Thursday, February 12, 2015

B&W Photography with Ilford XP2 Super and Kodak BW400CN

Most of my photography work over the last four years has been with black and white film, predominantly Kodak BW400CN film. This chromogenic film is developed in standard C41 color chemistry, so it can be quickly and conveniently processed and scanned at my local Mike's Camera store. With great shock and disappointment, I learned that Kodak discontinued BW400CN film production in 2014 – and with great shock and disappointment, my wife learned that I purchased sixty rolls of BW400CN as soon as I heard the news!

I also purchased ten rolls of Ilford XP2 Super 400 film, a similar B&W film. Personally, I prefer the Kodak BW400CN over the Ilford XP2 Super because the Ilford tended to look a bit more muddy in the shadows. I also like the ability to push the BW400CN to ASA 1600 because it enables me to use smaller apertures for increased depth of field in landscape photography and faster shutter speeds in street photography.

Here's a quick compare and contrast of the two films:

Ilford XP2 Super 400 (Amazon Link):
- Still commercially available
- Inexpensive
- Pushing not recommended
- Muddy shadows
- More contrasty

Kodak BW400CN (Amazon Link)
- Discontinued (but still available)
- More expensive (since being discontinued)
- Pushes well to ASA 1600
- Cleaner shadows

After experimenting with the Ilford XP2 Super over the last few months, I've found that over-exposing it by a stop or two results in much cleaner shadows. I'm happy with the outcome and can see myself shooting the XP2 Super as an alternative to BW400CN, when shooting at box speed (ASA 400). Additionally, I've asked the folks scanning the negatives to add less contrast during the scanning process. It's easy to add contrast to the scan in post-processing, but nearly impossible to reduce it. I typically don't do any post-processing to my film scans, but when the scans don't have sufficient contrast, a simple s-curve in Lightroom does the trick.

With a finite number of BW400CN rolls in stock, my new strategy is to use XP2 Super when shooting at box speed (400) and BW400CN when pushing (1600). This strategy should help conserve my limited supply of BW400CN film, enabling me to shoot it for years to come.

Here are a few photos – shot on Ilford XP2 Super 400.

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