our materials

Like most photographers, the materials we use are a matter of accident as much as choice. We tried them; we got good results; we stuck with them.

On the other hand, there are plenty of other good materials: we just haven't tried them all. We do know, however, that the falsest of false economies is on materials. We cannot afford to use anything that will not give us the finest possible results, even if it is free. Of course, 'finest possible results' refers to what we like, for the subjects we shoot, using our equipment and techniques. The tables below give a list of most of the materials we use regularly. Omissions should not necessarily be taken to indicate that we don't like something, just that we see no reason to change. There are also materials that we use occasionally, such as Ilford Pan F, Kodak chromogenic films or several Kentmere papers, that we don't use often enough to put in the table.

Other materials we cheerfully endorse, but use rarely because you can't use everything, include Ilford 100 Delta; most Paterson developers (we haven't tried them all); Forte films and paper; most Fotospeed developers and toners (as with Paterson, we've not tried them all); Bergger materials; Luminos materials; and Kentmere papers. And because we don't do much 'wet' colour printing any more, we use much less Tetenal and Paterson colour negative chemistry than we used to except for C-41 compatible processing of Ilford XP2.

Catacombs, Bingemma, Malta

Frances shot these early-Christian catacombs with her favourite film, Ilford XP2 Super, and printed the picture on her favourite paper, Ilford Multigrade Warmtone. There is heavy dodging to retain detail in the overhang, plus burning to retain detail in the sunlit ground; there is more about these techniques in the paid-for module on dodging and burning. The sepia toning (in home-made sulphide toner) reflects the colour of the Maltese sandstone quite well. This was taken with a Nikkormat and 35/2.8 PC Nikkor.

black and white films

ilford xp2 super

Frances's favourite film. Incredibly easy to use and forgiving. Often castigated by those who like darkroom work because it's too easy. We process it ourselves in C-41 chemicals.


ilford hp5 plus

Our joint favourite in medium format. Roger also uses it in 35mm. Superb tonality, and you can develop it in just about anything. Speed from ISO 250 (Ilford Perceptol) to ISO 650 (Ilford DD-X and Microphen). We also use it in large format unless we need the very high contrast required for many 'alternative' processes.


ilford delta 3200

The fastest of all the super-speed films, about 1/3 stop faster than Kodak TMZ P3200, but also the grainiest (you can't have something for nothing). We'll put up with the grain in return for the tonality.


ilford fp4 plus

Funnily enough, given our general preference for Ilford materials, we use this only in large format, especially for 'alternative' processes that require high contrast. Develop it in Kodak D-19 (below) and it's perfect for POP, salt prints and the like. For even higher contrast we sometimes use Ilford Ortho Plus.


fomapan 200

We actually prefer the tonality of this (formerly available as Paterson Acupan 200) to Ilford FP4 Plus; the speeds are almost identical, as Acupan is only 200 in speed increasing developers. We normally rate it at 125 or 160.


maco cube 400c

A recent introduction. Like Ilford's excellent SFX it originated as a film for traffic cameras and has extended red sensitivity. Gorgeous tonality, especially in Maco's own Supergrain developer, where it delivers ISO 400, as advertised.


kodak tri-X

We hadn't used this for years when Kodak brought out their latest improved version in 2002/2003. The new film really is superb and is Frances's normal alternative to XP2. Call it ISO 500 in Ilford DDX or Maco Supergrain.

Troglodyte dwelling, Clapham Junction, Malta

The improbably named 'Clapham Junction' contains countless parallel ruts like railway tracks, worn deep in the rock. No-one knows how old they are; they may predate the invention of the wheel, and have been worn by parallel poles (travois) pulled by horses or oxen. These caves were continuously inhabited from the remotest times -- possibly 10,000 BC or earlier -- to the 19th century. Roger used Paterson Acupan 200 rated at EI 125 and processed in Paterson FX39, shooting with a Voigtlander Bessa-R and 21/4 Voigtlander lens.

film developers

ilford DD-X

Our standard developer. Very similar to Microphen, but more convenient because it is a liquid. Gives a true ISO speed increase of around 2/3 stop with most materials. Grain is bigger than with non-speed-increasing developers but tonality is excellent with most films.


ilford perceptol

If we want fine grain, we switch to Perceptol. Speed loss is 1/3 stop with slow films, 2/3 stop with faster films, but grain and tonality are excellent.


paterson fx39

A superb developer with Acupan 200 (see above) and very good with most other films too. We normally rate films at their ISO speeds in this, despite Paterson's claims of speed increases.


paterson fx50

The very best speed-increasing developer we have ever seen, as close to a stop with HP5 as makes no difference. The main reason we stick with DDX is that it is more convenient than fiddling about with two solutions -- FX50 single solution would be a much more convenient developer. Also, DDX keeps better.


kodak d19

Our standard 'alternative process' developer when we need high contrast. We normally make it up from raw chemicals but you can buy it.


maco supergrain

Excellent with Maco's own Cube 400c but also very good with Tri-X and indeed most of the other films we have tried it with. Ignore completely Maco's claim that you can develop all films, of all speeds, for the same 5 minutes. Try it, and you will grievously over-develop some films and under-develop others.

Mnajdra, Malta

When we try a new film -- this was Maco 820C -- we normally try the manufacturers' own developer with it, as this gives the highest possibility of success. Only afterwards do we try another developer such as our favourite Ilford DD-X, either to see if we can improve on the results or to see if we can get something as good. Here we used Maco Supergrain. Yes, this approach is slightly more expensive -- but not as expensive as wasting film because you can't get a good image. Camera forgotten but probably Leica M2 with 35/1.4 Summilux and Ilford IR filter with a T50 of 715 nm. (Roger)

colour films

Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX

As noted below, we tend to choose a single colour slide film and stick with it, even if it is not necessarily the best for all applications. Since 2001 this has been Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX in 35mm, a modestly-priced 'amateur' film that closely mirrors the quality we get from Kodak E100VS in larger formats. It has high saturation without high contrast; the only time we feel the need of anything else is for portraiture.


Kodak E100VS

Virtually the same comments apply to this, our standard slide film in 120 and 4x5 inch, as to Elite Chrome 100 EBX.


Kodak Portra 400NC and VC

We use far less of these than we used to, because we do very little pos/neg colour any more; we use slides, or go digital -- but Frances finds them the easiest of all to print from.


Sunset by the 'Chinese' nets, Cochin, India

For years -- indeed, for some time after it was discontinued, thanks to a freezerful of film -- Fuji RF 50 and RFP 50 (the latter the professional version) were Roger's preferred slide films. To this day he has never found anything better. Kodak EBX is very good, and a stop faster, but lacks the sheer magic of RF/RFP. Velvia was a very poor replacement indeed. Other films we sorely miss are Ferrania 1000D, Agfachrome 1000 and the late-1980s Agfachrome 50. Leica M-series, 35/1.4 Summilux.

colour processing


We started using Paterson mostly for colour printing -- their room-temperature RA-4 compatible is brilliant -- but we also use their C-41 and E-6 compatible chemistry every bit as happily as Tetenal. Colour processing (especially with a Jobo CPE-2 or similar) is much easier than most people think.



It's mostly historical accident that we don't use Tetenal black and white film developers -- we had already settled on the makes listed above before we got around to trying Tetenal -- but their E-6 compatible and C-41 compatible chemicals are excellent.

Clapham Junction

The main reason for including this shot is that we hope we have whetted your curiosity with the mention of Clapham Junction above. The tracks criss-cross both Malta and Gozo and are thousands of years old. Some head out to sea or appear to cross bays, ending on one cliff and starting on another, though these are probably sea-caverns where the roof has fallen in. This was shot on Kodak EBX, from memory with a 21/4 Voigtlander lens on a Leica M-series. Nowadays we process all our E6 using a Jobo CPE-2 and Tetenal chemicals, though in the past we have also been happy with Paterson and Fotospeed. See also the free module about our darkrooms. (Roger)


ilford multigrade warmtone

Our standard paper, used for almost everything. We use RC for publication and FB for exhibition. We often tone lightly with selenium or sulphide


ilford multigrade IV

We still use a little Multigrade IV for negatives that don't look happy on MG WT, or if we need to match base tint and image colour to Ilfospeed Grade 5, but we use less and less of it. It used to be our standard paper.


ilford multigrade cooltone

As far as we are concerned, MG CT is something of an emergency paper for negatives that won't print on MG WT or MG IV. We almost always warm up the tone slightly with selenium, or gold tone it for a really cold tone.


ilford ilfospeed grade 5

It is not widely realized that grade 5 graded paper is contrastier than grade 5 variable-contrast paper. We therefore keep it in reserve for when we need the maximum possible contrast -- preferably developed in Tetenal Dokulith as described below.


paterson warmtone

This is our other standard paper for exhibition (alongside MG WT FB) even though it is an RC paper available only in a semi-matt finish. It is also very good for lith printing.

Ruined Hotel, Ghajn Tuffieja, Malta

Frances used her Alpa 12 S/WA and 35/5.6 Rodenstock Apo Grandagon to shoot this on 6x9cm Ilford HP5 Plus, spot metering the darkest area where she wanted texture and detail, using her Pentax Digital spot meter. Then she printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone and toned it lightly in Maco selenium toner.

paper developers

ilford multigrade

Our standard paper developer, principally because it is so extremely convenient and (by definition) perfectly matched to Ilford Multigrade paper.


ilford bromophen

Every bit as good as Multigrade liquid concentrate developer; slightly cheaper; and less convenient because it's a powder. We always keep a box or two in stock in case we run out of the liquid stuff.


kodak d163

Well, we ran out of Bromophen too in late 2003 -- our fault, coupled with moving house -- and Roger made some of this up from raw chemicals. Superb: we now use it more and more. It gives a good warm tone and about 1/2 grade more contrast than Multigrade liquid.


tetenal variospeed w

A warm tone developer that works very well with Multigrade Warmtone -- that's what the 'W' is for -- giving much the same contrast as Ilford's own Multigrade but a slightly different tonality.


tetenal dokumol

Maximum contrast developer, worth close to a full paper grade as compared with middle-of-the-road developers. Something of an emergency product: the tonality isn't as nice as Variospeed W.


fotospeed warmtone

We were given some of this for test in 2003 and were very impressed indeed: lovely warm tones and 'magic' tonality with slightly increased contrast (about 1/2 grade). Every bit as good as d163, with the convenience of a liquid. May become our new standard developer.

Viaduct, Manchester

The majority of our prints are toned to a greater or lesser extent, usually in selenium or sepia. Roger shot this on 44x66mm Ilford HP5 Plus developed in Ilford DD-X, using his 38/4.5 Zeiss Biogon on his Alpa 12 WA; Frances printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone very lightly toned in Fotospeed selenium.



We mostly use their selenium and gold toners, though we have tried the others. We just don't use many 'funny-colour' toners (blue, yellow, etc) so we have no great need of the rest of their unusually extensive range -- but their Palette toners are fun.



Their selenium toner seems to give a different effect from most other manufacturers' products, almost a split tone with bluish highlights, especially with Ilford Warmtone. Not what you want all the time, but very effective indeed when it is what you want.



Once again, mostly just selenium, but sometimes sepia and gold too. Good stuff.



Tetenal makes two toners we particularly like, their Triponaltoner (one of the best odourless sepias on the market) and Schwefeltoner, a true sulphide 'rotten egg' toner with unusual and versatile instructions for use.

hand colouring and spotting materials

marshall's oils

These very long established 'transparent photo oils' are much easier to use than most people imagine. The secret lies in applying them with cotton buds (Q-Tips or similar): do not attempt to use a brush except for very special effects (more special than you want, most of the time). Frances has demonstrated these for the manufacturers at trade shows.


spot pens for hand coloring

These are a very clever development of standard fibre-tip pens. They have wedge tips and are loaded with photographic dyes. They take a little getting used to: the most difficult thing is 'smooshing' the tips before you start work to make them soft and flexible. Once you can bring yourself to do this -- and it's not easy to bring yourself to smash up the tip of a new pen -- you can get good results after surprisingly little practice. Also, strong colours are harder to use than the lighter ones.


spot pens for spotting

There are three ways to spot prints. Dyes sink in fast, and are therefore invisible, but allow no margin for error. Pigments can be wiped off if you get it wrong, but change the surface texture. Spot Pens offer the best of both worlds -- wipe off when they're wet, invisible when dry -- but take a little getting used to because they don't behave like either pigments or dyes as you apply them.

Mertola, Portugal

Frances hand-coloured this with Marshall's Transparent Oils, working on Luminos RCR paper. She finds that her most successful pictures are often coloured both selectively and relatively delicately, so that it is sometimes hard to see where the colouring has or has not been applied. She shot the original picture on Ilford SFX through a weak red filter using a Nikkormat FTn and her 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1.

storage and cleaning


Made by Seneca-Tec in the USA, this is the best all-round photographic cleaner-upper we have ever found in spray form.


kinetronics brushes etc.

Kinetronics anti-static brushes are the standard in the movie industry but are also unbeatable for cleaning dust off negatives and slides. Kinetronics also makes good microfiber cleaning cloths and other cleaning products including the ingenious Speck Grabber that can safely be used on digital camera sensors and SLR mirrors.


nova tar buster

Specially made by Nova to remove colour chemistry 'tar' from Nova tanks. What more need one say?

print file negative sleeves

Archival see-through sleeves that allow you to scan the negs in the sleeves for making electronic contact sheets. We have used nothing else for years.


photo finish

Another brilliant general-purpose cleaner (like Chem-Kwik) but in a sort of cream-soap form. Widely used in mini-labs but less known than it should be among other photographers. Really good for removing dry, crusty chemical stains.

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© 2003 Roger W. Hicks

last updated: 29 Sep 2005