C-41 Black & White Film

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Denny B, Jul 25, 2003.

  1. Denny B

    Denny B Guest

    Is C-41 B&W film truly a B&W film just like
    the non C-41 or is it inferior. I have never seen
    a print.
    In years gone by I used to develop and print my own
    B&W and as I look at decades old B&W prints they are
    like the day they were made, no faded colours.
    I am again taking an interest in B&W prints and only
    yesterday was told by a fellow that there are C-41 B&W
    Will somebody who uses this film please explain the qualities
    compared to the non C-41 B&W film.
    Also do you have the same problems as you do when printed
    by inexperienced photofinishers that you have with colour
    negative film.

    Thanks in advance
    Denny B
    Denny B, Jul 25, 2003
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  2. C-41 B&W films vary by type as to their attributes, much like any other
    film. I find Kodak's variants to have poor skin tones (fatal when you shoot
    mostly nudes, as I do!) relatively low contrast and mediocre sharpness. I
    use Ilford XP-2, their C-41 B&W film, and am quite satisfied with it. Take
    a look at our website, all of the images on my wife's side, except for the
    infrared, and most of mine, were shot on that film.
    Skip Middleton, Jul 25, 2003
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  3. For the most part, the C-41 process B&W films (also called
    'chromogenics') seem to run a bit lower in contrast than many of the true
    B&Ws. I'll agree with Skip (with my limited experience) on the Ilford XP-2
    being the best I've tried, very very smooth in the middle-tones, which does
    a nice job on skin.

    Kodak has a new one out, Portra 400BW, but I haven't yet tried it and
    have only seen reviews by the 'enthusiastic' sources ("It's good! Buy
    it!"). I expect to have tried a few tests within a couple weeks.

    Biggest drawbacks on these films is when they are run on color paper
    through standard print machines. It's exceptionally hard to balance the
    channels for these, since the machines are intended for the quirks of color
    sensitivities, so prints often come out with a color cast, even with
    experienced photo finishers. If you can find a lab that prints on true B&W
    paper then this isn't an issue. Ditto for digital output - you can simply
    set for 'greyscale'.

    If you used to do all your own darkroom work, I suspect they would
    take a little getting used to, and you might have to search for a lab that
    knows how to handle them. But this is generally a lot easier than finding a
    lab with full-service B&W anymore.

    - Al.
    Al Denelsbeck, Jul 25, 2003
  4. Denny B

    Mxsmanic Guest

    It's different, not necessarily inferior--that depends on your

    C-41 ("chromogenic") B&W film is color film designed to produce only
    shades of gray. Some such films even have the orange mask of other
    color films; other C-41 B&W films look like real B&W film, even though
    they aren't.
    C-41 B&W is not as stable as conventional B&W. Nothing is as stable as
    standard B&W film.
    The main advantage is that you can have it processed quickly at any
    one-hour lab, since they can all do C-41. To process conventional black
    and white film, you need to go to a pro lab (usually), or you have to
    develop it yourself (not difficult, but still tedious).

    Chromogenic B&W film can also profit from a common processing workflow,
    since it is processed like any other color film. For example, Portra
    400BW can be processed just like all the other Portra films.

    From an image standpoint, the advantages to chromogenic films are
    extremely fine grain and resolution, and high speed. The rendering of
    chromogenic B&W is usually very neutral, as compared to conventional
    black and white, which can be good or bad.

    Other disadvantages include less stability (it may fade with time,
    whereas true B&W film won't), more fragile negatives (easier to scratch
    the emulsions), greater difficulty in processing if you want to process
    yourself, higher cost for both the film and the processing, lower
    density range on negatives, and the very neutral rendering that most
    chromogenic B&W films yield.

    The one chromogenic film I use is Portra 400BW, when I need high speed
    with high resolution and low grain. It's a kind of poor man's Technical
    Pan. For some examples, see:

    http://www.mxsmanic.com/artists.jpg (35mm Portra 400BW, handheld)

    http://www.mxsmanic.com/street.jpg (120 Portra 400BW, on tripod)

    http://www.mxsmanic.com/stairs.jpg (120 Portra 400BW, on tripod)

    http://www.mxsmanic.com/salute.jpg (120 Portra 400BW, handheld)

    Portra 400BW is a really nice film to work with for night shots, as the
    examples above show. It is very good at holding highlight and shadow
    detail, and the high speed makes handheld work a bit more possible in
    low light.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 25, 2003
  5. Why would you say they are not "real B&W film?"

    While it may be true that most, if not all, C-41 may have a shorter life
    than standard B&W films, I don't believe the statement than standard B&W
    film will not fade is true.
    Joseph Meehan, Jul 25, 2003
  6. Denny B

    Dick Guest

    My experience is generally with Ilford, XP1, XP2 and XP3 and I cannot see
    any difference in negatives from these films and negatives from regular
    films such as Ilford Delta.

    However some labs insist on printing the negatives on color paper which
    can give odd results. If you print the negatives yourself on normal
    black and white paper, or if you demand that the lab make the prints on
    black and white paper, you should get satisfactory results.

    Dick, Jul 25, 2003
  7. Denny B

    Dick Guest

    Sorry, I meant to say XP1, XP2, and XP2 Super

    Dick, Jul 25, 2003
  8. Denny B

    Mxsmanic Guest

    They aren't "real" in the sense that they don't contain images formed
    from metallic silver. Instead, they use dye clouds.
    If the standard B&W film is properly developed and fixed, it should last
    indefinitely. Only the base might deteriorate, and for that all you
    need is a stable base.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 25, 2003
  9. Maybe the term "real silver film." or "real traditional formula film"
    but to say "real B&W film" seems to suggest that you are speaking about
    color vs. monochrome film.
    Where did you get that idea?

    First if the base deteriorates, what good is the rest of the product?
    Second, silver is not a very stable substance. While it is possible to
    replace it with other metals after the initial process, it is a weak point
    in the system if you want to declare indefinite life.
    Joseph Meehan, Jul 25, 2003
  10. My vote also for XP2!! Excellent example of chromogenic film.
    John Garrison, Jul 25, 2003
  11. I tried PortraBW, and was very disappointed in it. Very muddy skin tones,
    poor shadow detail, pretty much awful. I print traditionally, and I've
    heard that those who scan negatives and print from those scans have better
    Skip Middleton, Jul 25, 2003
  12. The 120 film must be different from the 35mm version. I was thoroughly
    disappointed in PortraBW, particularly the shadows.
    Skip Middleton, Jul 25, 2003
  13. Denny B

    Mxsmanic Guest

    I'm the opposite: I scan exclusively, and I never print traditionally.
    All the Portra films scan wonderfully well, and Portra 400BW is no
    exception. It doesn't have the pop of some conventional B&W films, but
    it is amazingly sharp, smooth, and precise in tonal gradations, and it's

    What really suprised me is that this film seems to work really well for
    night shots. Some of my best Portra 400BW shots were taken at night.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 25, 2003
  14. Denny B

    Mxsmanic Guest

    I've shot both, and they appear to be identical.

    Shadows are a weak point, but how many negative films (especially C-41
    negative films) have really nice shadows? It's almost clear film, after
    Mxsmanic, Jul 25, 2003
  15. Denny B

    Rod Guest

    I would like to chime in with a different opinion if I my. I have shot a
    number of rolls of Kodak T400CN over the last several years and I find it a
    very fine B&W alternative. It scans marvelously well with very little grain
    and it is as sharp as any other C41 process color print film as I can think
    of bar perhaps Reala. I love the muted contrast for portraits. Maybe because
    of the lower contrast, people are thinking this film isn't sharp.

    I shot a lot of Tri-X in the old days and (perhaps because of port
    development technique) now I note while scanning this stuff that it is way
    to harsh and grainy for my tastes. C41 B&W just has a nice soft (I don't
    mean unsharp) look.

    One of my examples can be found at the top of this page:
    http://mywebpages.comcast.net/rluhn/photos.htm .

    I just like this film. So try out some and let us know what you think.

    Rod, Jul 26, 2003
  16. Denny B

    Mxsmanic Guest

    Kodak has claimed that this is true for both the Portra and Supra family
    of films, if I remember correctly. They do scan very nicely in my
    experience; a lot less tweaking is required to get nice results. I
    still like slides, though.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 26, 2003
  17. Skip Middleton, Jul 26, 2003
  18. Denny B

    Mxsmanic Guest

    Mxsmanic, Jul 26, 2003
  19. Skip Middleton, Jul 26, 2003
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