If you were to ask 100 people on the street to name a film brand, perhaps in a survey for a game show or something, I’d guess none of them would say Kentmere.
If you were to ask the same 100 people to name a film brand beginning with K, I’d still guess none of them would say Kentmere.
It’s a brand I’d never heard of until I was filling my hands with as many different inexpensive films as I could carry to the shop counter after getting some of my early Ilford Pan 400 rolls developed.
The Kentmere 400 I picked up that day then sat in my drawer for a fair amount of months, behind certain other stocks in the queue to be shot.
That was until the other week when it finally had its moment in the limelight. So was it worth the wait? Should I have gotten to it sooner? Should I buy some more? And should you?
Come find out in this Kentmere 400 review.
What is Kentmere 400?
The Kentmere brand might not be well-known to the average man or woman on the street, but the people who produce it are one of the biggest names in the film photography space.
Until 2007, Kentmere Photographic Ltd produced photographic paper in a small factory in the village of Staveley, next to the Kentmere valley in the UK’s Lake District.
That was until Harman Technology Ltd, the company behind Ilford Photo, acquired them and moved production of the paper to Ilford’s own factory.
Harman now had the Kentmere name and logo, and so the first Kentmere films, Kentmere 100 and Kentmere 400, were launched a couple of years later in 2009; first in the US and later worldwide.
Kentmere film is marketed and sold at a more competitive price than most Ilford-branded stocks. I say most because it’s comparable to the likes of Ilford Pan 400 and 100 that are sold in selected markets at a lower price than any of the FP4s, HP5s, XP2s, and Deltas of the world.
Despite this, Harman stress that production of Kentmere film and paper follows the same quality processes as their Ilford equivalents, with the cost savings coming in the emulsion chemicals used.
Just as when I was researching for the Ilford Pan 400 review, I found speculation that Kentmere was made from the offcuts of HP5 that were of lower quality than the rest of the batch.
Again though, Harman’s Simon Galley said this wasn’t the case in this forum post, assuring us that “Kentmere film is absolutely brand new, 2 new emulsions, 35mm only, at a competitive price, it is not a ‘rebadged’ Ilford film, I think I have stated many times we do not supply private label even to a brand we own”.
So when Harman do make films for brands other than Ilford, such as Kentmere and Oriental, they really are making films for them and not just sending them stuff they were already producing anyway.
Kentmere 400 image qualities
I’ve read a few accounts of Kentmere’s image quality and qualities so will relay them here before giving my own thoughts.
According to Harman themselves, it has ‘a broad tonal range along with a wide exposure latitude’, although that comes across like something all film manufacturers say.
According to independent comments online, it also has reasonable sharpness and medium contrast, which make it sound solid if unspectacular. Another comment labelled it soft and mushy, which ties in with the medium contrast point above.
Grain has been described as fine yet potentially clumpy.
The overall character of the film is said to be quite bright, with good detail in the shadows, silvery highlights and a nice grey tone throughout. This again seems to reinforce the overall medium contrast thing.
Having shot a roll myself, I would have to agree with much of the above, although that may just be confirmation bias.
It’s probably not the film to shoot if you’re going for some dramatic Daido Moriyama-style work. I did get one shot – the first one below – with heavier contrast but that was really because of the light and shadows of the scene.
In pretty much every other situation, the results were much flatter. I think words like mushy are harsh, though.
Overall I wouldn’t complain about Kentmere 400’s image quality, so long as you know what to expect and you like that look. For the price it sells at, it could be a lot worse.
Street photography with Kentmere 400
Like the aforementioned Ilford Pan 400 and Rollei Retro 400, Kentmere 400 has two main attributes that make it good for street photography.
First is the 400 ISO rating, which gives you more flexibility in lower light conditions than films with a lower number. It might not be enough for night shooting but it does mean not waiting weeks on end for a sunny day to finish off that ISO 100 film like I was doing recently.
Second is the low price, which means you can snap more without the cost racking up as much as with more expensive films.
This is handy for me as I like to get eye contact whenever possible with my shots, or at least someone facing me, and that doesn’t always happen the first time.
I do try to squeeze as many unique shots out of a roll of film as possible, but shooting with a cheap film like this means taking a couple of the same scene really doesn’t bother me in the way doing so with a film twice its price might.
Whether you like the results you get from shooting street photography with Kentmere 400 will come down to personal taste, and I’m certainly not unhappy with how mine turned out.
If you like medium contrast and middling grain, the versatility and cost may be good reasons to give it a go.
Kentmere 400 specs and development
Kentmere 400 is a panchromatic black and white negative film that’s available in 35mm only; in standard 24 and 36 exposure rolls and 100′ bulk rolls. The 35mm cartridges have the DX code 017704.
I don’t develop my own film so cannot speak from experience on that in this section. However, according to Harman, Kentmere ‘can be processed in a wide range of different developers using spiral tanks, deep tanks and automatic processors’.
If you do process your own film, there’s not going to be anything out of the ordinary with this one. It’s said to dry fairly flat, although I saw one comment stating it’s known for being soft and may scratch easily.
Final thoughts on Kentmere 400
As mentioned earlier, this roll of Kentmere 400 film had sat in my drawer waiting to be shot for quite a while.
In fact, it waited so long that the name and packaging have been redesigned in the meantime. It’s now called Kentmere Pan 400 and has lost that simple white box in favour of something more colourful.
I initially bought my roll because it was a film I hadn’t shot, and also because it was cheap. Fairly or unfairly, there then didn’t seem any reason to rush to shoot it.
Having now seen the results though, I do rank it higher than the Ilford Pan 400, purely for the lower amount of grain it has.
At the price it sells for, it’s a perfectly serviceable option for students and hobbyists, which I imagine was part of Harman’s motivation to produce it alongside the more expensive Ilford range.
If I’m ever looking for a good value ISO 400 monochrome film, I wouldn’t be against picking up some of this again. And the ISO 100 version too in the right situation.
That won’t be right away as there are too many other stocks I haven’t shot yet that I want to try first. But it’s good to know that Kentmere is there and a solid if unspectacular choice should I ever need it.
… p.s. if you’ve shot Kentmere 400 yourself and have anything to add, let us know in the comments below
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