The Amazing Ilford HP5 Plus

CameraCollection_120__DSC4643Ilford HP5+ is a panchromatic cubic-grain black and white film. In non-technical terms, it needs to be developed in traditional black and white chemistry and its grain structure resembles the Kodak Tri-X rather than Kodak T-Max. HP5+ is the in-production member of the Ilford HP film family in which the “H” stands for “Hypersensitive” (similarly, the “F” in the FP family stands for “Fine Grain”). Since the introduction of the original HP in 1935, there are a total of six members: HP, HP3, HPS, HP4, HP5 and HP5+. Most of them are successor/predecessor to each other except for the HPS which was intended to be a ultra-high speed film.

Personally, I uses the HP5+ mostly for my 35mm works which include street, documentary and travel, replacing the more expensive chromogenic XP2 to be my choice as a general purpose black and white film. In medium format (6×6 and 6×9), I uses the HP5+ for my handheld works in which I can maintain a fast enough shutter speed even while stopping down the lens for greater depth-of-field. Also, because of the larger size of the negative, the “problem” of the relatively coarser grain nature of the film is taken out of the equation and thus quality enlargements can be made. Recently, I have purchased a pack of large format (4×5) HP5+ for my landscape works because I found that in some situations, I need a faster shutter speed for stopping motions of small objects within a big scene.

Property-wise, HP5+ has a very wide exposure latitude and is also quite forgiving to processing errors. These make it very suitable for documentary and street photography. It also serves as a good choice for beginning photo students and first-timers in darkroom. For its technical specifications, you can read them in details from the official tech sheet. Characteristically, I would say the tones of this film is a bit on the flat side and its contrast is comparatively lower than its medium speed counterpart, FP4+. However, if you scan your film instead of making hand prints in darkroom, you should be able to attain reasonably good result with great tones and contrast in post-processing given the original exposure of the negative is good. Grain-wise, if you like the “coarse grain” effect, you may want to develop it with Agfa Rodinal (or its replacements). On the other side, if finer grain is preferred, Ilford DD-X would be a good choice. You will be amazed by the quality given simply by shooting at its rated ASA400 speed and using the tech-sheet development time.

Fine-tuning and Calibrating Film Speed


Although good results can already obtained at the rated speed of ASA400, I decided to do a bit of fine-tuning to squeeze out more from the emulsion. The negative from the contact sheet above was processed by regular development time in DD-X and the details of frame 7 to frame 11 are as follow:

  • frame 7: exposed at ASA400
  • frame 8: exposed at ASA200
  • frame 9: exposed at ASA100
  • frame 10: exposed at ASA320
  • frame 11: exposed at ASA250

The 1/3 stops calibrations of frame 10 and 11 were done by setting the camera (a Pentax ME Super)  to aperture priority, thus taking advantage of the stepless electronic shutter,  and film speed dial to ASA320 and ASA250 respectively. Below is a post-processed scan of frame 8 (ASA200):

calibrateHP5_001As you can see, there are plenty amount of details in shadow area and the highlights were recovered successfully. However, because the latitude range of HP5+ leans more on the negative side, I now normally shoot this film at ASA250 just to ensure there would be no lost in highlights. The following few shots were taken at ASA250 and with regular development using DD-X:

WhiteRockBeachWalk_003 VictoriaPhotoTrip_001

When Faster Speed is Needed…

In situations of low-light, indoor or a very fast shutter speed being needed, HP5+ can be pushed to a higher speed by doing the necessary adjustments in development (I would recommend DD-X when pushing). The degrade in image quality from a +1 stop push is pretty minimal while a +2 stops push will give visible but acceptable degrade from enlargements 8×10 onward. Below are some samples of pushing. The first shot was exposed at ASA800 with the second one at ASA1600. Development adjustments are push +1 and push +2 respectively.

RemembranceDay2011_006 HP5push1600_010

If you are shooting 120 instead of 35mm, you may also want to try exposing the film at ASA3200 with a push + 3 development. Below is an example taken with the Agfa Billy I after it was dropped and “repaired” (with super-glue).


On the other side, when you need a higher speed rating only for a few frames in a roll, you can simply underexpose the film without any adjustment in development. Of course, there will be additional work during the printing (darkroom) or scanning process. However, the result is pretty acceptable and to a certain extent, I would say it is pretty good.

This is it, my experience with this film so far. I recently discovered the Ilford Delta 400 has a better pushing capability. I exposed a roll of 120 at ASA3200 with a push +3 development in DD-X and the results are amazing. So if you have pushing +2 or above in mind before loading the a flash roll, Delta 400 might be a better choice.

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10 Responses to The Amazing Ilford HP5 Plus

  1. Kai says:

    Thanks for the article! Beginnert question: If you decide to shoot an entire roll of HP5 400ase in 250asa, would you develop it as 400asa or 250asa? I am not developing myself yet and am wondering what to tell the developer.

  2. Kai says:

    And maybe another little beginner question: Why does the image go brighter when you lower the ISO? Should´t it get darker? I mean, ISO100 is a much slower film than a ISO400.

    • When you set the speed at ISO250 instead of the factory rated ISO400, the meter is going to give you a reading with a slower shutter speed or larger aperture (i.e., more light). This is true as long as you develop the film at ISO400. However, if you also develop the film at ISO250, there would be no difference in terms of brightness.

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  6. Tony Joseph says:

    The best 400 film…Kodak tri-x overrated …started with Tmax 100 next was Agfa APX 100 Fuji neo pan 400 to rest in perfect peace Ilford HP5 ..develop in DDX turns a 400 to 100iso blown away peeking through my grain focuser…….

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