Does Silver Content Make Any Difference to the Quality of Photographic Film or Paper?


It is an old myth in the analogue community that a higher content of silver grants a better quality to your black and white film and prints. Today we try to understand if there is any truth to this rumor or if it is just an old analogue conspiracy theory.

Emulsions in films are designed to find the right balance between grain, sharpness, turbidity and density. In color film, they must also achieve an adequate color balance. Each crystal of silver halide should transform into its metallic form when light hits, leading to the photoreduction of silver ion to metallic silver. The ones that don’t transform are discarded during the development process. Once the emulsion is hit by light, it is concluded when the film or print is developed and fixed.

Credits: xsara, bravopires, gregoire1969 & meister_pez

What kind and in which quantity of silver goes into an emulsion is not exactly known, however studies say that a roll of 35 mm black and white photographic film contains about 0.27 g of unexposed silver. The three main silver halide compounds widely known in photography are, silver iodide, silver chloride and silver bromate. It is silver chloride and silver bromate that are more sensitive to light.

The precursor of the halides, silver nitrate, has some of the most reliable quality in photography, such as being the least expensive salt of silver, and relatively stable to light, while easily dissolving in numerous solvents. In recent times, scientists have been developing formulas that use innovative forms of silver, more effective surfactants and other chemical improvements, in order to obtain high homogeneous low-veil emulsions, also known as T-crystals.

The most knowledgeable and science driven photographers know that this particular shape of the crystals will result in a finer grain. The sensitivity of a film is also related to the crystal's size. All of these are extremely important factors to consider during the production of an emulsion. Complete formulas are obviously a secret that each manufacturer wants to keep highly guarded.

Credits: vicuna, sharpwaveripple, rvdyvo1985 & fijema

Nonetheless, there is a long list of factors that will determine the look of an image. It is a fine and difficult balance that can not be determined only by the amount of silver present in the emulsion. It is important to note that less silver is equal to more grain, while too much silver increases turbidity and reduces sharpness. Thus the difficulties lie in achieving the equilibrium of the elements involved.

Another critical aspect to the quality of a film emulsion is the way it is coated, and the gelatin that plays a significant role. The mixture and distribution is crucial to the final result.

The speed in which you combine the silver solution with the gelatin halide solution (called precipitation) has much to do with the speed, density potential and resolution potential of the final emulsion. Mark Osterman
Credits: stereograph, laurasulilly & analogue_native

Each step requires precision and consistency to get great results. Anyone who is accustomed to making their own emulsion for large format photography can tell you how challenging it is.

That's why it is pointless and not accurate to compare old images, prints and the like to contemporary looking films and prints. Considering that in the past there might have been contamination of other metals in the emulsion, it seems that more than a real enhancement to your images, the myth of high silver is only a certain contributing aspect in a film rather than a quantifiable benefit.

What are your thoughts on this topic? What is your favorite black and white stock? Share your comments bellow

written by eparrino on 2023-03-18 #gear #legend #higher-content-of-silver #better-quality #analogue-myth #debunking-a-myth #black-and-white-leggend

Mentioned Product

Fantôme Kino B&W 35 mm ISO 8

Fantôme Kino B&W 35 mm ISO 8

Fantôme Kino B&W Film is perfect for pinhole, striking portraits, and gritty street scene snaps. With low ISO and small exposure latitude, this impactful black and white film navigates inter-tonal shifts with ease resulting in rich, low grain depictions with vibrant micro-contrast. The Fantôme Kino B&W Film brings scenes to life, capturing life’s most evocative moments in showstopping black and white splendor.


  1. klawe
    klawe ·

    I love the Adox Silvermax film an baryta paper too.

  2. eparrino
    eparrino ·

    @klawe Yeah Adox is pretty cool.

  3. klawe
    klawe ·

    Unfortunately, the film and the paper are no longer available for purchase. Stocks are almost gone.

  4. eparrino
    eparrino ·

    @klawe Such a shame that the selection is getting smaller, and that not all the store have a vast choice anymore.

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