Ilford HP5 Plus 400 35mm film reviewed by four photographers

We decided to take on a new approach and host two fellow film photographers from Vienna and Berlin in this review of one of the most popular black and white films – Ilford HP5+ 400. Through our different approaches to film photography and our vastly different styles, we want to show the beauty of this film. Please also bear in mind that we might have forced people to participate, bringing some bias into their verdicts. But all jokes aside – we hope you enjoy this blog post and the art of our fellow photographers.

Christophe – @victoshot

Hi! My name is Christophe, and I am 21 years old. I am currently studying in Vienna. I started shooting film just over two years ago, and I am one of the permanent writers of the series called “Grainy Vienna” that you can read on this blog.

Why I shoot Ilford HP5+

I prefer to shoot black and white 35mm film for my work. Ilford’s HP5+ has become one of the first choices when I head out for a photo walk. While, at the beginning of my film photography journey, I tended to use a lot of Kodak 400TX, I found myself using Ilford films more and more often over the past couple of months. This certainly has to do with the financial pros that come with using Ilford films, but there are also reasons in terms of style.

I really like using HP5+ for capturing city life in one of my favourite cities, Vienna. However, I also regularly use it for short photography trips to the Belgian coast. I’m working work on a series of photos for a photo book of the landscape, the people, and the towns along the coastline. I also used the film’s medium format version a couple of times for landscapes as well as for portraits on my trusty Yashica Mat-124G and was always very pleased with the results it gave me.

Qualities that I appreciate about Ilford HP5+

I mostly gravitate towards Ilford HP5 due to its versatility. When shot at box speed, it produces an image that isn’t lacking in contrast while also not being too contrasty, therefore leaving me more options in the editing process than Kodak 400TX. Shooting the film in broad sunlight at 200 ISO or indoors for portraits at 800 ISO gave me slightly different but very pleasing results. The film’s grain structure also has to be discussed as it is a fine grain that still delivers that ‘film look’ without being too noisy, which I really like. Also, the tonality of Ilford HP5 and Iford films, in general, is excellent and cannot be compared to Kodak’s black and white films, which offer an image that is a lot more contrasty and less rich in tones.

My final verdict

All in all, you cannot go wrong with Ilford HP5+ 400, in my opinion. Its versatility and price point make it an absolute must for every film shooter that wants to capture the world in black and white. For me, an absolute Kodak fan at the beginning of my film photography journey, this film has since become an absolute staple in my work and has convinced me to try out more of Ilford’s extensive range of black and white emulsions, such as FP4+ and Delta 400.

Lukas – @mindluuuk 

My name is Lukas, and I’m an amateur photographer from Vienna. I’ve been shooting digital for three years. One and a half years ago, I tried film and instantly fell in love with the format. Especially in the digital age, where everyday life is hectic and quickly transient, I find it calming to fall back on analogue technologies: limited frames, old, mechanical and sturdy cameras yet beautiful and distinctive photos.

Why I shoot HP5+

The first time I heard about HP5+ was probably through Matt Day on YouTube. It quickly became my favourite black & white film stock after I’ve tried it a few times. It’s inexpensive, and you still get a lot of detail and a nice amount of grain.

I really can’t say that there is anything I wouldn’t shoot with HP5+. Obviously, black and white works great in Vienna with all the marvellous buildings and their contrasty structures. I also adore using it when shooting the sights of mountains or for portraits as it’s fairly sharp.

Qualities I appreciate about HP5+

The first thing that comes to mind is that this film is rated at ISO 400, which simply gives you a lot of versatility. Whether it’s sunny, overcast, morning or evening, it will always be possible to have a suitable shutter speed.

By developing film at home, I recently have been looking into pushing. The results for HP5+ are awesome, with slightly more contrast and a bit more grain but overall still great. With this method, the film stock is even more versatile and useable for me. Now I’m able to shoot it at ASA 800 or 1600 (perhaps even 3200) and therefore can walk around at night in the streets of Vienna without a tripod.

I can’t think of one thing that limits the use of HP5+ for me. Above, I wrote a lot about useability and versatility, this stands out for me.

My final verdict

This film stock is my personal favourite black and white film. It’s always available, inexpensive, useable for every condition and results in beautiful photos with natural sharpness and a good amount of grain. I definitely recommend everyone to pick a roll and try it out.

Joe – @jb__shoots

My name is Joe. I´m 22 and currently studying at the University of Vienna. My analogue journey started over two years ago when I commenced my studies, and I am one of the hosts of the ‘Grainy Vienna’ blog series on Cool Film.

Here’s why I shoot Ilford HP5+

The main reason why I shoot on Ilford HP5+ is that my grandfather used the same brand back in the day. So naturally, when I started my analogue journey my father immediately suggested to me to try out some BW film from Ilford. Given the price point and the idea that my grandfather used the film for professional photography, I decided to purchase my first rolls. After shooting my first rolls and getting back the results I was blown away by the qualities of the film. Also, the lower price point compared to Kodak films just gives me more freedom while shooting HP5+. To me it is important to put the financial aspect of my passion second thus I prefer using HP5+ as it frees me from the anxiety I usually have when shooting expensive film stocks.

Furthermore, Ilford and the way the greyscales are rendered make it a great allrounder. You can easily keep the same roll of film to do everything from capturing city-life over portrait to landscape photography. This is quite important as I prefer to solely rely on one of my cameras at a time as it means carrying less gear and going faster through a roll. The film performs quite well even when lightly underexposed and has a great dynamic range, which makes it quite forgiving and of great use for people starting off their analogue journey.

Qualities I appreciate about Ilford HP5+

As mentioned earlier, I really appreciate the way Ilford HP5+ renders greyscales and creates an interesting aura of timelessness. The grain is perfectly balanced so that images just come out great and give the user an analogue look most of us long for. The contrasts of the film are good while not overly upfront and dominant in images, often creating a silverish look of photos and making them pleasing to look at. The film furthermore does well in low-light as well as bright daylight situations. While I never pushed the film myself, I really appreciate the results some fellow photographers got when pushing and pulling Ilford HP5+ from anywhere between 200 to 1600 ISO.

My final verdict

I can only advise you to buy some Ilford HP5+ yourself and try it out. You really can´t do anything wrong by getting this film stock. The qualities it offers at the current price point give you a run for your money. This film offers a great starting point, especially for people new to analogue photography and those who want to shoot in black and white. While also leaving some room for experimentation as you can pull and push it easily.

Cathleen – @clvisuals_

I’m Cathleen a 24-year-old student from Berlin and I’ve been shooting film for roughly a year now.

How I started shooting Ilford HP5+

Usually, I like to shoot colour film over black and white due to Berlin’s grey winter. I wanted to buy black and white film because it delivers moody and melancholic go for moody and melancholic vibes perfectly (for me at least). Initially, I wanted to try out Ilford HP5+ because I feel like it’s the most popular black and white film. I paid around €7 for one roll, and I was surprised about the price compared to Kodak’s black and white films.

Qualities I appreciate about Ilford HP5+

I can’t deny it, but I’m in love with detailed car shots like the cliché film photographer that I am. I focused on old cars for my first attempts, which is an easy way to start with. After shooting the same cars repeatedly, I looked out for more minimal motives in Berlin. I was excited about how the photos turned out.

The photos of the cars were incredible. They were sharp and had a fine grain, and I liked the flat and overall grey look. In this case, I liked the lack of contrast and the dominating mid-tones. Unlike my beloved pictures of cars, I wasn’t a fan of my other photos. Unfortunately, the overall greyness wasn’t for me anymore. In my opinion, the pictures were too flat, which led me to raise the contrast in the lightroom afterwards. I had to play around with the blacks to give them a bit more dynamic and fit my taste. But I must say this film seems to be quite flexible and leaves some space for editing.

My final verdict

I appreciate that so many photographers love HP5+, but I still have to find a way to shoot it that works for me! I saw pictures of some pushed HP5+, and I loved how they looked. I definitely have to try pushing this film.

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