Ilford Vs Kodak: Why Ilford Is My Go-To Black-and-White Film Stock

With the recent price hikes in color negative film, shooting in black and white is a cost-effective way to continue your love affair with analog.

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If you're a film photographer looking to explore the monochromatic world, now is an opportune time to take the plunge. 

Some photographers have abandoned film and switched to digital, especially for unpaid work. However, if you're a passionate hobbyist like me, you'll exhaust all other options before giving up on the unique and irreplaceable experience of shooting on film.

I'll admit I wasn't always a fan of black-and-white images. As someone who started with color film, the prospect of shooting in monochrome initially intimidated me. Living in a small Midwestern town with just one film lab within a 200-mile radius only increased my anxiety. The lab could only develop C-41 process in-house, and sending out rolls to Kansas City would take a week for me to get my negatives back without scans! So, I avoided black and white for as long as possible until the lab started selling Ilford XP2, a 400 ISO C-41 black and white film. Once I started shooting with the various monochromatic variations, I discovered a new world of creative possibilities. The absence of color forces you to pay attention to other aspects of the image, such as contrast, texture, and composition.

Here are some of those initial frames.

Moment Ilford 1174186 XP2 Single Use Camera with Built In Flash 135 243 EXP thumbnail

Ilford

HP5 PLUS Single Use 35mm Film Camera

Wanna dip your toes into film photography? The Ilford HP5 PLUS Single Use Camera is an easy to use, fun camera. Including 27 exposures of HP5 PLUS film

Buy for $14.99
Moment Kodak 8947947 Professional T Max 400 Film TMY135 36 thumbnail

Kodak

Professional T-Max 400 Black and White 35mm Film

You want the sharpest 400-speed B&W film in the world? Kodak Professional T-MAX 400 35mm Film is it, in addition to being the finest-grained!

Buy for $10.99

Over time, I experimented with different black-and-white film stocks from Ilford and Kodak. However, none of them resonated with me in the same way as color photography. I preferred the vibrancy and richness of color and eventually convinced myself that it was more practical to shoot in color to convert to black and white during editing; that way, I wouldn't miss out on any potential shots.


When I first moved to New York City, I felt an irresistible urge to capture the essence of this city in black and white. Something about this place feels timeless, as though it will always exist in an old silver-screen movie. So, I tried shooting in true black and white again.

Shooting in black-and-white requires another set of muscles; you’re suddenly looking at the world differently. I paid less attention to one’s hair color or outfit vibrancy and became more discerning about textures and shades. I found myself drawn to the interplay of light and shadow, to the subtle nuances of gray that gave each image depth and dimension.

It wasn't easy at first. I had to train my eyes to see the world through forms and shapes rather than colors. But the more I practiced, the more I realized the endless creative possibilities of black-and-white film. Each frame became a canvas for me to express myself uniquely and personally. And so, I kept on trying. I continued experimenting, exploring new textures, tones, and compositions.

Then, suddenly, inflation ensues.

The recent surge in the cost of color-negative film has made it difficult for film photographers like me to shoot film whenever we want. Though, this challenge is an opportunity to push the boundaries of my art. By experimenting with different film stocks and learning their strengths, I can better understand how to capture the world around me in new and exciting ways. Among the famous black-and-white film brands, Ilford and Kodak stand out, each with unique characteristics and ideal shooting conditions. For this comparison, I will focus on Ilford HP5 and Kodak T-Max 400.

In January, I started a photo series called "LOVE," which documents couples’ love stories in New York City. I wanted to capture these portraits to evoke a timeless feeling, so I turned to black and white film. Using Ilford and Kodak 400 T-Max, I could compare and contrast the results and find the perfect fit for each couple's story.

Here are the photos I took for that series using Kodak 400 T-Max.

I find it most alluring about Ilford’s striking contrast from the outset. Although it can be overpowering at times, the starkness combined with the graininess produced under intense lighting imbues my photos with the mood and character I strive for. Additionally, I seldom need to make significant adjustments, provided I achieve optimal exposure. Ilford excels at capturing texture with clarity, thanks to the contrast in the film's images.

Kodak 400 T-Max, on the other hand, offers a smoother tonality, usually eschewing the harsh black-and-white effect for a more grayscale look. It imparts a glowy quality, evoking bygone eras, and this was precisely what I was aiming for in my work. Nonetheless, compared to Ilford HP5, I find myself making more edits during the post-processing stage, which I don't mind doing. When it comes to black and white photography, I am seeking a particular look, feeling, aesthetic, and texture. While both film stocks possess unique qualities, Ilford HP5 brings me closer and faster to my desired outcome than Kodak 400 TMax.

With the current price increase in film, I see myself shooting with black and white film stocks more. My heart is sold on Ilford HP5, though should the occasion arise where I need a rather softly classic look, I may find myself loading up my camera with a Kodak 400 T-Max.