Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm film review: monochrome magnificence

Ilford HP5 Plus is a quality and consistent black-and-white film, but a big plus is the price

5 Star Rating
Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm film canister on a table next to it packaging box
(Image: © Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Digital Camera World Verdict

Ilford HP5 Plus has become a black-and-white film favorite for many, and after shooting a few rolls it is easy to see why. HP5 Plus produces versatile results with great sharpness and a lovely grain pattern. In a world where film prices seem to get more expensive by the day, it is a relief to have the Ilford HP5 Plus maintaining a steady low price and still making film photography accessible for many – everyone can and should keep a few rolls of HP5 Plus in their kit bag.

Pros

  • +

    Versatile for different lighting conditions

  • +

    Balanced contrast suits a wide range of photographers

  • +

    Attractive film grain

  • +

    Affordable price

Cons

  • -

    Black and white film can be more expensive to develop at labs than color

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Ilford HP5 Plus, a stalwart in the realm of black-and-white film, has certainly stood the test of time, ending up on many a best films list over its history. With its roots reaching back to 1989, this film has undergone refinements over the years, culminating in the celebrated HP5 Plus we have today.

The "Plus" in its name isn't just marketing – it represents an upgrade to the film's grain structure and tonal range over previous versions. The result – HP5 Plus has earned a reputation as one of the most versatile companions for photographers who love to shoot across varied lighting scenarios and subjects, from portraits to landscapes, bustling street scenes, or fashion.

Over thirty years later since it was first introduced, does HP5 Plus still stand the test of time, and does it deserve its stellar reputation?

(Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Ilford HP5 Plus: Specifications

Swipe to scroll horizontally
BrandIlford Photo
Introduced1989
TypeB&W print
Speed400/27º
Push3200/36°
ProcessGelatin-silver
Formats35mm, 120, sheets, disposable camera

(Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Ilford HP5 Plus: Price & Availability

Ilford HP5 Plus can be bought in rolls of 36 or 24 exposures, although the 36-exposure rolls are much more commonly found. HP5 Plus is a bargain, with the 36 exposure rolls available for just under $9 per roll, and $7 for the 24 exposure. While the price of many films has fluctuated wildly over the past few years, HP5 Plus has stayed pretty steady and also in stock, so is a reliable film to go back to time and time again.

Ilford HP5 is also available in different formats, with 120 roll film costing around $9/£9, or large format sheet film is currently retailing around $55 for 25 exposures. You can also buy disposable cameras preloaded with 35mm rolls of Ilford HP5 Plus. Check out some of the latest deals on all these formats below.

One small thing to note is developing black and white film at a lab is often more expensive than color film, so you do need to figure this into your overall budget. 

Ilford HP5 Plus: Performance

I don’t shoot tons of black-and-white, so I had not used HP5 Plus extensively before going into this review – I knew much of this film's stellar reputation, but I was still unsure what to expect when I got down to studying the finer details of every frame. And I have to say, I am very impressed, so impressed that I have added a few extra boxes to my film collection. 

Across each roll I shot, the consistency between frames was outstanding, I barely got a single frame with any unintended exposure or defects leaving it destined for the cutting room floor. I shot my test rolls at the recommended 400 ASA, although HP5 has a reputation for coping well with being pulled and pushed, and you can even mark on the canister what you shot the roll at so the lab is aware during development. 

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

HP5 Plus is impressively versatile, the wide exposure latitude of the HP5 meant that the film coped really well under a range of conditions whether I was shooting inside under artificial lighting, or outside in the changeable British winter weather. I was convinced in some shots that the highlights or shadows would be unrecoverable, but I am so grateful for how forgiving HP5 has proven. I got so many frames that I wanted to keep and use that cutting it down to ten or so for this review was a bit of a challenge.

The grain – one of the most discussed things about any film, and the HP5 Plus grain is really nice. It has enough grain that it definitely ticks off that ‘classic film’ look that everyone loves, but the grain isn’t distracting or too heavy that I lost detail. Even at night and in very low light the film performed very well.

While the contrast I found to be naturally quite balanced, it is a great catch-all-film that is sure to please a wide variety of photographers. Although can be tweaked slightly in making prints or scanning/editing if you prefer something with a heavier look.

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

Ilford HP5 Plus: Sample Images

These images were all captured using Ilford HP5 Plus shot at the box speed of 400 ASA. I shot these images over a few cold wintery weeks in the UK using my Pentax ME Super with a Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens attached. The outside weather was very changeable between overcast and blue skies with a low sun.

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

Ilford HP5 Plus | Pentax ME Super | Pentax SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 (Image credit: Gareth Bevan)

Ilford HP5 Plus: Verdict

Overall Ilford HP5 Plus deserves all the reputation it has built up over the years. The film is incredibly versatile, being forgiving in all manner of shooting conditions, whether indoors or outdoors, with a wide exposure range. The film is also remarkably consistent, so you can keep going back roll after roll. 

Ilford has also managed to maintain a great price for the quality of film you are getting in each canister of HP5 Plus, with many popular films being gouged in price in recent times, it is a relief to know I have a black-and-white staple film.

(Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Should you buy Ilford HP5 Plus?

✅ Buy it if...

  • You want a versatile and forgiving black and white film
  • You shoot in a lot of different conditions
  • You want a film that is reliably low priced

⛔️ Don't buy it if...

  • You want a deep contrasty black and white film
  • You want the most minimal grain possible

Ilford HP5 Plus Alternatives

Image

Kodak Tri-X 400 is for anyone who prefers a little more oomph in their black and white contrast. Tri-X has a more distinctive look than HP5, although that is a double-edged sword, as HP5’s more neutral starting point is easier to play around with. Tri-X also comes in at a few more dollars per roll. 

Image

If you want a pro-level film with beautiful fine grain then Ilford Delta 400 is one to check out. You won’t be able to push it as much as HP5 Plus as Delta films are much more unforgiving of mistakes, but if you are a seasoned film photographer then you can get great results. 

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