- Johnny Wilson
Ilford XP2 Super Single Use - the B&W disposable
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
When it comes to Black and White film, Ilford can pride themselves on being the most established and recognizable brand in monochrome photography. Of course, there are alternatives; the comparatively recently launched Kosmo Foto Mono is available internationally online, and fledgling film producers Film Ferrania recently released a batch of panchromatic ISO 80 35mm film called P30 with varying availability. Kodak and Fujifilm have also both at some point had 35mm and 120 black and white film options available but with sporadic availability nowadays, Ilford however, thanks largely to it's commercial availability is synonymous with black and white film. With a broad range of options available to cater for most situations in both 35mm and 120 format, one of their most accessible films is XP2 Super. Both the 120 and 35mm format films are capable of C41 processing, so your local film lab with a bit of verbal convincing will be able to process them for you, and giving a distinct and pleasing tonal contrast between the blacks and the whites, it's one of Ilford's most popular (I assume!) and accessible films and a good gateway to shooting more traditional black and white film, like, for example Ilford's own HP5 Plus! For a good couple of years now Ilford has been retailing disposable cameras preloaded with either 27 exposure length XP2 Super or HP5 Plus. I used a HP5 Plus camera back in 2012 when they were relatively new to the market and the results were catastrophic. But I put that down to either a bad batch of film, or to damage to the camera before I started using it, leaking light on the film. I decided it was time to give the Ilford disposable a second chance, and this time I opted for the XP2 Super flavour.
The camera itself, as disposable cameras should be, is very simple to use. You point it generally where you want to take the photo, looking through the little viewfinder part (which actually has a prism in it unlike, say, THAT OTHER ONE I REVIEWED) and then you click the button and it takes the photo! The camera also has a built in flash good for distances upto 3m, but exercise caution: XP2 Super is a 400 ISO film so it's sensitive to a degree but night time use is not recommended unless in extremely well lit areas. Said flash is very easy to activate with a raised button on the main body of the camera that can easily be found and depressed whilst looking through the viewfinder. Generally the camera feels very light, is easy and comfortable to hold, and is compact enough to carry around in a pocket. In terms of tech specs, the camera is fitted with a 30mm fixed focus lens, fixed f9.5 aperture and fixed 1/100 shutter speed. So again, wouldn't bother trying to use it much at night to be honest. Also, for what it's worth, it's really nice to look at!
But it doesn't matter what it looks like, and how it works if the photos don't work out. Last time around in 2012 my photos were beyond usable. This time around? Much better! I got some pretty good photos! The usual sharp contrast between black and white is slightly more subdued than on other occasions I've used the film, and I put that down to a narrow aperture and fast shutter speed. But in daylight the film is still exposed well, and the lens provided sharp definition. Pretty much every photo is framed how I wanted it to look when looking through the viewfinder and a 30mm focal length is a nice happy medium between wide angle and prime.
My photos have a slight pinkish tint to them in places, but I put that down to the lab I took it to. Your results may vary! I tried a few photos out when it was getting dark, and at night to see how the flash worked, and they we're ok, but these disposables are really not suitable for night time photography. One or two didn't work out at all and the ones that did are weak exposures. Usable, but still weak. Take a look and see what I mean:
But using it indoors with the flash worked out ok. I took a photo of my dad on his birthday, and this was in the evening when it had gotten dark, but with the living room lights on and with a flash, this was a decent exposure:
but other than that I wouldn't use this camera at night. The film is just not strong enough with the narrow aperture and fast shutter speed to get a decent exposure. For the most part I'm happy with my photos, and the Ilford disposables do exactly what they are intended to: provide a gateway into black and white film photography, or give even the most novice of photographers the ability to pick up and use a black and white film camera. But black and white photography is probably more appealing to photographers than say, the general public, and I can't see them having much of an appeal to photographers who already own a film camera and can just buy the films outright? The good majority of the disposable camera market is going to be people buying colour film cameras to use when they don't want to risk using their own cameras, or their phones. And in those scenarios, you aren't going to want to be limited to just black and white photos. But I can see how there is a market for them as an artistic or creative option for somebody wanting the aesthetic of traditional black and white film photography, or perhaps as I've mentioned: as a gateway to Ilford's range of films and at least Ilford are doing something different in modern times by offering a black and white alternative.
Here's the rest of my photos that I kept:
I'm happy with my photos. Where there is an underexposure, there is a dramatic shadow cast that you just don't get with colour film. And the sharp contrast between blacks and whites is something I'm a big fan of. Even when the exposure is weak there is still a definitive contrast, and not a smudgy gray mess you sometimes get with other black and white film. I can see me using one of these again in the future, but next time I'll stick to shooting with them in the daylight. Despite having a built in flash, they really are no good in the dark, even in reasonably well lit areas. But if you are buying one to take on holiday because you don't want your expensive camera to get damaged or ruined, and you want to get some black and white shots, providing you stick to using it during daylight hours they will serve you just fine. If you are taking lots of photos indoors, try to stick to really well lit areas and even then do not forget to trigger the flash, otherwise you risk getting a really weak exposure.