My Increasing Use of Ilford Technology for photography, development and printing

Previous readers might recall previous posts 1, 2 and 3 over the last couple of years where I describe that I have used my downtime when working in London to capture nighttime cityscapes of central London as part of an ongoing project called “The London Series” (or “London by Night”). Mostly these are black and white pictures, but I’ve also done some using Fujichrome Provia and Kodak Ektachrome.

More recently though, I wanted to give Ilford Delta 400 a try. Not because I like to jump from one film stock to another; quite the opposite in fact. It’s because I am trying to find that one film that I can use the most reliably and the most consistently for the widest range of purposes. In addition, I like to keep things simple, unified, and predictable. I’m a devout users of Ilford DD-X developer and my entire workflow mostly incorporates Ilford products. I find DD-X very convenient to store and use, and I find it creates amazing results every time with every film. So I’d prefer to keep using it and master its use rather than use one developer here and another developer there. For darkroom printing I use Ilford paper, and nothing else, and all the other chemicals I use are by Ilford too. So you see it seems foreign to me to then not also use Ilford film. Keep everything in the chain Ilford, and it is easier and more likely I will get expected results.

Until quite recently, Kodak Tri-X had largely become that one B&W film that I used the most (that is once Fujifilm Neopan 400 was discontinued and Fuji Acros soon after). I did try Ilfords films back in 2008\2009, but I was less skilled then; shot everything at box speed, didn’t do home development etc. So it isperhaps no surprise that my results back then were not outstanding. Whilst I find Tri-X great for those areas that many films struggle in like low light and mixed light, I don’t find it quite so great for bright lit scenes like outdoors at 13:00 on a sunny day, and its contrast can, at times, be a bit too much. I used it a few months ago to photograph a dog in bright midday Sun, and it looked almost infra-red in some shots. In addition, I like Ilford as a company:

  • Firstly, they are British, just like me.
  • Secondly, they have been on the go for AGES! Like since the 1860’s or something.
  • Thirdly, they are 100% dedicated to black and white. If your entire business model is centred around the concept of designing, making and distributing B&W film, and you’ve managed to do that for over 150 years, then you have to know your onions, yes?
  • Forthly, I use Ilford paper for printing, and Ilford DD-X for developing, Ilford Stopbath for stopping, Ilford Rapid Fixer for fixing. So why not also use Ilford film when they have more options than anyone else, seem more committed to film than anyone else, and produce it more affordably than anybody else? That is my thinking.

So on that basis, I have more recently being exploring how some of their films fit into my photographic life. For mid-speed requirements there is HP5 Plus (traditional T-grain) and Delta 400 (modern cubic). I’ve found HP5 to be much better than times past when I used it years ago, since I learned some time ago about pushing film, and it seems HP5 is designed to be pushed or pulled according to your needs, or shot at box if the light demands that. And now I can develop myself I can control that better. When I push it to 800 or 1600, I get quite splendid results these days. Whilst is is marked as an ISO400 speed, that’s just a guide speed, and not its “use me at that or else” speed.

Ilford Delta 400, however, is Ilfords equivalent of their “pro line” for the same speed. It’s said to be less forgiving of error, unlike HP5, but when shot correctly, apparently mind blowing. So, as I’m not one for making mistakes typically (well, I do, as we all do, but I’m not plagued by them these days, unlike what I was 30 years ago!), I thought I’d use it as part of my ongoing London Series Project.

I was nearer to The Shard than times past, so I decided to try and get a few shots featuring it quite heavily, along with the surrounding areas. The shots below are the results of this little walk about on my way to my hotel. They are mostly either handheld (when I say hand held, I mean more like a sniper, with my breath controlled, elbows tucked in and leaning against something solid) for about 1 second, or mounted for 2-4 seconds at EI800. They were then developed in Ilford Ilfotec DD-X as usual, for 10 minutes. They were stopped in Ilford Stopbath, and fixed using Ilford Rapid Fixer. Of the 12 frames, almost all were keepers, but these were the favourite pickings. I was delighted with what came out of the tank. In addition, I took them straight to the darkroom and made some prints on, you guessed it, Ilford paper using, you guessed it, Ilford Multigrade developer. The prints are perhaps some of the finest I have ever made. What’s your thoughts on this, or Ilford generally? Comment below.