The Eternal Debate: Kodak Tri-X vs. Ilford HP5 Plus

By Paul McKay

In the captivating world of black and white photography, the debate between Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 Plus is a perennial one, filled with nuances and personal preferences. In this in-depth exploration, enriched with real customer reviews and ratings, we'll dive into the 'Kodak Tri-X vs Ilford HP5 Plus' discussion, comparing these two legendary films in various aspects to help you make an informed choice.

 


 

The Historical Significance and Community Ratings

 

Kodak Tri-X, a film synonymous with classic black and white photography, has been capturing life's moments since 1940. Its enduring legacy is a testament to its adaptability and robustness. On the other side, Ilford HP5 Plus, which rose to prominence in the 1980s, has carved out its own niche, renowned for its fine grain and remarkable versatility.

In terms of user satisfaction, our community's ratings speak volumes, with Ilford HP5 leading slightly at an impressive 4.97 out of 5, compared to Kodak Tri-X's still admirable 4.94.

Sample shot of cliffs on Ilford Hp5 film

"Ilford HP5+ is my favourite B&W film. It gives consistent and great results" @jan.onfilm

 


 

Grain and Contrast: Through the Lens of Photographers

 

Grain structure, a crucial element in black and white film photography, is a defining characteristic of these films. Kodak Tri-X is celebrated for its distinctive grain, which Oliver Franklin eloquently appreciates, saying, "Recently pushed this film to 6400 ISO... with very little grain! A lovely film to work with." This grain quality adds a texture and depth to images, making them almost tactile. Conversely, Ilford HP5 Plus offers a more subdued grain profile. Christopher Simpson expresses, "It shoots amazingly well in all lighting situations and can be pushed up to 1600/3200 without losing much detail," highlighting its finer grain quality.

Contrast is another crucial aspect where these films diverge. Tri-X is renowned for its punchy contrast, which gives images a dramatic and bold look. This characteristic makes it ideal for striking portraits and compelling street photography. In contrast, HP5 Plus offers a more nuanced and balanced contrast, lending itself well to a wider range of lighting conditions and providing greater flexibility in post-processing.

Personally this is why I prefer Tri-X - my instinct as a film photographer is to lean into higher contrast and more dramatic imagery - and I've always found Tri-X to deliver in spades!

 

Paul shooting self portrait on Kodak Tri-X 35mm film

Paul shooting on Kodak Tri-X, shot on Kodak Tri-X 😂 

 


 

Exposure Latitude: A Deep Dive into User Experiences

 

Exposure latitude is an important consideration for many photographers, especially those shooting in variable lighting conditions. Ilford HP5 Plus is often praised for its generous latitude, as Thomas Wesley observes, "It's really easy to work with, giving you lots of room for error or experimentation." This quality makes it a forgiving film for beginners and a versatile choice for experienced photographers. Kodak Tri-X, while not as forgiving, is known for its predictable and consistent results, making it a reliable choice for those who value precision. Stephane's reflection on Tri-X underscores this: "TriX never disappoints with its quality, contrast, and richness of a monochrome image."

Sample shot of sheep on Kodak Tri-X film

"My first time using Tri-X as I wanted to try something different to my usual black and white go to, and I really liked the results!" @hollygoodenough

Exposure latitude not only affects the ease of shooting but also impacts the final look of the photograph. HP5 Plus, with its ability to handle over and underexposure gracefully, is ideal for capturing scenes with complex lighting. You can read more about HP5 in our Ilford HP5 Film Review.

On the other hand, the precise nature of Tri-X can be leveraged to create images with a clear vision and strong impact, particularly in high-contrast scenes.

 


 

The Art of Developing: Insights from Darkroom Aficionados

 

The developing process is where photographers can further influence the character of their images. Emma, a darkroom enthusiast, shares her affinity for HP5: "I love experimenting with HP5 in different developers. Each time, it's like discovering a new aspect of the film." This adaptability in the development process allows for a wide range of artistic expressions. Kodak Tri-X also offers significant flexibility in development, as noted by Antony Mo: "The standout grain... makes for distinctive images." Its tolerance to various developing techniques makes it a favourite for those who like to experiment in the darkroom.

Shop sign - sample photo taken on Kodak Tri-X film

"I was so excited about trying out this film, hoping for contrast and nice dark shadows, and it didn't disappoint" - Shot on Kodak Tri-X @LeeShootsFilm

Both films respond well to standard and alternative developing processes, allowing photographers to manipulate contrast, grain, and tonal range. This flexibility is essential for those who view the developing process as an integral part of their creative workflow, offering a means to imprint their personal style onto the final image.

If you don't want to develop at home then you can always send in to Analogue Wonderland's in house-lab for B&W film development! Using a professional lab is fast, easy, and allows you to focus more time on shooting!

 


 

Push Processing: Expanding Creative Boundaries

 

Push processing is a technique used by photographers to adapt film to different lighting conditions, and both Tri-X and HP5 Plus excel in this regard. Fabio Caponetti praises Tri-X: "No matter how the light is, it produces stunning results." This ability to push the film beyond its nominal speed makes Tri-X a versatile choice for low-light and high-speed photography. HP5 Plus is equally capable in push processing, as Jack highlights: "If I had to choose a reliable and beautiful black and white film, it would be HP5." This flexibility is particularly beneficial for photographers who often find themselves shooting in unpredictable lighting conditions.

The impact of push processing on the aesthetic qualities of the film is significant. Pushing Tri-X can enhance its grain and contrast, lending a gritty and raw feel to the images. HP5 Plus, when pushed, maintains its finer grain structure and more subtle contrast shifts, making it suitable for maintaining detail and nuance in shadow areas.

Car on Ilford Hp5 film - sample photo

"I've pushed and pulled this film massively and it has always produced great results in a variety of locations" - Joseph

 


 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, the choice between Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 Plus is not just about technical specifications; it's about how these films align with your creative vision and approach to photography. Both films are celebrated for their unique characteristics, as reflected in the ratings and reviews from our community. The fact that both are also available in other formats: Ilford HP5 120 film and Kodak Tri-X 120 film - helps their wide appeal. And whether it's the textured, dramatic look of Tri-X or the smooth, versatile nature of HP5 Plus, each film offers a distinct canvas for your photographic storytelling. If you're looking for even more options, have a look at our Top 6 B&W films showdown!

As you explore the world of black and white film photography, we encourage you to experiment with both these iconic films. What has been your experience with Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 Plus? Do you have a preference, or do you find each has its place in your photography repertoire?


6 Comments

  • It has been Tri-X since my first camera, a Nikon F in 1974. Loved its character, and “bite”.

    Nick Richardson
  • It has been Tri-X since my first camera, a Nikon F in 1974. Loved its character, and “bite”.

    Nick Richardson
  • I used to shoot a lot of Tri-X up until around 2018, when I moved to HP5+. Last year, I picked up Tri-X again as I was missing the character the film leant to images. Since then, I have been torn over which one to use on a regular basis. Each film has a distinct look that which appeals to me for different reasons, so now I just shoot both. It’s much easier this way!

    Mark
  • I always felt that Tri-X has a level of grain which seems impossible for it’s speed. I think it’s all about the developer, it seems really sensitive to the type of and dilution of the chosen developer.

    Stephen Robinson
  • For me it’s Tri-X all the way. It has that classic 1970’s black and white feel. I used to like HP5, but HP5 Plus lacks that much needed character in terms of its contrast curve. Sorry Ilford but Tri-X works wonders in medium format. Love it.

    Jason
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