DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert on Ilford FP4+ (although I know someone who can seriously claim to be) and nor for the matter am I an expert on semi-stand development. This series of posts has simply been a way for me to share my experiences in the hope that someone somewhere will gain a crumb of insight for their own works.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been using Twitter over the last six months or so and have connected with film photographers around the globe. I have also enjoyed some of the themed group projects and the main “event”for April 2020 has been the annual “FP4 Party”. I purchased some 120 film especially for the occasion and I also decided that for these party-rolls I would use a semi-stand development in Rodinal at 1+100 – even now I’m not sure what possessed me but I’m glad it did. All of the chosen parameters, from film, camera, chemicals and development process were outside my recent norms, the only consistent factor was that I was using black and white film.
I used six rolls of film during my semi-stand week and three of them were these rolls of FP4+ for #FP4Party. Whilst the methodology and timings were consistent I did vary the temperature of the starting temperature using 20° as it’s the recommended, 18° as that is often the ambient temperature where I develop my films and finally 22° as that can often be the temperature in that room during the summer months even with the back door open. As I always use deionised water when making up chemicals I keep a canister ready for use in the kitchen at all times. Looking at the negatives I cannot see that these small temperature differences materially affected these rolls at these development times.
Ilford FP4+ then, ISO 125, an all-purpose black & white film with fine grain, medium contrast and outstanding sharpness. Ideal for most shooting scenarios in good light conditions; although good light was not a given on this occasion! I’ve used it a couple of times and could attest to the fine grain – focusing with a grain focus finder can be interesting! Developers like my recent go-to of Kodak D76 will tend to minimise grain to a degree, and this would normally have been my developer of choice for these films.
Except I’d decided on Rodinal. Rodinal will in normal use tend to accentuate the grain, except as you already know I wasn’t going to be using it in the “normal” way.
Rodinal is I believe, the oldest commercial developer still in production. Famous for its contrast control and flexibility and outstanding keeping qualities. I always have a bottle on the shelf. Used at higher dilutions such as 1+100, Rodinal can help render high contrast scenes with a more normal level of contrast and that would be an asset given the locations I would be photographing and the light I expected to encounter. The appearance of grain is also proportional to the dilution, so at 1+25 it is at its most obvious, and at 1+100 it is at its finest which was a good match I felt for the fine-grained FP4+.
I’ve already said I was delighted with the negatives, they provided the fine grain I was hoping for and the first batch out of the tank printed very nicely with minimal fuss.
Now my original aim was to darkroom print a set of six to nine of the #FP4Party negatives ready for “reveal” week which was starting on 19th April. I managed a couple and indeed the image above featured in my blog post Printing a Negative. However, life and a couple of other distractions got in the way and I’ve yet to get the opportunity for an extended #FP4Party darkroom session.
The three negatives that I did get to darkroom print were all from the first roll, taken on a day with a bright blue sky and fairly even light which gave me negatives that printed nicely but no excitement or atmosphere. We were fated to get fairly flat light on most of the days I went out with the FP4+ and so it will need to wait for another day before I give my overall impressions on the film as I want to try it in different situations and lighting conditions. However, this morning I scanned a few negatives from the three rolls in order to have something for the reveal. It’s Day Six today, tomorrow is the last day, and I’ve not posted anything yet as I’ve been waiting to see if I could squeeze a darkroom session in. Time however has now run out.
The first thing that I noted when I popped a couple of strips of negatives on a light pad was the lovely detail from this film and developer combination. I used a Bronica ETRS camera fitted with a Y/G filter for almost all of the images I made.
Where this combination of film and developer excelled however was in detailed, heavily textured, scenes such as the garage door above. This is a scan don’t forget but all I have done is apply a Levels adjustment to the very flat scan and in this case a small vignette. My approach to scanning negatives, the so-called hybrid approach, is to scan with flat contrast and then adjust Levels in software. I rarely do much more but whatever I do decide to do has to meet an important test – could I replicate this in the darkroom? That is I as in me, not an extremely competent printer. If the answer is “Yes” then I do it but if it isn’t then it doesn’t get done.
In the very limited tests that I have made with this film and developer I have been extremely pleased with the results and wouldn’t hesitate to use Ilford FP4+ combined with semi-stand development in the future. That said I would also be considering more traditional ways of developing this film. I’ve been typically using 400 ISO film recently, partly because of the light here in the UK and partly because of the latitude of Ilford HP5+ when using a point and shoot, meter-less clockwork camera. To use a fine-grained, slow emulsion such as Ilford FP4+ has been a novel experience after an Autumn, Winter and Spring of faster speed films.
It has to be remembered that there are so many variables that it is hard to make a ringing endorsement for you specifically, but for me, the way I meter a scene, my use of filtration and choice of camera, the way I develop a film and the way I then scan or print the negative then I have to say I like this film a lot and at some point in the future will investigate and experiment further.
FOOTNOTE: I had a fourth roll of the FP4+ which I inadvertently used the day before the #FP4Party, rendering it inadmissible, and which I therefore developed in Kodak D76 (currently my favourite developer although I have none in stock so am using FX55 – of which more later). The image below was taken early on a Sunday morning, with the sun just peeping above the hills on the horizon. As a result there were some harsh shadows and deep contrasts plus I was also working into the sun for this image. I was well pleased with the negative. It had bags of detail, a great range of tones and it met the “Whenham Test” for hybrid processing too.