In the grand scheme of things, there’s probably nothing special about Ilford Pan 400 for most people. For me though, it will always be the first black and white film I shot.
I remember picking up the scans of the first film I’d gotten through of any kind – some Kodak ColorPlus 200 – and thinking I should next try some monochrome.
With an upcoming travel and street photography project in mind, I needed a few rolls all of the same stuff. After a quick look around the shop I was in, this Ilford 400 black and white film got the nod for a few reasons.
We’ll get into those later, as well as everything else about it; like what it is, how it performs, and why you might not be able to find it in your local film outlet.
Read on to learn all that and more in this Ilford Pan 400 review.
What is Ilford Pan 400?
Ilford Pan 400 is a budget stock produced by the England-based film manufacturer Harman Technology and distributed to and sold in selected markets further afield.
Every film shop I’ve visited in Asia has had countless rolls sitting on their shelves, yet it seems to be officially unavailable in the UK and USA.
If you do find some in either of these places, it will likely have been imported from a region it had previously been shipped out to. Checking what’s available on eBay will back this up, with the vast majority of listings being from elsewhere in the world.
As you can tell from the name, this Ilford film is a panchromatic ISO 400 stock. Despite the big p-word, you can take that to mean it’s just a normal black and white film that is sensitive to the whole visible spectrum of light.
The 400 ISO rating makes it a versatile option, with Ilford themselves describing it on their data sheet as “a fast black and white film ideal for action, available light and general purpose photography”.
They also state it has “fine grain for its speed and excellent contrast and sharpness combining to give excellent image quality”.
As with many film stocks on the market, we can ask what Ilford Pan 400 is, and then we can ask what Ilford Pan 400 really is. There is talk of it being Ilford HP5, which was produced from 1976 to 1989 before being replaced by HP5+.
Another claim, said to originate from an ex-employee of Ilford, was that Pan 400 is HP5+ cut from the edges of the rolls where there are supposed to be more potential imperfections than the middle parts that get packaged as the higher-end stuff.
From what I can gather, Ilford themselves deny all of the above, and checking the DX code on this website suggests Ilford Pan 400 is nothing other than Ilford Pan 400.
Ilford Pan 400 image qualities
To continue the HP5+ talk for a minute, I also read the biggest difference between that and this Pan 400 is the tolerance specifications. As they are less strict for the latter, you may see more difference in the results you get from different batches of it.
While I can’t be sure, there does seem to be some correlation between that idea and the first few rolls I shot.
When I looked at the results I got from the first couple, I wondered what went wrong with the claim that this Ilford 400 film gives fine grain for its speed.
The travel and street photography essay I bought it for was this one, and the scans I got back from it were far more grainy than I’d anticipated. You can see some examples just below.
This could be for a few reasons though, so we’re not going to be throwing the film under the bus here. As I didn’t develop or scan the film myself, perhaps something was less than optimal in that process.
Or perhaps it was to do with the camera, which was a basic Canon point ‘n’ shoot and so wasn’t the best to be judging the film on either.
The results I got from another roll of this film I later shot in the same camera and developed at the same place were less grainy though, so perhaps there’s something to the claim that you may see differences in results from batch to batch.
In both cases though, I found the Rollei Retro 400S gave clearer images from the same camera, and generally with more contrast too.
I have another roll of Ilford Pan 400 that I’ll put through my Yashica Electro and see if the results differ but, as it stands, I can only say to try this film if you like that grain.
These shots are from the grainy first essay. You can see some of the less grainy ones in the next section.
Street photography with Ilford Pan 400
As mentioned earlier, I picked up my first rolls of this Ilford 400 film for a travel and street photography project I had in mind.
I’m pretty sure the versatile ISO rating would have been a major first attraction when deciding what to use for that, and the low price of this stock would have only helped seal the deal. I can’t rule out having my eye caught by the hot pink on the box either.
While the packaging doesn’t matter once you’re out shooting, the ISO rating and price do.
Shooting an ISO 400 film gives you more speed to capture the fluid scenes you come across on the street while using a budget film means you can take more shots without worrying too much about the cost of each missed one mounting up.
Both of these make Ilford Pan 400 a good film for your street photography so long as you like the look it gives.
For this photo essay however, I ignored the bit about it being a cost-effective film and leaned more on its versatility in different lighting conditions. By that I mean I only took one roll for the three days I was there.
The results, as mentioned before, were noticeably less grainy than the previous ones posted. Hopefully they give you some inspiration for what you achieve when using this Ilford black and white film for your street photography too.
Ilford Pan 400 specs and development
Pan 400 is a basic Ilford black and white film that’s available in selected markets in 35mm and 120 formats.
The 35mm version comes on 36-exposure rolls with the DX code 017474, and also in bulk lengths should you want to save some cash and spool it yourself.
According to Ilford, this film (and its ISO 100 brother) have “a high degree of exposure latitude, 11/2 stops under to as much as 5 stops over, making them easy and reliable to use in difficult lighting conditions”.
As a traditional silver gelatin-based stock, it should be developed using the regular method for monochrome film. While Ilford’s XP2 can be processed in C-41, this one cannot.
All things considered, it shouldn’t give many problems to those with experience in processing, although I say that as someone with none.
Like many films, the Ilford Pan 400 developing times can be found on the inside of its box, and also on this data sheet alongside all the other information you’ll probably need for shooting and processing it.
Final thoughts on Ilford Pan 400
There was a lot I didn’t know about this Ilford 35mm film when I picked up those first few rolls for those first few photo essays.
I didn’t know how grainy the shots would turn out. I didn’t know the stock wasn’t available in two of the biggest markets in the world. And I didn’t know quite how much Ilford have done and continue to do for the analogue community.
All I really knew was the film was ISO 400 and cheap.
I’m not aiming to be negative, especially as I do like the photo essays I made with it, but I think I can say Ilford Pan 400 has served its purpose for me. It was the first monochrome stock I shot but there’s no way it’s going to be the last.
My immediate aim is to shoot as many different types of film as I can, and trying all of Ilford’s offerings is now more important to me than worrying about how much they cost.
There are a few situations I’d recommend Ilford Pan 400 to you. First is if you like that grain, and the second is that you want an inexpensive film to play around with.
Third would be that you’ve never shot it and are some sort of Ilford completionist.
If that is you and you haven’t gotten around to it yet because you live in a market where it’s unavailable, getting some from eBay might just be your best bet.
… p.s. if you’ve shot Ilford Pan 400 yourself and have anything to add to this, let us know in the comments below
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