Shop the article
Mastering Monochrome: Our Top 6 B&W 35mm Films for Every Photographer's Camera
By Paul McKay
Embarking on a journey to find the best 35mm B&W film can be a thrilling experience for any analogue photography enthusiast. The quest for a camera film that creates excellent black and white results is not just about finding a medium to capture images; it's about discovering a canvas that transforms the ordinary into extraordinary. Black and white film photography is more than an historic tradition; it's an art form that continues to captivate photographers around the world with its unique allure and timeless quality.
Black and white film holds a special place in the heart of photography. It strips away the distractions of colour, allowing viewers to focus on the subject, composition, textures, and the story that each image tells. The world in monochrome reveals a range of tones and contrasts that bring a surreal and often more emotionally compelling perspective to your photographs. Whether it’s the deep blacks, the shimmering greys, or the stark whites, B&W films offer a palette that can turn the simplest of scenes into a dramatic piece of art.
This list is carefully curated to cater to a diverse range of photographers, from beginners just venturing into the world of 35mm film to seasoned enthusiasts seeking to explore new dimensions in their art. Each film type mentioned here brings its unique character and charm, offering various options to suit different styles and preferences.
So whether you're looking to capture the gritty realism of street photography, the delicate nuances of portraits, or the breathtaking beauty of landscapes, then there's a B&W film on this list that will meet your creative needs.
Overview Table: Summary of Key Features
|Kodak Tri-X 400
|Ilford Delta 100
|Ilford HP5 Plus
|Kodak T-Max 400
|Medium to High
|Medium to Low
|General, Street, Documentary
|Landscape, Fine Art, Studio
|General, Street Photography
|General, Photojournalism, Street
|Studio, Fine Art, Detailed Work
|Artistic, Fine Art, Cinematic Scenes
|Medium to High
|Average Customer Rating
It's important to note that - as we're about to cover in detail - individual photographers may have different experiences with each film based on their shooting style and development choices. Each of these films has a unique character that can be explored creatively. You can learn more about film grain in our related article: What is Film Grain?
So let's get started! In no particular order, our top 6 black and white films for exploring the variety of monochrome magic:
1. The Classic Choice: Kodak Tri-X 400
When discussing the best B&W film, it's impossible not to mention Kodak Tri-X 400. A legendary name in the realm of black and white photography, Tri-X 400 stands out for its exceptional versatility and distinctive grain structure. Its reputation as a top contender for the best black and white film is well-earned and recognised globally among photography circles.
With an ISO of 400, Kodak Tri-X 400 provides sufficient film speed to handle a variety of lighting conditions, making it a robust choice for different photographic styles. Whether you're capturing the fast-paced action of street photography, the intricate details of a portrait, or the vast and serene landscapes, Tri-X 400 adapts effortlessly. Its ability to perform well in diverse environments is one of the many reasons it's often dubbed the best 35mm B&W film.
"Tri-X produces a beautiful classic black and white look. Quite dark in the shadows, strong contrast, excellent for cities and street work" - Owen R
Customer feedback further attests to its quality and reliability. Oliver Franklin, an avid photographer, shared his experience: "Recently pushed this film to 6400 ISO and developed with XTOL and I was still able to print from the negatives with very little grain! A lovely film to work with." This ability to push the film to extreme ISO levels while maintaining quality is a testament to its exceptional capabilities.
Another enthusiast, Antony Mo, appreciates its classic aesthetic: "This is the classic B+W film to use when you think of iconic images on B+W film. The standout grain on this is very nice compared to using Tmax 400 or HP5 and makes for distinctive images." The unique grain structure of Tri-X 400 not only defines its character but also adds a timeless quality to the images, making it the best B&W camera film for many photographers.
2. The Fine Grained Favorite: Ilford Delta 100 Professional
For photographers seeking unrivaled sharpness and fine grain, Ilford Delta 100 Professional emerges as a top choice. Celebrated as one of the best B&W films for its incredible detail and clarity, it's a film that transforms ordinary scenes into extraordinary monochromatic masterpieces.
Ilford Delta 100 Professional is particularly lauded for its fine grain structure, making it an excellent choice for detailed work where precision is key. With an ISO of 100, this film is perfect for capturing images in well-lit environments, rendering each frame with a crisp, clean quality that's hard to surpass. It's these qualities that make it a strong contender for the best 35mm B&W film, especially for photographers who favor a more refined and detailed approach to their work.
Owen Reading, a customer, expressed his admiration for the film: "I’ve been looking for a 100 speed BW film since the original Acros was killed off and the replacement shot up in price. Tried Delta 100 and was blown away by the richness of tones, contrast, and sharpness." This feedback highlights Delta 100's ability to deliver a balance of contrast and sharpness, making it a preferred choice for photographers who seek a polished and professional look in their images.
"An amazing low ISO B&W film that excels in bright, sunny conditions" - @mtsangphotos
Chuck, another enthusiast, adds: "This is similar to the FP4 125, but with improved contrast & finer grain, something to use when you want to switch it up a bit." Ilford Delta 100 Professional stands out for those who value the subtle nuances in their black and white photography, securing its position as a leading film in the category of the best B&W camera film.
3. The Budget-Friendly Gem: Fomapan 400 Action
Fomapan 400 Action 35mm is a commendable choice for photographers seeking the best B&W film that marries affordability with impressive quality. This film has emerged as a favourite for those on a budget, allowing for a foray into black and white photography without financial strain.
With an ISO of 400, Fomapan 400 Action offers the flexibility needed for various lighting scenarios. It's a film that surprises with its capability, especially considering its price point, making it an attractive option for both novices and experienced photographers looking for a cost-effective solution.
Esdras Beleza, a user of Fomapan 400, mentioned: "I shot at box speed and I missed some contrast, but it's a good film to experiment with." This reflects the film's suitability for experimentation and learning, a crucial aspect for budding photographers.
"Fomapan 400 is contrasty at times and the grain is perfect if you want an old-school look" - leofgz
Ian Simpson, another customer, highlighted its aesthetic qualities: "I used this film for a double-exposure shoot and was amazed by the beautiful grain." Fomapan 400's grain profile adds a distinct character to photos, providing an artistic edge that's usually found in more expensive films.
Marcus, expressing satisfaction, noted: "Surprisingly good results for such a cheap roll of film." This sentiment is echoed by many in the photography community, who appreciate Fomapan 400 Action for its ability to deliver quality results at a fraction of the cost of other films.
Guilherme RdC adds to the accolades: "Very good cheap option for shooting out and about." It's clear that Fomapan 400 Action is not just about saving money; it's about capturing moments in a way that's both economical and artistically rewarding, proving that you don't have to spend a lot to get the best B&W camera film experience.
4. The Artistic Choice: Ilford HP5 Plus 400
Ilford HP5 Plus 400 is a film that resonates deeply with artists and photographers who demand a blend of versatility, artistic expression, and reliability. Esteemed as one of the best B&W films, HP5 Plus 400 is a staple for those who seek to capture the world in all its monochromatic glory. You can read more about this film in our Ilford HP5 Film Review article.
With an ISO of 400, this film is adept at handling various lighting conditions, making it a favourite for everything from spontaneous street photography to thoughtfully composed portraits. Its ability to produce rich blacks and detailed shadows makes it an excellent choice for those in pursuit of a film that offers both technical superiority and emotional depth.
Jack, a customer, shares his preference: "If I had to choose a reliable and beautiful black and white film, it would be HP5. Everything you want from a black and white film." This encapsulates the general sentiment towards HP5 Plus 400 - it's a film you can rely on to deliver consistently stunning results.
"There's no doubt that HP5+ is a top-quality film stock from a manufacturer with excellent quality control standards" - www.nigelrumsey.com
AR, another photographer, appreciates its versatility: "This film is great, the grain is fine and works well in a variety of situations." The fine grain quality of HP5 Plus 400 ensures that every image is infused with a level of detail and clarity that elevates it from a simple photograph to a work of art.
Peter describes it as: "A beautifully smooth and silky film. HP5 is a dream to work with and it's forgiving in different lighting conditions." The film’s adaptability and forgiving nature in different lighting conditions make it a dream for photographers who like to experiment.
Gary, an experienced user, states: "I love this stuff but have never shot it at box speed. It's versatile and can be pushed or pulled to get the desired results." This flexibility in adjusting the film’s speed makes it a preferred choice for photographers looking to experiment and push the boundaries of their creative expression.
5. The Professional’s Pick: Kodak T-Max 400
Kodak T-Max 400, renowned for its ultra-fine grain and high sharpness, is often the film of choice for professionals seeking the best B&W film for their high-quality work. It's a film that combines exceptional clarity with artistic flexibility, making it a beloved choice for a wide range of photographic applications.
With an ISO of 400, T-Max 400 is versatile enough to excel in various lighting scenarios, yet it retains a remarkably fine grain for its speed. This makes it particularly suitable for detailed work, where every nuance matters. Its technical prowess and aesthetic appeal have earned it a reputation as one of the best 35mm B&W films available today.
Alex, a customer, notes its demanding nature: "With spot-on exposure the results are great, but it gets quite grainy surprisingly quickly if some areas are a bit underexposed." This characteristic underscores T-Max 400's requirement for precision, rewarding photographers who are meticulous with their exposure settings.
"Incredibly sharp, high contrast with inky blacks" - @35mmrhodes
Gary provides an honest reflection: "I'm not sure how I feel about this film. It's sharp and clean but it lacks a lot of the charm that draws me to film in the first place." While T-Max 400 may have a more modern, less traditional feel than other B&W films, its clarity and precision are unmatched.
Gareth, another user, praises its versatility: "Good all-rounder black and white film. Has excellent contrast." This balance of contrast and versatility makes T-Max 400 a reliable choice for a variety of photographic styles, from street photography to studio work.
Oliver describes it as: "Brilliant film, good for all sorts of uses. Great in the studio or out on the street." The film’s adaptability across different environments cements its status as a top B&W camera film for both professionals and enthusiasts.
Sroyon adds: "TMax is so smooth that looking at the results, it's hard to believe it's a 400 speed film." This smoothness, even at a higher ISO, is what sets T-Max 400 apart, providing photographers with a tool that combines speed with incredible image quality.
6. Rediscovering the Classic: Ferrania P30 Film
Ferrania P30 film, a classic reborn, offers a unique experience for black and white photography enthusiasts. Known for its rich history and remarkable revival, Ferrania P30 35mm film has quickly regained its status as a sought-after choice for photographers looking for a film with distinct character and high contrast.
The film is characterized by its deep blacks and striking contrast, making it an excellent option for creating images with a dramatic and artistic edge. Its fine grain and sharp details make it ideal for a range of photographic styles, particularly in scenarios where the play of light and shadow is pivotal, such as in street photography and portraiture.
"With the right light and exposure this can give fantastic results" - Twitter/X @jpdewhirst
Nikolas, a photographer, praises its visual quality: "Deep blacks and high contrast characterises this film. It is perfect for creating dramatic images with a timeless feel." This emphasis on contrast and rich tonality is what sets Ferrania P30 apart in the realm of B&W films.
Peter, another user, appreciates its artistic potential: "An artists film. I purchased 3 rolls of this film recently and have been blown away by the results." Ferrania P30's ability to render images with a strong artistic flair makes it a favorite among creatives.
Jessica comments on its aesthetic appeal: "A beautiful film that gives strong contrast and fine details." The combination of contrast and detail provides photographers with a versatile tool to explore various themes and subjects.
John Tarrant shares his experience: "P30 Surprisingly good. I have now used a couple of rolls of this film and the results have been consistently pleasing." The consistent quality of Ferrania P30 ensures that photographers can rely on it for their important projects.
John Fontana notes its distinctiveness: "Contrast - you got it. I was excited to try this high silver content, and it did not disappoint." The high silver content of the film contributes to its unique rendering of contrast and tonality.
Processing Your B&W 35mm Film: Bringing Your Images to Life
Once you've captured your shots on your chosen B&W 35mm film, the next exciting step is developing them. Processing your film is where the magic happens, transforming your latent images into tangible photographs. For many photographers, this step is just as crucial and exhilarating as the act of taking the pictures.
Developing B&W film can be done at home if you're up for the adventure, but it requires specific chemicals, equipment, and a bit of practice to get it right. For those who prefer convenience or are new to film photography, using a professional developing service is an excellent option. Professional services ensure your film is developed under optimal conditions, giving you the best possible results from your photographic efforts.
If you're looking for a reliable and high-quality developing service, why not consider Analogue Wonderland's film development service? They offer expert processing for all types of B&W 35mm films. Whether you've shot with a classic like Kodak Tri-X 400 or experimented with Ferrania P30, our service ensures that your films are developed with the utmost care and professionalism.
Using a professional service like Analogue Wonderland not only provides you with high-quality prints or scans but also saves you time and effort. This way, you can focus more on the creative aspects of photography, leaving the technicalities of developing to experienced hands.
Remember, the way your film is processed can significantly affect the mood and feel of your photographs. Whether you prefer the hands-on approach of developing film yourself or the convenience of a professional service, each method offers its own unique experience and satisfaction in bringing your artistic vision to life.
Conclusion: Discovering Your Ideal B&W Film
Choosing the best B&W film is a journey that varies for each photographer, depending on their style, subject matter, and personal preferences. From the classic and versatile Kodak Tri-X 400 to the fine-grained Ilford Delta 100 Professional, the budget-friendly Fomapan 400 Action, the artistic Ilford HP5 Plus 400, the precise Kodak T-Max 400, and the creative Lomography Lady Grey B&W 400 - each film offers a unique perspective and quality to your black and white photography.
I've always really enjoyed shooting Cinestill BwXX film - and that didn't even make this list! A fantastic film that goes to show the full range of B&W 35mm films is even wider than our 'top hits' here.
'Portrait of Jim' on Cinestill BWxx - Paul McKay
Whether you're a seasoned photographer or just starting out, experimenting with different B&W films is key to discovering what works best for you. Each film has its own character and strengths, capable of transforming your visions into stunning monochromatic realities. The contrast, grain, and tonal range of these films can add depth and emotion to your images, turning them into more than just photographs - they become stories captured in time.
As you embark on your next photographic adventure, consider the qualities you value most in your B&W photography. Is it the sharpness, the grain, the ability to push the film in various lighting conditions, or the overall aesthetic? Remember, the best way to find your favourite is to experiment with different options and see how they align with your creative vision.
Now, we turn to you, the photographers and artists in our community: Which of these B&W films are you eager to try next in your photography journey, and why? Share your thoughts and experiences with us and let's continue to explore the captivating world of black and white film photography together.
Subscribe to our newsletter 💌
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on film photography news, sales and events:
- Opens in a new window.