Experiments: Ilford P4 surveillance film

Written by Nasir Hamid on February 11th, 2012

Recently I bought a job lot of film from someone on a well known auction site and among the different brands of film was some that I have never heard of, Ilford P4 surveillance. A little research pointed to it being used in traffic cameras and for surveillance (doh!) work. The film I received had been individually loaded into cassettes from a bulk roll, the empty box of which was included for me to read more information. I don’t know if the film I received was from the empty box because the expiry date on the box was 2010 but after processing the first two test rolls I noticed that one of the layers of film above the emulsion had come away in patches which is why these scans look uneven. There are also scratches across the film which points to grit in the felt trap of the cassette. I did rattle these shots off as a test so I don’t mind too much and I’m thrilled with the look of this film so it’s okay.

The thing that amazes me the most is the dynamic range this film is able to capture. I deliberately used it in situations where I know other films would struggle which is strongly backlit shots. The contrast is flatter than ‘normal’ black & white films and for an ISO400 film the grain is quite pronounced but I do like it. I’ve got lots more of this film to use for testing so more images will follow. These shots were made with my very first SLR camera that I bought in 1987 and although I probably haven’t used it in maybe 15 years the battery for the light meter still has power in it and I enjoyed using this camera more now than I ever did. Apart from the light meter the camera is completely mechanical and that’s partly why I love it so much. It will function without a battery and is totally manual – which roughly translated means you need to know what you’re doing because there’s no ‘P for Professional mode’ to help you.

[Tech info:] Nikon FM2 with 50mm/f1.4 lens loaded with Ilford P4 surveillance film. Processed in Kodak HC110 developer (dilution B 1:31) for 10mins at 20C.

old style bicycle with brooks saddle

Nice bike. I love the dated look of this shot.

brooks leather saddle

Brooks saddle.

cyclists in oxford

Broad street cyclists.

pedestrians walking on the road

Turl street.

the eagle and child pub in oxford

This pub was a favourite of JRR Tolkien and his pals.

a man rim lit by the sun

This image is a great example of the incredible dynamic range of this film. This man is walking directly towards a bright setting sun. The contrast in the scene was so high that all I could see was a silhouette but on film you can clearly see his rucksack and there's still plenty of detail in the sky too.

a long shadow behind a man walking towards the sun

Long shadow.

Another great example of a backlit subject by the setting sun. All I saw was a silhouette through my viewfinder.



2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Gerard says:

    My favourite is the line of bike riders – especially with the look of film, it seems an almost ageless shot…

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