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Tuesday, 16 October 2012


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Thanks for this article! Very timely as I just received some XP2 I'd ordered. The Ephraums link is interesting, too. I didn't realize that standard developers could be used with chromogenic film. More to explore...

"I didn't realize that standard developers could be used with chromogenic film."

I didn't either, have never done it, and hence wouldn't recommend it myself.

You'd be on your own there, or at least you'd need to go on someone else's advice.


This film is a very good stuff - I have some nice prints on VC paper done with condenser enlarger (my feeling is that images were a bit less contrasty than from silver film, but that's why you use VC paper anyway). It's great if you have a reliable lab nearby (I do not).

The XP2 negative used by Eddie Ephraums in his article is explicitly described as "Rodinal processed".
Perhaps a bit confusing for readers more familiar with having chromogenic films lab-processed in C-41, rather than home-brewing conventional BW "chemistry" (by your leave, Mike).
For processing description and examples, see this page by Matt Alofs:

When Ilford first introduced XP1, they sold a trial C-41 developer kit with the film. I went through quite a few of those kits. Not too difficult even with the most basic equipment, apart from temperature control, and quite enjoyable. Only recently did I dispose of an early Ilford leaflet flaunting the ISO 200-800 exposure latitude. My first XP1 thus pushed was pure mush. I never got usable prints out of it until much later, when I scanned it.

If you're doing your own processing, any B&W developer will work, with it's own special advantages. Of course you still have to use the Blix.
It never occurred to me until reading this article -- I wonder how XP2 would do in DIAFINE?

Mike, you might like these two podcasts about the late Bill Rowlinson. An archetypal "British Style" printer http://www.silverprint.co.uk/podcasts.asp. In the interview Bill is delightfully rude about Bill Brandt

I've shot a fair bit of XP2 Super in 35mm, a happy change aftet I discovered that home processing and scanning silver-based 35mm film required quite a bit of patience from me. Thin film bases were more finicky to load onto the spools, it required heavy books to eliminate the curling when dried, and lots of blowing and spotting post scan for the inevitable dust in my dry climate.

I don't mind traditional B&W film in 120 as it's easier to handle these things, but consistent lab processing, digital ICE and the aforementioned fine-grained highlights make it a great small format B&W solution.

I quite like its tonality in all kinds of light - as these images of mine may demonstrate:




The early "banter" about exposing at random ISOs, plus some misunderstandings about the grain behavior, plus some bad processing advice, led me to my own personal XP1 disaster rather early on. It took me well over a decade to recover enough to discover just how nice XP2 could be, and how well it scanned. (I had plenty of my own contribution to the original disaster, starting with using it for something important without enough prior experience).

Curses! Now I want to buy a Pentax film camera
and use my (small collection of) F and FA lenses as they were originally intended...

Any suggestions?

I've managed to confuse myself. When you say, ".... the films are more grainy in the least exposed areas ("shadows")...", do mean least exposed areas on the negatives or as they appear in the final print?

Shadows are shadows in the negative or the print. They appear as clear or low density areas on the negative and dark areas on the print.


Boy, I really could have used this article a couple of years ago when I was shooting at the Cessna Citation Special Olympics airlift with XP2. I shot it at 400 and sure enough, grain in the shadows:

Credentials Tent, Special Olympics Citation Airlift, July, 2010

Oh, and a footnote to Illford's original XP1- not only could it be processed with C-41 chemicals, Illford also had a set of dedicated developing chemicals for it, which produced negatives which had a wide latitude of tone and were gorgeous and nearly grainless. Honestly, it was like turning a Leica into a Hasselblad. The negatives, which had a grey filmstock, printed up beautifully on Agfa and Brilliant papers, too. Here's a favorite of mine shot on XP1 and processed with the Illford chemistry:

Grandpa's Workbench, Omaha, NE, January, 1987

I preferred Kodak's T400 CN. It seemed to be punchier than XP2 Super which I always found horribly flat even if it was rated at ei 200.

I've read that the Fuji Neopan CN is a punchier version of the Ilford. Any comments on the Fuji?

Bought a pristine Leicaflex SL and 35mm f2.8 Elmarit yesterday....

XP2 does print pretty well under the enlarger, but usually requires split-grade printing to control the characteristic "gamma" of the film. Very few labs wash the film long enough. I always have them leave the rolls uncut and then when I get home I load them on a processing reel and do another 20 minutes of wash. Unless they are for scanning, then I leave it as is.

XP2 has no straight-line section of the response curve. You are always leaning into the toe or shoulder. The farther away from an ISO 400 midtone you get, the less tonal separation you get.

Thanks, that's great insight on the exposure/grain character of XP2.

It's important to note that Ilford and Kodak took two different paths to chromogenic BW workflow:

Ilford designed their film to go through C41 developing and yield a more or less black and white negative: one that could be printed with traditional black and white enlarging and printing methods. Kodak on the other hand went all in and designed their film to yield neutral black and white prints using standard C41 color printing process and paper.

Thus, Kodak's BW400 film will come back from the 1-hour lab looking like any other color negative, with the distinct orange mask. The lab prints on color print paper come back fairly neutral black and white, and almost grainless.

In my experience, XP2 will come back from the 1-hour color lab with a purplish hue, like badly washed BW negatives, and I suspect the hue is primarily anti-halation dyes that didn't get washed out. The prints on color print paper usually come out looking like extremely desaturated color prints with a slight sepia cast. Not unpleasant at all with some subjects, but in no way neutral, or black and white. (Neutral prints are possible if the operator knows what to do, but that's not going to happen at a 1-hr lab. For that, use an enlarger and BW paper.)

A third advantage to either C41 approach is that because these are dye-based negatives, the infrared dust- and scratch-removal technology in scanners (e.g. ICE, FARE) will work, which it won't do with silver negatives.

I'm tempted to dust off my Spotmatic and Rollei TLR. What a fun way to get back into film!

"Calling chemicals "chemistry" is improper grammatically but is a well established term ... "

As a professional chemist, I can tell you that its perfectly normal to call "chemistry" to the set of reagents/reactions involved in a certain process, which I guess is the meaning in this context.

So if I followed all of that ... it gives you images with clean highlights and noisy shadows, best practice is "expose to the right", and good prints are obtained digitally.

I should let my friend know ... years ago, he bought a "spare" Pentax K1000 before they stopped making them. He just found it in his closet, never opened.

"usually requires split-grade printing"

That depends what you mean by "split-grade printing."


Thanks for that Eugenio....


Yonatan: Pentax MX. That's what I would do, in your place, without a second's hesitation. I heavily regretted trading mine in for a Program A, in about 1986, and being too proud / dumb to just switch back. That feeling has not really dimmed since. Only the most careful selfcontrol has kept me from buying another, but... not unless I am going to actually use it, and I just won't. No good for DA lenses - no aperture ring on those.

But - ohhh, that just-so handling; that viewfinder! (of course, my manual-focusing eyesight was much younger back then)

Although the Eddie Ephraums article in the footnote claims the negative is XP2, a quick look at my copy of 'Creative Elements' suggests that it's actually TMAX-400.

Underlying XP2 (and any colour emulsion) is a traditional silver halide emulsion which is then replaced during the development process by the dye. So you can use a traditional B&W developer - but you sacrifice the benefit of the dye clouds, so it's of limited use.


Only drawback (don't think it's been mentioned)- once scanned, it's back to duplicating those digital files ad infinitum since those chromogenic dye based negs will fade...

I remember that XP-1 had two emulsion layers with different sensitivities and that these two layers each had a different color of dye. This was why prints on color paper had a split-toning look to them, and I assume that the Kodak film does not have that feature in order to look good on color paper, but I never used it.
I messed around with printing XP-1 with a dicro enlarger with different filter packs (I just realized what an anachronism "filter pack" is) in the early 80s , just enough to figure out that there were essentially two differently exposed images , then switched to a format that XP-1 did not come in.

I would imagine that color scans of XP-2 could exploit the dual sensitivities in some useful ways by manipulating the ways of combining them .

I've used Ilford XP Super as well, but for a different reason than most. The only lab I have access to processes B&W through a constant agitation Jobo, and I don't care what anyone says, it looks "fogged" to me. The lab guy swears this isn't true, and "tut-tuts" my admonishment that film is made to perform best under an agitation/rest cycle, to promote edge accutance. He claims whatever developer he's using does the correct job with constant agitation, but I just don't see it.

I went so far as to shoot two rolls of film one time, and have one processed at Gamma in San Francisco, where I know they do a great job, and had him process a roll, and the results were strikingly different, with the Gamma film showing superiority.

My only fall back was to shoot chromogenic black and white (altho I also got better results with the Kodak stuff, which is getting hard to find), and letting him process it C-41. My standard setting for strobe and outdoors was 320, and it looked great, but now, since he only scans for output, he gives me light prints and tells me I'm over exposing!

Sounds like it's time for a new lab!

Mike, great resource for anyone planning to use XP2 or using and wanting to get the best out of it. Thank you. My darkroom students sometimes use it and I'll be providing them with a link to this. It prints very nicely if well enough exposed, as you say. Some times I think it is almost cheating for students because it is so easy to print...
I don't think anyone else mentioned it but the Kodak C41 B&W is not well suited to printing with VC papers, the mask seems to mean you can never get enough contrast and have very long printing times.

While I'm well aware that this is not the point of the article, I have to stop and mention how wonderful I find the "Néo-noir" photograph.

My goodness, what a great photo. I wish I took such pictures.

If you're in the UK, Ilford have a black and white only (C41 and traditional) process and print service. The printing part is carried out by scanning then printing using a modified Fujifilm minilab onto real Ilford black and white paper.

They will also take digital files which means that digital users can get real black and white prints on proper paper.

I have a love/hate relationship with chromogenic BW films. They are somehow convenient for not having to do your darkroom homework, but they just somehow lack the punchiness and "substance" of true BW emulsions. In some situations they just work better, but that's mainly a matter of taste. The late Konica VX Monochrome produced very soft, dreamy, virtually grainless images. XP2 in this respect is diametrically opposite, much more crisp, at least for a chromogenic film. While the Kodak T400CN is somewhere in between, IMHO.

Does anyone test it @1600??? How are the results, or do you know an alternative solution??


I used to shoot a heap of black and white film and then scan and edit digitally. In addition to Digital ICE, I'd recommend Apple Aperture.

I know it's getting long in the tooth, but the retouching tool IMHO is better than Lightroom's when it comes to film because it works that much better for dust and scratches (via the Repair not Clone option). It is still my preferred workflow for film (with Lightroom for digital).


Talk about a coincidence. I just picked up a roll of this yesterday before reading this post. I had read earlier about problems in bright, contrasty sunlight, and was beginning to wonder if I had made a mistake since I like to shoot in that light sometimes. But the exposure suggestions will be very helpful I think. Now, about developing it....

Thank you for a great and timely article. I've been strangely drawn to XP2, not sure why I liked it, and not knowing how to use it best. I had taken a break from shooting it but now I have insights into what it does well and how to expose it.

For what it's worth, there is a time, concentration and temperature value in The Massive Development Chart for Rodinal developed XP2, see: http://www.digitaltruth.com/devchart.php?Film=XP2&Developer=Rodinal&mdc=Search

I've tried it because I wanted some results really quickly and it works. I liked the results too, and at least I know the film was washed properly. I do have a scanner (two actually) with Digital ICE but there definitely is a trade off between saving work spotting and getting slightly better resolution. So I'm happy enough with silver, rather than dye, based negatives which can't use the process.

I think one can over-do the worrying about the longevity of dye based negs and positives. I've been scanning some old examples over the last couple of years: http://www.pbase.com/hhmrogers/old_stuff
and mostly the colours hold up. When they don't there may well be a monochrome image surviving. See: http://www.pbase.com/hhmrogers/inbox which contains some scanned colour slides from the sixties, some scanned silver gelatine negs fro ten years ago and some recent digital stuff.

I may be remembering this wrong, but when I sent roll of B&W (not chromogenic) film off to Ilford years ago, I think the prints that came back had been printed digitally.

I am very interested in this "British Style" printing. I've never heard that term before, but it seems to put a name on the kind of black and white images I like. I thought it was simple coincidence that my favourite black and white resources were the UK-published Black + White Photography magazine, and Tim Rudman's "The Photographer's Master Printing Course." But maybe it's no coincidence that they are both British.

I can't find any more information or resources (beyond the few already linked above) by searching on "British Style" printing. Could we get more links, or maybe an article about this approach?

David W. Scott,
Sure--try Tim Rudman's Photographer's Master Printing Course, Larry Bartlett's Black and White Photographic Printing Workshop by Jon Tarrant, or Creative Elements: Landscape Photography Darkroom Techniques by Eddie Ephraums.


"I've read that the Fuji Neopan CN is a punchier version of the Ilford. Any comments on the Fuji?"

Andrew, I've used both XP2 Super and Neopan 400CN (concurrently) and I'm convinced that they are exactly the same material. The cassettes and pods (or spools and wrappers for 120), and the boxes and frame markings are identical apart from the different Ilford/Fuji labelling. The Neopan even says "Made in UK" on the box, and the green colour of the printing doesn't even match that of other Fuji packaging.

As I heard it, in the last years before digital took over the wedding business, Kodak's then-new C41 B&W films were popular with wedding photographers as they allowed them to easily shoot "arty" B&W alongside C41 color. Fuji then turned to Ilford to help plug the perceived gap in their product-line for this lucrative market.

I tend to buy the Fuji just because it is cheaper in the UK, but I see no difference at all between the two, whether for traditional printing or for scanning. And I can't see it being worth either Ilford or Fuji's while to change the manufacturing details between the two versions.

I really like them both in medium format (either 6x6 or XPan), scanned with ICE and printed digitally, but I've given up both on printing them in the darkroom and on using them for regular 35mm. The base density makes enlarger printing times very long, for one thing, and whether due to my scanning or to the film itself I can't get enough resolution for the degree of enlargement that 35mm requires.

Great article and introduction to this very useful film. I agree that pushing this stuff is asking for trouble and pulling is well tolerated.

For the less picky amongst us, I've been perfectly happy with Costco's 1h develop and scan.

A couple examples both with this film and Olympu 40mm f/2 lens (second one has a bit of color cast added in post):



The article will help me make better images with XP2 thanks to your insight. It sure explained a lot.

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