I've never been much of an Ilford film guy. And I probably should be because Ilford has hung in there making black and white film as the world transitioned to digital photography. I love black and white photography and I need food for all these old film cameras I own. Those two reasons alone ought to have me adding a few rolls of Ilford to each B&H order. Truth is, I've never had much luck shooting Ilford. I bought a brick of Delta 100 a few years ago and still have half in the fridge. Recently, I've seen some nice images from photographers I follow on Flickr which have been rendered on Ilford's HP5+ 400 speed film. When I needed to replenish my stock of Portra 400 recently, I decided to add a few rolls of HP5+ to my B&H order and give it a try.
When I shot Delta a few years ago, my results were disappointing...harsh and stark. I have to admit, I probably didn't give it a fair shake. I'm shooting 40 year old cameras and most of my photography is in full sun with the light reflecting off of sand and water or I'm shrouded in fog with a zillion shades of gray. It's no wonder my light meters throw fits and one or two rolls of something don't make for an accurate evaluation. Needless to say, my disappointing test drives with Delta haven't motivated me to shoot any more.
My film stock shipment from B&H arrived about the same time I received my Nikon F2A back from a CLA in Sover Wong's shop in the UK. Sover does amazing work on these old Nikons and I was anxious to put mine through it's paces. I shot a roll of Portra 400 and a roll of Ilford HP5 that weekend. Here are a couple of images from the roll of Portra.
I've settled into a routine of shooting Portra 400 at half the box speed and I like the results. No matter which camera I am using, this Kodak film delivers consistent results. The following day, bright sun gave way to overcast skies. The marine layer pressed down close to the hilltops. I loaded my F2A with a roll of Ilford HP5 and headed down to the marina area in Bodega Bay.
Perhaps it was the dreary day I shot the Ilford, but I wasn't happy with any of the images I made. Compared to Tmax 400, grain is way more apparent. There is a harshness to the photographs that I just don't find pleasing. Even though my camera's light meter was just calibrated a week before, my exposures seemed off on every shot. I had to fiddle with all of these in post processing, something I try never to do. It could be that the light this day, with everything seemingly awash in middle gray, fooled the 60/40 center-weighted meter in my F2. Maybe my lab isn't any good at processing Ilford. Or, it could be that I just don't know how to shoot Ilford films.
Given that I shoot lots of old cameras and lenses in some crazy lighting situations, I probably should follow the tried and true advice of finding one film, sticking with it and learning it well. I'd probably end up with more predictable results. However, given the remaining stock of Ilford Delta and HP5 I have in the fridge, I'll probably do more research and more photography to see if can get images that please me.