HP5 for the speed or FP4 for the fine grain

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by xtolsniffer, May 25, 2012.

  1. xtolsniffer

    xtolsniffer Member

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    Hi all,
    every now and then I have a bit of a review of the equipment/film that I'm using and think about using something else or trying something new. I usually carry a 35mm B&W setup with me (almost) everywhere. I have a Nikon FM3a with Ilford HP5 in it and an F3 with Neopan 1600 in it (for interiors), and 25, 35 and 90 mm lenses. I don't usually carry a tripod with this kit. So far I've been pretty happy with HP5, but then I don't usually print beyond 10"x8". I've now found that I'm tending to print bigger more often, up to 12"x16", which is stretching it a bit for 35mm. The grain with HP5 at this enlargement is slightly bothersome. I've been thinking for a while about switching to FP4 or other slower films, but the trade-off for me is shutter speed and camera shake for finer grain. HP5 gives me grain but I'm ok hand-holding for decent shutter speed, while FP4 or slower speed would give me finer grain and possibly better tonality at the expense of slower shutter speeds and greater risk of camera shake (which I seem to be especiallly prone to, despite years of practising to avoid it).
    And suggestions or sage words of advice?
     
  2. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    As I use up the last of my Plus-X I am converting to FP-4+. FP4 is smooth. I am also doing similar as my store of Tri-X gets used but use HP5+ for speed, not necessarily grain.
     
  3. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Sage words of advise: When using FP-4+, seriously consider a monopod or tripod. You will be richly rewarded!
     
  4. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    p.s. I shot lots of Plus-X in Yorkshire with a TLR on a monopod and was richly rewarded. I wish I could do that again!
     
  5. Andrew O'Neill

    Andrew O'Neill Subscriber

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    Take Brian's advice.
     
  6. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I can only give you my opinion.

    Value should be placed on what you prioritize about your photography. For example, do you often photograph in low light? If you do, it's better to use a fast film to get a picture at all, than to use a finer grained film and only be able to use your camera in well lit situations. Is that a compromise you're willing to make? If not, continue with HP5+.

    You have to also ask yourself whether the grain is that objectionable. It's easy to fall into groupthink on this topic, without actually truly looking within and avoiding what others think. To me, grain is welcome. It adds to the picture in my opinion. Others disagree, sometimes even vehemently. A 12x16" print from HP5+ will look fantastic to some, because of the grain, and awful to others for the same reason. If you really care about the grain, you may be left only withe the choice to compromise regarding the question of usability above.

    You could also look into what developer you use. Some yield finer grain than others, sometimes at the sacrifice of sharpness, and sometimes not. Many feel that a larger print from a 35mm negative processed in a fine grain solvent developer will look unsharp and with poor definition. Others will not mind that look. Some will prefer that the grain is clearly resolved.

    Finally, regarding tonality, HP5 and FP4 can be made to have similar tonality. FP4+ will have more inherent contrast than HP5+ does, but that just means you have to adjust how you expose and process the film. Basically, if you know the basics of how lighting contrast affects how you ought to expose and subsequently process your film, this is a non-issue, because you can basically get any type of tonality you want with either of the two films.

    So it becomes a matter of your own personal preference. Summarizing, consider how much you value shooting hand held in low light. Also, reach deep within without being concerned with other people's opinions, and work out what your personal aesthetics regarding sharpness and grain are.

    In the end, it's my opinion that if the photograph itself is compelling enough, grain and sharpness will be hugely secondary to making a print that speaks loudly to those that view it. Look at some of the very large prints by Sebastiao Salgado, for example. 35mm Tri-X and TMax 3200. Very large grain, but viewing the prints it's the very last thing on my mind.
     
  7. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I should add too that you can have both in a film like TMax 400 or Delta 400. TMax is finer grained than Delta, and has sharpness that exceeds FP4+ and grain that is equal to it. Delta 400 is about as sharp but has grain somewhere in between FP4 and HP5.

    Both films are very nice alternatives to HP5 and/or FP4.
     
  8. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    The trade off for me is aperture, not shutter speed.
     
  9. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    That's a very good observation.

    What aperture do you prefer shooting at? That's a very good question. For me that's between f/2 and f/5.6.
     
  10. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Member

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    I LOVE Ilford FP4+, it is my main film in 4x5. That said, as far as fine grain.... It's about equal to TMax400. If you want the fine really fine grain of a 100 speed film you may want to look elsewhere.
     
  11. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Hi Thomas. I nearly always shoot at 1/125 and change aperture for the light in question. I am quite fond of f8 and f5.6, but my 50mm Summilux 1.4 seems to work well at every stop. I know this trade off effects my DOF, but it works for me.
     
  12. xtolsniffer

    xtolsniffer Member

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    Lots of very interesting observations, thanks everyone. I guess for grain I already have the 1600 in the F3. And I do like grain sometimes. I've used HP5 and FP4 in 120 format where the grain in HP5 isn't an issue when enlarged pretty big. I think I need to try FP4 in 35mm and see how I get on with it. I'm usually trying to maximise depth of field, so the slow down in shutter speed may be an issue. I have thought about a move to a different t-grain 400 film but thought I'd mess around with what I know a little about first before a total change, and HP5 in XTOL is what I know best.
     
  13. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I'm not a fan of T-grain technology. I don't think it is always possible to put all the grains in the same direction and it seems unatural somehow. I can't really describe why, I just don't like it.
     
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  15. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    FP4+ for greater expansion of the film's density range.

    And for being able to use lenses without shutters easier in bright light.
     
  16. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Ilford XPII
     
  17. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    I guess the first question I'd ask you is what do you photograph? If you do street work, I think you'll have a hard time with FP4+. And if your preference is for open shadows, that will make it even more difficult since even in XTOL most people tend to downrate FP4+ a little. HP5+ will give you more flexibility in that kind of shooting. If the grain is objectionable to you, consider TMY-2. It is also very flexible, has excellent tonality, and is finer grained than FP4+. TMY-2 is a tabular grain film, but don't let that stop you. Tabular grained films can look just as "good" as the more traditional films (which are somewhat tabular grained anyway).

    If you are doing landscapes or other types of photography in which the subject is static, I'd highly recommend you use a tripod. TRIPOD. Then you can use a slower film like FP4+. And as some others have already said, FP4+ is an absolutely wonderful film in every way. Probably my all time favourite film if I had to pick one. If you want finer grain than FP4+, you could also try the tabular grain films such as Delta 100, Acros or TMX. Alternatively you could just use TMY-2 for everything (it is as fine grained than Delta 100).
     
  18. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    I am in complete agreement - I find t-grain/delta too perfect, almost like someone took cling-wrap and put it over everything. It just looks wrong, just like those cartoon versions of HDR or doing 15 mph in a Porsche or older women with a too tight facelift.

    I love my FP4 and if you really want to, you can push it to 200 without too much grain. I develop it in Rodinal to give a bit of bite for sharpness and the slow speed doesn't make it too grainy (HP5 in Rodinal is terribly grainy for me). That said, I use Tri-X for walking around, as it is more flexible when moving indoors. If a tripod is too much hassle, go with the monopod.
     
  19. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Thats a great option too.

    I switched too FP4 a little while back as my primary 35mm film and I rarely miss the faster speed, of course I'm normally an f/2 to f/4 and be there type shooter.

    Like the OP I find the grain from 35mm HP5 regularly gets in the way when printed larger than 8x10.

    Delta 400 is between the two.
     
  20. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    To each their own. I have shown people prints made with TMax400 and Tri-X400 side by side; experienced photographers and printers who can't spot a difference.
     
  21. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    You don't need a tripod to steady a camera there are several other methods.

    o lean against a wall
    o use a beanbag on a horizontal surface
    o use an easy to carry monopod
    o use a 1/4 inch coarse thread eyelet screw in tropod hole and a length of cord under your foot to steady camera
    o tuck your elbows into your body and hold your breath
     
  22. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    Yes, to each their own. Perhaps I have just never gotten T-max to behave or perhaps most of the examples I have seen (from the local community college with the same instructor) have just been overly done. I know lots of people like these films but not for me.
     
  23. Roger Cole

    Roger Cole Member

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    +1 on this. Both are great films, a little more touchy in processing but otherwise not difficult to handle. "Touchy in processing" has its advantages too - one reason TMY-2 is my standard in 4x5 is the ease of zone system expansion and, to a lesser extent, contraction. (Not that it won't work, I just don't like the effect on local contrast of contraction beyond N-1 and if I need more will either rely on printing manipulation, going to a two bath developer, or both rather than conventional N-2 or more.) If you can be reasonably careful you'll have no problems with either TMY-2 or Delta 400. I think they look fine.

    Another excellent choice, if you don't mind having someone do C41 or doing it yourself. Rate it anywhere from 50 to 400 with excellent results, 800 with pretty good results. Exposing more just makes it finer grained (and slightly flatter but that's easily bumped back up in printing.)

    Someone mentioned pushing FP4+. I occasionally run it in Diafine at EI 200-250. One of the things I liked better about Plus-X was that it responded with more speed in Diafine, but it does still get a useful additional stop out or so out of FP4 (in practical terms, spare me the densitometery in this case.) Good for contrasty light, not so good for flat light regardless if it's dim enough to need the speed bump or not.

    Better yet, just get a medium format camera. I'm at least half serious. Since I got my two medium format cameras I really only shoot 35mm in low light where I need a very fast lens AND fast film, and even that may decline once I get the 80mm 1/9 for my Mamiya. HP5+ will not show grain worth noticing in your 12x16 prints from a medium format negative, even a 645 one. Used equipment nowadays is pretty affordable.
     
  24. xtolsniffer

    xtolsniffer Member

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    I do use medium format as well, an RB67. I have two types of photography. My 'serious' mode when I'm out on my own. In this case I take the RB67 and tripod and can take all the time I want. The other, more common, scenario is that I'm out with the family and have to fit in what I can get. This usually means no tripod or the children start moaning about how long I'm taking, hence the 'no tripod, camera shake, use HP5' situation! This is when I take the 35mm kit. I've tended to gravitate to printing at 7"x5" onto a 10"x8" paper, for which HP5 is fine, it's only now that I've started printing bigger that the grain is starting to creep in, but then so is the camera shake as well! Perhaps I just need steadier hands and then all the issues will disappear.
     
  25. PeterB

    PeterB Subscriber

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    If you do consider using HP5, try comparing two rolls taken of the same subject under similar lighting conditions. Develop one in XTOL stock and the other in XTOL 1+2.
    The former dilution will have finer grain but less acutance, and vica versa. When having to trade off grain against acutance, I prefer more accutance. My current combo is HP5 with XTOL 1+2. My Normal ASA is 320 (by comprehensive testing).

    Barry Thornton in his book "Edge of Darkness" spends a great many pages explaining and showing why achieving high acutance is more appealing than the sole pursuit of ultra fine/low grain.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 26, 2012
  26. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    My favorite use of Xtol was replenished. Got both the advantages of straight and dilute at once.