Ilford FP4 Plus Film Review

Versatile, Fine-Grained, Affordable

7 min read by, with images by
5

Ilford FP4 Plus is a classic emulsion from a famous British film manufacturer. It features fine, sharp grain and smooth gradient transitions at 125 ISO (pushable up to 6400, pullable down to 50). FP4 Plus is also incredibly forgiving; it can tolerate up to five stops of over-exposure.

Introduced in 1935 as Fine Grain Panchromatic, this film is a long-running product with a traditional cubic grain meant as a better-resolving complement to Ilford’s Hypersensitive Panchromatic (currently, HP5 Plus) with a lower box speed rating.

FP4 Plus features a double-layer emulsion with a highly sensitive layer for general exposures and a low-sensitivity fine-grain complement. This innovation helps FP4 handle over-exposure remarkably well. Though double-layer films have been around for about 100 years, first introduced in the 1920s as extra-forgiving options for beginners (who were more likely to mess up exposures), Ilford’s innovation ensures that their film isn’t so thick that it requires specialty cameras. Plus, there’s no loss of sharpness in FP4, which plagued its thicker cousins.

FP4+ dynamic range.

...ideal for high quality indoor and outdoor photography, particularly when giant enlargements are to be made… FP4 Plus is robust and will give usable results even if it is overexposed by as much as six stops, or underexposed by two stops.

Ilford.

This curve is for FP4 Plus roll film developed in ILFORD ILFOTEC HC (1+31) for 8 minutes at 20°C/68°F with intermittent agitation. This curve is also representative of the 35mm and sheet film formats.

The characteristic curve found in Ilford’s data sheet for the film shows about 2.5 lux-seconds of useful film density variation, which converts to about 8 stops of dynamic range.

Of course, the film’s latitude for over- and under-exposure takes it beyond the guaranteed eight stops of detail retention. The sample scans (below) demonstrate this ability well.

However, if you’re looking to make exposures longer than ½ of a second, you will need to adjust your shutter times to compensate for the film’s reciprocity failure. This is a common problem with film stocks — unless you’re using something like Fujifilm Neopan Acros II, which works beautifully with up to two-minute-long exposures.

Ilford FP4+ with Olympus Mju I. There are seven or more stops of exposure difference between the sunlit spots and shadows. Some over-exposure can be seen in Noodle’s white fur and the sun-soaked white wall whereas all the detail are still present in the shadows. Developed in Ilford DD-X.

Though I am certainly impressed with FP4’s exposure latitude, I’ve noticed that my scans lacked tone variation in the mid-greys. Developed the same as most other monochrome films reviewed in this blog (by The Lab in Ilford DD-X), scanned via Prime Film XAs, my results appear a little flat. Nothing worth complaining about; simply an observation. See the man’s face in the portrait below; I feel it could benefit from more contrast.

Ilford FP4+ with Pentax PC 35AF.

FP4+ grain and resolution.

This film is incredible at preserving fine detail. Whereas its granularity may not be as fine as that of the modern T-Grain emulsions, FP4+ is very sharp, and its overall tonality makes it look even more so. If you’re looking for acutance with an ISO 125 box speed, this film is hard to beat.

Ilford FP4+ with Mju I.

Scanning and post-processing.

FP4 Plus uses a clear base, which makes scanning it very simple. A quick inversion after the fact will get you the picture. Though it could still benefit from the equalization step, I found this film needing little to no adjustments after the fact.

The contrast profile of FP4 Plus is exceptionally well-balanced. Like Kodak’s Tri-X, I found it looking great immediately after scanning. But unlike some other, pricier T-Grain options like Acros II, FP4 has a lot of give in case you want to make changes. Decreasing contrast is tricky, but if you want to give your results a bit more punch, you can, and they will look good (within reason).

Ilford FP4+ with Pentax PC 35AF.
Ilford FP4+ with Pentax Mju I. Nice.
Ilford FP4+ with Mju I.
Ilford FP4+ with Pentax PC 35AF.
Ilford FP4+ with Pentax PC 35AF.
Ilford FP4+ with Pentax PC 35AF.

A note on X-Rays and plane travel. Some of the photos above are from my 2020 trip to Moscow. Before the war, before COVID. Even then, despite my best efforts, all my film was forced through an X-Ray machine — twice — on the way back to Canada. Typically, limited exposure shouldn’t matter, particularly with films with low ISO, such as this one. And I can confirm that it did not — FP4 Plus handled the trip wonderfully, though I would still request a hand-check whenever possible.

How much does Ilford FP4+ cost, and where to buy it.

FP4 Plus has a lot going on for it. A product that has seen nearly 100 years in production. Incredible exposure latitude. Remarkable push- and pull-processing flexibility. Very sharp grain that renders fine detail as well as much pricier stocks. And when it comes to cost, this film is, again, a winner.

As of this writing, a single 36exp roll of 35mm Ilford PF4+ retails for about $8, slightly more than the cheapest film on the market, Fomapan Classic 100. But with a couple of extra bucks, you get a lot of innovation and flexibility not available elsewhere. It’s a good deal.

If you’re interested in film prices and would like to stay on top of them, the best way is to subscribe to the free semi-annual reports on film costs. I do all the hard work surveying a curated variety of film stores across the world on this and many other film stocks.

By the way: Please consider making your Ilford FP4 Plus 125 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!