoming ever rarer. This is especially the case with black and white films. With fewer specialist camera shops, where can you go for information? Who can guide you and give advice when searching for film for your camera?
In this article, we’ll help you navigate the world of black and white film photography. We’ll give you need-to-know information and share our tops picks for the 15 best black and white film you can buy.
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What’s Special About Black and White Film?
Black and white film predates colour film. It has a simpler chemical emulsion and is easier to process. Colour negatives were a revelation when they first became available. But black and white photography is still with us. Its popularity has endured.
Colour can capture the brilliant hues of real life. The photos are more true-to-life. They show the world as it is. But black and white photography has a sense of romantic timelessness. A roll of film has an earthy and genuine quality. There’s the texture of the grain and the contrast of light and shade.
With digital technology, you can change a colour photo to black and white in post-processing. Or even change the settings in-camera. But you can’t replicate the black and white film.
Which Type of Black and White Film is Best for You?
Before you start shooting with black and white film, there are a few things to consider. There is no one type of film that fits every situation. You have to get the right roll to suit your photography needs.
You need to think about the kind of photography you’re going to be doing. Is it street photography, portraits, or landscapes?
Your environment is another consideration. How much light will you have? Are you working inside or outside? Will the conditions be changing? This information will influence your decision when choosing a roll.
With all that considered, you’ll be able to select the film with the correct ISO level. The ISO determines how sensitive the film is to light. One with a low ISO number is less sensitive. And a higher ISO number means the film is more sensitive to light.
A film at 50 ISO, for example, will need a lot of light. Even in a well-lit situation, you’ll need a longer exposure. While a film at 3200 ISO will work far better in low-light environments.
But there is a trade-off. Film with a higher ISO number will experience more issues with quality. The main concern is grain. The emulsion of high ISO film includes more silver halides, which create a grain texture on the photos.
Where Can You Buy Film?
Fifteen years ago, you could walk into a high-street chemist or pharmacy and buy a roll of film. But now, if you ask for film at the counter, all you get is a look of confusion. And now even specialist photography shops are becoming harder to find.
But you can still find it. If you live in a city, there will be a few camera shops that are still going. Have a look at Google Maps. You can also ask on online photography forums. There may be other users in your area that can point you in the right direction.
The best place to look is online. Websites like Film Photography Store and B&H Photo Video have excellent catalogues you can choose from. eBay is another website worth looking at. You can often find bundles, and you can even try working with expired film.
15 Best Black and White Film to Buy
Many companies still produce good black and white film. There’s Ilford, Kodak, and Fujifilm, just to name a few brands. Here’s our pick for the best black and white films to buy.
The Ilford HP5 400 is our top pick for black and white rolls. Kodak are the biggest name in film manufacturing, but Ilford pips them to the top spot when it comes to black and white film.
The HP5 400 is the best all-round roll of film in the colourless category. With an ISO of 400 and a fine grain structure, it works well in low-light conditions. The results outdoors are fabulous. But it’s even capable indoors if you have enough light.
It’s not limited to 35mm, and stock is also available for medium and large-format cameras.
When it comes to film, Fujifilm usually isn’t at the top of people’s list. But the Neopan Acros 100 is excellent.
It has an ISO of 100, so you will need plenty of light for a well-exposed image. But for outdoor shooting, like landscapes, it is fantastic. It will capture scenes in exquisite detail, with beautiful contrasts and texture.
The Acros 100 also has a fine grain quality. If your image is exposed correctly, you won’t even detect the grain.
The Tri-X Pan 400 is Kodak’s best black and white film stock. It’s a good, multi-purpose option that produces smashing results.
The 400 ISO level makes it versatile. You can work outside when conditions aren’t favourable, and the results will still have deep tones and sharp contrasts.
If you are struggling for light, you can extend the ISO range using push processing. It will allow you to trick the camera into thinking the film has a higher ISO.
4. Foma Retropan 320
Foma isn’t one of the biggest names in the photography world. But they do make excellent film. And the Retropan 320 is their best offering in black and white.
The ISO is 320, so less forgiving when light levels are low. But in the right conditions, you get fantastic resolution and clarity. There’s a fine grain structure and a sharp final quality to your photos.
The Retropan 320 is available for 35mm, medium, and large-format cameras.
The Delta 3200 is an elite, high-ISO roll of film. It is super-sensitive to light, making it ideal for indoor and night shots. It works particularly well with bright studio lighting.
The film is characterised by the heavy grain effect and the intense contrasts. It’s not always easy to it right with the Delta 3200. But it works particularly well with bright studio lighting.
The grain structure and detail give your photos a distinctly grungy finish. It’s available in 35mm and medium format.
The T-Max 100 is a great general-purpose film from Kodak. The low ISO number gives the film a fine grain structure for sharp final images.
The 100 ISO and narrow exposure range limit the film to outdoor shooting. But it’s excellent for broad exteriors and landscapes. You’ll get incredible detail and texture.
The Kodak T-Max 100 is available for 35mm, medium, and large-format cameras.
7. Holga 400
Holga is another film manufacturer that doesn’t always spring to mind when you think about analogue photography. But the Holga 400 is an excellent option for black and white photography.
It has a mid-range ISO of 400, making it a solid all-round panchromatic film. It’s versatile and produces superb results. Perhaps less forgiving than the other 400 films on the list, but still top quality.
It’s a roll for photographers with experience in black and white. And you can find Holga 400 in 35mm and medium format.
To use the Ilford Pan 50, you’ll need time and light. The low ISO level of 50 means you need a long exposure time and about as much light as you can get.
The Pan 50 is a specialist film. It won’t be much good with movement or anything less than bright light. It’s not very good for street photography.
But if you meet its needs, the image resolution is stunning. It produces an intricate level of details and no visible grain. It’s an excellent film for fine art photography.
You can use it with 35mm, medium, and large-format cameras.
T-Max P3200 was out of production for a long time. But in 2018, Kodak brought this 35mm film back. That’s one reason for black and white photographers to cheer.
The high ISO means it’s excellent in low light conditions. The images will have a high level of grain, which gives them a crunchy texture.
You can shoot with the camera set to ISO 3200. But, if you do have more light, you can set your camera to ISO 800. This will give you a softer effect, and it’s great for studio shoots.
10. Ilford Delta 400
Ilford Delta 400 is a great black and white film stock. It has an ISO of 400, but the brightness and detail are closer to ISO 100.
The photos have a soft, natural detail with a smooth finish and barely any grain. It’s perfect for fine art photography. And it’ll produce superb portraits and stunning landscapes.
The soft and lush results of the Delta 400 isn’t for everyone. But for some, that is exactly what they need. It’s available in 35mm and medium format.
Lady Grey 400 from Lomography is a superb black and white film option. It has a fine grain structure and a wide tonal range.
It works well in natural light. When shooting in daylight, it will capture excellent detail throughout the chromatic range. You’ll get stark lights, intense blacks, and beautifully rendered greys in between.
It’s a versatile film stock. You can use it for photojournalism or portraits, on the street on in the studio. Try it in 35mm or medium format.
12. Fomapan 100
Fomapan 100 is another great entry from Foma. This film produces bright and vibrant black and white images. If you get your exposure right, you’ll get excellent detail and sharp tones.
You can experiment with the wide exposure latitude. You can use it one stop down, setting your camera to ISO 50. Or you can try it one stop up, on ISO 400. And with either setting, you don’t need to make any changes in processing.
Fomapan 100 is available for 35mm, medium, and large-format cameras.
Neopan 400 is another good all-round film stock from Fujifilm. The mid-range ISO and wide exposure latitude make it an excellent option for different types of photography.
You can expect decent results when you’re shooting street photography or anything outdoors. But it’s also great for portraits in the studio or open air.
It has a fine grain pattern, and you can push it to ISO 1600 for a different effect. Give it a go in 35mm or medium format.
14. Rollei RPX 25
Rollei is an often-overlooked film brand. But their RPX 25 is one of the best low-speed options you can buy.
It’s a panchromatic film with an ISO of just 25. Give it enough light and you will have photos of exquisite clarity. The detail is intense, and you will experience little to no grain.
It isn’t exactly versatile. But it’s great for fine art photography, portraits or landscapes. The Rollei RPX 25 is available for 35mm and medium format cameras.
The Ilford Ortho Plus film is unique to large format cameras. It’s a black and white negative orthochromatic film with an ISO of 80 when used in daylight.
The images have high resolution with a super-fine grain structure. And the tonal range and contrast make for striking final photographs.
It’s only sensitive to green and blue light. This means you can handle the film in red light conditions, which makes self-processing a lot easier.
The Ortho Plus is a specialist film, but you can also get it for 35mm and large-format cameras.
Black and white film photography can seem complicated, even for film enthusiasts. It is more high-risk, and you can’t rely on colour to make your photos stand out. And there’s a lot to consider before you even get started.
Black and white photography is almost a separate discipline. You have to train your eye and use a separate set of skills compared to digital photography. And, you need the right film to suit your needs as a photographer.
But no matter what kind of photography you’re into, you can go black and white. Think about what you want to shoot and select a suitable film. Our list of the best black and white films to use will have the right option for you.