How can I identify black and white films from characteristics of the resulting photographs? Is there some visual comparison of different black and white photographic films? I found one for color films, but nothing similar for black and white.

(Background: I saw a software screenshot, where supposedly some analogue film is emulated. The appearance reminds me very much of lost family photos from some decades ago and I want to know what 35 mm film they most likely used back then).

  • 3
    Not really an answer to the main question, but if you can find the negatives of those old family photos the maker and film type is usually printed on the edges. If they were really old and produced in a photo studio they were probably made on medium/large format view cameras using sheet film negatives. If they were really old they may have been made on plates using the photographer's emulsion mixed in his lab.
    – Michael C
    Dec 21, 2016 at 20:16
  • @MichaelClark I have no negatives :( Happy New Year.
    – lejonet
    Dec 31, 2016 at 19:48
  • 1
    Roughly what time period are we talking? Can you narrow it down to a specific decade?
    – Michael C
    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:32
  • @MichaelClark 1940s till early 1960s I would say. Thanks.
    – lejonet
    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:39

5 Answers 5


I'm not sure you could generally deduce the film type from the printed photo.

In some cases an old pro ( if you can find one ) used to developing black and white films and the various processing possible might make a good educated guess, but in practice a printed photo is not going to provide enough data.

In principle the negative might be analyzed forensically to determine grain and chemical characteristics, and possibly some forensic experts can even do this accurately, but from just a printed photo you are unlikely to be able to determine enough. But to tell from a print to how much of the effects are due to the film or the processing or the printing or even the aging of the print, sufficiently well to identify the base film strikes me as a generally impractical or even impossible task.


Film selection is not the only factor in the final character of an image. Used color filters, type of film developer and development time/temperature play a role and so does positive processing and selection of photo paper...

I am not aware of any visual comparison sites like the one in your post, but you can create comparison of your own. Get a copy of Nik Silver Efex and apply film presets on your own images. You may try other film emulation apps to see different renderings of the same film.

You can also narrow down your search by determining the decade and the country.


You can't. You MIGHT be able to glean something by looking at the negative at high magnification, but that's about it. When looking at a printed image, you're also looking at how the enlarging lens reproduced the image on the negative. You're also looking and how the paper and the development chemistry worked to affect the resultant image. To take an extreme example, imagine trying to determine film type by looking at an image printed in a newspaper!

I've printed images from Pan-X and Tri-X B&W film on a variety of papers in my own B&W lab and can only tell them apart under very controlled conditions, (identical image appearance on Ilford vs. Kodak papers) which you are unlikely to have. From experience, I have a good idea of how the two films respond to all ten zones....will you have the response curves in hand for the possible film types you're trying to deduce? Will you also have the original color scene to use as a baseline calibration standard? Will you know if a color filter was used on the camera?

About the best that you may be able to do is get an idea of film speed (ie. finer grain slower speed), but even that will require a good enough enlargement that film grain will appear. If the image is a reproduction, you're unlikely to get even that much.


I am not sure this idea works for printed (scanned) copy of images or not but I do use Matlab for digital image processing to know the properties of each and every region of my image. I have mentioned the link below just explore, you will get the results. Please note below link is not only to know the pixels, just access the link and explore the website for different attributes as well.

Fetch Image Properties using Matlab


How can I identify black and white films from characteristics of the resulting photographs?

You spend a test roll of each kind of film and study the chracteristics of an image scanned with a given scnner model.

After that you may write a program which will deduce the type of film given that it is scanned using this model of scanner and processed in a known way.

  • 1
    Easy to say, but you have to try many combination... like e.g. develop less an overexposed film or developed more the underexposed films (the first case happen more often). For example: It was very common to expose a 400 ISO film in 800 ISO and then adapt the processing. With all that combinations (a 200 ISO can be exposed at 400 or 800 or even 1600 ISOs). This will give every time a different result.
    – рüффп
    Jan 7, 2017 at 20:36
  • "Easy to say" - easy to ask as well. Jan 7, 2017 at 20:50
  • The OP seems to ask for some software where this work has already be done. just answering he can do it himself seems like you do not see how many hours it would take to do this... the image processing in Computers is not just a recipe to use, but it's quite a lot of trial-and-errors to reach the goal.
    – рüффп
    Jan 7, 2017 at 21:00
  • @ruffp no fun allowed. The answer is still valid thu. Jan 7, 2017 at 21:51
  • I do not joke, this was just a comment. Even it's not me who down-vote. And you're right this is a valid answer (didn't flag it, either).
    – рüффп
    Jan 7, 2017 at 22:34

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