Monday, November 12, 2012

Black and White Film for C-41 (Drugstore) Processing - And How To Best Shoot It

Chinese New Year Spectator, by Reed A. George
Leica CL, Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f2.5 Lens
I love to shoot film. I have found that over time, my choice of film has become easier. Rather than worry about color balance, contrast level, etc., I just go for a low contrast film, and adjust everything in Lightroom, after scanning. The reason I go for low contrast film is that you can always add contrast; you can't take it away. Fuji Reala 100 is (was) an incredibly good film for scanning. Now, I generally just buy inexpensive Fuji film of the speed I need. Actually, in retail stores, that's typically reduced to iso 200 and 400 only.
Anyway, I also normally use color film, even when I'm planning to have the final image live in black and white (b&w). Black and white conversion is so easy, good, and flexible in Lightroom that I rarely think about shooting black and white film anymore. When I did shoot b&w film, many times I would choose the films that could be developed in the ubiquitous C-41 process. This allowed me to just drop the film off at the local drugstore and get it back in an hour.
Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer has posted a piece on Ilford XP2 Super, which is a C-41 b&w film, and how to best use it. The C-41 b&w films, in addition to being convenient for quick processing, are also known to be very flexible in exposure latitude. That means that if you don't get the exposure just right, it's okay. Many people use this to push the film's native speed of iso400 to 800, or even higher. However, Mike suggests against that.
(Click Here) to read Mike's article on The Online Photographer.
Mike takes advantage of XP2 Super's characteristics to maximize the effect of the film's low grain in bright areas by typically overexposing, by shooting it at lower iso settings than the nominal 400. Here are his guidelines for iso settings with XP2:
  • In normal lighting situations, shoot at iso 200.
  • In very bright situations, shoot at iso 100.
  • In dim lighting, shoot at iso 400, never over 800.
The neat thing is, unlike normal b&w films, you don't have to adjust the processing conditions at all. So, you can still just drop it at the drugstore for processing, even if you shot at iso 100.
Go grab yourself a roll and try it out. And remember, to get the best out of XP2 Super, overexpose rather than underexpose it.