Delving into Black and White: My Film Photography Journey

Trillium, Rosemont Bluff. 1 April 2020. Minolta Hi-Matic 7s/Kentmere Pan 400

It was inevitable: I’m getting into black and white photography. I started to delve into it about a month after getting the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. I wanted to get comfortable with just shooting film before I attempted black and white. (While black and white film tends to be a bit cheaper than color, developing is actually more.) Now I’m hooked.

It seems like a natural thing to do when one rediscovers film cameras. I mean, when film photography was regularly taught, they typically started folks off with black and white. And then there’s the school of thought that only black and white is “real” photography. I don’t buy that, but I definitely see its appeal. And yeah, you can create black and white images with digital. But you’re not committed to it like you are with film. You can’t switch the next shot to color.

Black and white photography isn’t simply “turning the color off”. It’s a whole different way of seeing things, good black and white compositions aren’t the same as good color compositions. I’m looking for texture, for shadow, for things that will translate. It’s supposed to be more difficult than color, but after doing pen and ink art for thirty-odd years, where all I have is black and white, I think I can hang.

Deco house, built 1946. 2708 NE 72nd Av (at Sacramento), Roseway neighborhood, Portland. 5 April 2020. Minolta Hi-Matic 7s/Fomapan 400

I now have two cameras that I use mostly for black-and-white: the aforementioned Minolta and my newer-to-me Konica C35 EF. Both have traditional threaded filter mounts over the lens, so I can use a yellow filter. Both have fast-ish sharp lenses (1.8 on the Minolta, 2.8 on the Konica), which I like. Both are traditional looking cameras with lugs, so I can use a strap. I have either camera around my shoulder as I ride or walk, while the diminutive Olympus XA2 is also on hand for color.

I’ve been shooting black and white for three months, long enough to get into some habits and experience different kinds of film stock. My first roll was Kodak Tri-X Pan, the “trad” black and white. I’ve shot another roll or two since then. It’s nice, but not nice enough to “hook” me to that particular stock. And it’s on the more expensive side, so I’ve been seeking out cheaper alternatives.

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, 16 Feb 2020. Minolta Hi-Matic 7s/Kodak Tri-X Pan

Many folks like the offerings from Ilford, a British manufacturer. Their standard seems to be HP5, a 400 speed stock. I’ve used several rolls of that, and have had good results.

Pike Place, Seattle, 5 March 2020. Minolta Hi-Matic 7s/Ilford HP5 (400)

But they also have a more budget line, Kentmere. I’ve gotten a few rolls of their Kentmere Pan 400, and I like it as well. I think this one will be the “go-to” stock.

Reservoir No. 5, Mount Tabor Park. 31 March 2020. Minolta Hi-Matic 7s/Kentmere Pan 400

And I’ve headed further east, too. Foma is a Czech company. Their Fomapan 400 is a bit moodier than either Kodak or Ilford/Kentmere, but it has a nice (to me) feel in certain situations. It’s also pretty wallet-friendly.

Maple Trunk, Grant Park Neighborhood. 29 April 2020. : Konica C35 EF/Fomapan 400.

And even further east! Astrum is located in Ukraine, and has a unique reputation. As one film seller puts it: “The film is somewhat inconsistent, and as such should be treated as experimental.” I’ve shot one roll of the 100 speed stock, and dig it. I’ll be looking for more.

Old International Truck, 7 April 2020. Minolta Hi-Matic 7s/Astrum 100

So, what’s next? I’ll still be shooting in color, but probably will be doing more black and white. It’s fun for me. Eventually I want to dip my toes into developing, whether in a class/co-op environment, or at home. I know that black and white is “easier” for this, so there’s that.

And I’ll be seeking out more situations to shoot in black and white. I’ll be out and about, either my Minolta or Konica slung over my shoulder, seeking out good compositions.

Ford. 9 May 2020. Konica C35 EF/Ilford HP5

8 thoughts on “Delving into Black and White: My Film Photography Journey

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  1. There are some great shots here. As you can probably tell from my blog, I love black and white film photography. Developing at home is really liberating, and a lot cheaper than paying for it done. You can even use non traditional methods such as caffenol developing if you want to go entirely rogue!

    Anyway.. thanks for following my blog. I’m more than happy to reciprocate. The idea of combining cycling and art (of any kind) is excellent. I tried to start something similar in my town a few years ago, but it never gained traction. Looking forward o seeing more of your adventures 👍

    1. Thanks for the kind words, John! Looking forward to seeing more blog posts from you.

      I am thinking about caffenol as an option for development. I’ve been meaning to get developing supplies, but it seems like everyone is out. I think COVID is to blame: people have gotten into it as a “thing to do”, and since Ilford shut down for a bit, demand has outstripped supply.

      1. Absolutely. The film market has gone crazy during Covid. It’s been hard to get supplies here too, and the price of film cameras on eBay has had a massive jump! Hopefully things will get back to normal soon. In the meantime, I’ve been asking around the people I know to see if anyone has anything useful. It’s amazing what people have squirrelled away.

  2. Great BW photos! I like fomapan performance with shadows. I got a couple of rolls of foma 400 to push it to 1600, because now I’m sticking with hp5, want to discover something new 🙂

  3. Great post. I spent a big part of my life shooting black and white film with an Argus C3. Talk about old cameras mine was from the mid 40s. I started in high school and since I didn’t have much for allowance I learned to develop my film in the bathroom and scan it using a rig I made in my dad’s workshop. Funny enough I shot a lot of Foma Pan 400 for the same reason. It was cheap and reliable.

    In college I studied photojournalism and was among the last classes to use the darkroom the entire semester. It was a fun, if expensive few months.

    Lately I’ve been blogging about film again. I started again because I was frustrated with editing my digital photos. I stumbled upon film emulation and it’s great don’t get me wrong, but still not as good as the real thing. Last couple posts have been film reviews covering Kodak Ektachrome 100, Fujifilm C200, Kodak Gold 200, and next week I’ll be publishing one of Fuji Pro 400H. I’ll have to work some black and white film in soon.

    I’d love to hear what you’d like to see reviewed. Maybe Fuji’s new Acros II formulation that just came out.

    1. Hey Tobias, thanks for the comment! As for film to review, it’d be nice to see one for Kodak Ultramax 400, and some black and white like the Ilford/Kentmere offerings.

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