RW Hawkins Photography | Film Testing with Ilford HP5+
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Film Testing with Ilford HP5+

Film Testing with Ilford HP5+

I’m a big fan of Kodak film and have used Kodak Tmax100 pretty much since the day it was released, but I would like to give Ilford a try for an upcoming project. So I figured I would use the chance to document the process I go through when trying a film for the first time.

First, which Ilford film? The closest to my current favorite TMax would be Delta 100, but I’m looking for something with more speed. Other options are FP4 and HP5+ I want more speed, and not super concerned about grain so HP5+ is my choice.

Next question is which developer. Currently I stock Kodak Tmax RS, and HC110. Is it worth adding another developer? Maybe, but not this time, HC110 it is.

Any given film really has only one true speed, and often the manufacturer’s rating is not entirely accurate. The shadows need a certain minimum amount of light to register a tone value. Now I won’t go much in to detail for now, but in Zone terms I want a Zone III to have a good amount of textural detail. So how do I find that out? TEST! I setup a scene similar to my usual shooting circumstances, and using my spot meter measure a dark shadow that should hold texture. That dictates my exposure and will be Zone III. I take note of a high value that should be almost pure white, I’ll use that during the development test. I then develop the negative. Because development time has little affect on the shadows (clear part of neg film) I pick a general recommendation from the massive dev chart. Upon examination of the negative if the area I metered as Zone III doesn’t show any texture (it’s completely clear) then I know the ISO setting I used on my meter is too high. In the case of HP5+ it looks to be right on at ISO 400 (this is great, I rate Kodak TMax 100 1/3-1/2 stop slower than what Kodak rates it)


Once I know the correct ISO I need to find the correct development. There are 3 variables, time, dilution and agitation. I develop a lot of film so no sense in making the development time longer than required so I shoot for the recommended minimum which is 5 minutes (to avoid uneven development I always presoak and keep time longer than 5 minutes) I’m a fan of using HC110 “syrup” direct, no stock solution. So I start with a 1:49 ratio, 40ml to make 2L of developer, I use 1L of solution to develop 10 4×5 inch sheets. I have standardized on Jobo Expert drums and can’t praise this system enough! It is a continuous agitation system so all of the online recommended times are going to be way long. After developing the film I need to determine if the highlights (dark area of the negative) are what I consider normal. Again, this testing is based on my needs, I’m a silver gelatin printer I need my negative to match the requirements for my paper, and I don’t really care about scanning. For that I want a Zone VIII on Grade 1 paper to have a fair amount of texture. So I contact print the test negative.

For me a proper contact print has enough exposure to make the clear edges of the film go black on the contact sheet. I should still see the slight outline of the film (for my enlarger, Ilford Warmtone paper, that is 5 seconds at F8). For HP5+, exposed at ISO 400, developed in my Jobo Expert drums for 5 minutes with HC110 diluted 40ml to make 2L the Zone VIII is too blown out, no texture.


In Figure 1. Neg 1 shows little texture in the bricks above the arch, the area that fell at Zone VIII. So I adjust the dilution down to 30ml to make 2L and rerun the development test (dilution and time relationship is fairly linear and remember I don’t want to go shorter to prevent uneven development) . Looking at Figure 1 Neg 2 note that there is more texture in the Zone VIII brick area. I think I could go a little less development to get a good tone on Grade I paper (my normal target grade is Grade II) This should be an iterative process, as I get to know the film if I find I have to use a softer paper grade than normal then I would simply tweak the dilution a little.

Technical Side Note: Keep in mind the capacity of the actual developing solution. You never want to use such a high dilution that you exceed the capacity of the actual developer. So I look in the HC110 datasheet and find the capacity of one gallon (3.78L) of dilution B (1:32) is 20 8×10 sheets. So ~112ml of syrup can do 1600 square inches, or 1ml can develop 14.28 square inches. I’m using 15ml to develop 200 square inches, or 1ml to developĀ  13.33 square inches so I’m good. I use this one shot, 1L to develop 10 4×5 sheets.

I follow this procedure anytime I try a new film, and I’m confident if you follow this procedure you will get great results. Of course one could spend a lifetime doing a deep dive into film development response etc. For a little taste of that check out “Beyond the Zone System”, just don’t get so involved with making test negs you forget why you got in to photography in the first place!

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