There is no best film, just the right film for the right situation and for the right photographer.
35mm Color: Cinestill 50 Daylight Xpro C-41 – Stuart Franklin
He enjoys that photographers shooting Portra 160 in low light can underexpose by two stops and still have strong images.
The company release this film with Earl Grey–which is an ISO 100 film for photographers. But if you’re looking for something that’s a cross between many of these films, Lady Grey is your best bet despite the fact that it’s very overlooked partially due to how young it is.
I was lucky to nail focus in this picture, though the large d-o-f of f8 probably helped here. | Belair + Lomography Lady Grey
Jocelyn Bain Hogg dives into his stories and sticks with them. His project The Firm, which has matured into The Family, follows the British organized underground crime world. He began the project in 1998 when film was the only option. He has chosen to stick with the medium to keep his photographs visually consistent but his love for the film started when he was 14. “It’s one of those habits,” he tells TIME. “I prefer it to the HP5. You have to think how you’re going to solve a puzzle. There’s something to be said about that learning curve. To have to work harder.”
Portrait photographer Dan Winters chooses the film because of how smart it makes his images look. “It’s a very high acute, it has a great edge effect,” he says. “So there’s the illusion of sharpness that’s actually not even in the image.”
More so than any other film on this list, Ilford Delta 400 will inspire you with its gorgeous looks.
While he admits that digital works better in low light, he chooses film for its ability to accurately portray light. “It’s very, very special I think. When it comes to outdoors and the brights contrasty light, film is perfect. When you look out at the world a lot of color gets lost or not picked up. What I feel about this film is it is actually getting the colors that I see.”
One of our favorite films is Ilford Delta 400. With less contrast than the much more famous Kodak Tri-X 400, you’ll find a new look for street photography and portraiture. With slightly less grain than Tri-X, its look is best suited for portraits and street photography.
Most of the Impossible Project’s users are enthusiasts. You’ll have some versatility with the Polaroid 600 type cameras, but if you’re a fan of the old Fujifilm emulsion, you’ll need to know that and realize that this isn’t it.
With low contrast and lots of grain, Lomography’s Lady Grey 400 it has a fair amount of contrast, low grain and a look very similar to Fujifilm’s now gone instant black and white film. Most folks seem to use it for street photography and candid shooting.
Film–the beauty of it has inspired apps like Instagram and loads of profiles that digital photographers think can be easily adapted to mimic the look of the celluloid and chemical reaction’s results. You can probably say this about color photography, but there is no way it can be said about black and white. For what it’s worth, black and white film looks beautiful and is much more organic than most results that you’d get from a digital camera.
The world’s most famous black and white film is one that has been used by many documentary and street photographers. Its high contrast look and gritty, grainy rendering is often best when underexposed just a bit. Despite the grain, you’ll get lots of details too from your photos providing you’ve got a great lens and a great scanner.
Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin still shoots a ton of film. “I have done more assignments on film in the last year than I have on digital by a factor of about three.”
Surprisingly, he gives an unexpected argument for film: It’s archival. “The one thing we all forget is that film does last. We don’t know with technology how it’s going to change. We continually update our hard drives because technology says we need to but a roll of film is a roll of film, is a roll of film.”
On top of this, we recommend that you keep it out of the sun for at least a day. The film needs a lot of light, so be sure to use a flash or overexpose it.
Everyone shoots with Tri-X: beginners, pros, enthusiasts, etc. It’s by far the most famous black and white film out there. You’ll like it to start, but once you experiment with others you’ll probably have your heart stolen by those.
From color to black-and-white, 35mm to medium and large format, renowned professional photographers select the films they love. They tell us why and expand on the effects those films have had on their looks and their processes in their careers.
After Kodak announced it would bring back its Ektachrome film, five years after it was first discontinued, TIME LightBox is taking a look at the state of film photography, asking the manufacturers and photographers to explain why they are still backing the analogue format in the digital age.
Ilford HP5 is closer to Kodak Tri-X in that it has high contrast but not much grain. If you want something closer to what you’ll get with a digital monochrome look, then HP5 is what you’ll want. With its own unique beauty, it’s best for still life, studio work or products though you can surely use it for almost anything you’d like. For this reason, we recommend it for pros and those of us who are very knowledgeable with light.
Here are a bunch of black and white films that we think you’ll fall in love with.
Effendi also appreciates the unexpected nature of the film. “I love the surprises with film. Once you scan it and you’re just, ‘What is this strange color? I have not seen that.’ It’s not Photoshop. It’s not a filter. It’s just something natural that came out in the chemistry of the film. It’s always very nice to discover that. It’s pleasant, but you didn’t construct it.”
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The Impossible Project recently came up with a new formula for their black and white film. In our tests, we found it to turn sepia very quickly and stays nowhere as duo-toned as the now gone Fujifilm 3000-B film. According to conversations that we’ve had on Reddit, it stays black and white in less humid environments.
Nicholas Nixon has it down to a science. He has shot most of his work on 8×10 but in his quest for perfection now uses an even larger 11×14 cameras. For him it’s not only the film but how it is shot and processed.
The Tri-X, he adds, is “slightly more expensive than Ilford but I’m a grownup, I can afford it.”
Large format film can be quite expensive, though. “I’ll buy 100 sheets at a time which is a $1500 purchase when I do it,” he says. “For some people that gives them pause. It’s a lot of money but I try not to think about that because it’ll kill you. The price when I started shooting was $7 a sheet. It’s doubled in that time. But I want to make pictures that are worth way more than that.”
“Tri-X Professional 320 ISO rating, but I cut it in half because it makes the shadows richer. Steiglitz and Weston did it. Keep the highlights down and boost the shadows. Overexpose by one stop, under developing by 20%.”
He points out that the developer used to process the film and the paper it is printed on is as important to the look of a photograph as the film itself. Winters processed the film for the image above in Rodinol developer and printed it on Ilford Multigrade Fiber Based, Warmtone Gelatin Silver Paper. “That would be the combo that I would say would warm my heart.”
Greg Miller prefers Kodak’s films because “they’ve got really good at recording skin tones,” he says. “I’m a portrait photographer, that film is perfect for me. I shoot people and I need to shoot in darker places. Their research and development went into creating film where people can a lot of mistakes and still recover.”
Rena Effendi has experimented with many films, both black-and-white as well as color, but she has found her match. ”I think I kind of have arrived at the Kodak as my film of choice,” she tells TIME. “But I like Kodak Portra now, the normal, the 400. It gives very good results, [it looks] very natural.”
Available in 35mm and 120, you’ll probably want to lean more towards the 35mm stuff for street photography and 120 for portraits.
Medium Format Color: Kodak Portra 400 Professional – Rena Effendi
Overall, it’s one of our favorites and we recommend it for beginners and pros alike. It’s a very forgiving film, too, and we have to warn you that it will make you want to go back out and shoot more.