If you’re looking for an ISO 400 black and white film to shoot, I’ve got great news. There are loads to choose from. Somewhere between 20 and 30 by my last count.
So with all those options, what does the Ilford XP2 Super 400 we’re reviewing here bring to the table? In a world where those 20 to 30 films are mainly differentiated by their grain, contrast and sharpness, what makes this one so special?
That question is subtly answered by that red circle saying C41 on the box. It’s something that makes Ilford XP2 potentially one of the best monochrome films for everyday shooters, travellers, and those who live in a small town alike.
That’s a big statement to make but I’ll explain it fully, as well as everything else about this film, in this comprehensive review. As always, if it makes you want to pick some up and shoot it too, you can from Amazon, from eBay, or from Analogue Wonderland.
- High speed ISO 400
- BW Film using colour C41 Process
- High contrast, well defined highlights
What is Ilford XP2 Super 400?
Ilford XP2 Super 400 is a chromogenic monochrome – of course monochrome, because it’s Ilford – film that was released in its current version in 1998. The XP name goes back a little further though, with Ilford XP1 being released in 1981.
Ilford XP2 was then introduced in 1991 before itself being superseded by Ilford XP2 Plus in 1996. Two short years later, we had the current version of XP2 – this Super one.
Compared to some films we have from Ilford, this XP line is relatively young. Others are much older, like the HP5 Plus that can trace its lineage way back to the 1930s.
Speaking of going back, there might have been a word up there you need explaining. Chromogenic. Chromo… genic. What does colour have to do with a black and white film? What exactly is chromogenic film?
Briefly, because I’m no expert, XP2 Super being a chromogenic film means the way it produces dyes to form an image during development is more similar to how colour negative film does it than traditional monochrome films.
This takes us back full circle to, fittingly, that red C41 circle on the XP2 box. C41 is the common development process for colour negative films. Black and white usually needs a different method.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, this is what makes XP2 Super special in today’s market. This is what it brings to the table. It’s designed to be developed alongside colour negative films in their C41 process.
The benefits of this are numerous and are the main reason XP2 could be a great choice for everyday shooters, travellers, and those who live in a small town. We’ll get into those in the later Specs and Development section, as this one is already long enough.
A final note on chromogenic films before we move on, though. There have been three other major ones available down the years. Unfortunately, two of them – Agfapan Vario XL and Kodak BW400CN – have already been discontinued.
At the time of writing, Fujifilm Neopan 400CN seems to still be hanging in there. Although it is made by Harman, who of course make this Ilford XP2 too.
Ilford XP2 Super image qualities
While I’m sure all that talk of developing a monochrome film in C41 is mightily interesting, it’s not going to matter much if the results you get are sub-par. So what we need to look at now are the XP2 Super image quality and qualities.
By all accounts, it’s supposed to be a very sharp film with very low grain. The contrast is also meant to be quite low compared to many others on the market.
Having said that, Ilford themselves claim it has a wide tonal range, which I take to mean it should be possible to have some good contrast in your shots if the light is right.
In short, I found all of the above to be true when I got my roll of Ilford XP2 Super 400 developed. A lot of the shots were lower in contrast than I ever got with the JCH Street Pan, or even the HP5 Plus.
Low contrast films aren’t really my favourite though, so it was nice to see it did ratchet up quite a bit when the sun was low or I had the shadows of buildings to work with.
In all cases, high or low contrast, the good sharpness and clean grain were there as promised. In that sense, I don’t think you can complain about the image quality Ilford XP2 gives you.
You might not like the qualities, but the quality is undeniable to me.
Street photography with Ilford XP2
As an ISO 400 monochrome film, Ilford XP2 Super is well-positioned to be a great street photography film. You get enough speed and versatility for different light conditions with the ISO 400 rating, and it’s monochrome, which a lot of people prefer for shooting street.
It’s not the cheapest option out there, joining Ilford’s Delta 400 as a couple of quid more expensive than a roll of HP5 Plus. But for me shooting a roll of each just to try them out, that didn’t matter.
I suppose it’s enough to make a difference if you’re looking for a go-to street film though, especially as it’d have to justify the extra cost by giving better results. And to be frank, it probably didn’t do enough for me there if I was thinking long term.
It’s not that I want tonnes of grain. Quite the opposite, in fact. I like clean shots, but I prefer something a bit more dramatic overall like the Rollei Retro 400 was for my own street shots.
XP2 Super 400’s real strength is in its C41 development process, and that’s just not something that’s super relevant to it being a good street photography film or not.
If you’re in a place without a proper lab and need to get your street photos back in double-quick time, it’s nice that any 1-hour photo place will be able to process your XP2 Super for you whereas any normal monochrome film, they might not.
Whether this situation will ever come up, I don’t know. Perhaps if you’re travelling somewhere. Regardless, I’ll let you judge for yourself some street shots I got on this film.
As said, it’s probably not for me. But it’s worth noting again the contrast does get more pronounced when the light is right.
Ilford XP2 400 specs and development
Ilford XP2 Super is an ISO 400 chromogenic black and white film that’s available in 36-exposure 35mm cartridges DX-coded with the number 017644, 120 format, and also in single use cameras.
Ilford say it can be shot anywhere from ISO 50 to ISO 800 with no change to the development process at all. I haven’t done this myself to test the real world results, but they do say downrating or overexposing it should lead to even less grain.
Unusually for a monochrome film, being chromogenic means XP2 Super is developed in the common C41 process used for colour negative films, which brings a whole host of benefits to shooting it.
First is that it means any high street film developer will be able to do it for you quickly and easily. C41 is a standardised process where all films are developed for the same amount of time and at the same temperature (providing they weren’t pushed or pulled).
This means they can all be done in one batch, possibly even in an automated machine that does C41 and C41 only, which makes it cheaper for you.
Different types of regular monochrome film with different ISO ratings need different development times. This means doing them separately, which means it takes longer to get your results back from the lab and you pay more.
If they only have the equipment for C41 processing, they may even need to send them away to get them done anyway.
Being able to develop monochrome film in C41 certainly makes life easier for the lab, but it’s also good for you in certain situations.
If you’re an everyday casual shooter who just wants to get your results back quickly to show friends and family and keep development costs down too, Ilford XP2 Super helps you do that.
If you’re travelling and want to get your film developed before flying home so it doesn’t get obliterated in those newer scanning machines the airports have, being able to develop in C41 means it’ll be easier to find a lab wherever you are.
And finally, if you live in a small town with a 1-hour photo place but no real lab like I do, you’ll be able to get your film developed during an afternoon in town rather than sending it away and possibly having it get lost in the post.
Having said all that, if you really want to, you can process XP2 Super in normal black and white chemicals. Ilford say they don’t recommend you do but that people have reported good results from doing so.
If you want to give that a go, check out the numbers you need on the Massive Dev Chart. And if you need any more information, the official Ilford XP2 data sheet is right here, while a comparison to the old Kodak BW400CN film can be found right here.
Where to buy Ilford XP2 Super 400
While not being the manufacturer’s most iconic or best-known film, you’ll still have no trouble tracking down Ilford XP2 Super if you want to give some a shot.
Any dedicated film shop should have rolls on the shelf unless they’re temporarily sold out and waiting for more to come in. It really shouldn’t be a case of them not stocking it at all. Your local 1-hour photo place or pharmacy or gas station that also sell film might have some too.
If you can’t find any though, don’t want to walk around looking, or 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.
- buy Ilford XP2 Super from Amazon
- buy Ilford XP2 Super from eBay
- buy Ilford XP2 Super from Analogue Wonderland
Final thoughts on Ilford XP2 400
I hope this review has been useful to you because I didn’t read a thing about XP2 Super 400 before I bought mine. I just thought I needed to get a few more different Ilford films shot and reviewed on here so picked this up along with a roll of Delta 400.
Leaving aside all the C41 development business, I’m impressed with the results I got from this. Not the most contrasty, but it’s one of the sharpest and lowest grain films I’ve come across so far.
The difference between this and one of Ilford’s other ISO 400 films is very noticeable, in my experience. When compared, you could probably convince someone your shots with XP2 were taken with an ISO 100 film.
The look might not be exactly to my taste, but that’s fine. I do like what it gave me, but I just like what others gave me more. When a film does exactly what it sets out to do and does it well, you can’t say it’s a bad film. In this case, I can only take my hat off to it.
Of course, the C41 thing is a big bonus if you’re in a situation where it comes in handy. I think for me in the future, if anything, that would be getting the film developed before flying home from somewhere.
Overall though, while it is clearly a product of the highest quality as you’d expect from Ilford, I don’t know if anyone would have it as their very favourite film.
I’ve never seen it mentioned as a go-to like HP5 Plus is or heard of any kind of cult following like a CineStill has. Not that every film needs to be either of those to be good, of course.
And make no mistake, Ilford XP2 Super 400 is good. The C41 developing is hugely convenient and the sharpness and cleanliness are great. Whether the overall results are good enough to make it an actual great film ultimately come down to your own personal taste.
If you want to get hold of some to help you make up your mind, remember you can do so from Amazon, from eBay, or from Analogue Wonderland.
Having written over 2000 words on it now, the fact that all I can do is tell you to try XP2 out and decide for yourself is perhaps one of the very best things about this pastime. 😀
- High speed ISO 400
- BW Film using colour C41 Process
- High contrast, well defined highlights
If you found this Ilford XP2 400 review useful, why not take a look at these other fantastic films too:
- Comprehensive review of another ISO 400 Ilford film
- Review of a fantastic non-Ilford ISO 400 film
- Check every single film review on My Favourite Lens
And if you think others will also enjoy or benefit from this film review, help them find it by sharing or pinning. 😀
4 thoughts on “Ilford XP2 Super 400 35mm Film Review”
Interesting article. Found some unprinted negatives shot on XP2 from probably years ago. I was stunned at how sharp and grain free they were. Puzzled me though as I only habitually shoot HP5 and FP4 with the occasional Kodak Gold and TriX. It dawned on me that we probably given to me by a friend (ex staff photographer on a national newspaper): he always had plenty of rolls of film lying around. The characteristics you describe and I observe were probably ideal for newspaper repro. With the often high dot gain on newsprint an image with lowish contrast was ideal. Contrasty images were very challenging to reproduce well.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Harry. Good insights. I guess that it can be developed in C41 made it good for editorial use too? To me it feels XP2 gets a little forgotten about compared to HP5 and FP4 – especially the former – but it is a great film in its own right, IMO. 🙂
Very good review with sharp good exposed pictures.
Thank you for the kind words, Tony. I’m glad you got something from the review. I really enjoyed seeing what XP2 gave me and will definitely be shooting more of it in the future. 🙂