There’s no denying that Ilford is one of the very finest film manufacturers we have – not that there are that many left as competition – and there’s no doubt that Delta 100 Professional is one of their very finest films either.
If you know what you’re looking at, there are a few clues to this right there on the box. Like the words Delta and Professional, and that ISO 100 speed too. And if you don’t know exactly why they point to this being a high-class stock, read on and I’ll tell you.
This comprehensive Ilford Delta 100 review will run through everything from its history to the technology behind its emulsion, along with what you can expect if you shoot some, and all illustrated with plenty of my own example shots.
And if reading this makes you want to try some Delta 100 for yourself, you can easily pick some up from Analogue Wonderland, from B&H Photo, or from Amazon and produce some clean and contrasty film photography of your own too.
What is Ilford Delta 100?
Ilford Delta 100 Professional is a medium speed monochrome film that uses Ilford’s Core-shell emulsion technology to give maximum sharpness, fine grain, and overall superior image quality.
It excels in scenes that have a lot of detail to render and brings a lot of contrast to its results too. All of the above make it a versatile film that can be used for a number of situations or genres.
Introduced in 1992 and upgraded to improve shadow detail and exposure latitude in 1995, this ISO 100 version is the slowest in the Delta range – a range that includes Delta 400, which was launched in 1990, and the high-speed Delta 3200 which we got in 1998.
For a company as old as Ilford, who have been around since the late 1800s and still produce films like HP5 Plus that can trace their lineage back to pre-war times, these 1990s Delta release dates feel to me to be relatively recent.
You may be wondering why Ilford felt the need to create these new Professional ISO 100 and ISO 400 films back in the 1990s when they were already making and selling lots of the ISO 125 FP4, the aforementioned ISO 400 HP5, and others like the ISO 400 XP2 also.
The answer to that is that the Delta films were a response to Kodak’s own range of T-Max professional films that were first brought to market a few years earlier, in 1986. Although not all released at the same time, the T-Max line does mirror the Delta films in terms of speeds available – 100, 400, and a nominal 3200.
Kodak’s T-Max and Ilford’s Delta films are both marked as Professional on their packaging, which gives you a clue as to the market they were originally developed for. That is, one that needed better results than their consumer grade films were tending to give.
In this case, better meant cleaner, sharper, and with minimal grain. To achieve that, both T-Max and Delta films use a tabular-grain structure. This differs from the conventional-grain structure found in Ilford’s Plus films like FP4 Plus, HP5 Plus, Pan F Plus, and Ortho Plus.
This is all to do with the structure of the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion; specifically about their size and how they line up.
If you can imagine the crystals of a conventional-grain structure resembling small and round pebbles on a beach and those of a tabular-grain structure being more akin to flat yet larger tiles on a bathroom floor, you’ve probably got enough of a visual to understand as much as you need to here.
These larger and flatter crystals give more surface area, which makes them more efficient at gathering light, which means finer grain, better contrast properties, better tonality, and better sharpness in your final images.
Ilford call their version of this tabular-structure its Core-Shell crystal technology, while Kodak just go with T-grain for theirs.
So with all that said, let’s ask again – what is Ilford Delta 100?
In short, and in theory, it should be Ilford’s cleanest, sharpest, and lowest grain film.
Because generally speaking, the lower ISO a film has, the better the image quality should be. Add to that the fact that this is the lowest speed film to feature Ilford’s Core-Shell crystal technology, you would hope the results are going to be remarkable.
Thankfully, they are – and we’ll see just how remarkable in the next section of this review.
Ilford Delta 100 image qualities
So Delta 100, Ilford’s lowest ISO film to feature their Core-Shell crystal technology tabular-grain structure, promises a lot. If you want detail and sharpness with minimal grain, this should be the best of the best from the monochrome-specialist manufacturer.
It should have better image quality than Delta 400 and Delta 3200 based purely on its ISO 100 rating, and it should have better image quality than the similar speed FP4 Plus 125 based purely on that being a Plus film and having a conventional-grain structure.
Of course, everything concerned with image quality and qualities especially here is subjective. If you like and only ever want the grain of a film like Kodak Tri-X 400 or Ilford Pan 400, you aren’t going to think what Delta 100 gives you is very good at all.
So all the compliments I’m about to give it are based on the premise that you know what to expect and are shooting it because you’re after that kind of result.
After all, it’d be unfair to mark Delta 100 down because what a photographer wants is different to what the film is trying to achieve. Whether it lives up to its stated aims is all we can really judge it on.
The first of these aims is pretty much the point of the Delta range of films. Minimal grain. And yes, in my experience, the grain here is minimal.
Next is the detail and the sharpness, which are both there in abundance too. I guess these not being muddied by any real grain helps them to stand out as a characteristic of this film too.
Something that surprised me a little more than any of the above when I got my own Delta 100 results back was the contrast. It was definitely more than I’d imagined I’d get. In the shots from Roche Abbey below, the light stone really stands out from the shadows and trees.
Finally, and related to that contrast, is the tonality across the images. This can be one of those words that sounds clever but people just throw out without really knowing what they mean. I might be guilty of that too, but what I think I mean is the balance of the contrast as it’s spread across the image.
Although there are deep blacks and bright lighter areas, I don’t find the contrast at all jarring or unnatural or too much. There’s a smooth transition from highlight to shadow and back to highlight, with no real abruptness. The light and dark all just seems to work well together.
By the way, if it matters, all of the images in this review were shot with the Yashica Electro 35 GSN.
Street photography with Ilford Delta 100
I understand why people like to use ISO 400 film for street photography. When the light is unpredictable, you’re potentially changing between light and shadow, and your subjects are often moving too, that extra shutter speed does come in handy.
I think also the extra grain that higher ISO films inherently have is a look that people like in their street photography too. That’s one reason Kodak Tri-X 400 is so often chosen for such situations.
With all that said though, every time I’ve reviewed an ISO 100 film on this site – from the lesser-spotted Oriental Seagull to the much-vaunted Kodak Ektar – I’ve stated that, given enough light, you can easily do some street photography with them too.
Ilford Delta 100 Professional is no different. And if you want a clean and contrasty look to your street photography shot on those bright and sunny days, it’s certainly going to give you that.
The only thing to be wary of is that the Delta range of films don’t have quite the same exposure latitude of Ilford’s Plus films, which is a trade-off you have to accept for that ultra-fine grain.
But we’re not talking about slide film levels of margin for error here, where a slightly wrong exposure can pretty much wreck the final result.
Given a working light meter – be that in-camera, off-camera, or just some sunny 16 calculations in your head – you really should have enough leeway with the latitude. Most negative films are quite forgiving in that respect.
And as we mentioned earlier, Delta 100 was upgraded in 1995 to improve its shadow detail and latitude. Both of these will help you when shooting it out in the street.
All in all, the low grain, high contrast, and sharpness of this film make it a perfectly fine one for street photography. Maybe not the greatest option for it, but one that can do the job if you need it to.
For best results, just be sure you’re taking advantage of Delta 100’s attributes in bright sunlight. Although it’s only three shots, these from Skegness pier show a little of what you could expect if you do.
Architecture and landscape photography with Ilford Delta 100
While I think Delta 100 is a perfectly fine film for doing some street photography, perhaps its strengths are better suited to something else.
Yes, I was pleased with the few street style images I got from Skegness pier. The contrast especially is something I like with that kind of work.
But while that contrast is very noticeable, it isn’t Delta 100’s main feature. I don’t think that was top of mind when Ilford were producing it, and I don’t think it’s the most impressive thing about it when you look carefully at the results it gives.
To me, shooting things that show off the detail and sharpness that Delta 100 can bring is a more effective way of getting this film to really shine. In my case, that meant some architectural and landscape shots at Roche Abbey and of Skegness beach.
From afar, the light and shadows of the Abbey look very clean crisp, whereas getting up close brings out the textures of the brickwork and plants that now grow on it.
These kinds of still scenes perhaps suit an ISO 100 film more too, and one that doesn’t quite have the exposure latitude of the Ilford Plus range. Take your time, find your composition, wait for some good light, meter correctly, and get the focus bang on.
I didn’t do all of that with all my of my shots. Perhaps I didn’t nail it all on any single one of them – but you can. And I promise you’ll be impressed with the sharp and detailed results that Delta 100 gives you if you do.
Ilford Delta 100 specs and development
Ilford Delta 100 Professional is a medium speed monochrome film that uses Ilford’s tabular-grain Core-shell emulsion technology to give fine grain, maximum sharpness, and overall superior image quality.
It’s available in 24 and 36-exposure rolls of the 35mm format we’re reviewing here, which comes in cartridges DX-coded with the number 017594, as well as 100ft bulk rolls if want to save some money and spool your own. There’s also a 120 version and numerous sheet film sizes too – including 9x12cm, 4×5″, 5×7″, and 8×10″.
According to Ilford’s own datasheet – which can be found right here – you’ll get the best results from shooting Delta 100 at its box speed of ISO 100, although it can also be shot one stop higher or lower, at ISO 50 or ISO 200, and still give you good image quality.
Finally on this topic, this page on Ilford’s website has recommendations for developers based on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, Ilfotec DD-X and ID-11 for best image quality, Ilfotec DD-X and Perceptol for getting the finest grain, or Ilfotec HC and ID-11 for maximum sharpness.
Your choice of developer for tabular-grain films like Ilford’s Delta range is more important than it is for conventional-grain films like their Plus range, so I feel like there’s no reason not to listen to Ilford and their recommendations here.
If they say use something that’s designed for the job like their Ilford DDX is, then why not just use it? At least with your first roll(s). You can always experiment with other chemicals later if you wish.
As well as going with the best developer for the job, your processing of Ilford Delta films does need to be more precise overall than it is with their Plus range.
Try your best to get the right exposure in-camera too, as the reduced latitude for under or overexposed shots gives you less margin for error with processing accuracy once you’re in the darkroom.
Where to buy Ilford Delta 100 Professional film
If you have a local brick ‘n’ mortar photography shop that carries a good range of film, there’s a decent chance they’ll have some Ilford Delta 100 Professional – purely because it’s one of the very best ISO 100 monochrome films out there.
It’s probably less likely you’ll find some in a local pharmacy or similar shop that also sells film, although if they do have an ISO 100 monochrome option, I imagine it’ll be a toss-up between this and Kodak T-Max 100. And here in the UK at least, a lot of shops tend to favour Ilford over Kodak in such cases.
That said, you’ll always be able to get hold of some Delta 100 from somewhere because it’s always available at various places online. You know the ones – some small and independent, some national or global behemoths.
You can check current prices and availability through the links below.
- buy Ilford Delta 100 from Analogue Wonderland
- buy Ilford Delta 100 from B&H Photo
- buy Ilford Delta 100 from Amazon
Final thoughts on Ilford Delta 100
I’ll end this review with something a little more subjective and anecdotal than most of what we’ve talked about so far. For whatever reason, Ilford’s Delta films – this 100 one, the 400 version and the 3200 version – don’t seem as popular as those in their Plus range.
Especially HP5 Plus, which everyone seems to like.
When I say popular, I think about a couple of meanings of the word. The first is in the sense of being enjoyed by a lot of people. It just seems to me that Delta films aren’t talked about as much when people discuss stocks or recommend them to others.
This is understandable given how many hobbyists there are out there compared to professional film photographers. Especially in the circles I inhabit, like the people I interact with on Twitter or Instagram.
And yes, my little social media circles aren’t the widest sample sizes, but they are places where active and enthusiastic film photographers hang out, young and old. They do provide some insight into what people like to shoot. And Delta films just don’t seem to come up as often – be that talked about or actually shot – as a lot of others out there.
The second meaning of popular that I feel appropriate to bring up with regards to the Delta films is the one that’s similar to being cool.
This is perhaps just more of a personal feeling of mine than anything else. It’s not the kind of thing I can prove with any kind of facts. But they definitely feel a bit more stuffy than Plus stocks like HP5, and certainly so when compared to something like JCH Street Pan or any of the CineStill range.
That technical brilliance that gives you the outstandingly clean results just makes them feel like the nerdy kid at school. You know, the unpopular one.
And I wonder, if other people share this feeling that I have, if this is one reason why they don’t get recommended or used as much. If the Ilford Delta films being so clean and clinical makes people not want to shoot them because they want the grainier, grittier, cooler look of a Kodak Tri-X instead.
Or maybe that all sounds like complete rubbish to you. As a subjective viewpoint, it very well may do. But it is still my current feelings on the Delta films.
However, just because something isn’t as popular as something else, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. And Ilford Delta 100, in terms of achieving what it sets out to do, is very very good.
So long as you know what to expect, are sure that you’re going to like what Delta 100 brings to the table with its contrast, sharpness, detail and low grain, and shoot it in a way that makes the most of these attributes, you’re probably going to think so too.
If you shoot film for the grain and the imperfections though, you might not like it so much. It being too clean is perhaps the only bad thing I’ve heard about it.
On that, I’m not sure I’d actively choose it for more street photography in the future – especially over some of the other films that are better suited to that. But it was perfectly fine for the little bit that I did with it.
Where I would choose to shoot it again would be where I wanted fine details and textures to come out in the results. That has never really been my style of photography, but if I were to get into it more, I’d be taking some Delta 100 with me for sure.
It’s a film that excels in exactly what it sets out to do. And that, in my book, makes it worth shooting at least once. Just to see if you like it too. 🙂
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