An appreciation of Ilford FP4

The greatest pleasures can be taken from the simplest of things. An appreciation of something old that gets passed by while everyone tries to keep up with the crowd or the relentless progression of technology.  For me Ilford’s FP4 is one of those little pleasures.

Black and white Landscape shot on ILFORD FP4+ film by Ady KerryThe RAF

I was a photographer in the Royal Air Force from 1986 -1995.  At my RAF unit we had little choice of film stock.  It was FP4 and HP5 for black and white. Being stationed at a headquarters unit meant we had some colour film too, Kodak’s VPS.  That was it. Learn to use it and love it.  So that was pretty much what we did, we knew what it could do under sometimes the toughest of conditions and familiarity bred confidence and respect.

When I was posted to serve with the British Army for what turned out to be my last six years of service I had way more film stock to play with along with a range of developers. This allowed more flexibility in process combinations and techniques, along with a film development chart which I still have, and use today, in conjunction with most peoples turn to source:

Black and white Landscape shot on ILFORD FP4+ film by Ady Kerry

Eventually the military entered the colour age and we had our own mini-lab, but black and white photography has never left my heart, even though digital has invaded our very being.  I still edit in B&W when the opportunity arises, as can be seen from much of my work on my website:

Back to FP4

This leads me back to FP4. Which, in my opinion it has to be the most reliable, consistent and flexible 100ISO film out there.  Before you shout, I know box speed is 125ISO, but I've always exposed at 100, and processed for 125ISO.  Process it in ID11 and it produces a realistic rendition of the scene. Use APH-09 (Rodinal) and you can make it moody and grainy, and with Ilford’s LC29, contrasty subtle tones with great depth.  Works as effectively with long exposure times as it does with short.  Reciprocity failure isn’t its enemy like with Pan-F. No clumping of grain and weird process defects, just beautiful results every time.

For those who have never tried it, you must give it a go. For those who moved to newer more hip pastures, the grass isn’t always greener

FP4 is the “comfy slipper” of the film world. beautiful tones, easy to handle, consistent and reliable, a safe haven.