The Best Black and White Films Available in 2024: The Comprehensive Buying Guide

Step back in time and rediscover the enchanting beauty of black and white film photography with our comprehensive guide to the best films of 2024. Monochrome photography has a unique, timeless charm that continues to capture the hearts of photographers and viewers alike. It’s an ideal choice for beginners as it encourages them to focus on essential aspects such as framing, lighting, and composition, all while being free from the complexities of color.

Not only is black and white film generally more affordable than its color counterparts, but it’s also simple and cost-effective to develop at home. This hands-on approach to the development process allows photographers to experiment and customize their results, fostering a more intimate connection with their craft. Shooting in black and white accentuates form, texture, and contrast, inviting the viewer to engage with the subject and the emotions it conveys on a deeper level. In this guide, we’ll dive into the top black and white films available in 2024, offering valuable insights and recommendations to help both beginners and seasoned photographers create visually stunning and evocative images that stand the test of time.

Important things to keep in mind

When purchasing black and white film, there are several factors to consider to ensure you select the best option for your needs. First, consider the compatibility of the film with your photography equipment, as some films may be better suited for specific camera models or lenses. Next, think about the ISO range, which determines the film’s sensitivity to light. While ISO 100 or 200 films are common and suitable for well-lit scenes, specialized films with higher ISO ratings, such as 800 or 3200, perform better in low-light conditions or when capturing fast-moving subjects.

The choice of film also depends on the type of photography you plan to undertake. For example, slower films are ideal for daytime photography, while faster films work better for night photography or when using flash. Additionally, consider the film’s grain and contrast characteristics, as these will impact the overall look and feel of your images. Some films produce finer grain for a smoother appearance, while others offer pronounced grain for a more vintage or gritty aesthetic. High contrast films can create dramatic, bold images, whereas lower contrast films yield a more subtle tonality.

It’s also important to research black and white developers, as different developers can affect the final image’s grain, contrast, and sharpness. Lastly, consider the flexibility of the film for pushing and pulling during development. Pushing a film increases its effective ISO, resulting in higher contrast and more pronounced grain, while pulling a film lowers its effective ISO, yielding lower contrast and finer grain. Some films, such as Kodak Tri-X 400 and Ilford HP5+, handle these processes particularly well, offering photographers greater creative control.

Reviews of the best black and white films

Best for Beginners: Ilford HP5+

Ilford HP5+ is an excellent black and white film known for its ease of use and versatility, making it a popular choice for both beginners and experienced photographers alike. Its generous latitude allows for a wide range of exposures, which is particularly helpful when learning the basics of film photography. HP5+ offers a moderate grain structure that adds character to your images without overpowering them. In terms of price, it is an affordable option, providing great value for its quality. The film exhibits a pleasing contrast that renders a wide range of tones, making it suitable for various lighting conditions. Ilford HP5+ is an all-around performer that excels in different areas of use, including street photography, portraiture, and landscape, making it a reliable and well-rounded choice for any photographer looking to explore the world of black and white film.

Best High-ISO Film: Ilford Delta 3200

Ilford Delta 3200 is a specialized high-speed black and white film designed for challenging lighting conditions and capturing fast-moving subjects. Its impressive latitude enables photographers to confidently work in low-light environments without sacrificing image quality. Delta 3200 features a distinctive grain structure that is more pronounced than lower ISO films, adding a unique aesthetic to images. While not the optimal choice for beginners due to its specialized nature, it excels in specific areas of use such as indoor sports, concerts, and nighttime street photography. For those situations where capturing the moment is crucial and lighting is less than ideal, Ilford Delta 3200 provides a reliable and creative solution for photographers seeking to push the boundaries of black and white film.

Best cheap B/W film: Fomapan 400

Fomapan 400 is an affordable yet versatile black and white film stock that offers excellent value for money, particularly as film prices continue to rise. Its budget-friendly nature makes it a popular choice for photographers who want to hone their skills without breaking the bank. When compared to other films in its class, Fomapan 400 delivers impressive results, boasting deep contrasts, particularly in natural light. The grain is relatively unobtrusive unless the film is significantly underexposed.

Fomapan 400 is somewhat less forgiving than other 400 ISO films, necessitating precise exposure settings for optimal results. Its versatility and low price make it a favorite among street photographers, allowing them to shoot numerous rolls without straining their finances. As a cost-effective option for learning and experimentation, Fomapan 400 is a valuable addition to any photographer’s toolkit. Available in both 35mm and 120 medium format rolls, it’s easy to keep a few rolls stocked in your fridge for those spontaneous creative moments.

Best High Contrast: Rollei Retro 80

Rollei Retro 80 is a distinctive black and white film renowned for its high contrast properties, producing bold and dramatic images that emphasize light and shadow. Best suited for well-lit environments, this film excels in architectural, landscape, and street photography, where its high contrast can be used to great effect.

While not as versatile in varying lighting conditions, Rollei Retro 80 offers a unique look that sets it apart from other films. Its striking aesthetic invites photographers to experiment with contrast in their compositions, resulting in captivating images that leave a lasting impression. For those seeking a high contrast black and white film, Rollei Retro 80 is well worth considering.

FAQs for the Best Black and White Film

What is the best black and white film to shoot outside?

When shooting outside with black and white film, the choice of film stock depends on various factors such as lighting conditions, subject matter, and personal preferences. Generally, films with lower ISO ratings, such as ISO 100 or 200, are ideal for outdoor shooting, providing a good balance between image quality and sensitivity to light. Lower ISO films also offer finer grain, resulting in smoother, more natural-looking images.

For landscape photography, films with high resolution and wide tonal range are preferred, such as Ilford Delta 100 or Kodak T-Max 100. These films render fine detail and a broad range of tonality, capturing the subtle nuances of the natural world. For portraits, films such as Kodak Tri-X 400 or Ilford HP5+ work well, as they offer versatile performance in varying lighting conditions and produce pleasing skin tones.

What is the best developer for black and white film?

Choosing the best developer for black and white film depends on various factors such as the type of film, desired image characteristics, and personal preferences. Some developers produce fine grain, while others enhance contrast or increase sharpness. Ilford ID-11 is a popular choice for many photographers, producing neutral tones and smooth grain, and is compatible with a wide range of films. For those looking to increase contrast and sharpness, Kodak D-76 and HC-110 are excellent options. Other developers, such as Rodinal, produce unique grain structures that add character to images. It’s worth noting that some developers are better suited to specific films, so researching compatibility is essential. Ultimately, the best developer for black and white film is one that achieves the desired image characteristics while being easy to work with and providing consistent results. Experimenting with different developers and films is an excellent way to discover which combination works best for you.

Is it cheaper to develop black and white film at home?

Developing black and white film at home can be a cost-effective option for photographers, as it eliminates the need to pay for professional lab services. Home developing also offers greater control over the process, allowing photographers to tailor the results to their liking. The initial investment in equipment and chemicals can seem daunting, but in the long run, the cost per roll can be significantly lower than sending film out for processing. The price of chemicals can vary, but they generally last for multiple rolls, making them a worthwhile investment. Additionally, home developing offers the convenience of being able to process film on your schedule, rather than relying on lab turnaround times. While the initial learning curve can be steep, home developing black and white film can ultimately be a rewarding and cost-effective way to take control of your creative process.

Can you still get black and white film developed?

Yes, you can still get black and white film developed, despite the decline in popularity of film photography in recent years. While some professional labs have shifted their focus to digital processes, many still offer black and white film developing services. Additionally, there are numerous mail-order labs and specialty shops that offer film developing services. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in film photography, resulting in new labs and businesses that specialize in analog processes. It’s worth noting that while the availability of film developing services may vary depending on location, it is still possible to find reliable options. It’s always a good idea to do your research and read reviews before choosing a lab to ensure that they have the necessary expertise and equipment to provide quality results.

Is it better to overexpose black and white film?

When it comes to black and white film, overexposure can be a useful technique for achieving specific results. Overexposure can result in images with less contrast and smoother tones, making it a suitable technique for portraiture and still life photography. Additionally, overexposure can help reduce visible grain in the final image, resulting in a smoother overall look. However, it’s important to note that overexposing film too much can lead to blown-out highlights and a loss of detail. It’s always best to experiment with exposure to find the sweet spot that produces the desired results, rather than relying on a blanket approach of always overexposing. Ultimately, the decision to overexpose or not comes down to personal preferences and the creative vision for the final image.