In March 2019, I had just gotten back into film and quickly discovered that developing and scanning costs were much higher than expected. After shooting five or six rolls of color, I decided to try a roll of Tri-X. The Tri-X took eight days to get back, the scans were loaded with lint, and the cost was three dollars more than color! The idea of waiting more than a week for a local lab AND paying more for B&W development put me off B&W film until I read about XP2.
XP2 seemed to be the perfect answer to my B&W image needs, except, of course, I still had rolls of Tri-X and HP5+ that were doomed to go unused. Bloggers seemed to look down on XP2 because it was not a “true” B&W film, so I was concerned that I would be wasting money buying it. However, that concern was soon dispelled when I got back the first negatives. The scans were clean with plenty of contrast and shades of gray. I was pleased. About a month later, I enrolled in a darkroom class and could develop and print HP5+ and Tri-X as much as I liked. Life was good. All good things come to an end–six months later, the pandemic closed the darkroom, and I was back to having to use commercial labs.
Necessity being the mother of invention, In early 2020, I decided to develop and scan at home. It was about this time I saw the first posts about Df96 monobath, so instead of using the Ilford chemicals I learned with in the darkroom class, I decided to give Df96 a try. That success convinced me to try color development at home.
Color is much more of a pain than B&W, so I put off trying it until June 2020. By that time, it had become clear that I would have to develop it myself if I wanted to use color film. Right on cue, I stumbled across information for the CineStill 2-Step Color Kit. The first color roll came out fine, so I was back in business! Since I could do both color and B&W at home, the issue became what to do with the five rolls of XP2 that had been sitting there for nearly a year. Eventually, I decided to use the remaining XP2 for testing gear, and when done, I would not buy anymore. Well, I have bought more XP2 and even got a few rolls of 120. Why?—efficiency and aesthetics.
I rarely shoot more than three rolls of film at a time, and by “time,” I mean within a few weeks span. As a result, I would often have two rolls of color and one B&W or vice-versa. I hate developing only one roll of film per session, so I always wait until two or more are ready for processing. However, when I shot mixed batches of color and B&W, I would develop two rolls of one type, and the other would sit there for weeks until I had another of the same kind. After ignoring XP2 for so long, it occurred to me that if I wanted B&W images, it would be more efficient to shoot the XP2 when I knew I would be shooting color. Once I get the color chemicals warmed up and smelling up the bathroom, I can do multiple rolls, and XP2 allows me to have all the B&W images I want. That strategy has worked out well, so I have new rolls of XP2 in 120 and 35mm.
The obvious outcome of using more XP2 is looking at more XP2 images, and this is where aesthetics take over. Sometimes I like grain in B&W images, and sometimes I want as little as possible. The amazing thing about XP2 is it can create clean negatives with good contrast, deep blacks, and minimal grain. When I look at images shot in direct sun, the XP2 handles the light without being blown out. Further, the contrast is there without being too harsh or overbearing for my tastes. My appreciation for XP2 has evolved to the point where I now consider it a solution to specific problems, such as high-contrast scenes. TMax seems to be good with high-contrast scenes as well, and for me, better than Tri-X.
Traditional B&W emulsions will stay in my bag, and Berlin Kino, Potsdam Kino, Kodak 5222, Fomapan, and Kentmere are in the queue for testing, so I have plenty of “true” B&W to choose from. Even so, based on what I have seen so far, XP2 will remain in my camera bag because I really like the way it looks.
I realize many would not consider XP2 a reasonable choice for B&W images because it lacks the grain structure of traditional emulsions—my darkroom teachers being among those who disapprove. I get that. But, I very much like the way XP2 looks, AND it makes life a little easier. I will certainly keep a supply on hand.