XP-2 v. "all others"

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by randall cherry, Jul 14, 2006.

  1. Hi All, I have been a confirmed XP-2 shooter for the last 1000 odd rolls. I shoot with a deep yellow filter and a final ASA of 100 (in other words ASA 250 without the filter factor) doing mostly landscape images. I arrived at this combination based on word-of-mouth and my own experimentation. A photo lab does the development. I like the results of XP-2. Good sharpness. Good contrast. Scans and prints well. I get beautiful 16x20s from my 6x7 negative. The prints can have a slight green cast (which I honestly can't see but others have commented on) when my lab uses a color printing process, but I think this is more an error of the lab than a fault of the film. As some background; after spending the first part of my photo hobby being a film testing junkie, I had decided that except for some subtle variations, most films are pretty good. I felt that switching from film to film was a waste of time because the majority of variation in film results was how one used a particular film. To really get good results, you gotta work with a film for a long time to learn how to maximize its performance. It's not that one film is much much better than another, its that a user must really know how to make a particular film sing. (I am not saying all films are the same, I am just saying that user technique is a more important factor to good results than the technical details of a particular film's design, etc. And I also don't include the special purpose films such as Tech Pan, etc. in my conclusion). In other words, I am saying that a final result in a print is based 90% on user technique (and methods, etc.), and 10% on film type choice. To get good results, it is better to focus on the technique portion rather than the film type portion. Anyway, on my last photo trip to Colorado, I ran out of my trusty XP-2, and the local pro lab did not have any in stock. I was forced to roll the dice and try another B&W film without any research, testing, experimentation or other pre-knowledge of how the film behaved. The great expanse of Rocky Mountain National Park beckoned, and I was armed with an untried film. I choose Delta 400. I continued to use the deep yellow filter (on the theory that the spectral response of the film would be similar to XP-2. I exposed at 320 ASA (before applying the filter factor) because the counter people said they always exposed it at ASA 400. Its been a long time since I have used a silver-based B&W film. I bracketed judiciously, and dropped the film off at my highly regarded photo lab. I was pleasantly surprised with the results when I reviewed my negatives. In fact, I think the Delta 400 had better tonal gradations in many of the scenes than what I was used to seeing in the XP-2. Do people feel that XP-2 or chromogenic film in general is good but "nothing special." Is Delta 400 really significantly better than my trusty XP-2? --Randall
  2. I don't have a huge experience of black and white photography, but in my opinion XP-2 is an
    accomplished film with many very useful qualities, not least in the flexibility you gain from
    scanning it.

    However, I recently shot a roll of Delta 400 for the first time, and I was floored. I don't like
    Delta 100 at all, but the Delta 400 results were absolutely stunning. It is still less convenient
    for me than XP-2, but I'll be shooting a lot more of it.
  3. Randall, you sound like a careful craftsman who invests the time to learn his tools well.
    This means you'll get good results regardless of which film or developer you use. I
    applaud your diligence, which is always rewarded.

    I have experience with Deltas (as well as TMax-es) and with chromogenics, both Kodak
    and Ilford. Each is a fine film in its own right, with particular strengths.

    The chromogenics are generally finer "grained" for their speed than traditional films, and if
    you use DigitalICE or other hardware-based noise reduction programs they are your only
    option, as these programs don't work when scanning B&W in B&W mode. (Not sure if it
    would be workable to scan B&W chromogenics in RGB mode and thereby "get around" this
    limitation. It may be that silver grains are seen as dust and are extirpated--sort of like
    electronic silver solvents!) They have beautiful tones and indeed they do scan beautifully.
    The ability to get them processed just about anywhere is a huge advantage--try getting a
    decent job of Tri-X processing at most labs! The gum-smacking teenagers there won't
    even know what it is!) Bottom line is, you can get great results and probably more easily
    with chromogenics. I've both sent them out and done the C-41 myself in a Jobo with
    equally no-brainer results, due to the relative standardization of the C-41 process. I think
    you are smart to shoot at a lower than rated EI--they don't like underexposure at all.

    Tmax and Delta films get an undeserved bad rap; they are more finicky to expose and
    development, but they reward the careful and consistent worker. I like their tonality better
    than that of chromogenics, but it's a bit more work to get there. They scan beautifullly but
    then you are in for tedious manual dust-spotting in PS.

    [You didn't mention traditional-emulsion B&W films, but Tri-X and HP5+ are my favorites
    among those, followed by Plus-X/FP4+ in medium speed. Hard to beat TMax 100 or Delta
    100, which have as fine grain as some older 25 or 50 speed films; but Efke 25 and 50 are
    spectacular, especially good for portraiture as orthopanchromatics.]

    So I don't think one is better than the other. Each is excellent, but requires knowledge and
    care to get the best results.
  4. Randall,

    If you want to have some fun, expose XP2 (or the Kodak chromogenics) at 160-200 and develop in Diafine! :)
  5. I've only ever shot one roll of XP2 in 35mm, and while the results were pleasing, it isn't a film
    that I would use for my type of shooting. From my point of view, it would be a perfect
    wedding or commercial portrait film when B&W is desired. I made a couple prints on 8x10
    paper from it in the darkroom and found that it printed just like any other B&W film, except
    that I needed to use a pretty high contrast filter to achieve good results. Nothing wrong with
    this film, especially if you are using a lab to process your negatives and make optical prints.
  6. about Tmax and Delta type films...

    I found that if you get these films right, they are amazing but if you get them wrong, they are
    just terrible. I've shot Tmax 400 in sheet film extensively in the studio and once you've got
    your process down right its amazingly easy to make stunning enlargments. Still not my cup
    of tea look-wise but they do have that certain appeal for product shots / portraits where
    lighting is controlled.
  7. Randall, I think you got it right when you imply that you can do great work with either. I shot XP2 for several years a while back. I've shot Neopan 400 for the most recent several years. I could certainly do with either.

    BTW, my decision about conventional silver based film is based on the convenience and timing of home processing vs. going to the lab. I live in a metro area but still can develop film in less time than it takes to get to the lab, much less come home. And I can do it 10 PM if I want to.
  8. Just to confirm your suspicion, the green cast is a common (but annoying)side effect of the colour printing at the lab. Seems to happen all the time.
    I prefer to do my own developing, and in my set of circuimstances C41 is just too much of a pain to do well at home. But the
    "so-so" reputation that XP2 get is really unfair. Its a great film. With your thorough preparation and fine-tuning, I am sure you get better results from it than most people get from their films, no matter what they are.
    But is it a film to end all films? I think not. If it works for all the work you happen to do, then I don't see a reason to change. The only reason I would suggest other films is not in order to replace this one, but ifyou need a tool for a job that this film just can't do, or one that is better suited to a different film. There is simply more variety in traditional B&W films - I would suggest that if not better, then certainly different tonalities at your disposal - so many different looks its almost an infinite buffet (but conversly, a pit-fall of many - trying to do too much with too many films, not taking time to master any one of them).
    I think that overall I prefer the tonal relationships I get from traditional films - but it may be because I learned how to get them from those particular materials. Its hard to say that Delta 400 (or any film) is significantly better than XP2. Actually, I think no traditional 400 speed film will give you the fine grain that XP2 can when properly exposed. But in 6x7 that is not exactly a huge issue. The bottom line is, I generally have not seen satisfactory results from a traditional B&W film done at a lab (at least none I could afford), and C41 is simply harder to screw up. Unless you plan to go back to the dark-room yourself, I think the benefits of XP2 (consistent results from almost any lab, I hear it scans better - but wouldn't know nor care myself) outweigh any possible benefits a traditional film may (if at all) have when contrasted vs the crapshoot of what a lab will or will not do to it (I cringe here...rrrrr).
    As to the technical abilties of these various films, there are many here far more qualified to get into in-depth technical discussions - but again, I think to exploit any of these qualities you would have to handle your own developing.
  9. Randall,

    Shoot first and ask questions later. Getting images you like is first and foremost.

    In my uses I was getting more dynamic range with 'real' B&W Films than with XP-2. You
    don't always need or want it though.

  10. Randall,

    If you have a lab that knows how to process XP2 Super and are happy with the results you are getting then there is no need to change.

    I shot about 150+ rolls of XP2 Super and Kodak T-MAX 400CN throughout the 90s and I was never really happy with the results. Moreover, as the digital age dawned it simply became impossible to get proper prints from these films - even with a pro lab.

    Since early 2004 I have been processing my own traditional B&W film and I haven't looked back. In some respects it's agonizing to think that I shot a lot of pictures on that C-41 stuff that I KNOW I could have done better with had I used traditional B&W film.

    On the other hand, your mileage my vary and there are a lot of accomplished photographers who swear by XP2 Super.
  11. Thanks for all the input, everyone! It seems that many people share my philosophy that it is better to learn one film well, than to be constantly changing to a different film. But, I see that others feel that it should be "the best film for the job." I guess as one's experience grows, both methods may come into play.

    Since XP-2 is generally considered a good film, and since XP-2 scans well for my printing purposes, I'll be sticking with XP-2 for the foreseeable future.
  12. I've used quite a bit of XP-2, and I like it a lot, but I got a little tired of the look and have more or less switched to Delta 400.

    The most important thing to know is that XP-2 has a strong S-shaped curve, similar to what you'd get with a traditional film that is developed in highly compensating developer. This means it has great mid-tone separation, which combined with fine grain means really glowing skin tones. It also means that highlights and shadows lack brilliance (particularly since shadows show up grainy on the film), but the highlights practically never blow out - you can almost always get some highlight detail into the print.

    Depending a bit on how you develop it, Delta 400 has a much straighter curve and a more literal translation of the scene. Highlights, which generally draw the eye in an image, look more brilliant.

    For medium format, where grain is less important, I much prefer D400 to XP-2. For 35mm, it's a closer call, but I'm tired of the "scanned color film" look of XP-2 and I've found a great way to develop Delta 400 for fine grain and high accutance with a homebrew developer.

    I generally don't use a filter with Delta 400 or XP-2. They both have extended red sensitivity compared to Tri-X, giving the effect of shooting through perhaps a light orange filter. Sometimes a yellow filter might be good to bring down blue skies a bit, or a green filter to add some texture to male portraits (skin tones tend to look a little bit mushy and transparent with high red sensitivity), but habitual use of a yellow or orange filter isn't necessary.

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