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Tips on which Black and White Film to use

​Although digital cameras and digital photo finishing have revolutionized the world of photography for most amateur shutterbugs, creating images on 35mm black and white film has been a standard of both amateur and professional photography for over one hundred years.

Black and white 35mm film allows the photographer wide creative latitude and artistic control, and contrary to popular belief, the processing costs for film can be quite competitive with digital processing. Today, film processing is as simple as having the film processed into a digital format by almost any processing outlet, and picking up finished digital quality images without paying the digital prices.

The use of 35mm film allows photographers to choose the film speed they desire from a range of different speed ratings known as ISO ratings. The ISO rating indicates how sensitive the film is to light.

Film with a high ISO rating number reacts more quickly to light than film with a lower ISO number. The ISO number rating is actually a reflection of the size of the silver oxide particles on the film’s surface that react when light hits them. Film with large particles can react to light faster since there are fewer particles on the film surface. Fast films are employed in low light conditions because they don’t need a lot of light to create an image. However, the trade off is that fast film with large particles and a high ISO number will also be a lot less sharp than slower film.

Slower speed films with low ISO numbers are best used when there is plenty of light because the silver particles on the film are much smaller and more numerous, and require a lot of light to create a clear image. Again, the trade off is sharpness. However, with low ISO film you get increased sharpness, not less. The trade off in that situation is that you can’t shoot in low light conditions or at super fast shutter speeds with super slow film because it does require adequate light. The most common ISO speeds used by most photographers today range from the very slow stuff at around ISO 50, up to fast film at ISO 800. The ISO ratings go all the way up to about 6000, but the super fast film is mainly used in scientific work and rarely used for normal photography.

If you plan on enlarging any of your black and white photographs, the film speeds will come into play there as well. A portrait shot on fast ISO 600 film is made of large particles and as such, when you blow the photo up to a huge size, it will become blurry and indistinct. If you want to enlarge your photographs, shoot the slowest film you can utilize in a given environment and setting. The slower speed films produce far sharper images when blow up, and that is the reason many commercial photographers use slow sped film, it simply holds the clarity and crispness of the image much better when enlarged.

Black and white comes in two main types depending on the specific type of processing it requires. Black and white “E6” film is specific to black and white film only and is processed as "true" black and white film.” Film designated as “C41” processing requires it be completed in the same way color film is processed. Black and white 35mm film is still very popular today because it has advantages in contrast, hues and overtones that digital photography just can’t match, and even though digital images are the main format most people use today, great black and white photos will never go out of style completely.

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