Let me start by saying,…”Yes, this is a subjective list”! I also only included B+W films with no concern to price. Every one of these films is rated 5 stars on every website that I’ve found that has reviewed them. So, it’s not just me. And, yes, I think Kentmere, Adox, Fomapan, Lomography and others make some great films. When price matters, there are certainly better deals. I personally load Tri-X in my Nikon F4s and Contax G2. But any of these films listed are beyond capable of great images and easy scanning. Pricing all came from one vendor to keep them consistent. (B&H) Sometimes cheaper prices can be found at other vendors.
B+W Films – Do Lists Matter?
Prices are just general and reflect 36 exposure 35mm roll film. Depends where you shop. These are all new rolls, and available right now in 2017. That they are all in stock at most outlets was another consideration. Also, all come from companies with impeccable quality control. Add your favorites to comments if you strongly disagree.
I also didn’t include samples of each film. They are all over the internet. And viewing the results of a specific film on a computer screen is suspect at best. Do lists matter? Only to the extent that a wide consensus is more than likely very valid.
Kodak Professional Tri-X 400 B+W Films – $4.95
Kodak’s Professional Tri-X 400 is the king of the hill. OK, maybe not. But it’s the king of my hill. Yes, it has fine grain,…but it’s a very beautiful organic grain. I have yet to find a B+W developer that doesn’t produce, if not always stunning, adequate results. Some are better than others, but all work. This is just a classic ISO 400 high-speed panchromatic film that is iconic in nature. Sharp, scans well, develops well, very sharp without the fancy gimmicks. I don’t know a lighting condition that this film cannot deal with. It loves daylight, strobe, direct flash,…I can go on and on. And not particularly expensive. Very, very wide latitude. You would be hard pressed to make an exposure mistake.
Ilford HP5 Plus 400 B+W Films – $5.19
I’m not sure if this was Ilford’s original film, but it seems like it’s been around forever. It’s a traditional panchromatic film. Ilford refers to it as a “general use” film, but I hate that term. If I’m somewhere traveling and am unable to get Tri-X, this is my go to film. It has very wide exposure latitude and responds very well in mixed lighting providing a very even, middle of the road tonality. Very easy to work with in the darkroom. (or your Photoshop darkroom) It’s an ISO 400 that can be developed in any standard black and white chemistry. Pushes as well as Tri-X. HP5 is a very flexible film that is at home in all lighting conditions,….artificial or not.
Kodak Professional T-Max 400 B+W Films – $4.95
Kodak’s Professional T-Max 400 is a high-speed panchromatic black and white film that pretty much mirrors the 100.. I put this one first because the outcome is near identical, but at a much faster speed. It still has that T-GRAIN emulsion providing a very fine grain structure. Very close to the 100 version. I’ve heard T-Max 400 was suppose to be a replacement for Tri-X. Uhhh,…NOT! They are very different. You can push it to1600. Making it very versatile for a wide variety of applications. When using fluorescence, it responds very well. (both the ISO 100 and 400) Surprisingly, it resolves almost as much as the 100 ISO T-Max when scanned!
Kodak Professional T-Max 100 B+W Films – $4.99
I remember when Kodak’s Professional T-Max 100 first came out. It was all the rage. It is a medium-speed panchromatic black and white film and has a very fine grain along with high sharpness and resolving power. T-GRAIN emulsion is apparently the new chemistry that was responsible for reducing the appearance of grain when enlarging and scanning. Supposedly, the T-GRAIN technology is responsible for facilitating higher sharpness when scanning. I don’t see it. But there is less grain, especially at 100 ISO. A great film. Using T-Max developer is also available for dealing with the uniqueness of the film, but standard development works fine.
Ilford Delta 400 Professional B+W Films – $7.49
Ilford’s Delta 400 Professional is a high-speed film. Not quite as sharp as Delta 100, but pretty damn close. In fact, even at 11×14, I doubt you could see a difference. It just uses standard black and white chemistry. But it seems to process best using Ilford chemicals. You can push it to 3200,…but it does get quite grainy. I’ve found it to be a true 400 with no need to adjust. Shot at 400, and developed with Ilford, the grain is quite subtle. Maybe even more so than Tri-X. YMMV
Ilford Delta 100 Professional B+W Films – $6.95
Ilford’s Delta 100 Professional is a medium-speed black and white film featuring “core-shell crystal technology” in order to produce extremely sharp results with a fine, uniform grain structure. It’s an ISO film when developed in regular black and white chemistry. It’s advertised as having a wide exposure latitude that permits rating the film between 50 and 200. (adjusting processing) The grain is very subtle. So, if you love grain, remember it is quite reduced using this film.
Ilford XP2 Super 400 B+W Films – $6.99
Ilford’s XP2 Super is a high-speed chromogenic black and white film. Meaning Walgreen’s can develop it alongside color films in C-41 chemistry. ISO 400 is the nominal film speed. It’s sharp and fairly fine grained. Depending on processing, it is sometimes prone to less than neutral tones. (on color paper) That is not an issue when printed on B+W papers. It has a very wide range of tonal values. A neutral balance between a fine grain structure and high sharpness. It has a wide exposure latitude, as well as an expansive range of mid tones. I have used this film extensively in my formative years. The great thing about this film is the ease and low cost of having it developed.
Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros B+W Films – $6.49
I have to confess. If I’m going 100 ISO, this is the film I use. I don’t know why I prefer the tonal range of this over, let’s say, a T-Max or Delta. It’s really just a personal preference. Neopan 100 Acros is an orthopanchromatic black and white film. Unless you need a more sensitive film, I can’t think of a shooting condition this film won’t excel at. The grain is really super fine. In fact, I’ve had images that people insist are digital because of appearing nearly grainless, even using 35mm. An added bonus is it has excellent reciprocity. So, long exposures,…no problemo. Little on the expensive side for B+W, but well worth it.
Ilford Pan F Plus 50 B+W Films – $6.95
I’ll be the first to tell you this is a VERY slow film! 50 ISO. Ilford’s Pan F Plus is a very slow-speed panchromatic black and white. Not the slowest, (you can get 25 ISO film), but its grain structure is very fine. I would probably just go to a medium or large format if accutance was really an issue. But this film does render a very broad tonal range and extended dynamic range. It has resolution that is one of the best of all B+W films. Including the Rollei 25 ISO films. For fine art images that are printing large, this is a great film. If you can find the light.
Arista EDU Ultra 200 B+W Films – $3.89
Supposedly, this film is Fomapan 200 Creative. Could be. I’m really not that much of a techno-nerd. But, is it a great film, with awesome tonal range? Yes. Arista’s EDU Ultra 200 Black and White is a traditional panchromatic film that is optimized for use in a range of shooting conditions. It’s pretty fine grain and is very sharp. especially for 200 ISO. It actually looks like the 100 ISO of many other films. It moderately pushes and pulls easily. While processing normally in a D-76 is great, it responds well to all other developers. Downside of this very inexpensive film? Well, this is the ONLY of all these films that is NOT DX coded.