How to Shoot & Develop the Sharpest Possible Black and White Film Photos

If you want sharp black and white images with fine grain, then you’ve come to the right place!

I’m a bit of a freak in terms of image quality and I love very detailed photos. That’s why I’ve been searching for the combination of film and developer that would get me the best results. The technique I’m about to share is not for every situation and, ideally, you will need either a decent amount of light or a tripod.

The reason behind this is that we need to reduce the size of the grain, and the first step in this process is to use a slow film.

Usually, fine grain films go from ISO 25 to ISO 100. A small grain will automatically result in an increased sharpness as it makes the definition thinner on the negative. It’s the same with digital cameras, the smaller are the sensor’s pixels, the more there are, the higher the definition.

For today’s article, we are going to use a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros. I often hear good things about it and wanted to give it a try since a long time. If you are into digital as well, you may have heard the name Acros in the past months. Fujifilm has added a new film simulation in their high-end cameras that replicates the look of this film.

Back to the film version, it’s considered a medium-speed film and can be used both out- and indoors. It’s also known to be very capable for long exposure thanks to its admirable reciprocity capabilities. For those of you who have never of reciprocity, it’s basically how a film reacts when being exposed to light. In other words: it means that different films won’t handled exposure—especially long exposure—the same way.

In this case, the film has very good reciprocity characteristics, which makes it the ideal partner for Astro or night photography. On the other hand, a film with poor reciprocity would not support long exposures very well, and tend to develop some sort of halo effect around the highlights known as “Reciprocity Failure.” If you are interested to read more about this topic, check the definition on Wikipedia.

The second key element for crisp images is the developer. All developers are not equal in terms of grain quality and in this case, Rodinal (aka R09) is known to give fine grain with slow films (this is different with medium speed films). It’s also notorious for being a high acutance developer—this means it increases the grain which results in an increased edge sharpness.

To make grains smoother, some developer use a silver solvent. This makes the edges between grains softer, which results in a decrease of perceived sharpness. Rodinal doesn’t contain such a solvent; that’s why it may increase the grain appearance on some films but, as we are using a fine grain film, there is no such problem.

The last element that will help us achieve fine detail is decent glass. In this case, I used a 45mm on my Hasselblad Xpan, but I’m sure you can get similar quality with cheaper lenses. For this series, most of the images were shot between f/4 and f/5.6 at 1/60 of a second and exposed for the mid-tones most of the time. I’m sure I would have got a little more detail by closing down to f/8, but there was not enough light on this day and I was shooting handheld.

About the development, I went for a standard development as it was the first time for me using Rodinal. If you want to reproduce the same steps here are the details:

  • Dilution : 1+50
  • Temperature: 24°C (75°F)
  • Development time: 8 minutes
  • 1-minute agitation at the beginning and 4 inversions each minute
  • Stop bath for 10 seconds with Ilford Ilfostop
  • Fixer for 3 minutes with Ilford Rapid Fixer

You can also develop at 20°C, but need to extend the time to 13.5 minutes.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results. It gives to these images a timeless feel and classic B&W look. I will certainly order more of this film and experiment with other developer and stand development as well to see how it performs.

About the author: Vincent Moschetti is an Ireland-based photographer who is in the middle of a year-long experiment where he’s shooting only film photography. You can find more of his work or follow along on this adventure by visiting his website or following him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.