Why a 400 ISO (Fast Film) Is Good for Street Photography . . .

. . . When I made the change to using film exclusively for Street, I used the film I had in my bulk loader at the time – Ilford FP4 Plus, an ISO 125 Fine Grain Film. However, with our typical British climate (cloudy) and my preference for Zone Focussing, I ran into problems with achieving a workable DOF.

With Street, most of the subject matter exhibits an annoying tendency to move unpredictably. Further, it has a nasty habit of not keeping a consistant distance from the lens from subject to subject.

Unable as I am to focus and adjust metering and aperture for each shot (the moment would be gone), I have to set the camera for between 250th – 500th and an aperture of around f/8 – f/11. This gives me a zone of approximately 15 -30ft (4.5 – 9m).

With FP4 Plus and the low light, I could only achieve between 60th – 125th, not enough to freeze the movement sufficiently, whilst maintaining a workable DOF.

Now with Ilford HP5 Plus (400 ISO), I can shoot at 250th – 500th (1000th on a really good day) and still keep the DOF, thereby seeing the shot, raising the camera and shooting in a second.

Happy times.

Author: Kevin Shelley

Street Photography. eBooks. Blog. Shoots and reviews cameras. Develops film. Writes novelesque articles.

5 thoughts on “Why a 400 ISO (Fast Film) Is Good for Street Photography . . .”

  1. Yes. A standard lens on DX is 35mm (37º horizon). To achieve the same field of view on FX, the standard lens is 50mm. 50mm at f/2.8 (dof) is narrower than 35mm at f/2.8. On 6×4.5, the standard lens to achieve the same field of view is 75mm. The DoF using 75mm @ 2.8 is far narrower than that using a 35mm lens, but the field of view is similar. It’s not a tightly guarded secret that longer lenses = narrower DoF. But, using the same focal length and aperture, the DoF remains constant. A 50mm @ f/2.8 will project the same image in a D300 as it would in a D3 as it would in a 645. “Yes, but when you take field of views into the solution, without cropping the largest sensor, you would perhaps take a picture with a 200 mm prime focal length from 5 meter distance with a DX camera. To get the same field of view with a full frame sensor, you would have to move closer towards the subject. So now you’re perhaps 3 meters from the subject with the same optics.” So, the variable isn’t the sensor size, but the distance that’s changing. This has nothing to do with DX vs. FX. That one chooses to move closer to the subject doesn’t change the focal length of the lens. It’s like a movie theater. The lens is the projector. Whatever the size of the screen, the picture remains the same. The FX has a bigger screen, and thus captures the whole picture (well most of it). The DX has a smaller (cropped) screen, so it only captures a portion of the picture… the rest gets wasted. The picture itself, however, doesn’t change. That’s physics.


  2. Why do I use the above settings? Shooting at f/16 allows me to get the deepest depth-of-field with my lens. I keep my ISO high so my shutter speed will be above 320ths/second (this allows you to capture people walking and not blurry). I don’t mind having extra grain or noise in my images. I actually find it to make my images more gritty and raw. Also I keep my lens pre-focused to around 1 meter– because that is how close I generally am to my subjects when shooting.


  3. i find anything longer than 50 too long for street. most of the “street” photographers i look up to used anything from 28-50. to be honest i would think that subjects are more likely to see you standing there trying to focus the 75 instead of just being able to zone focus a 35 and snapping a photo in less than a second. dont be scared of getting close.


  4. Our objective in this article is not to go into detail about depth of field in general, but only to explore differences that exist between digital and film photography. That being said, there is another important factor to note and remember. Depth of field depends also on the ratio of the subject size to the film size. This ratio is determined by the size of your film or light-sensing element, the focal length of your lens, and the distance between camera and subject. Using a diagonal measure, a portrait has a size of about 36 inches. For a flower, the subject size might have a diagonal of five inches, and for a group photo, perhaps 10 feet. So, using the same equipment, the depth of field for the flower photo is much less than that of the portrait, and for the group photo, much greater. This is why depth of field is important in macro and portrait photography, and less important in group photos. Interestingly, depth of field also becomes important in scenic photography, because a good scenic usually has some object in the foreground which should be in focus in order to emphasize depth to the image.


  5. I’ve been using Ilford XP2 Chromogenic mono film for quite a long time. Roger Hicks put me onto it, I’m heavily influenced by that guy. At 400 iso I can use a shutter speed of 500 and adjust the aperture to the light or my meter. I can get it developed all over town which is useful if I’m away from home. Grain, for a 400 iso film is is very fine. The film reacts well to a full range of coloured filters, for experimental purposes. I’ve been buying my stock from Boots where, until recently, its been buy one get one half price.
    I have tried other, conventional mono emulsions and have long been a fan of FP4.


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