Ilford HP5 Plus 400 vs Kodak T-Max 400 | Which To Buy?
Two gorgeously famous black and white film stocks — but which one is ultimately for you? Find out in Hunter Lacey's comparison article with example images.
This past weekend, history was made in Marfa, Texas. In an exciting match-up never before seen, two film stocks competed for the prized spot of “Hunter’s favorite.” Okay, okay, history was not made – certainly not in Marfa where I spotted many fellow film shooters – but I did shoot both Ilford HP5 Plus 400 and Kodak TMax 400 on a sunny February weekend in Texas. And had a lot of fun in the process.
Black and white feels like a natural choice in a small, western desert town. Marfa has become a tourist destination but its roots are humble. The town was founded in the 1880s as a water stop for railroad trains. Its population in 1920 was 3,553 and has shrunk gradually over the years to the most recent reported population of 1,625. Despite its small size, Marfa’s buildings match its landscape in beauty.
What's The Difference?
Professional T-Max 400 Black and White Negative 120 Film - 5 Rolls
- Invented in 1987 then reformulated in 2007.
- Rich blacks, stark whites.
- Incredibly fine grain
HP5 PLUS Black and White Negative 120 Film
- One of the oldest running black and white film stocks around.
- Low contrast makes it an easy film to push or pull in the developing process
- Incredibly fine gAvailable in 35mm, 120mm, 4x5, and 8x10.
Professional T-Max 400 Black and White 35mm Film
With a less intense presence of grain, the subjects in your image will be sharper than they would be if shot with a grainer stock.
This film is medium to high contrast with very fine grain. It is made by Kodak, one of “the OGs,” if you will (is my millennial showing?). Kodak was founded by George Eastman and he changed the game of photography forever.
HP5 PLUS Black and White Negative 120 Film
A staple to the world of monochrome.
Ilford HP5 Plus 400 has been my staple ever since I began shooting with black and white film. Black and white is the main way I work these days, but I actually shot primarily in color up until a little over a year ago. The way I look at photography was changed completely after I read 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.
You can spot the slight differences between these two stocks in these portraits. If you’d like to see more of the portraits and read more of my thoughts on these stocks you can view the Ilford article here and the Kodak article here.
You’ll have a slightly grainier, lower contrast outcome with HP5. I appreciate a lower contrast from an aesthetic perspective but also because the subjects within the photo usually are equally pronounced despite differences in color. You’ll have a stronger dynamic range with TMax and a very fine grain. The fine grain makes the photo crisper and sharper than it might be otherwise. The tonal range gives you deep blacks and bright whites.
As mentioned earlier, pushing or pulling HP5 in developing won’t detract from the details in the shadows or highlights because this is a lower contrast film. That is an advantage HP5 has over TMax. However, TMax’s fine grain helps it to be a solid film for pushing or pulling as well. Though pushing this film might lead to too much (depends on your preference) contrast, the presence of too much grain will not be a problem in a pushed roll of TMax.
These differences are noticeable and important to take into account when finding your favorite film stock, but there’s no wrong answer. HP5 is not better than TMax, and TMax is not better than HP5 – it just comes down to what you prefer. That’s one of the best parts of film: each photographer gets to develop their own unique style. And part of that is selecting your film stock.
To fully round out this comparison, I decided to use both film stocks for a portrait shoot. I photographed my sister Annabelle wearing a sweater vest I had just finished knitting. My sister is such a good sport. As I have discussed in a past article, I have been working on a photo project about family for almost a year now. And before that, I did test shoots with Annabelle all the time. I have photographed her SO many times that I don’t know how she isn’t sick of it yet. Or maybe she is, and that’s what makes her such a good sister. She still lets me photograph her basically whenever I ask. (Thank you, Annabelle!)
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