Ilford Delta 400 35mm Film Review

ilford delta 400 film and box

Back when I used to drink it, I understood why we had both normal and Diet Coke. It even made sense to have Coke Zero. And a McDonald’s cheeseburger, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and a Big Mac were all sufficiently different too.

Ilford Delta 400 is the fifth monochrome film I’ve reviewed now from Harman Technology with that same ISO rating, after this iconic one, this convenient one, this more obscure one, and this one that isn’t even an Ilford.

Until I shot this roll of Delta 400 and began to write this review though, I couldn’t tell you what it brought to the table that none of the others could. But that’s the beauty of doing this. That now I do know. And that I can tell you in case you don’t.

So read on to learn all about this film, why it’s special in its own way, and whether you might want to shoot some too. If you find you do, you can get it from Amazon, from eBay, or from Analogue Wonderland.

Ilford 1748192 Delta Pro 400 Fast Fine Grain Black and White Film, ISO 400, 35mm, 36 Exposures
301 Reviews
Ilford 1748192 Delta Pro 400 Fast Fine Grain Black and White Film, ISO 400, 35mm, 36 Exposures
  • High speed is 400
  • Exceptional sharpness and detail
  • Core-shell crystal technology
  • 35mm and 120 Roll Film available

What is Ilford Delta 400?

While Ilford have been around since the late 1800s and have films still in production with a lineage going back to pre-war times, Delta 400 is a relatively recent offering.

First released in the early 1990s and reformulated once since, it can’t claim the long history of some of its siblings. That’s not a bad thing though. We’re looking for how it differs from them, and it’s in its modernity that it does.

The whole Ilford Delta range – there are ISO 100 and 3200 versions as well as this 400 one – use a ‘more contemporary emulsion design’ than the Plus range that includes FP4, HP5, and PAN F. I put that in inverted commas because it’s what Ilford say themselves.

The Ilford Plus films have a conventional-grain structure, just like most other films on the market. However, the Deltas use tabular-grain technology that makes them slightly different. This is all concerned with the structure of the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion.

For a simple visual, the smaller, rounder crystals in conventional-grain films might resemble pebbles on a beach while the larger, flatter crystals in tabular-grain films might be more akin to a nicely tiled bathroom floor.

The abbreviated term T-grain has become a bit of a catch-all to describe any tabular-grain films, but this is like calling any vacuum cleaner a Hoover. T-grain is what Kodak called their own tabular-grain technology meaning the only real T-grain films, technically speaking, are its T-MAX ones.

Ilford’s Delta films, which were released in response to the Kodak’s T-MAX range, use their own Core-Shell crystal growth technology which, as well as being their own trademarked term, is apparently not quite the same as T-grain anyway.

So that’s the technical answer to the question what makes Delta 400 different to all the other ISO 400 Ilford films? It’s their tabular-grain one. But it doesn’t address how it affects the results you get.

Fear not though as we’ll cover that in the next section.

ilford delta 400

Ilford Delta 400 image qualities

The idea behind developing tabular-grain films was to get lower grain while keeping the higher speeds. So in theory, Delta 400 should have less grain than HP5 Plus or XP2 Super do.

According to Ilford on this rundown of Delta 400 vs HP5 Plus, the Core-Shell crystals’ flatness enhances their light sensitivity properties to ensure maximum details are captured in highlights and shadows.

This in turn means you can expect your images to have exceptional sharpness and a cleaner look, as well as a more uniform, finer grain structure. I’m paraphrasing there. Some of those words are theirs, not mine.

And compared to the roll of HP5 Plus I shot, they don’t appear to be lying. The results here certainly were cleaner and with less grain. When the light was right, the contrast was pretty good too. Probably better than the Ilford XP2 Super gave me.

Whether all that is a good thing or not depends on the eye of the beholder and also what you’re shooting. Delta 400 might be better for portraits and weddings, whereas other films might be preferable for street photography, for example.

There’s not much else I can say about the image quality and qualities that wouldn’t be better shown with actual photographs, so here are three of those for you.

Street photography with Delta 400

An ISO 400 monochrome film sounds perfect for street photography, but whether Ilford Delta 400 is going to be a good choice for yours is likely again going to come down to personal taste and preference. Although I suppose that’s true of most films in their own way.

I don’t mind low grain when I shoot and I like some sharpness with that cleanliness too, so Delta 400 shouldn’t be too far from what I’m after. As said earlier, the contrast is also decent when the light is right.

It’s not a terrible street photography film and has some plus points compared to others I’ve shot. It has some downsides too though, which also need to be taken into consideration.

If you compare it to Ilford Pan 400 for example, you really notice Delta’s fine grain which for me is a good thing. But if you compare it to HP5 Plus, you’ll notice how that looks grittier, which unfortunately I think I prefer.

And if you compare it to Rollei Retro 400S, the contrast isn’t consistently dramatic enough to compete with what is one of my very favourite films for street photography.

It’s worth noting too that all the Delta films are typically more expensive than their Plus counterparts, and certainly more than Retro 400S, which means it’d have to be better than those to make me choose it over them.

All of this doesn’t mean it’s a bad film of course, because it’s really not. The results might be a little clinical compared to others, but they’re kind of timeless too where other styles may come in and out of vogue.

Overall, it’s similar to how I thought about the aforementioned XP2 Super I reviewed. The image quality is undeniable, but the qualities aren’t exactly right for me.

I can see it’s a great product but I just don’t shoot many portraits or other things I imagine its sharpness and cleanliness would be more suited to. It’s not you, Delta 400, it’s me.

Ilford Delta 400 specs and development

Delta 400 is an ISO 400, tabular-grain monochrome film that’s available in 35mm and 120 formats. The 35mm cartridges are DX-coded with the number 017524.

It’s been created using Core-Shell emulsion, which is what Ilford call their tabular-grain technology. The manufacturer also says Delta 400 delivers great results when shot anywhere between ISO 200 to ISO 3200.

As a tabular-grain film though, and perhaps converse to that last bit of information, you should expect it to have less exposure latitude than conventional-grain ones. This makes it less conducive to pushing and pulling. Related to this, some people report highlights can be more easily blown out too.

I don’t process my own film so all of this is anecdotal, but it seems tabular-grain films can be a bit more temperamental when developing than their conventional-grain cousins.

Delta 400 can be processed in a wide range of different developers using deep tanks, spiral tanks, and automatic processors, although Ilford gave the following advice when comparing the development with that of the conventional-grain HP5 Plus.

First is that the choice of developer is more important for tabular-grain films – so go for something like Ilford DDX which is designed for the job – and the processing needs to be more precise than with the Ilford Plus range.

Second is that Delta films have longer fixing times than their Plus counterparts, and that the correct exposure when shooting is more important too as you have less latitude for under or overexposed shots and less margin for error with processing accuracy.

That said, they also state that when everything is done right, the negatives are slightly easier to print than conventional films.

Overall, tabular-grain doesn’t sound like the best film to be beginning your darkroom journey with. If you want to give it a go though, you can find the Delta 400 datasheet right here and Ilford’s film processing chart right here.

Where to buy Ilford Delta 400

If you have a photography shop near you that has a good selection of film, you’re going to have no trouble tracking down Delta 400. If you’ve never shot it before, you might not have paid much attention to it on their shelves. But it should be there.

Whether it’s in your local pharmacy or 1-hour photo place is less certain and will depend also on your location. HP5 Plus is probably more likely, and they may have T-MAX instead if you’re in more of a Kodak kinda country anyway.

As always, if you can’t find any, don’t have time to go and look, or just want to compare prices before buying, there are plenty of people online who will sell you some instead.

You can check current prices and availability through the links below.

ilford delta 400 film

Final thoughts on Delta 400

I think Ilford themselves nailed it in this post on their Delta range vs their Plus range when they said there is no right or wrong choice when deciding between them.

They go on to say that both are professional quality and the differences are all down to the available speeds, exposure latitude, and the look of the grain.

This means whether you’re going to like Delta 400 or not comes down to a combination of personal preference with how you want your results to look, and of course what style and subject you’re going to be shooting.

I don’t think I’d rush to use it for street photography again but if someone wanted me to do some clean and timeless black and white portraits, it would be a better choice than any other Ilford film I’ve shot and reviewed so far.

I guess that’s why the Delta films have the word professional in their name. This ISO 400 version isn’t the most exciting for street shots, but I’m sure people paying good money for Studio Harcourt-style work would want the sharpness and cleanliness it gives.

To bring this full circle, this all illustrates how a company like Ilford can produce a number of films that appear similar when looking at their box alone – ISO 400, monochrome – and have them be so different that they’re all worthwhile.

Sometimes I want an espresso, sometimes a double espresso, and other times a big old Americano. They’re all black coffees. They all have at least one espresso shot in them. But they all serve different purposes.

I don’t know which of those is comparable to Ilford Delta 400, or which Coke or McDonald’s burger is either. It doesn’t matter. It’s a good film in its own right, and a great one if your shooting style is such that it plays to its strengths.

If you want to get some and see how suited it is to your photography, you can easily do so from Amazon, from eBay, or from Analogue Wonderland.  😀

Ilford 1748192 Delta Pro 400 Fast Fine Grain Black and White Film, ISO 400, 35mm, 36 Exposures
301 Reviews
Ilford 1748192 Delta Pro 400 Fast Fine Grain Black and White Film, ISO 400, 35mm, 36 Exposures
  • High speed is 400
  • Exceptional sharpness and detail
  • Core-shell crystal technology
  • 35mm and 120 Roll Film available

If you found this Ilford Delta 400 review useful, why not take a look at these other fantastic films too:

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And if you think others will also enjoy or benefit from this film review, help them find it by sharing or pinning.  😀

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