Tag Archives: Chromogenic film

Ilford XP2 -An under appreciated film

Having recently worked intensively with the whole range of Ilford 35mm films, I thought that I would write a few articles on the special qualities or quirks of some of them.

In this post I’d like to discuss a film which I think is under appreciated; Ilford XP2. This film is a little out of the ordinary, both in the look which it gives and the way it is processed. It is a Chromogenic film, this means that the silver grains are converted to dyes during processing, giving it a unique quality. There is a smoothness to the tones in the mid tones, going up through to the highlights. It looks virtually grainless in these areas, especially on medium format negatives.

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With conventional films, when you have a grainy neg from overexposure and over development, the grain of the film is not what you see on the print. Light passes between the grains to expose the paper, so what you are seeing is the gaps between the grains.

With XP2, overexposure is an advantage. The image is formed in the same way as with normally developed negatives, but during processing the film grain is replaced by overlapping, semi dense ‘platelets’ of dye. Because they overlap in the heavily exposed areas, there is no actual gap between the grains, and hence, no impression of grain on the print.
In areas of shadow, less of the platelets are created, allowing more light through the larger gaps. This gives a grainy look.
So the shadow areas look grainy and the lighter tones look smooth and grain free. This is an exaggerated reversal of the grain problem found with normal films. Burning a sky in from a 35mm negative on a conventional 400 ISO film can result in heavier grain which some find unpleasant. A burned in sky from an XP2 negative is smooth and creamy. This quality is also apparent in other images where light tones are important, such as a wedding dress, or a portrait. Snow scenes also have a lovely smoothness.

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It needs to be processed through C41 Colour chemicals, this means it can be processed by any lab. I have used XP2 since it’s very first release (as XP1) in the early eighties. I’ve always loved it for certain types of image when it gave me great negs and great prints, but that wasn’t always so. It took me a while to understand how to use it properly as it needs to be used with its own special properties and quirks in mind.

With conventional films, quality suffers with overexposure if development is not reduced and this shows as harsh grain. the opposite is true of this film. White hair, white dresses, skies etc, all have a beautiful, smooth tonality, which will come as a pleasant surprise if you are used to seeing the bleached out highlights of a digital image. Portraits on XP2 also have a different look, the lighter tones of  the image: the skin etc, display a very smooth tonality. The shadow areas, such as dark clothing will show the grain (with 35mm film), but this is not too much of a problem, in most prints you would have to look closely to see it. From a medium format negative it really wouldn’t be a problem.

So if over exposure produces better results, then XP2 is best over exposed. For instance; rated at 200 ISO. The important thing is to not alter the processing, let the lab treat the film as normal. Your negs will be a bit denser than usual, but this is an advantage. If you wish to check this for yourself, just shoot two frames of the same subject, one rated 400 and the next frame overexposed by one stop (i.e. rated 200). Make a print from each frame and compare, you will see an improvement in the one rated at 200.

I believe XP2 to be an exceptional film when used for many applications and always have some in my film bag for the times when I want that look.

Oh, and I almost forgot, -it is amazingly sharp.

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11 Comments

  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 17/06/2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink | Edit

Thank You for this, Andrew!
Normally I stick to the films I am used to and I never tried XP-2 because of the C41 process.
I am very concerned about the durability of my negatives and I have my doubts about that in case of XP-2. Or are my doubts for no reason?
Thomas

2. Paul Hillier

Posted 23/06/2014 at 6:47 am

I used XP1 when it first came out and then XP2 . They were great films and being able to process it in C41 was great for when I were traveling. We had alot of our XP1 turn green over the years and appear to lose some of its density. I haven’t had access to this film for quite a few years now so I am not sureof its current state.

Another one of my favorite films was Kodak’s Panatomic X. This film was so sharp and great film.

Cheers Paul.

3. Keith

Posted 11/07/2014 at 3:37 pm

XP2 Super is a film that I never cared cared for personally, but I am glad that you like it, as it does have it’s fans. However, I am not one of them.

4. Mark Magin

Posted 16/07/2014 at 2:58 am

Recently found your site and am enjoying reading it. There is so much stuff out on the web to sift through a jewel such as this is easily missed. Hope you continue!

5. John Panya

Posted 02/08/2014 at 10:17 am

Thanks for your nice post.
I’ve used nearly every kinds of Ilford film that still be available in the market but XP-2. It’s the film I’ve never tried because of C41 process. And I thought there was no special thing I could get from it.

But I may be wrong.
The quality it create impress me.

Regards,
John

6. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 07/08/2014 at 8:46 am

After returning from a 2 week holiday with a lot b/w films to develop in ID-11, I realized an other advantage of this film:
Just give it to your local photo shop and let it develop under perfect standard conditions and save time!
So I will try some for the next time.
Thomas

7. Mark Voce

Posted 26/08/2014 at 12:01 pm

Thank you for the interesting post Andy, I’ve never used XP2 and knew sod all about it. Sounds like it could have it’s uses though

8. JR Smith

Posted 29/08/2014 at 7:53 pm

Just stumbled across your site and found it very interesting! Nice job!

9. cr mayer

Posted 16/09/2014 at 3:44 am

I just discovered your blog. Very interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing your work.

10. Steve

Posted 19/09/2014 at 5:03 pm

Also never thought to try this. May pick some up and stuck it in my Contax G1 and see how it fares. Sounds like it’s best for hi(gher) key subjects/treatments?

11. Keith

Posted 07/10/2014 at 6:32 am

Hi Andrew, when will you write a review about the other Ilford B&W films?

Very soon I hope.

Thanks for your excellent articles.

Ilford films, -the results

So I finished the task, (see previous post) -though I did need to ask for a weeks extension. All of the images were shot over five weeks and I spent another week working late into the night producing over 100 10×8 proof prints. The final selection has not been made, but I present my favourites below. I would be interested to hear your responses,…

Although I was very lucky with some days regarding the changeable British weather, I also had odd days which were a bit of a disaster, with shutter problems on one camera, meter inaccuracies on another and a misaligned focusing screen on a new camera I purchased on ebay, which meant I lost a number of shots. I also discovered a couple of inaccuracies in the processing information for one of Ilford’s film developers and worked out a new ’stand’ process for a couple of the films and this has proved to work very well. All of this will give me enough material for a number of future blog posts.

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3 Comments

  1. Keith

Posted 29/05/2014 at 1:55 pm

Well done Andrew, obviously you undertook was a long task for Ilford.

Which of the Ilford film developers did you find that the information was inaccurate?

The stand development may also be of interest to followers of your blog.

  1. Alex

Posted 02/06/2014 at 4:04 pm

Congratulations on completing such a difficult job. I hope you will share your detailed objective conclusions with us.
A comparative analysis of different films in some kind of spreadsheet form could prove to be a great source of information for many of us.
And of course, the new stand development is always an interesting topic.

  1. Tom Kershaw

Posted 16/06/2014 at 6:06 pm

Hello Andrew,

Perhaps an odd question, but what was the aim of this comparison, simply to show a variety of results or make aesthetic judgements?

I have considered doing something similar for my own purposes in the past but have now decided on using a small number of film & developer combinations, centred around XTOL. I would think about using DD-X if I didn’t want to work with a powder.

Tom

Ilford films

Ilford / Harman have asked me to shoot images to promote all ten of the films they produce. I have to create something eye-catching and inspiring for each of the ten films. Each image has to show what that particular film is capable of, or what it might be used for. The project is very exciting, but I’ve only got a month to complete it! I worked out that I will have to shoot for two days, process and contact for one day, then shoot for two days, process/contact for one day and repeat the cycle for thirty days. I have to come up with a strong shot every two days.

I’ll be shooting on a range of emulsions, from Pan-F at 50 ISO/ASA right through the mid speed range; FP4, Delta 100 and Kentmere 100, then the faster ones; HP5, Delta 400, XP2 and the fastest; Delta 3200. There is one other film in the range and that is the semi infra red film SFX. I’ll be leaving this one til last, not because it’s the least interesting, but because it needs full foliage on the trees to get the best out of it. Bare branches in weak spring sunlight will not produce a striking effect. Hopefully, by the end of the month we should have more greenery around.

When the final images have been chosen I will be required to produce fifty prints of each of the ten negatives. Quite a task, but one I’m looking forward to.

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7 Comments

  1. Andrea

Posted 12/04/2014 at 1:42 pm

Oh nice. Looking forward to the results of this !
All 35mm?

  1. David McCormack

Posted 14/04/2014 at 8:02 pm

Fifty hand prints from each of ten!? Look forward to seeing the images and how you match them to each of the film’s characteristics. Looking at the photo of the ten films makes me realise how good it is that we still have a great variety of films to work with. And two from Kentmere… didn’t know about that. How do they compare to FP4 and HP5? Will have to wait for your photos I guess……!

  1. Keith

Posted 19/04/2014 at 8:38 am

I don’t envy your task Andrew, especially if there is a deadline to make.

I have often wondered why Ilford only have square images on their boxes of photographic papers?

  1. David Burrows

Posted 22/04/2014 at 8:30 pm

Hi Andrew
Looks like a tough project one that I would love to do, looking forward to seeing the results
Just a thought, do you remember when I did a workshop with you one on one, one thing I remember I photographed a raindrop on a leaf you showed me how to do on film, that memory has always stuck with me. You turned me into a photographer
Regards Dave

  1. Dave V

Posted 10/05/2014 at 2:55 pm

Greetings,
I discovered your blog while doing a bit of a web-crawl. I have been pondering loading my 1955 Rolleicord V, and leaving my digital camera in the closet. I was interested in the paper negative process also, and that is what specifically led me your way.
I am grateful Ilford is still on the scene, manufacturing film and paper. I tend to be partial to FP-4.
Nice blog!
Best, Dave

  1. Thomas Binsfeld

Posted 12/05/2014 at 7:27 pm

The difficulty in this task in my oppinion is what is the difference in the certain characteristics of e.g. PAN F, Delta 100 and Kentmere 100 …. or HP-5 and Kentmere 400.
The Delta 400 stands for more fine grain, the SFX is clear.
But also the difference between Pan F and Delta 100… Hard to make this clear in a single photo!

Thomas

  1. BenSandyOscar

Posted 15/05/2014 at 11:24 am

Wow Sandy what an honour! Proud we are your customers! Can’t wait to see the results.