Harman Phoenix 200 vs. Ilford Ilfocolor 400

Comparing Two New “Ilford” Colour Films

9 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

Did you know that there are two separate “Ilford” brands and both of them have recently begun selling colour film?

There’s Ilford Ilfocolor 400, and then there’s Harman Phoenix 200. Both films began selling in November/December 2023. Both are experimental colour negative films. They produce different results, have unique package designs, and even have wildly dissimilar base colours — before and after processing in C-41.

I’ve recently had the chance to try both films and learn about the seemingly separate yet connected brands. And since you’re here, I’ll explain how we got the two “Ilfords,” then move on to comparing the films (inc. side-by-sides), and finally show you where you can find them for your camera to try.

Ilford vs. Harman — a brief history of the brand and how it became two.

Ilford has been selling classic black and white films like HP5+ for over 140 years from their factory in the town of Ilford, UK. Seasoned film photographers would recognize them as a monochrome-only film retailer.

However, the “Ilford” in Ilford HP5+ is a licensed trademark that the British manufacturer Harman Technology Ltd. “rents” from its Swiss sibling, Ilford Imaging Europe GmbH.

Ilford Ltd. logo from the 1930s, long before it split into the current two.

Back in 2004, in an attempt to save the film production, a piece of Ilford had to be sold; it was their Swiss arm. And it just so happens that the Swiss left with the rights to the Ilford brand. What remained behind was mostly the people, as the factory also had to be sold. But the work continued as the new business rented the space from its new owner.

That new business was named after Alfred Hugh Harman, the original founder.

Today, the Swiss Ilford Imaging makes money in a variety of ways, none of which is film production. The brand still focuses on photographic and graphic products, but most or all of them are made by a third party. Film photographers may’ve come across the Swiss Ilford while checking out their plastic cameras.

As you may’ve already understood, the Swiss Ilford Imaging also licenses the “Ilford” brand name to Harman — but the use is limited to black and white photographic film products. This is why Harman could not sell their new colour film as Ilford Phoenix 200.

Though Harman makes their Phoenix film in-house, the Swiss Ilford Imaging is repackaging another manufacturer’s emulsion, most likely ORWO. More on that below.

What is Ilford Ilfocolor 400?

Ilford Ilfocolor 400 is a 35mm colour negative film. It has enough footage for 24 exposures and comes in a DX-coded film canister.

When developed, this film looks green (as opposed to a more common orange) and has no brand or serial markings. The results show large grain and muted colours.

The film base and resulting colours strongly suggest that Ilford Ilfocolor 400 might be rebranded ORWO Wolfen NC500.

What is Harman Phoenix 200?

Harman Phoenix 200 is a 35mm colour negative film. It has enough footage for 36 exposures and comes in a DX-coded film canister.

When developed, this film looks purple — much like Ilford XP2 Super — because Phoenix 200 is based on XP2. Other than Phoenix, XP2 is Harman’s only emulsion that uses C-41 chemistry to develop. The results show large grain and high contrast.

Harman makes Phoenix 200 at one of their factories together with their black and white Ilford and Kentmere films. Harman does not outsource Phoenix 200 production. Harman’s licensing rights for the Ilford brand do not extend to colour films; rest assured that Harman Phoenix and Ilford HP5+ are manufactured by the same people in the UK.

Harman Phoenix 200 with Olympus Mju I (flash on).

How to get the best results with Ilfocolor 400 & Phoenix 200.

I shot both of my rolls of Phoenix and Ilfocolor in my Olympus Mju I (a popular point-and-shoot) and developed them in the same tank with the Arista C-41 Liquid Color Negative kit.

While still wet, both films appeared orange, but as they dried, Ilfocolor turned dark green, and Phoenix became bright purple.

Most colour negative films have orange masks (for better colour reproduction). Legacy film scanners, the kind that you’ll often see at the lab, expect those orange masks — but neither Ilfocolor nor Phoenix has it, which often causes issues if you scan those films at a lab or with certain kinds of automated scanning software.

There’s a chance that your scans will work out with default settings at home or from the lab. But to improve your odds or to fix issues when scanning at home, you should scan Phoenix and Ilfocolr as positives and then manually invert using this method (via equalization).

As for the lab scans, nicely ask your vendor to follow the instructions in Phoenix 200’s datasheet or dedicated scanning guide for common lab scanners. For Ilfocolour, they may as well use their default settings as there are no such instructions.

Ilford Ilfocolor 400 with Olympus Mju I.

Ilfocolor vs. Phoenix colour rendering and sensitivity.

I had no trouble scanning both films on my PrimeFilm XAs as positives and then inverting them. Both films required some colour correction to make the blacks look black and the whites white, which I performed using the Color Balance adjustment layer tool in Adobe Photoshop.

Neither of the films reproduces the colours as faithfully as Portra 400 or any high-end modern film stock. There’s missing fidelity in the highlights for both films and a lot of noise in the shadows. But that’s where the similarities between the emulsions end.