Ilford Delta 3200 – a challenge accepted

The first and last time I have shot this type of film was in 2002; the format was 8×11 (9.2mm), cut from 35mm for my Minox cameras. Not bad results, perhaps I was wrong (just a tad) regarding the exposure. This here is the only frame I kept, shot with this film, Minox format. As you can see, it is heavily damaged by countless copies of the original. But it does show the capabilities of the film, even in such tiny format, which is the 8×11 (9.2mm).

Minox IIIs, Ilford Delta 3200 @ 1600 – Watford Herts 2002

So, other than this roll of Minox film, my experience with Ilford Delta 3200 is zero. Not for lack of wanting, but somehow it happened. In the last 25 yrs I went through really a large number of 400 ASA rolls, some good number of 800 and the highest I ever used were 2 rolls of Natura 1600 and one of Neopan 1600 Super Presto. Other than that, I always used films slower or equal to 400, pushing it at times, but nothing dramatic.

So when my daughter, herself a budding young film photographer, asked me to run a roll of this 3200 at some point during our coming holiday, I said “well, yeah, but you know…”. Then I thought why not, and I warmed to the idea. Mind you, my night walks for photography are almost gone now, and we were going in the mountains, weather forecast said hard sun, harsh shadows, etc. Anyways, without much ado, I took with me a fresh roll and a Nikon FM3A and away we went. Anything to keep my daughter happy (and quiet).

I set the ISO at 1600, which I believe is a good compromise (actually, I learned that the Delta 3200 is not really 3200, rather a 1600 speed is much closer to the real sensitivity). I shot the film in 2 days, trying to use the available light by dark, but also had a number of shots in the daylight. The camera took all my efforts really nice, being set on automatic.

I am not an automatic setting shooter, but I thought Nikon is better than my eyes, which is so true. Some of the photographs were shot in plain sun, others with perhaps some more shadow, while some after dark, well after dark. The results could’ve ben better? Of course, very much so. Don’t blame the film, it’s me who stopped short in getting the best of this beautiful film. For what is worth, do enjoy !

Plain daylight, harsh sun.

In the shade of the forest, but still a lot of light going on.

It’s 22.30 pm, making use of the available wall lamps of this restaurant still open.

Low light – wooden sculpture in a local museum.

A bit more light, given the window above. Around 18.00 pm, same museum.

Next day, same hard sun over the beautiful mountains of my province.

Old and derelict house, of the mountain type, traditional Bukovina style.

These orbs are not aliens visiting me. I tripped the shutter by mistake, pointing at some lights in the night.

Same place as in photo #2, this time in the dark of the night (ok, and some lamps around)

Entrance of the restaurant, well after midnight.

A view of the joisting and carpentry that went into the hotel where we stayed.

Side stairs of the hotel (it’s actually a large guest house). This is well after sunset.

This is a mock watermill wheel. The slow motion and the dripping water are almost hypnotic.

Lower part of the above contraption.

Have I learned anything? Yes, I did: listen to your daughter. And of course, some other stuff, such as keep a roll of 3200 in your bag. It will do wonders to your project, any project. If in doubt, shoot some at 1600 and you’re good. Indoors, no flash, low light sort of situation? Let the camera rip at 3200 or 1600, and you can go lower than that, at 800 if need be.

Of course, there is some compromising to do: if you do not like getting burned, do not sit near the fire. If grain is something you can’t stand, this film is probably something you should avoid. Mind, not everything comes out grainy, but grain with this type of film is something one should expect and perhaps even embrace. It is extremely liberating to shoot a film which yields grain in a natural way. I really like the tones, I do enjoy the blacks and I fell in love with a film that is extremely forgiving and rewarding. I have processed this roll in Rodinal 1+25, for 9 minutes, first 30 secs slow inversions, then 2 inversions every minute and a half. Scanned on Plustek film scanner.

And to think that I still have some 4 rolls waiting for me on the top shelf of my fridge.


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15 thoughts on “Ilford Delta 3200 – a challenge accepted”

  1. Nice work and an interesting experiment. You have achieved better results with Ilford 3200 than I ever have. Although I believe most of my time with it has been rating it at 3200. Not a success in my experience. Muddy and lacked detail. I have since learned what you mentioned which is 3200 is not really the right speed for this film.
    I once did a comparison with Ilford HP5 at 1600 and Delta 3200 at 1600 and personally I liked the look and grain of HP5 more.
    And HP5 is substantially cheaper per roll. Now I keep a roll of either HP5 or Tri-X, at 1600, in my 35mm cameras for indoor and low light shots.
    The best takeaway from this article is you got to spend some quality bonding time with your daughter.

    1. That is indeed the best takeaway, Michael; doing whatever while she is still with us. In a few years she will head to college, and although it is a great time in her life (and mine), I will so miss our adventures.

      Re this film, you are right about the HP5 film, although I never pushed it so high as you did. Perhaps I will try that, sounds like a good challenge.

      Thank you for your comment !

      1. I agree with Michael having completed my first roll of Delta 3200 rated at 3200 just a few weeks ago. I couldn’t find any noticeable advantage over HP5+ rated at 3200. HP5+ pushed 3 stops is of course super contrasty and lacking shadow detail, but Delta 3200 wasn’t better in these very aspects. And In terms of grain, well, no advantage for Delta 3200 in my very limited testing.
        HP5+ rated at 1600 looks fantastic to my eyes. I have developed it with Jobo Alpha so far but just ordered Adonal to have a grain party with the next roll.

  2. I damned near wept when Fuji discontinued Neopan 1600. It’s my favourite 35mm film speed. I shot so much with it back in the day. Parties, conferences, fairgrounds… Lean into the grain, stick a really fast lens in front of it and shoot wide open in the dark. One shot on the contact sheet works? Great! Two shots? Wow! Feels like you’re a real photographer.

    1. Neopen 1600…that is a loss for anyone who used to shoot film. Apx 25, Kodak TechPan, the so-easy-to-find Kodachrom, and so forth. Yeah, good times, excellent films, glad I lived in those days 🙂

      So, yes, I know exactly what you mean !!

      Thank you, Piers!

  3. Very nice images and writing, Julian – especially like your nighttime available light photos!
    I realize I’ve been limiting myself unnecessarily.

    1. Gary, thank you, really appreciated! Glad you liked them photographs 🙂

      Limiting yourself…I guess you speak of not shooting this film? If so, you should try the experience, I know I had lots of fun.

  4. You have some great shots here! Thanks for the tips you shared. Two or three years ago, when Casual Photophile still had their film club (a monthly paid subscription with a different roll of film each month), I received a roll of this, and I have been saving it. Inspired by you, I want to take it and use it immediately, and buy some more. Thanks for your images and article!

  5. Yes, great shots and I’m surprised how subdued the grain is particularly developed in Rodinal – you actually need to look for it in the sky and other flat bright areas. I’ve always tended to shoot 100asa film or slower, being a fan of negative space, but sometimes more speed is needed. Maybe I’ll stretch to 400asa sometime and move on cautiously from there!

  6. I have one roll of Delta 3200 left. It spent the summer under the passenger seat of my car. I’m still likely to shoot it at 3200, then experiment with some of the more recent machine learning enhancement tools available to see if I can get a more usable set of images. I don’t want to smooth over the grain entirely, but I’m curious if i can pull this film out of obsolescence. That’s my position on films like this, these days. On the one hand, it opens the door to lower light, higher speed action situations, as it was intended for, but I’ve never really liked the results, so that novelty alone isn’t enough for me to pick up a film body for the day to use with it. That said, only one roll left, so might as well make the best of it!

  7. Tristan Colgate-McFarlane

    Every roll of Delta3200 I’ve ever shot has come out thin. I did one recently, shot at 1600, and dev’d in 510 pyro. The leader looks fine, but the actual frames are thin again. I’ve not tried printing from them yet, so maybe they wont be too bad, but it’s discouraging.

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