Equipment & Software Reviews

Ilford XP2 Super, A Digital Guys Film

Years ago monochrome for me meant Tech Pan and Pan F cooked in wonderful and exotic developers, unfortunately these films and the developers I used are no longer available and in the case of Australia, it is impossible to privately import photo chemicals, (something to do with over-reactions to terrorism I think), but I digress. When Ilford first brought out XP1 I felt it was a great idea but frankly the resulting negs just didn’t do anything for me, kind of like the porridge of film, without any sugar or milk or fruit....well you know what I mean. Of course being a Tech Pan kind of guy meant nothing much was going to measure up and I never did get excited about the T max type look and still don’t. (please don’t email with accusations of heresy).

So here I was recently wanting that monochrome look, I have no trouble getting it from digital, in fact I probably have more ways to cook a mono digital in file in Photoshop up my sleeve than I have had birthdays, but monochrome film still has a certain quality.

Ah ha Ilford XP2? I wonder, is this stuff better than the old XP1. You bet it is.

I shot a paying job on the stuff just last week and frankly I am totally impressed by the results, in fact a fascinating aside is that my daughter who really knows very little about film and the differences, looked at the resulting prints and exclaimed they were really nice and had a subtle but improved look compared to digital. And she’s right in my opinion.

So what is about XP2 and how might this be of benefit to other folk coming to our website.

First up XP2 has very fine grain for a colour based film technology, I would not say it competes with Tech pan, but still it can get close in real world use. Down rating reduces the grain, in other words shoot at say 100 iso instead of its rated 400 iso. Ilford say you can go as low as 50 iso, and that’s likely correct but the negs become harder to scan as they get quite dense below 100 iso.

Speaking of scanning this film works a treat, most monochrome films tend to give scans with accentuated grain, but XP2 grain is much like colour neg grain only smaller, kind of mushy but ultimately it leads to a smoother looking result, especially in skies. The side benefit is that it is very easy to edit and if you want you can add grain effects to make it look like other films, whereas with normal monochrome films they are what they are and can prove a devil to edit if you need to reduce the noise, worse still some printers kind of mess up the grain in the final print leading to a particularly nasty look on some tonal gradations.
So XP2 super is the film equivalent of digital, from my perspective anyway.

Sharpness wise it really is very sharp, it lacks the etched look of fine grained monochrome stock but it is way sharper to my eyes than say a 100 iso colour film, which means for real world use it is just perfect.

The real kicker for me though is the extended tonal range and latitude. It is worth saying that for darkroom printing this may not be such a good thing and I imagine that good punchy prints would require hard paper grades, but when you’re scanning to hi-bit depth files basically the main thing is to have a film that records everything you want so you can then decide how much contrast and separation is needed later in post processing. In my experience even really contrasty scenes are rendered with full tonal detail on XP2 and especially if the film is down-rated.

As far as its response to colours go, it pretty much translates colours to tones as you would expect form a truly panchromatic film, and of course you could use filters as needed, the only thing I noticed was that strong greens were rendered a little darker than I would have liked but this is just a personal issue and a GY filter would easily sort it out.

Are there any downsides, none that I can think of providing you are shooting to scan, it is probably the most forgiving flexible film stock out there and of course being a C41 process stock it makes life easier for those who can’t or don’t want to process their own film.

XP2 super is probably the only monochrome film I will use from now on, except perhaps for some Adox 25 if I can import some and get a kind film addict to develop it for me.

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