A bit more than a year and a half ago, I had no idea what it meant to push or pull film. When I started shooting film, I experimented a little bit with Ilford HP5+ at different speeds: 400 (box speed), 800 (1 stop push), 1600 (2 stops push) and even 3200 (3 stops push).
I really loved the way HP5+ looked when shot (and developed) at ASA 800 and 1600. I absolutely loved the grain and contrast!
My goal was to find the perfect speed I could shoot at all the time. Shooting at the same ASA would mean fewer problems and confusions at development time, as well as being able to develop two or more rolls at the same time.
In the end, I settled on 800. Here are three main reasons why...
I really, really love the grain and the contrast
Pushing HP5+ to 800 (just 1 stop) adds that little bit of grain and contrast I'm looking for on my images. I love grain so much that I add it to my digital images as well, trying to emulate the aesthetics that HP5+ pushed to 800 gives me.
I got very good results at 1600 too, but sometimes it was just too much.
I find 800 to be the right balance for my work.
I can shoot at anytime, day or night
Well, almost anytime.
More often than not, I make my images in low light situations like during sunrise or at sunset. While 800 is just one stop faster than HP5+'s box speed, being able to shoot at 1/60th instead of 1/30th is definitely an advantage.
You might be thinking that 1600 would be even better for low light situations, and you'd be right. I found shooting during the day at 1600 very hard, though.
If we follow the Sunny 16 rule, on a sunny day we'd have to shoot at f/16 and 1/1600th of a second. I like to shoot at f/8 or f/11, so the shutter speed for ASA 1600 would be at least 1/3200th of a second.
Problem is, my Bronica SQ-Ai can only go up to 1/500th.
Even using my orange filter, which I compensate for with 2 stops, would require a shutter speed of 1/800th -it wouldn't be a big deal, but you can see my point here: 1600 is too fast for daylight.
ASA 800 gives me the best balance to shoot both during the day and during low light situations.
It's easier to develop
Ok, this depends on which developer you use.
I've used 3 different developers:
- Kodak D76 gives you times of 13min (ASA 400), 16.5min (ASA 800) and 18min (ASA 1600).
- Ilfotec HC is 6.5min (ASA 400), 9.5min (ASA 800) and 14min (ASA 1600).
- My current developer, Rodinal, takes 11min (ASA 400), 16min (ASA 800) and 24min (ASA 1600).
Of course, these times will vary depending on the temperature of the developer (these are for 20C) --I have to link to the amazing Massive Dev Chart, where you can find these and many more developing times.
I found that developing at 400 is, sometimes, too fast (thus your margin of error is narrower) and 1600 is just too slow (I don't want the developer to take more than 15 minutes).
Once again, it's all about balance.
TL;DR: I shoot HP5+ at ASA 800 because it's the speed that gives me the best balance of them all, considering the grain, contrast, ease of shooting and ease of development.
If you are getting started with film, you might want to experiment a little bit with different speeds. Don't obsess over this though! Your time is best spent out shooting and not at home trying different dilutions.
And if you are already an experienced film shooter, let me know what you think about this and what your approach is! Which film do you use? At which speed?