The Pros & Cons of C-41 Black & White Film


There's a reason why the best black and white films out there are meant for traditional developing. While C-41 monochrome is convenient to process, the results aren't so impressive. I shot one roll during a beach holiday and was a little put off by how washed out and grey it turned out.

Credits: denisesanjose

I received an unbranded roll of black and white 35mm film for C-41 processing on Christmas and decided to use it during my trip to Tali with my college best friends.

Since we were heading to the beach, I loaded it into my cheap underwater film camera which was my primary mistake. It had no ISO options whatsoever so I couldn’t manually over or underexpose.

Credits: denisesanjose

Daytime indoor photos look okay, but you’ll notice the dirt and scratches. (It was probably expired too.) Under the afternoon sun though, the photos look white-washed and more grey than black and white.

Credits: denisesanjose

I was hoping to get high contrasts but I guess that’s what you sacrifice for the convenience of C-41 processing. And maybe my camera was becoming light leak-y as well.

Credits: denisesanjose

After a dip in Coral Beach, we headed back to the house to celebrate my friend’s birthday! Flash photos at al fresco dinner turned out alright and was hoping the rest of the roll registered like this.

Credits: denisesanjose

When we decided to go nightswimming at the pool and stargazing at the roof deck though, this film didn’t do so well. Probably because it was also really dark and there were no other light sources.

Credits: denisesanjose

We were supposed to go sailing the next day but 1) the sailing yacht’s battery died, 2) we couldn’t get another one from the marina, and 3) even if we did, the boat’s busted engine would still keep us at bay. Bummer! We explored Tali instead and ended up on Sunset Beach where a little trekking led us to what I now call “Inception Beach.”

Credits: denisesanjose

There were blocks of half-laid concrete in the shallow end of the water (maybe from an attempt to build a dock/bridge?) as well as a lot of naturally-formed rocks and boulders. I thought it was beautiful in a derelict way and it really reminded me of the Limbo scenes in Inception. It was really sunny out that day so, at this point, I’ve come to accept the grayish tones of this monochrome film.

Credits: denisesanjose

One thing I did like about it was how well it captured light underwater! Too bad I only took a single shot. I guess this film was a one-hit wonder.

Credits: denisesanjose

In the end, I’m glad that at least the photos turned out, given how mysterious the film was (no brand, no expiry date, etc.). I’ve grown to like the nostalgic look the film gave off but I do wish there was more contrast and that it was less gray. But at least the sun-drenched, sand-dusted film matched the beach trip’s feel.

Now I know to invest in cult classic B&W films (like Kodak T-MAX or Lomography Lady Grey), even if labs that develop it are rare, so I’m sure of the look that I’m getting. If I do find more C-41 monochrome rolls later in life, I’d still try them out for easy-to-process black and whites. I just wouldn’t expect so much of them.

Credits: denisesanjose

See more photos from this roll in Talifornia.

written by denisesanjose on 2012-08-23 in #reviews


  1. sixsixty
    sixsixty ·

    Ha! Totally agree, the c-41 B&W films are just trash. Stick to the conventional and try developing yourself!

  2. cyan-shine
    cyan-shine ·

    I greatly respect your opinions, but maybe you should give chromogenic monochrome films another chance:………

    I'm not saying my images are better, but I am saying that you can get acceptable results with those films :D

  3. brianr62
    brianr62 ·

    Looks like you used ISO 400 film. The problem with the daylight images is they are overexposed and the lab printed them improperly.

  4. denisesanjose
    denisesanjose ·

    @sixsixty Yeah, and it's fun to DIY develop too!

    @cyan-shine Nice photos! Alas, those brands aren't available where I'm from but I'd love to try them out if I manage to score some.

    @brianr62 I figured. Better luck next time. ;-)

  5. cyan-shine
    cyan-shine ·

    Yeah, @brianr62 pinned it, these are almost all 400 ISO films. Message me @denisesanjose and I can send you some ;D

  6. cyan-shine
    cyan-shine ·

    I loved your pics btw ;D

  7. denisesanjose
    denisesanjose ·

    Thank you, @cyan-shine! :-)

  8. wilfbiffherb
    wilfbiffherb ·

    you need to adjust contrast in post processing - i know lomoheads dont like to but not doing it is just silly. its even done in the wet darkroom.

  9. clownshoes
    clownshoes ·

    Yes, despite the light leaks; a little tweaking in curves after or during scanning would really made these shots pop.

  10. freelancer
    freelancer ·

    Trashy "cheap underwater film camera" and no ISO options.... What do expect? A miracle? Overexposed beach-pics, underexposed indoor-pics and overexposed indoors w/flash - try to find the error!! But it´s not fair to blame the C41 b/w-films.

  11. chetsellars
    chetsellars ·

    I don't tknow that you're being fair in blaming all c-41 b&w films. I use The Kodak wannabe B&W and get pretty respectable results with it. They're not the same as regular b&w, but they're pretty good in their own right. I think with everything you had going against you-- unmarked film, no iso option (at the beach, stopping down is always a good idea), and no post-processing... you're very lucky to have any results at all. I do love the underwater picture. It looks so surreal!

  12. cmgawthorp93
    cmgawthorp93 ·

    I don't agree. I really love Kodak's B&W C-41 films. I think that the camera choice was the real problem here. I've had beautiful contrasts and glows with the film.

  13. af-capture
    af-capture ·

    yeap...i dont agree. i really love ilford xp2 super...and I am positive you can get good results with kodak's c-41 b&w...i am with @freelancer and @cmgawthorp93 on this one.

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