XP2 is known to have an almost-infinite shoulder to the highlights. I have read at least one author who advocates XP2 as a one-film zone-system replacement. His method involved using 35mm XP2, bracketing extensively towards overexposure (relying on the shoulder of XP2 to control highlight contrast), and using variable contrast paper in the darkroom to manipulate contrast.
Other authors emphasize that XP2 can be exposed successfully as speeds from 100 to 800.
There's no doubt the shoulder of XP2 does make it a good tool for certain situations.
I dispute the 'ease of processing' statement. I can process normal B&W quicker than I can get in the car and take it to get processed. My film also has no scratches, etc associated with machine processing that can and does happen. Thirdly, I'm not that thrilled with the tonal representation that XP2 gives, but that's a personal thing, some people love the stuff.
It's got a nice smooth look not unlike Verichrome Pan, making it very well suited to portrait work (it also is easier to scan than real B&W film, but we don't talk about that sort of thing in these parts).
In the right situation, XP2 can give incredibly beautiful and smooth skin tones. It's not always my preference, but often it is just the thing for portraits. It does scratch easily, but if it is processed by a pro lab (dip and dunk) and is not subjected to the sleeving machine, it can do just fine.
It does stand up well to massive overexposure, although I don't advocate sloppy metering.
Living in Berkeley I would have to agree with you Nige I had not thought about the dreaded drive, although I think the camera store I use offers hand processing. I'm as color blind as one could possibly imagine so I've never even thought about processing color film on my own and know little about it. Is the C-41 process anymore difficult than processing B/W film?
C-41 is quite easy to do and pretty short times you can do it in an open tank in the dark if you are dipping from one tank to another to avoid timing errors from prolonged pouring times. Only thing I don't like is the short life of the developer once mixed. Using it one shot if from concentrated you must be careful to exclude air from the developer concentrate or it will die on you before you get to use it. Happened to me. I now purge with nitrogen before closing the lid.
Biggest hassle is getting the solutions to temp and stable but a tub full of water once gotten to the right temp will hold it for long enough to do the job with no problem. A Jobo system solves this problem hands down but I don't have one myself and see no need for it personally.
I've used XP2 quite a bit. My best results were when I exposed it as if it were ISO 200 and then upped the contrast after scanning or in the printing. It's a very convenient film to use in cameras that have very limited exposure settings (vintage box cameras, Holgas, etc.), as it has such a wide, useable exposure range, on the same roll, without changing the developing at all (ie. you can shoot one picture at ISO 200, another at 400 and another at 800, if you want, or if the lighting conditions change - and this does really work). I prefer more conventional B&W film like Tri-X and HP5 though. XP2 is great for scanning, because, since it's really just colour print film without the colour, you can use Digital ICE and other similar infrared dust removal systems, unlike conventional B&W films. One downside of chromogenic C41 B&W films might be that you don't get the longevity that you do with conventional B&W - but, I can't say I've had XP2 negatives long enough to know.
Now, personally, after having used quite a bit of it, my opinion is that, if you only scan your negatives, XP2 is great. But if you print conventionally in a darkroom, you may as well use conventional B&W and go through the one additional step of developing the film yourself.
Convenient processing, if you are not inclined to do it yourself, fine grain for a 400 speed film, nice tonal range, good tolerance to massive overexposure, are all good reasons to use XP2 Super. C-41 films also scan much better than conventional B&W materials should you choose to go that route. But they do have a much different look when printed on conventional B&W papers. It's not bad, just different.
I use both Delta 400 and XP2-Super for 35mm work in the conventional darkroom. At 8X10 wet printed I can't tell that much of a difference in the final product. Both produce nice tones and contrast can be controlled via my color enlarger. I see the biggest difference when I enlarge to 11X14 the XP2 gets looking much softer/less sharp looking.
Thank you all for the comments and descriptions of this film. C-41 processing seems to have too many variables for my impatience at this point so for now I will make the dreaded drive to my local store. I do process my own film and have wanted a Jobo for my LF work and will give it a try if I get one and like this film.
Cheryl, thank you very much for the example I did see it and others in the gallery and was the reason for my initial post. This weekend Ill be in Glenwood Springs where I used to live and will be shooting some portraits for the first time. (I like trees more than people) I figured there had to be something that this film had to offer if people I knew didnt rely on a lab were using it. At this point I think Ill bracket like crazy and see what I get, no time for testing. This is a rather personal and important shoot for me and still plan to use my normal films as well but will try some XP2.
Pierre, thanks for the idea of using it in vintage cameras I have many and love to use them but do waste a lot of film. Do they make it in 620? Just kidding maybe Ill call J&C to see if theyre willing. I just scored another twin reflex that Im dying to use.
Once again thanks for all the replies it has definitely helped.
Actually since the developing time is pretty much set in stone there are actually fewer variables to doing C-41 than with B&W developer. It seems to be forgiving of some drift of the time and temperature but if you can get up the working heat in a tub of water you should have no problems with it. Can't hurt to try if you have some time to play.
I used a 35mm cartridge of the original XP2 film that I had refrigerated for ten years. I had the film developed at Walgreen's and put on a CD - no prints. The entire roll was used at a vintage car show. I have a photo of a 1950's Jaguar race car (almost the entire car) taken from the rear. When I viewed the CD on the computer monitor and zoomed in on the instrument panel I was amazed that the tick marks on the speedometer were clearly visible and the pixels broke down before the grain was objectionable. This chromogenic film should be tried by every photographer at least once. You might be surprised at how good your lenses are.
The whole idea behind chromogenic B&W film is convenience. It's been around for a long time now, but it seems to have taken on a new life with the emergence of digital imaging. By that I mean, you shoot the roll, drop it off at the drugstore, pick it up in an hour. What you get are not quality prints. They are proof prints. But if the drugstore is using a digital or hybrid system, and you can get the pictures already scanned on a CD, that represents a tremendous convenience over getting the conventional B&W developed (either yourself or a service, and it usually takes more than an hour - more like days), then getting or making contact sheets or proof prints, and then scanning. Scanning is tedious, time consuming work. Now, if you're going to be making enlargements the traditional way, and you're not interested in the CD for web display purposes, then the convenience factor of C41 B&W sort of evaporates.
However, that being said, there can be technical reasons for still using films like XP2. The first is the incredible exposure latitude as already mentioned, compared to conventional B&W. This can be extremely useful in "toy" cameras that have no exposure controls, for instance, or in vintage cameras without a meter, or if you have to shoot in various levels of light all on the same roll. The second reason is, as already mentioned before, the actual picture quality. With XP2 and equivalents, you can get a certain smoothness in the picture that can make 35mm look like medium format. I know I may get some argument about that, but it's really that good, when used in the most optimum way possible.
It may not be the traditionalist's choice for B&W, but it's definitely worth trying and experimenting with.