The Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Film Review | Black & White Film Stock

A staple to the world of monochrome.

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Ilford HP5 Plus 400 has been my staple since I began shooting with a black and white film. Black and white is the main way I work, but I shot primarily in color until a little over a year ago. How I look at photography changed entirely after reading Sally Mann’s memoir, Hold Still. I saw the full potential of working in black and white for the first time, and I picked up some Ilford HP5 Plus 400 shortly after finishing the book.

The two rolls featured in this post were shot on different days. The landscapes are from a trip to Marfa, and the portraits are from an afternoon with my sister. I photographed her wearing a sweater vest I had just finished knitting.

Portraits are my favorite type of photography. Ironically, they cause me the most pre-event anxiety. Landscapes are simple because you’re on one person’s time: your own, and no one is watching you as you create (not to disregard the skill it takes to create a strong landscape image). Portraits can be overwhelming because you don’t want to waste your subject’s time, and your subject is actively watching you while you work for a newbie (or even a well-versed photographer) that can feel a bit like someone breathing down your neck. Luckily, with time, the act of making someone’s portrait does get easier. In full transparency, I’ve tried out other films (see my TMax review here), but HP5 is still my favorite.

Hot Tip: Want to send in your rolls to a lab you trust? Check out FieldMag's article on the top 10 best mail-in photo labs across the USA.

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To Know:

This film is low contrast with medium grain. It is made by Ilford, the company that leads in production of black and white film stocks. Ilford has been in the game for a long time, and its makers know what they’re doing.

What We Love:

This is a forgiving film.

Because it has great exposure latitude, even if you under- or over-expose a few of your shots, your film will still come out usable.

This is a flexible film.

You can push this film multiple stops and your film won’t come out overly contrasted.

This is a classic film.

Ilford HP5 Plus has been shot by photographers for almost 100 years. It started out as hypersensitive panchromatic plates in 1931 and is now available in 35mm, 120mm, 4x5, and 8x10 film.

The Details:

Brand: Ilford

Product Type: Film

What I’d consider using it for: portraits, nighttime shooting (with the intention of pushing), detail shots, landscapes.

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Shooting Experience

Personally, HP5 Plus feels like a trusty old friend at this point. When HP5 is in my camera, I know I’m using a film I can rely on. I don’t have to worry if I overexposed the shot a bit. In general, shooting in black and white is a different experience than shooting in color in that you are not guided by the colors in front of you as much as you are by composition. I understand that composition plays a role in color photography, too, but black and white strips you of the ability to distract the viewer from a messy composition. If your composition is off in a black-and-white photo, it’s obvious. Perhaps that’s part of the thrill of black and white photography?

This stock works wonders for both landscapes and portraits. Its forgiving nature allows me to feel confident that my exposures will almost always come out how they should, so instead of worrying about if the film will do its job, I can just focus on the task at hand: nailing the composition. It is especially helpful to have a reliable film when you’re a portrait photographer. There are so many moving parts in a portrait shoot; perhaps the most distracting element is the social aspect. You want your subject to feel comfortable, you want your rapport to be natural, you don’t have time to think about if your film stock is one you can trust! HP5 to the rescue.

As usual, I was stoked with the results of my Ilford HP5 Plus 400 rolls. I developed them in Ilfotec HC developer – I did not push or pull the dev time and scanned using Silverfast software. I did minimal editing to my photos – just dust correction, and they came out just as I wanted them to. Even after comparing the photos to the lovely results from the TMax 400 rolls, I think I’ll stick to shooting HP5 Plus.

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What We Rate

  • Tones
    • Poor
    • Fair
    • Good
    • Near Perfect

  • Grain Level
    • None
    • Slight Texture
    • Just Enough
    • Pretty Hairy

  • Temperature
    • Pretty Cool
    • Fairly Cool
    • Fairly Warm
    • Pretty Warm

  • Budget
    • Around $5
    • Around $10
    • Around $15
    • Around $20

  • Dynamic Range
    • Poor
    • Fair
    • Good
    • Perfect
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What It Has:

  • High speed ISO 400
  • Textured Grain
  • A classic contrasted look

What It Does:

  • B&W 120 Film
  • Great results in varied lighting conditions
  • Wide exposure latitude


  • Film Base: Acetate
  • Layer Thickness: 110.0 µm
  • Standard Black and White Chemistry

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