Ilford XP2: Scan in B&W or Color Mode???

When I first started shooting film, I quickly learned that the days of cheap film development and processing were long gone. The biggest shock was that B&W cost two to three dollars more than color, anywhere from 15-17.00 per roll.  Development times were also longer. Of the local shops, Dunwoody Photo, pre-pandemic, did B&W only once per week. The PhotoSpot sent theirs out. Looking online, prices for B&W were even higher than the local shops, and the wait time was the same or longer. Trying to save a few bucks, I started using Ilford XP2 (chromogenic film) because it uses c41 chemicals like color film. This worked out well for a few months, so I laid in a supply of XP2, of which I have five rolls remaining.  

As regular readers know, I went on to take a darkroom class. Once the pandemic hit, I started developing and scanning at home. I had been warned a few times by darkroom classmates not to use XP2 because scanning and printing it could be problematic. As a result, I’ve had XP2 sitting here for almost 18 months, and it is time to use it.  

I shot one roll outdoors and indoors, then developed it using CineStill 2-step color kit at 102o F for 3.5 minutes with an 8-minute archival wash. The negatives came out OK. Since I can’t do any darkroom printing, scanning will have to act as a proxy for now. The scans made using the 16-bit grayscale had far too much contrast for my taste. Having read somewhere about scanning B&W film in 48-bit color mode, I decided to try that. Using Epson’s scan software with my v600 yielded better results when scanned with the 48-bit color setting than when using 16-bit grayscale.  Using the color settings, the negatives seem to have more depth as well as less contrast. I have tried scanning Kodak Tri-X in color mode but did not notice any difference. Notably, all images scanned in color mode, but five failed to scan in B&W mode. Anyone have an idea of why the B&W scan included fewer images?

Here are the images with the most significant differences between B&W and color scans.  

Color (this image was underexposed while testing a light meter)

Now that I develop film, XP2 is no longer a necessity. I find that Ultrafine Xtreme 100 and HP5+ give me great results. I will try Arista EDU and some Ilford Delta emulsions soon. But unless they blow me away, it will be Ultrafine Xtreme 100 and HP5+ for me. I will use up these XP2 rolls, and as soon as I manage to get the vaccine, I will try using the community darkroom once again. I’m curious to find out if printing XP2 is really a pain or if that warning is one of those examples of wisdom passed along that isn’t wisdom at all. I want to use these rolls, but until I clear up the scanning/printing issues, I’m wary of using them for anything other than gear tests.  

If you have tried scanning or printing XP2 in B&W, I would like to hear what happened.


  1. I made a dark room print of an XP2 negative some time ago, and didn’t recall it being more difficult than other B&W films. Indeed ignore the wisdom-that-ain’t and try for yourself! Hopefully you’ll be able to do that soon.

    (Making a darkroom B&W print of a color negative, that is indeed trickier.)

    To defend XP2 a bit: don’t think of it as a poor substitute for ‘real’ B&W film! A great feature of XP2 is this: you can vary the EI between 50 and 800 on the same roll. From my experimentation, EI50..200 seems to give flatter negatives, EI400/800 more contrasty. So I’d suggest using some of your rolls experimenting with this.

    1. Thanks for the info. Yes, I hope I can can get back to the dark this summer.

      I like XP2 it has a good tonal range, but I’ve only shot it at box speed. I have five rolls left and will experiment with at least one.

  2. Hi Bill, thanks for responding. To be clear about PhotoShop and Lightroom… I have no problem with adjusting contrast and exposure, for example. However, I would not be willing to add a sunset where one was not in the original image. My goal is capturing what I see to remember at a later time. I’m not interested in creating “art” beyond the original image.

    The XP2 question is mostly an academic one. I couldn’t understand why the contrast was so great in some grayscale images.

    I have XP2 that was developed and scanned in a lab, and they look fine. My next experiment will be to scan those negatives and see if I get similar results. I’m not going to spend too much time on this because once I use up these rolls, I won’t buy more. I do have some XP2 frames I’d like to print, and I’ll save most experimenting for that.

  3. Jerome, I can’t address your XP2 question directly but I can give more of a scanning overview. Like all things it comes down to personal preference and workflow style. What method fits your workflow best. As someone who works with as well as scans on a frequent basis I have certain parameters that need to be met so that I can extract every ounce of information from the original, be it a negative or a print. The steps I will lay out may already be what you are doing so take it for what it’s worth.

    I will leave some steps out as you are familiar with scanning and I don’t want to add to the length of my reply. First and foremost turn off any sharpening. If you feel the need to implement sharpening do so knowing that this one thing can cause artifacts that can’t be overcome except through sometimes lengthy and tedious photoshop work. Secondly, I scan for a flatter histogram and make sure there is room on both ends. I mean that no information is being clipped. How much room you leave is based on your own tonal preferences in the final image. I always scan at 16 bit/48 bit to create a master file so I scan with enough resolution to be able to print at the largest size I will want to produce. Output the scan as a .tif file. I create the final tonal scale and sharpening in post and adjust each for the brand of paper that I wish to print on and matte or photo black. The biggest single difference between a color and grayscale scan will be file size. If XP2 film base has a color cast then I would probably scan in color as this would give me the ability to tap into that color in photoshop through one of the many adjustment filters. I know you want to avoid photoshop as much as you can so I’m afraid my experience is not helpful beyond this point.

    Like so many things in life there is no replacement for first hand experience. Bottomline is what method gives you the information and look that you want. The more you know where you want to take it the less likely you will be to wander off into the weeds. This is the danger zone of digital. It’s often said that photoshop can have at least three different ways to get there. What I have learned is that each method produces a slightly different end result so honestly each person must decide for themselves.

    I wish you the best in your search.

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