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  1. #1

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    HP5 for the speed or FP4 for the fine grain

    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. #2

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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. #3

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

  4. #4

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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. #5
    Andrew O'Neill's Avatar
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    Take Brian's advice.

  6. #6
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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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.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  7. #7
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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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.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  8. #8
    cliveh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xtolsniffer View Post
    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?
    The trade off for me is aperture, not shutter speed.

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

  9. #9
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cliveh View Post
    The trade off for me is aperture, not shutter speed.
    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.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  10. #10
    Shawn Dougherty's Avatar
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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.

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