Two Weeks with a Roll of Black and White Film

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

After more than two weeks of carrying my Nikon FM around, I finally finished a roll of Ilford HP5+ black and white film. 36 frames took two weeks?! Indeed it did. In my experience with film, that limit of 36 frames in a roll just makes me much more careful and thoughtful about what I shoot, and therefore slower…well, that and I’m so busy lately!

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

The interesting side effect of going through the roll so slowly is that I end up with a pretty eclectic mix of images in the end, spanning a wide variety of different times and different places. With digital, everything is immediate. Shoot a bunch of frames, come home, upload, poof! Done. Everything I just shot at a particular location or recent period of time is all there.

Seeing this roll developed after carrying the camera with me these last two weeks is like going back in time and viewing a storyboard of little experiences, some of which I had completely forgotten about. Very interesting.

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Ilford HP5 is a fantastic film. Great looking grain and a nice balance to the tones. I’ll definitely be ordering more rolls. I just love the look of the film. It’s sort of surreal that they have such a vintage look to them, and yet I know I took these frames only week or two ago. I doubt you would have seen a Shiba Inu in San Francisco’s Alamo Square 30 years ago, however 😉

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Typical Suki, always wanting to go in the opposite direction of where you want to go.

Nikon FM + Sigma 35mm f/2.8  | Ilford HP5+

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

So much advertising for this coffee on my blog. I need to talk to Phil about getting compensated. Eh, it’s ok, the coffee so good I don’t mind.

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

I typically carry a digital camera along with my film SLR, whipping either out of my bag depending on what I feel like shooting with at the time.

Nikon FM + Sigma 35mm f/2.8 | Ilford HP5+

The following three frames are my favorite from this roll. Bridget was shopping with a friend while I waited outside with Suki. Out of nowhere a little girl approached. Children LOVE Suki. I don’t know exactly what it is…maybe it’s because she looks so much like a forest creature, you know? Not quite domesticated. “BABY FOX MOMMY, BABY FOX!” is a very typical thing I hear out of the mouths of little children as I walk by with Suki at my side…

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

….maybe it’s also because Suki is so approachable and tolerant. She’ll let children touch her, pull her ears, give her big hugs, and she never complains. She’s also every bit as soft as she looks, so kids love touching her fur =)

Ok, now for a little Film vs. Digital action:

Olympus PEN E-PL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | jpeg output, monochrome

Digital images tend to have a much more clinical look than a high speed film like HP5. The above is a great example. Compared to the surrounding film frames, the digital image is clean, detailed, contrasty, and free of grain. I’m actually a big fan of the in-camera-processed black and white files from my Olympus E-PL2, but this shot looks way out of place on this post, doesn’t it?

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Back to the HP5, you can see a clear difference. When I posted a while back about my re-entry into film photography, many left comments on the post about how they prefer the look of film photos over digital, and that digital can never match that distinct “film” character. In many cases, perhaps not, but have a look at this digital image:

Nikon D700 + Nikkor AFS 50mm f/1.4G | Silver Efex Pro II, Ilford HP5 400 preset

This was a RAW file from my D700, which I processed in Lightroom 3 and ran through Nik Sofware’s Silver Efex Pro, a black and white image editor. The program can emulate many of the most popular black and white films, including HP5. I selected the HP5 preset for this image and was pretty surprised how closely everything from the contrast to the character of the grain matches real HP5. I processed a few more digital files this way, and I tell you what, I’m hard pressed to see the difference between the digital files and the film scans.

Olympus PEN E-PL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | RAW output, Silver Efex Pro II, Ilford HP5 400 preset

Another digital example, this time from my E-PL2. HP5 is a medium contrast black and white film, so this image seems just a bit too contrasty. But still, pretty close.

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Then again, many argue that if you’re going to go out of your way to make your digital files look like film, why not just shoot film in the first place? I think that there’s a convenience factor that certainly comes into play, but for me, shooting film is an experience that goes beyond simply the final look of the photos themselves.

Nikon FM + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AIS | Ilford HP5+

Which is why I keep loading up new rolls. =)

20 thoughts on “Two Weeks with a Roll of Black and White Film

  1. Awww. The pictures with the little girl are adorable! I need to work on training my Shiba better. He gets scared and jumpy around children or people he doesn’t know.

  2. What a great post! Not only are all the Suki pictures so cute, I love the little comparison you made with digital and film. The series with the little girl is the BEST! Makes me want to squeeze them both!

  3. Great comparisons. I am still reluctant to go back to film because of the digital convenience and instant gratification. But I do appreciate the patience and the careful attention you would have to give to film.

    Bit if you keep posting film images like this, I don’t know how much longer I can hold before I go find myself another film camera which I know I would eventually sell again like what I’ve been doing.

    I also love the pictures of Suki with the child.

  4. awesome post, dude! i love seeing the comparisons. and those 3 pics are my fave ones too. have you tried kodak cn400 bw film? you might like it.

    i just got an ae-1 camera and finished a roll — and pulled the exposure! my first time. i have yet to get it developed, just because i’m lazy. your post reminds me i need to get my behind in gear!

  5. Your B&W reminds me of the way I used B&W. I keep my F5 for a year after I got my D700, I then shot a roll of film and decided I had no reason to keep up with it or go back to it. I used to say when there was not more film I will quite photography. But when the full frame Nikon came out my mind completely changed.

    I do feel for those who have not experienced film that you should experience it. I even feel getting a film 35mm and a lens or two will enhance your photographic experience. So as you are doing enjoy it and learn from it.

  6. Jonathan, you are really making me itch to try shooting with film! Love the comparison and detailed descriptions of each. You can completely tell the difference between film vs. digital. I’m totally diggin’ the vintage graininess on these :).

  7. wow nice shots. You have inspired me. Silver Efex Pro looks great. Ifyou did not tell anyone it was digital they would not know. its that simple! Great work Jon!

  8. Oh man! What great set you have! Makes me want to try that ilford. Without you telling, I can’t tell the difference between the digital processed BW and the film. And I don’t think no one can tell. No one but you. 😉 You’re absolutely right, the experience and gratification of shooting film is waaay too addictive to give up.

  9. love the photos of suki with the little girl! also, makes suki look so small and dainty :] (in a very good way!)

  10. I really like the photo of the inside of the arch. Great details in the shadows – very nice!

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