© 2019 by Silver in the Dark

Ilford Black and White Film Comparison
HP5+ vs Delta 400/FP4+ vs Delta 100

I have been shooting with Ilford films for about 3 years upon my return to film photography. As an amateur/hobbyist that was new to the art form, I didn't really know the difference between Ilford's film offerings other than ISO rating, so I jumped in and tried them all. With little to no research I made some assumptions, the most predominate being  that the Delta series would give nicer photos because it has the word professional in the name! Recently someone asked me a detailed question regarding the blacks and contrast between Delta 400 and HP5 and I realized that although in three years my understanding of the mechanics of film cameras had grown, but my understanding of the difference between Delta and HP5+ was still at the basic level of Delta = Professional. Thus I set out on a scientific experiment to compare and contrast these four films.

My impressions prior to the experiment:

  • Delta series is for professionals because it has that word in its name and therefore it must be better

  • The Delta series has finer grain making it sharper and more detailed

  • I'm not a fan of noise in my digital photos so I assumed that the HP5+ larger grain would be "noisy" = bad.

What Ilford says about the two types:

HP5+

  • Uses a simple traditional film crystal in the emulsion

  • More forgiving and tolerant of error in both exposure and development

Delta 400​

  • Uses super advanced and modern crystal technology in the emulsion

  • Finer grain size

  • Not tolerant of under/overexposure when taking the photo

  • Requires more precise development and processing, more sensitive to developing errors

  • Images will be sharper and "cleaner" looking

What the web says:

A quick google search will yield many results ie opinions of people who have used both films. Some of these opinions seem to vary drastically, no one seems to agree on which one has more contrast or more sharpness. However the common theme that runs among most opinions and lines up with Ilford's own documentation is that if you want precise control in the development stage, go with the Deltas, if you want consistent results with a large margin for development error go with HP5+ of FP4+. 

Prices for 120 roll film: (in Jan 2019)

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HP5+

$5.19

Delta 400

$6.19

FP4+

$4.95

Delta 100

$5.99

The Experiment: 

I wanted to be as scientific about my experiment as possible, so these are the rules I established in hopes to yield the most accurate results. 

Shooting:

  • Use the same camera and lens for all 4 rolls (Hasselblad 500cm with 50mm lens)

  • Shoot in the same lighting conditions for all 4 rolls

  • Use the same subject with as precise framing as possible (although I did not use a tripod I made sure to place my feet in the same spot on at least 1 of the series of shots, a tripod would have been better) 

  • Expose to normal exposure for the ISO being used (used exact same settings for both 400s and the same for both 100s)

Developing:

  • Use the same processing chemicals, mixed at the same time to prevent ratio discrepancies.

  • Use the same exact temperatures

  • Same Stop, Fixing, and Washing procedures for each roll.

  • Developed using the exact times off of the Ilford Processing Chart

*except for FP4+ I used 4 mins instead of 4.25 in attempt to get as close to ISO 100 instead of ISO 125

As per the chart. 1+9 dilution at 20°C. agitating for first 30 seconds then 10 secs every min.

1+ 19 dilution at 20°C for 10 seconds (5 second pour in, 10 seconds stop, 5 second pour out)

1+ 4 dilution at 20°C for 3.5 mins. Agitated for first 30 seconds, then 10 secs every min.

Washed in running tap water for 10 mins, poured out water four times during first period of rinse. Last min of the wash was in distilled water.

Scanning:

  • Used my Nikon d810 with Micro-Nikkor 55mm lens, tripod, and light table.

  • All shots taken at f 11, 1/20 sec, and ISO 200.

  • Bulk processed shots on import into lightroom (inverted curve, converted to black and white, and cropped in on the frame).

  • Exported using same settings.

Results:

HP5+

f16 1/250 ISO 400

Delta 400

HP5+ has higher contrast. The blacks are darker and less detail in the shadow. The sky seems more uniform.

The Delta 400 has much more detail in the shadows. Larger tonal range throughout. Lower overall contrast. The sky seems less uniform

Same images cropped in

HP5+

Looking at the sky you can see the larger grain size in the HP5+, also that the grains are slightly less evenly spread across the frame. The detail in the horse's face is very very sharp and the high contrast makes the texture 'pop.'

f16 1/250 ISO 400

Delta 400

The grains are smaller and more evenly and closely spaced throughout the sky. Perhaps I did not have the camera focused as well as I could have, but in the crop the Delta 400 is a good bit softer. The texture of the horse's face is much more subtle.

FP4+

Darker blacks, brighter whites, higher contrast. Slightly darker overall exposure even though I cut the development time by 15 seconds in an attempt to make the ISO 125 closer to ISO 100 which should have brightened it a bit more. 

f8 1/250 ISO 100

Delta 100

Same as Delta 400, the Delta 100 has much more detail in the shadows, although I would say this ended up with slightly more contrast than its ISO 400 counterpart. 

FP4+

Cropped in the FP4+ looks softer than the Delta 100, once again... user error in taking or scanning? Also there are lots of white spots in the sky...not washed well enough?? Still you can see the larger grain in the sky, and that the shadows are very dark.

f8 1/250 ISO 100

Delta 100

A sharper image, and yet the grains are so fine, you can hardly make them out. There is so much more detail in the shadow of the mane and neck. Even though the contrast is lower, the detail and texture pop because the image is sharper. 

Conclusion:

The most obvious difference between the two types is that the Delta series has more detail in the shadows and the HP5+ and FP4+ are higher contrast. Through development or printing you can increase the contrast of the Delta series, however this test was designed to see the results using the standard recommended settings. In the end it all comes down to personal taste. Typically I like a high contrast look to my photos, but the more I looked at the detail in the mane and neck of the Delta 100 shot, the more I liked it. Overall, the sharpness of the image makes more of a difference than the film itself, as you can see from the enlarged examples where there was a softer image on one in both examples, most likely nothing to do with the film and more to do with me. I would say the choice in which film to use should be made on a few different factors:

  1. What will you use the film for? For large prints the Delta series may yield better results, smoother tonal ranges, detail in shadow, and fine grains. For small prints or small scans, the HP5+ and FP4+ are great, the high contrast really pops and I personally think the larger grains help the image sharpness when viewed at a distance or smaller size. 

  2. Do you like contrast? If you love contrast with no extra effort then the HP5+ FP4+ is for you! If you want more 'dynamic range' go with the Delta series.

Another factor to consider is that the Delta films are slightly more expensive, ~ a $1 more for each type, which if you are shooting massive amounts of film could make a difference, if only shooting a few rolls at time then go with the one you prefer. Don't let the 'sensitivity' to exposure and developing scare you away from the Delta films. I am an absolute amateur, I don't use a light meter when shooting and I develop with stock Ilford products in my bathroom, and have never managed to screw up with Delta films. 

Which film type do you prefer and why?