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Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Review – Why It’s My Favorite B&W Film Stock

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is one of the best all around black and white film stocks available. Find out why!

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is one of the most popular black and white film stocks and is a great choice for both beginning film photographers and seasoned pros. It features a classic black and white look with medium to low contrast (compared to the stronger contrast of Kodak Tri-X 400) that works just as well in both bright low light situations.

For this Ilford HP5 Plus 400 review, I loaded up my Nikon F3 and Yashica-A and shot with this film stock at its base 400 ISO, pushed +1 stop to 800 ISO, and pushed +2 stops to 1600 ISO to give you an idea of what the film is able to do! 

Since my schedule usually revolves around our Shih Tzu, Sushi, you’ll see a lot of photos of her 🙂

As a heads up, this article is geared towards the beginner, but if you’re a seasoned film pro I think you’ll find some useful information in here too.

Why It’s One of My Favorite Film Stocks

35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +1

I usually shoot with color film, but when I’m feeling the urge to shoot black and white, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is my go-to B&W film stock.

The main reason why I keep coming back to this film stock is because of its reasonable price point, how it renders both light and shadows, and how easy it is to push the film stock 1, 2, and even 3 stops.

Because of the flexibility to push this film stock, you essentially have the option to shoot with this film stock with an ISO (ASA) from 400 – 3200. This means that before you start using each roll of film, you have the alternative to shoot the film at a different base ISO depending on the situation you’re shooting in.

For example, if I was shooting with this film stock on a bright sunny day, I would use it at its base ISO of 400.

However, if I was going to use it on a cloudy day or shoot with it at night, I would shoot with it pushed between 1 – 3 stops depending on how dark the environment is. With film stocks that don’t push as easily, you’re pretty limited with the film speed.

Overall, if you’re looking for beautiful black and white film stock to fall in love with over and over again, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is a great one to pick up.

PROS

  • A classic B&W film stock that everyone should try at least once. Plus it’s cheaper than shooting color film.
  • Features a nice medium to low contrast that captures both highlights and shadows very beautifully.
  • It’s easy to push 1, 2, or even 3 stops which gives you the flexibility to change how you shoot with the film stock based on the environment you’re in.
  • B&W is easier to develop and scan at home if you want to give home developing a try.

CONS

  • At the end of the day, it’s still a black and white film stock so you’re not able to capture any color. This could be a bummer in some situations.

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Features

Black & White Contrast and Overall Look

35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +1

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is one of the most popular B&W film stocks. It’s no wonder why because of its beautiful rendering of both highlights and shadows in the image and its contrast level.

When compared to Kodak Tri-X 400, one of the other most popular black and white film stocks, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 features a more subtle medium to low contrast level and finer grain compared to the higher contrast and grittier grain of Kodak Tri-X 400.

Because of this subtle contrast, I think this is the perfect B&W film stock for portrait work, landscapes, or documenting daily life.

Here are a couple of photo examples that I think will give you a good idea of how Ilford HP5 Plus 400 looks in different lighting conditions.

Example #1

35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +1

In this image, Sushi is sitting on the floor of our bedroom which is illuminated by the light that’s streaming in from the window. Other than the light spot, the rest of the room is pretty dark and in the shadows.

What’s notable about this photo is how Ilford HP5 Plus 400 captures both the highlights and the shadows in this image and how much dynamic range is exhibited.

If you look closely at the shadows, you can see how much detail was captured. Most importantly, you can see that the highlights in the image were not overexposed by looking at the different pieces of hair on Sushi’s head that were illuminated.

Example #2

120 Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +2

I think this example gives you a good idea of what the film stock looks like pushed 2 stops and the flexibility it gives you.

In this image, Melissa and Sushi are sleeping on the bed. They are being subtly lit by natural light flowing through the window on a cloudy day.

Since it was a cloudy day, there wasn’t much natural light to work with. However, since I shot this roll pushed 2 stops to ISO 1600, I was able to capture this image while using a relatively fast shutter speed with an aperture of f/3.2 (the widest aperture of the Yashica-A).

What’s notable about this image is its skin tone rendering.

As you can see, even though it’s a dark environment, Melissa’s skin tone is rendered very nicely. What surprised me about this is because of how little light there was to work with, especially in the shadows of the image.

Film Speed

120 Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +2

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is a 400-speed film stock so it’s pretty flexible in a variety of light situations.

At ISO 400 speed, you can use it at most shutter speed and aperture combinations on bright sunny days and it’s still fast enough for cloudy days or low light situations.

What makes this film special, though, is how easy it is to push the film stock by 1, 2, or even stops. This essentially allows you to double and triple the speed of the film when compared to its box speed of 400.

By having access to these faster film speeds, it will make it much easier to use faster shutter speeds in low light situations and will give you more flexibility for indoor photography.

You can probably tell already, but one of my favorite ways to use this film stock is pushed 1 stop to ISO 800 for pet photography.

I like this film speed because it allows me to use faster shutter speeds in a variety of light conditions to capture Sushi’s movement and it’s still slow enough to use on bright sunny days.

Pushing Ilford HP5 Plus 400

120 Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +2

As I’ve been saying, one of the best features of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is how well it pushes from 1 – 3 stops. This gives you an incredible ISO range of 400 (box speed) to ISO 3200 (pushed +3) to work with.

If you’ve never heard of “pushing film” before, don’t worry. I didn’t either before I started experimenting with black and white film and it’s very easy to do.

Here’s a quick primer on what “pushing film” means.

When you push film, you’re essentially underexposing the film by 1-3 stops, depending on how far you want to push the film. Then when the film is developed, the total time of submersion in the developer and the temperature of the solution is adjusted based on how many stops its being pushed.

When you shoot, all you have to do to shoot “pushed” is to meter at the pushed ISO.

For example, if you’re shooting at night and want to push it 2 stops, just meter and shoot at ISO 1600, which is 2 stops pushed.

Just keep in mind that the more you push a film, the more contrast and grain is introduced and the lighter your final image will be.

For developing pushed film, if you choose to develop your own film, all you have to do is follow the manufacturer’s instructions for developer submersion time and temperature of the solution depending on the number of stops pushed. Typically, the more stops you push the film, the longer the developing time and higher the temperature of the developing solution.

On the other hand, if you’re sending your film to a camera stores, just mark how many stops you need the film to be pushed to. As a heads up, some stores will charge a little extra to push your film, but its usually only $1 to $2.

Important: Once you decide to push your film, make sure to shoot the entire roll of film at the same pushed ISO rating. For example, if you’re pushing Ilford HP5 Plus 400 +1 stops this means metering at ISO 800 for every shot in the roll.

Pushed Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Examples:

120 Ilford HP5 Plus 400 at box speed ISO 400
35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +1
120 Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +2

How to Meter for Ilford HP5 Plus 400

120 Ilford HP5 Plus 400 at box speed ISO 400

TL;DR – Meter at box speed of 400 for shooting on bright sunny days and err on the side of overexposure.

The film stock can also be easily pushed 1-3 stops. If pushing the film, meter according to the number of stops pushed:

  • Pushed +1: ISO 800
  • Pushed +2: ISO 1600
  • Pushed +3: ISO 3200

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 performs better when slightly overexposed. The best way to make sure you’ve exposed your image properly is to meter and expose for the shadows and mid-tones in your image.

Most of the time when you meter for shadows, it means your highlights will be overexposed slightly, but that’s ok as the film can handle it.

Grain

35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +1 to ISO 800

Ilford HP5 Plus 400 features a distinct subtle grain that is most noticeable in the shadows and bokeh of the image and is even more pronounced if you underexpose the image.

Out of the other black and white films that I’ve shot with (Kodak Tri-X and Fomapan 400), this film stock has the most balanced grain.

Although it would be nice if I could compare the grain to the rest of the black and white film stocks available, I think this gives a good idea of where Ilford HP5 Plus is on the spectrum of grain from fine to course grain.

If you’re looking for a finer grain 400 speed film stock, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is the best choice out of the three. However, if you’re looking for a grittier grain, Kodak Tri-X is worth taking a look at

Here is a good example of the type of grain that you’ll see with Ilford HP5 Plus in a high contrast scene. I shot this picture of sushi with an aperture of f/1.8 and the roll of film pushed 1 stop to ISO 800.

In this image, her face is being lit up by natural light streaming through the window about 15 feet away from her and most of the background is in the shadows. As you can see, there is a pretty distinct separation in the characteristic of the grain between the out of focus background in the shadows and Sushi’s face in the highlights.

35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +1 to ISO 800

On the other hand, here is an example of what the grain looks like when the entire scene is brightly lit. In this image, Sushi is busy smelling the flowers on a bright sunny day. I shot this image with an aperture of f/4 and a shutter speed of 1/1000. When you compare this image to the first image, you’ll notice that the grain is barely noticeable if the image is brightly lit.

35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +1 to ISO 800

Alternative B&W Film Stocks to Consider

Kodak Tri-X 400

Kodak Tri-X 400 shot at ISO 400

One of the most popular black and white film stocks that has been using the same grain profile since 1954. For those of you looking for a more contrasty and grittier look with the same flexibility to push as Ilford HP5 Plus 400, this film stock is worth a look.

  • ISO (ASA): 400
  • Best Shot At: Similar to Ilford HP5 Plus, this film stock can be easily pushed. This means you can shoot with it metered at 400, 800, 1600, or even 3200. Just remember to let your camera lab know to push your roll of film when you send it in!

Fomapan 400

120 Fomapan 400 shot at box speed of ISO 400

This is one of the cheapest black and white film stocks available and has what I can only describe as a vintage black and white feel.

If you’re just getting started with film photography and want to try some black and white film without spending a lot of money, Fomapan 400 is a good one to take a look at.

  • ISO (ASA): 400
  • Best Shot At: You’re also able to push this film 1-3 stops, however, from my experience it doesn’t push as well as Kodak Tri-X 400 or Ilford HP5 Plus 400. I’d recommend sticking to box speed of 400 at first and going from there.

Where to Develop Your Film

For newbies, having a professional lab develop and scan your photos is the best way to start, You’ll save time, get consistent results, and you’ll get to figure out if you want to continue with film photography before investing in film development equipment.

The downside is that it’s more expensive to have a professional lab develop and scan your photos in the long run.

In general, the price for developing and scanning a roll of film is usually around $15 – $20 per roll. You might find cheaper or higher prices, but I’ve found this range to be pretty standard.

If you don’t have a professional camera lab to work through in your area, here are a few of my favorites that take mail-in orders:

  • The Shot on Film Store in Seattle: $16.97 for developing and scanning. There is no extra charge to push film.
  • The Dark Room in San Clemente, CA: $15 for developing and scanning. They charge $2 to push film.
  • Blue Moon Camera in Portland: $26 for developing and scanning. There is no extra charge to push film.

Where to Buy Film

The cost for film has been slowly increasing since I first started, but here are my favorite places to find a good deal on film stock.

  • Amazon: Surprisingly, Amazon is quickly becoming one of the best places to buy film when you take into consideration shipping fees and customer service. It’s kind of a no-brainer if you’re an Amazon Prime member as you get free 2-day shipping without a minimum purchase quantity.
  • Freestyle Photographic Supply: A huge supply of different film stocks at a great price. Unfortunately, they don’t have a free shipping option.
  • Adorama: Free shipping options are available. Another good choice for a wide selection of film stock at a fair price.
  • B&H Photo: Another place to find a wide selection of film stock at reasonable prices. They also have free 1-2 day shipping if your order is over $49.
  • The Shot on Film Store: An awesome film store in the Seattle area that offers free shipping on orders over $49. They carry a large selection, however, prices have recently increased a little.
  • eBay: eBay is a great place to look if you want to buy expired film stock to try. Just make sure that you buy from a reputable seller.

If you have any questions about particular film stocks and want to speak to someone, give The Shot on Film Store a call. They are my favorite local lab where I live and are always very helpful when I have questions.

Who Is Ilford HP5 Plus for and Conclusion

35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Pushed +1 to ISO 800

Overall, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is one of the best value black and white film stocks available. It’s easy to use, produces a classic black and white image with well-balanced contrast, and you have the flexibility to shoot at box speed or pushed from 1 to 3 stops.

Honestly, I think this is a nearly perfect black and white film stock. However, if you’re looking for a more contrasty and punchier look or would like a grain with more character, Kodak Tri-X 400 might be a better fit.

Of course, the downside is that this is a black and white film stock, so if you want to capture some pops of color, a solid color film stock like Kodak Gold 200, Kodak ColorPlus 200, or Kodak Ultramax 400 are also worth a try too!

By Tom Shu

Hi! I’m a Washington State-based professional photographer and filmmaker. I quit my corporate job in 2018 to pursue this passion full-time and have been lucky enough to work on projects all over the world with brands such as Visa, Airbnb, and prAna. Here are examples of the work we do in case you're wondering. My goal with all these articles is to help you out, so if you ever have any questions just send me an email at tom@witandfolly.co, DM me at my Instagram @tom.shu or leave a comment on any of the articles!

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