One thing I’ve hardly ever wondered about until now is what it actually means when some product or other has the word professional plastered across it and how much difference it makes to the average consumer.
I guess higher grade engine oil keeps a Ferrari running better for longer, stronger hairspray is important for models under hot studio lights, and better darts are conducive to more 180s.
But quite what effect they’d have on my old banger, my terrible haircut, or my awful ability to throw an arrow straight is probably negligible.
So what about Ilford’s professional films like this Delta 400? What effect will that adjective have on your photography? Come find out and see some street shots I got from my first roll of it.
What is Ilford Professional film?
If you’re new to this, let’s start at the top. The UK-based Ilford is one of the very best film manufacturers on the planet, producing a good range of top quality lines.
At one point they were one of the big three along with Kodak and Fujifilm, although given the amount of discontinuation of films the Japanese company has been doing in recent years, you could argue Ilford and Kodak are increasingly becoming just the big two now.
Speaking of categories of two, a number of Ilford films fall into either their Plus range or their Professional range. Not all of them though, as there are exceptions like XP2 Super and Pan 400, to name a couple that I’ve shot.
But of those that do, you have FP4 Plus, HP5 Plus, and Pan F Plus in the former and Delta 100, 400, and 3200 in the latter. According to this short explanation from Ilford themselves, the differences are pretty simple to understand.
The Plus films have more exposure latitude than the Professional ones, which means more versatility in different lighting conditions when shooting. You have more leeway to not have your images under or overexposed and can push and pull them more too.
On the other hand, Ilford’s Professional films have lower grain than the Plus ones at the same speed, meaning you get – in Ilford’s words – a marginally cleaner and sharper look for that reduced flexibility.
Is Ilford Professional film right for your photography?
Whether Ilford’s professional films are good for your photography comes down to what you shoot and what you want it to look like. These factors will determine what’s important to you in that balance of versatility and image qualities.
The easiest example I can think of to give here is if you want to do studio portraits, you might want that lower grain, cleaner look. You also shouldn’t have to worry about the lower exposure latitude if you’re controlling the lighting.
Both of these factors would point towards the Professional range being more suited to your work.
I mostly shoot out in the streets though, where the light may change if the sun goes behind a cloud or I walk around the corner of a building.
A grittier and grainier look is often favoured by many when it comes to this type of photography too, which would make the Ilford Plus films a better option if that’s the kind of thing you’re going for.
The bottom line for this section is that I can’t tell you whether Ilford’s professional films are right for you. All I can do, and hope I have done, is tell you what they give you and let you decide for yourself.
My thoughts on my shots on Ilford Professional film
While I can’t tell you how suitable Ilford’s professional films are for your photography, I can comment on how mine turned out when I shot some.
As I said in the full review I wrote on it, the inherent cleanliness isn’t my favourite look for the type of photographs I shot with it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them at all.
I prefer to appreciate what the film does than bemoan what it doesn’t, and the shots below hopefully show some of the positive things it brings.
First up, I like the shiny metallic effect on the footbridge bannister and also the equipment in the subway station and feel it all might have been dulled if swamped by too much grain.
I like the soft cinematic feel of the lady’s face as she passes the restaurant, although that may be because she’s slightly out of focus, which is my fault and not the film’s.
The man in the shop benefits from low grain too, as it allows his face to be more visible in the small amount of light that’s on it.
Finally, the two shots of the older people sitting on the wall and dancing probably wouldn’t have been improved with more grain. And that’s just the shots below. We haven’t even commented on all the ones that you’ve already scrolled past.
All this positive analysis is probably influenced by some cognitive bias like this one where we tell ourselves the results we got from something were better than they would have been had we gone with another option.
I’m absolutely fine with that in this case, though. If I’m happy with the results a film gives me, that means it wasn’t bad enough that it made me not like my work. It also means I’m happy, and I’m always happy to be happy.
Wrapping up this piece on professional film
I’ll wrap this thing up by addressing a point I was going to use in the introduction before thinking it was coming across a little too negative and might have you caused you to stop reading before you really started.
And that is how it seems to me the term professional to describe gear is used more on the camera forums or website comment sections with high percentages of self-important and never-wrong middle-aged men than it is in any other online photography circles.
This isn’t about professional photographers in the sense of those who make money from their work, by the way. It’s more about the context it’s used and the occasional insinuation that you need ‘professional’ gear to be a good amateur photographer. Which of course you don’t.
Some of the most fun times I’ve had shooting have been with the cheap old Canon Sure Shot AF-7 and the even cheaper and older Olympus Supertrip. They’ve also given me some of my favourite results, like these from the former and these from the latter.
So with all that said, I know it could easy to look at the title of this piece and think the worst. Shooting street is grating enough for some; doing it with professional film perhaps doubly so.
I can’t do anything about the first bit as that’s where I shoot, but I’m happy to report that Ilford’s Professional films really do have a reason to be labelled as such.
It doesn’t mean they’re better than their other lines. That’s not what they’re claiming at all. It just means they’re designed with different use cases in mind.
And despite that, just like Kodak’s Professional films such as Ektar 100 and especially Portra 400, they still give you perfectly good results whether you want to wander around a city shooting strangers or sit in a studio setting up lights and posed shots.
- High speed is 400
- Exceptional sharpness and detail
- Core-shell crystal technology
- 35mm and 120 Roll Film available
If you found that post useful, why not take a look at these others to stay inspired or learn more about the Ilford Delta 400 film I used here:
- My comprehensive review of this Ilford Delta 400 film
- Shooting a non-professional Ilford film in the streets
- Some colour street shots on a professional Kodak film
And if you think others will enjoy this post on shooting some Delta 400 in the streets too, help them find it by sharing or pinning. 😀