First Impressions: An Ilford FP4 Review

When I’m shooting black and white, it’s a different mindset from shooting in color. While I don’t think I compose my images differently, I certainly focus on different subject matter.

There are many different factors that can affect a scene in black and white and can run the risk of a bland photo. From contrasts to textures, to overall light and tones of the day, it can often come through in the image even though there is no color. You have to make sure your image will have enough of each of these to make it pop.

On top of all that, is the type of film you’re using. Each black and white has its own characteristics and can really have an affect on the overall image. Whether it improves or takes away from the photo, I suppose, can be subjective – but for me, the characteristics of the film plays a big part.

Some films are notoriously grainy and gritty, others are silky smooth and clean. Some are contrasty, others flat, and some are sharp while others soft. So on and so on, the list to choose from and experiment with is unending. A film I have recently experienced and really surprised with is Ilford’s FP4 Plus.

Ilford FP4

While the list of black and white film options seems overwhelming, a name that is always at the forefront is Ilford. They have such a wide range of films it really is impressive and there’s something for everyone. Ilford makes a true quality product in every emulsion they offer, it’s hard to look elsewhere.

A great example of the quality you can expect from Ilford is FP4 Plus. Having only shot this film in 120, I can speak for the 35mm format of this stock, but for the 120 it’s an excellent film.

When people talk of FP4, the word you usually hear to describe it is “Clean”. Being a lower ISO film of 125, I suppose that can be expected, but when I develop my own black and white and it’s usually a pretty messy job. I have a hard time getting a nice clean result like you could expect from a lab.

I’ve developed other low ISO films before (such as Fomapan 100), and they have still turned out a bit messy. However, with FP4, I was very pleased on how clean the images looked even after my poor developing skills.

Looking at other the works of other people in black and white, I love seeing the moody grit and other-worldy feel black and white can give. In my own work however, I get so excited when my negatives are super crisp and clear. FP4 gives that without much effort at all.

Versatile

Versatile isn’t usually a word you hear used to describe FP4. But even though it’s a low ISO, very clean and fine grain, it still works well in more moody situations. For instance, at an ISO of 125, usually we like shoot when there is plenty of sunlight for contrast and stopping down for depth of field.

When I load a lower ISO film it’s usually a bright and beautiful day, but given my luck, the clouds come out of nowhere making it much darker than I planned. This, of course, happened to me with a freshly loaded roll of FP4. Wanting to see what the film could do, I kept shooting and was pleasantly surprised how how great it still looked.

In situations like this, I would usually grab for HP5 first to help give me quicker shutter speeds, but if I have FP4, I know things are going to be just fine. In fact I’m beginning to lean more towards FP4 from HP5 simply because of the versatility I’m seeing out of it.

On the same roll, I can have crisp photos like the ones earlier in the article, or moody and grainy photos like the one above. Interesting, there can be a bit of a mix between the two like the photo below.

With the right exposure, it’s pretty cool how you can get a very clean image of a very gritty and dirty scene. FP4 is such a sharp film, you can really pack alot of detail into a photo, especially in 120.

Contrast

Of course, being a lower ISO film, naturally it will be more on the contrasty side. Like in the photo above, I love how nice the contrast is. Not too much, not too little – it’s just the right amount, giving plenty of detail.

I love contrasty black and white photos. Like in the works of Bresson, Fan Ho and Larrain, contrast gives such a stark effect in a photo and grabs your attention. I don’t shoot much street photography like them, but I love trying to being that extreme contrast into my landscape photos.

FP4 has such a lovely contrast while still retaining plenty of detail, it makes it a great black and white emulsion for landscape photography – whether it’s nature or urban landscapes, either is perfect for this film. Maybe one day I’ll attempt some street photography, but for now, I’m happy with shooting things that don’t move.

Conclusion

So far, I’ve shot (5) rolls of FP4 and all were developed in Ilfosol 3. From what I’ve read and seen, this is a great developer for this film. I’ve extremely happy with the results I’ve got from it, especially given my lack in skills when it comes to developing.

I did developed a roll when my developer was at the end of it’s life, and still, the results were pretty cool looking. FP4 seems be an overall solid film and will look great regardless of what you throw at it, and can have various look depending on the situation.

If you’ve been eyeing those pretty white and blue boxes of Ilford film, I absolutely encourage everyone to give it a try. You just might find it hard to want to shoot another film for a while.

Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you’ve tried this film before and what you thought of it and leave a comment below.

Keep shootin’!

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