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Black And White Films and Developers  
by Chuck McKern

There are differences in black and white films just as there are differences in color films. The differences are for the most part subtle and are enhanced by changing developers or in some cases by changing the developer dilution and development time. To find the combination that is right for you and your darkroom will require some experimenting (which is half the fun). I'll try to give you some ideas as to where to start to figure out what works best for your needs and tastes.

The Film 
Aside from ISO ratings the biggest difference in black and white films is the grain structure. Kodak and Ilford each have two 100 ISO films and two 400 ISO films, the main difference being the grain structure.

In the Kodak line, Plus-X (ISO 125) is more "grainy" than its T-Max 100 counterpart, the difference being the underlying technology behind how the film is manufactured. Ilford has similar grain differences between their Pan 100 to Delta 100 films.

The first step is to decide how much grain is for you. Many photographers will only shoot fine-grained films. They want the smooth soft tones those films provide. Others only shoot grainy films. They want a coarse gritty look and mood those films, and nothing else, can provide to their images. Personally I prefer to switch back and forth depending on the look I'm trying to achieve for a given image or situation.

The Developer 
The developer can make huge a difference in how the film will come out. Using Kodak Plus-X film you'll achieve different results using D-76 developer simply by changing from a straight mix to a mix diluted 1:1 with water. A longer developing time will be needed but the result will be a sharper negative with more detail. We can go one step farther by using a fine grain developer such as Kodak Microdol-X instead of D-76. The result is a very sharp negative with a very soft grain structure.

Another option for fine grained results is to use T-Max developer. It can also be used to achieve fine-grained results with other non T-Max films including films from Ilford and Fuji.

But not all developers can be used both straight and diluted. You should always check the manufacturer's data sheet for any developer before use. Also not all developers are suited for all films; check the data sheet for your film before trying it with a new developer. The data sheet will include applications and recommended development times.

Years ago, if you wanted to use a film from one manufacturer and a developer from another, you had to do a little homework to figure out the correct times and dilutions. Today Kodak and Fuji each have published development times for developing their film with the other's developers.

Using a developer from another manufacturer can also change the appearance of the film. Since all manufacturers design their developers around their own films results will vary when you use developers from another manufacturer. Keep this in mind and experiment with a "waste" roll before committing your best images to an untested combination. There are also aftermarket companies that make their own versions of the more popular developers from Kodak and Fuji and these can produce great results (and cost savings).

The combinations of films and developers available is amazing. As a starting point find a film that has the characteristics you're looking for and use it's matching developer. If you want to get more out of that film, examine the data sheets for other compatible developers and experiment based on the characteristics you desire in your final image.

If you want to do something really different how about black and white slides? Very few people know that Agfa makes a film called Scala 200x. Agfa Scala 200x is a very nice smooth grained black and white slide film. The problem is there are only a handful of places that will develop it because it has its own specific process. But Scala isn't your only way to get black and white slides. Kodak has a developing kit for you do-it-yourselfers that will allow you to process Kodak T-Max 100 and Technical Pan into black and white slides. The kit is appropriately named the T-Max Direct Positive Developing Outfit. Ilford has information on how to get black and slides from PAN F Plus, FP4 Plus, and 100 Delta. You can get a list of the required chemicals from their data sheets.

Lets take a quick look at several of the more popular black and white films. I have listed the manufacturers recommended developers with each. Data sheets for these films are available on the manufacturer's Web sites.

Plus-X Pan
is a fine grain ISO 125 film. Recommended developers are D-76, Microdol-X, and T-Max. 

Tri-X Pan is a fine grain ISO 400 film that use the same recommended developers.

T-Max is a series of extremely fine grain films available in ISO 100, 400, 3200. It is recommended to use T-Max developer to get the full benefit of the grain technology.

Ilford Pan-F Plus is an extremely fine grain ISO 50 film. Recommended developers are Ilford ID-11, Ilfotec DD-X, Microphen, and Perceptol.

FP4 Plus is an exceptionally fine grain ISO 100 film and HP5 Plus is a high quality ISO 400 film. Both of these films have the same developer recommendations as Pan-F Plus.

The Delta Series films include a fine grained ISO 100, 400, and 3200 films. Recommended developers are Ilford Ilfotec DD-X, Microphen, and ID-11.

Agfa AgfaPan APX 100 and Agfa AgfaPan APX 400 are both high quality films, recommended developers are Refinal, Rodinal, Rodinal Special, and Studional Liquid.

Fuji Yes, Fuji also has black and white films. Neopan 100 Across is an ultra-high quality ISO 100 film. Recommended developers are Microfine, Fujidol, and Super Fujidol-L.

Neopan 400 is a high quality ISO 400 film. Recommended developers are Super Prodol or Fujidol.

Neopan 1600 is a 1600 ISO film. Recommended developers are Super Prodol, Fujidol, or Microfine.

You may be surprised how many black and white films are on the market and how many different developers are available. This allows you the most flexibility to "develop" your own personal style. Black and white has seen a real resurgence in the last year. In this world of digital camera and super saturated color films isn't it ironic that more and more photographers are turning to black and white for images with impact?

Check out our film cross reference table. I'll be expanding this table in the near future to include more information on black and white films. Keep an eye out for it.

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