It was a pleasant afternoon this past Labor Day and since I didn't have to go to work it was a perfect opportunity to take a ride down the Texas backroads through some of the nearby small towns. Riding my Harley-Davidson Sportster and snapping photos are two of my favorite things so of course I had a camera along. While I love photography, when I'm out for a ride I don't want to be encumbered by a bunch of gear. Part of why I ride is get away from the distractions and baggage of life. I want to keep things minimalist and a bulky bag of camera gear slung over my shoulder goes against that experience. On this little trip my recently acquired Olympus XA 2 came along in my jacket pocket, loaded with Ilford XP2 Super black and white C-41 film.
Ilford XP2 Super is a new film to me. This black and white film is developed in the C-41 process just like regular color negative film. I'd never tried it because we are lucky enough in the Austin area to have labs that still process traditional black and white film. I figured why shoot "fake" black and white film when the real stuff is easily handled by my lab. Then one day I was talking with Matt at Austin Camera about the scans I get from them. Black and white film scans can be a challenge to work with for me. I always have to do a good bit of adjustment with tone curves and spot out the inevitable dust specs. Matt suggested I give XP2 a try because it tends to scan better for them.
After seeing the resulting scans of my negatives I can see why he said that. The histograms for the images looked a lot better than the compressed tonal range that I usually have to extensively tweak in my usual black and white film scans. I mostly just had to deepen the shadow range a bit for my liking and lightly burn here and there. The images were virtually free of dust specs. The dust removal software in scanners doesn't work on silver halide black and white film but it will on XP2 since it is C-41. Nice! That's a huge time saver for me.
The images looked very different from the traditional black and white scans. They are super clean with no visible grain. If I was shooting TRI-X (also ISO 400 like the XP2) I'd see a good deal of grain, especially in highlights. The highlights are crystal clear with XP2. The look is so different that I was initially tempted to add some grain in post. I decided against it because I'd rather present the media as it is. Adding grain to make XP2 look like traditional black and white film would be like putting molded parts on a motorcycle to make it look like a classic (I'm looking at you and your faux carburetors Triumph.)
I did one other thing differently in this film experiment. C-41 is a little less expensive to process than black and white film and Austin Camera has a sweet deal where develop, scan, and print 4x6s for a roll of C-41 film for about $16. That's a a really good deal. The only problem is that the scans are small at that price - just enough for a quality 4x6 print and plenty for web site use. I usually have high resolution scans done but that gets costly. I've got another reason for wanting to try those smaller scans out and I'll talk about that some other time.
Here are a few favorites from that first roll of XP2. I should mention that I rated the film at ISO 200 after reading a lot of posts on the Internet. There is a lot of latitude in this film for over exposure so opening it up that extra stop helps to pull in more shadow detail. It seemed to work. Enjoy a few sights along some Texas back roads.