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Best Film for Beginners?

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When starting out in Film Photography what is the best film to go for? I say one of these two.

I have a whole section on this in my Beginners Guide to Film Photography and recently put a video out on the SFLaB YouTube Channel shooting both films side by side.

There are many films to choose from when you first start out in film photography and it can get a bit overwhelming when deciding which film. I can only go on my own experience and in this case I was pointed towards Ilford Fp4. Mainly because it is a good solid film and widely available in local stores. The last thing you want is to be used to some film that you order online, run out, need to shoot film that day and your local stores don’t sell it. Made sense to me.

I used FP4 extensively with the same camera and developer whilst I was feeling my way into film photography, however, I would occasionally become unstuck when I needed a bit more speed. That is when I started to try Ilfords HP5 400 speed film. I knew nothing about it apart from I could get more speed when shooting certain lit conditions. For example Street Photography. With FP4 I would find myself opening my aperture or slowing my shutter speed down to get light into the camera. It wouldn’t make for good photographs when I did that. So HP5 would be the obvious choice for me. Being a faster film I started using HP5 a lot and then I started to notice its characteristics. I noticed it was more contrasty and more grainy than FP4. I learned this the hard way shooting HP5 for seascapes. The sky would be full of grain and I would lose detail in my shadow areas more than I did with Fp4. That’s when I realised there is a film for all occasions!

I tried both films for my areas of photography. Portraiture, Scapes, buildings and street.

I found I liked FP4 for Portraiture and scapes because I would get less grain. And I liked HP5 for Street and Buildings as it gave better contrast and looked more gritty. I eventually moved on and started trying many other films, all with their own character. But for starting out I found FP4 and HP5 good solid films to start my photography journey with. Readily available, reasonably priced and without any problems.

Here are some images I took for the video.

My Daughter here is slightly out of focus. My fault. But still shows grain in comparison

Like I said both are very good films and each have their purpose for my photography. But if I was to choose one over the other it would be HP5. Because it gives me more to play with when it comes to speed. Of course I can push or pull any film but when starting out it’s probably something that you would not feel comfortable with doing. That comes over time.

You can find out more on these films on the Ilford Website data sheets.

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