Does it matter which black and white film you use? Of course it does! But...picking film can be a rather arbitrary affair, particularly when using different films in different cameras, and then using different developers (or even different labs!) to boot. I know I mostly talk about Polaroid on my blog, but I do shoot film, though not as often as I used to...mostly because I tend to forget about the film cameras I've brought along and go through packs of Polaroid instead. I do think about the disappearing availability and subsequent cost of peel-apart, and I realize that in 10-15 years there probably won't be much of it around, aside from expired Fuji peel-apart (if you think that Fuji is going to be making instant peel-apart film in 15 years, you are probably wrong). So I often consider what I will focus on when my stash has been depleted. It will last me awhile, though there is a delicate balance between having enough to last me 10 years or so, and the films' ability to be usable after that amount of time. Polaroid film expiration seems to be totally independent from its surrounding packs. I have Type 108 from 1989 that still works beautifully, and I have Type 669 from 2006 that exposed very dark and very blue. So I can't even rely on numbers...all I can do is keep shooting and hope, through proper storage, that it will last.
On a side note, I read a lot about how people buy Polaroid and are afraid to use it, because then it will be gone!
ANYway, so, yes I think about what I want to focus on after Polaroid, and even things I might be interested in doing concurrently. Glass plate collodion is something I would love to work with someday...when I have the time, space and money. Large format is another field I'm becoming increasingly interested in. In the interim, though, good old black and white 120 and the occasional 35mm will have to do. So, back to the original question: what is the best film to use? Results are so dependent on so may factors, as mentioned above, as well as lighting conditions, exposure time, the camera lens, and just about anything else you can think of. But most films do have tendencies. All I can really do is show some examples of different film types in different cameras, and maybe describe some of the qualities that I glean from different film types. Most of these black and white examples are developed in D-76, which is a nice, straightforward developer that generally gives consistent, even results. I am sure some will read this and not agree with my comments or results, or may have tips, etc. regarding certain films and developers and whatnot. This is not a "professional" comparison or review. Just a personal overview with some comments based on my experiences with the films, and will help you to see how different films behave in different cameras.
First up is my most used 120 film format, Fuji Acros 100. I find that Acros generally has a decent amount of contrast with loss of detail in the shadows and bright areas. So it has stronger blacks and brighter whites. It still retains fine grays between until you get to darker or whiter areas. All in all, it is a very "sharp" film. A few examples with a few different cameras...
Kowa Six with 85mm lens
Fuji Neopan 400 (which isn't available in the US anymore, I believe) has more even tones than the Acros. More grays with lighter blacks...or less contrast overall. So the shots are either lighter or darker across the board. Shows a bit more grain than Acros, as well. I have a tougher time shooting 400 film because I don't use a light meter. My internal meter is set for 100 speed film, so it's difficult to calculate the adjustment. Plus, it is so bright and sunny here, slower films seem to be easier to use. A couple examples of Neopan 400.
Those are the two primary types of 120 film. In 35mm format, I use Neopan 1600 in my Natura Classica. This is a very high contrast film, with a fair amount of grain. Much more sensitive to light. Fuji has stopped making this film recently, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a Natura Classica (though they still make color 1600 and there are some other brands available). A couple examples of 1600 in the Natura:
I don't often use Kodak film, mostly because it is expensive. Right now it is $4 to $5 for a roll of 120, depending on type. But I do like it...I just don't have a lot of examples. In college, Plus-X was the go-to film, so I will start with that. The film speed is 125, which is close enough to 100 that it doesn't make a big difference in exposure times. Plus-X seems to me to be a very "in between" film. The tones are even and seems to retain detail in dark areas, but it does lose detail in the bright areas. Grain is present, but the grain size is relatively small.
Bronica S2 with Komura 50mm, expired June 1973
I've only used Ilford films a few times. I like the results, but I usually go with cheaper options. Some folks live and die by Ilford, and they are strong supporters of analog film (they provide the film tech in Impossible Project black and white integral films). I don't think D-76 is the best developer for some of the Ilford films, as it seems to have increased grain. But I typically like my results with Ilford.
Ilford Delta seems to be fairly even toned. Overall gray with even details in dark and light areas.
Ilford FP4 has richer blacks, similar to Kodak 400, and seems to be finer grained and shows more detail that Delta.
Great Wall DF-2
I also have quite a bit of expired Ilford FP3. This expired in 1957 and was shot with an Ansco Panda. Tends to be very high contrast and grainy...but it is really old.
Ilford also makes a black and white film that is developed in color developer...Ilford XP2. Overall seems to be a very nice film that supposedly has very little grain, though I noticed it falls apart a bit in low light, with an increase in grain. A sharp film with lots of detail throughout, and rich blacks. These are from the same roll and same camera.
Bessa R4A with 21mm lens
Arista.edu is a brand supplied by Freestyle at a budget price. It is supposedly a rebranded film of some other type. There are three speeds...100, 200 and 400. Arista.edu 100 is a very competent film, comparable to Acros with a bit more grain. Overall an even tone, maybe a bit dull, but can exhibit rich blacks. For the price, less than half of a roll of Kodak, you really can't go wrong.
Bessa R4A with 21mm lens
Arista.edu 200 seems to be similar to Verichrome...overall a darker, richer film than most. The high grain is from using Diafine as a developer.
Fomapan is a brand I rarely use. Not really sure why, it's just not been part of my film usage. It seems to be pretty similar to Arista.edu film as far as results and quality. It is cheaper than most brands, as well. It is probably a good choice for use in toy cameras where quality is not an issue (sorry Fomapan, if you are actually a high quality film!) As I have used this film only a few times, I will just post an example of each.
Fomapan 100, Meteor
Fomapan 400, Fujipet
The last film I will mention is no longer produced, which is too bad because it was one of my favorite brands: Fortepan. I've read that Fortepan was an "old style" film, using old formulas and lacking a halide layer. So it shoots how film used to shoot...
Fortepan 100 was, for me, a film that could be used in any camera, in just about any situation. There is definitely grain present, but it can have dark blacks with no detail, or it can blow out light areas, or it can be even toned across the board. It works well in low light and bright light. There is a most definite softness to the image, making it ideal for toy cameras, yet it could still retain a massive amount of detail at times. They stopped making it a couple years ago, and I think I used up the last of it just a couple weeks ago. I miss it already!
Alternately, there is a Fortepan 400 that I didn't care for at all. If I remember correctly, it was super curly. Maybe I just wasn't using it right, but it didn't ever really work for me.
Great Wall DF-2
We should all buy film while we can, as it will get more and more expensive as silver prices increase and digital takes over. Someone will probably always make some kind of film, but it won't be cheap! If stored properly, BW film will last a long time past its expiration date, but don't feel like you have to hoard just yet (unless it is something that you use that is being discontinued, like Fuji Neopan 400). There is still quite a lot of film available online and at specialty photo shops, and much of it is very affordable. And I'm not into the whole digital versus film argument, but, really...digital is such a turn off for me. It's good for some stuff and can produce some nice pieces, of course, but it's not film. I can't count how many times photographers have told me (and they do, quite often, when they see me with a film camera) that they can't afford film photography, while they stand there with a $1200 digital camera and a $700 lens (plus the computer software!). And all I see is ...aim at a person two feet away with a 12" long lens, and then "clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick". Like, seriously, how many frames of the exact same shot do you need? And how is that fun? I dunno...just not my bag.
Anyway, do what you will, but I am a film supporter, and I hope to be shooting film in some form or another until I die, even if I have to make the chemicals myself. I hope this post encourages many of you to do the same!
And, yes, I am well aware that I am not posting much this year...just been messing about with other things. I have ideas, just haven't taken the time to type them out. Thanks for continually stopping by, though...so many are obviously interested in film! Almost 300,000 visitors and almost half a million page views! Spanks a million!
Until next time, seeya!