ILFORD PHOTO offer the biggest range of black & white films on the market today. While this is perfect for experienced film photographers who love having a choice, we appreciate that it can be a bit confusing for people new to film photography.

If you are looking to try film photography for the first time and are wondering where to start, then you have come to the right place.

We should start by pointing out that there is no ‘wrong’ choice when it comes to ILFORD films. They are all fantastic, and your choice will boil down to a combination of personal preference (for example grain structure) and how/what you plan to shoot (speed and exposure latitude).

DELTA PROFESSIONAL vs PLUS range comparison

The majority of our films break down into 2 distinct lines: The PLUS films (FP4 PLUS, HP5 PLUS and PAN F PLUS,) and the DELTA PROFESSIONAL films (DELTA 100, DELTA 400 and DELTA 3200).

DELTA PROFESSIONAL films use the latest film emulsion technology which give them the advantage of a lower grain to speed ratio. This means that you get less grain at the equivalent speed when compared to PLUS films presenting a marginally cleaner, sharper look.

However, PLUS films, which use an established emulsion technology, have more exposure latitude than DELTA films. This makes them better for push and pull processing. They are also less sensitive to over processing making them ideal for people learning about film photography.

There is no right or wrong choice when choosing between DELTA PROFESSIONAL and PLUS films. Both are professional quality ranges and the fundamental differences are down to the available speeds, exposure latitude and the look of the grain structure.

For a good starting point try HP5 PLUS (or FP4 PLUS if in a studio or bright light environment) and, as you get more confident with exposures, then try the Delta films to see if you prefer the look.

Specialist films

ILFORD PHOTO also produce specialist films outside of the PLUS and DELTA PROFESSIONAL ranges. These have unique characteristics that differentiate them from the others.

SFX 200 - this medium speed film has extended red sensitivity so when coupled with a deep red filter can produce infra-red style images. This is a popular creative style with black & white landscape photographers as the skies become a deep black and green vegetation a snow-like white.

XP2 SUPER – This fast speed film shares many characteristics with the DELTA 400 and HP5 PLUS films. The key difference is that this film offers the convenience of C41 colour processing which increases your processing options. You can drop it into almost any local lab, supermarket or chemist that offers film processing while your standard black & white films need to go to a specialist lab – find a local one here or try our own service.

Another feature unique to XP2 SUPER is the ability to shoot different speeds between ISO 50 and 800 on the same roll and still process as standard. (If you push or pull other films you have to keep the ISO settings consistent and process it against that ISO).

ORTHO PLUS - All ILFORD and Kentmere films are panchromatic with the exception of ORTHO PLUS which is an Orthochromatic film. This means it is blue and green sensitive but not red. Deeper oranges and reds will therefore appear dark and contrasty which can create some beautiful effects. Another unique characteristic of this film is that it can be processed using a dark red safelight which makes it ideal for those learning to load a spiral. The film is rated ISO 80 under daylight conditions but ISO 40 when shooting in Tungsten light. The film offers very fine grain and exceptional sharpness.

Kentmere films

The Kentmere brand, which includes the Kentmere Pan 100 and Pan 400 black & white films, is owned and manufactured by HARMAN technology. These films sit alongside and benefit from the same rigorous production and quality control processes as all ILFORD PHOTO films. While their emulsion is made using the same technology as HP5 and FP4, the key difference is that they contain less silver and therefore don't offer the same quality, versatility or characteristics.

Kentmere films offer superb value for money and are a great starting point for students or anyone learning film photography, before stepping up to ILFORD films.

A couple of other things worth noting before buying a film:

Film Type: The ‘type’ of film you need will be determined by the camera that you are using. We have created a short animation which explains the different types of film you can buy - 35mm, 120 roll or sheet film (sheet film is available in different sizes). Please note not every ILFORD PHOTO film is available in all of these formats.

Film Speed: Film speed or ISO is the measure of the film’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number the slower the film i.e. ISO 50 is a slower film than ISO 400. The amount of available light (either natural or created) will determine which speed you should be using. If light is limited, then a fast speed is best to keep things sharp. If there is plentiful light you can use a slower speed. As a general rule the slower speed films have a finer grain structure (when used at their recommended ISO). We have created an animation which looks at film speed and the different applications for each speed.