At the end of last year, Harman/Ilford made a fantastic announcement, their popular budget film, Kentmere, was now available in 120 formats. And it was going to be the least expensive option for medium-format shooters. Kentmere and I go back, and when I first reviewed Kentmere 400, I was not happy with my results. I was downright rude towards the film stock, but looking back at it now, I can see it was not as bad as I thought it was when I first came to review it. Kentmere 100, however, did make an excellent first impression. And since then, I hadn’t thought much about either film stock until March 2022 when a monthly challenge from Embrace the Grain was to shoot Kentmere film. I noticed that the packaging had changed, it was now pretty sleek, and the name was Kentmere Pan 100/400. And I was pretty impressed and started adding Kentmere into cycles for developer and camera reviews. So when on 1 December 2022, Ilford announced that their Kentmere films would be available in 120, I was pretty happy. I used four different developers, Compard R09 Spezial (Agfa Studional), SPUR HRX, Adox FX-39 II and Adox Atomal 49. I went with my Rolleiflex 2.8F and Mamiya m645 for the cameras in this post, and I also produced a video about these films, which will be released next month.
When it came to Kentmere films, Kentmere 100 was the first version that I used. It provided an excellent result under multiple lighting conditions and retained sharpness without having an overly grainy look. But it didn’t stick in my head as a film I wanted to use regularly. I found that the grain was a little too much for me at that time, and sticking to relatively ‘normal’ developers, D-76, HC-110, and TMax Developer. I did try a roll in Pyrocat-HD, but it was not a film that excited me too much. Of course, it’s all about finding the right combination.
Last year, I picked up Kentmere again in the new flashy packaging; I also got my hands on a bottle of Ilford Ilfotec LC29 (it’s criminal that it’s not available in North America) and found that there was something about Kentmere 100. Maybe my tastes in black & white film had changed in the years between my first trials with the film stock. In LC29, Kentmere 100 sang, so I figured, what about some of my other new favourite developers? I have since developed in 510-Pyro, FX-39II, R09 Spezial and SPUR HRX. These also gave new life to Kentmere 100. And in 120, the results got even better, with a much smaller grain structure and excellent sharpness.
I was pretty horrible towards Kentmere 400 when I first reviewed the film. I found it overly grainy, low-contrast, and muddy. And you know, in some conditions, it can still be that way. But it’s all about finding the right combination. And while my original thought was to over-expose and pull the film and use dilute developers. That didn’t work out too well, either. So it was back to the box speed of ASA-400. Which I firmly believe is the actual speed of the film. And while it did perform well at ASA-250 in LC29, it’s hard and costly to get that stuff here in North America.
I decided that this film did not like too much over-exposure and loved exotic developers. In both 35mm and 120, I started to use some of my more special developers in my kit, 510-Pyro produced excellent results, but there’s no surprise there. Some other exciting results with higher contrast came from R09 Spezial, Atomal 49, FX-39 II and SPUR HRX. Sure there’s still plenty of grain, but there’s also some fantastic sharpness. Plus, if you use a fine-grain developer, you can under-expose and push almost three to four stops depending on your look. Ilford Microphen, Kodak XTOL and the various clones make for excellent developers in this case.
The world needs more budget films these days, with costs rising and the ability to get other budget-friendly films getting more difficult. Having a high-quality, bank account-friendly black-and-white film is not a bad thing. And with the resurgence of film use among the existing and new members of the photography community, the choice isn’t bad either. And there is nothing wrong with Kentmere films in both 120 and 35mm; they offer something different from Foma and Svema films which are two other budget choices. So I know I’ll be using more Kentmere films, especially for high-volume content creation like my reviews and YouTube videos. Now we need some LC29 in North America; I’m willing to give up Ilfosol 3.