Ilford Manual of Photography

The Ilford manual of Photography was the bible for analogue photographers for many years. Here is a review of the book.

This excellent book was long the photographer’s bible. A number of editions were produced. My copy, the edition this review is based on, is the fifth edition published in 1958 – a mere 62 years ago. Obviously, in 1958 all photography was what we now call analogue photography – based on exposing light sensitive chemicals to light, usually silver bromide although other systems did exist. Even so, 30% of this book is still relevant in our digital age.

_1010609There are 31 chapters over 604 pages followed by a further 90 pages of appendices. The first 200 pages, 11 chapters, deal with light and optics and various camera designs. The first 10 chapters are thoroughly relevant to modern digital photography and most of chapter 11 is also relevant as it covers types of shutters and their actions.

Chapters 12 to 17 cover the chemistry and physics of film in more detail than most people can use. This is followed by two chapters on colour theory and the effects of colour on black and white film.

Chapters 19 and 20 deal with the mechanics of actually using a camera to produce a picture. These two chapters are still relevant to digital photography.

Chapters 21 to 31 are about developing and using negatives. Nothing here is even slightly relevant to digital photography but is still interesting to read. Of course, for those of us still using film these chapters are quite useful.

At the back of the book are 20 appendices. These are concerned with tables of technical information and useful formulae. Even for film photographers these appendices are too out of date to be of much use to anyone – but are still interesting to read.

I am not going to review each chapter but I am going to précis the main contents. This book makes some assumptions about the reader. It assumes a good level of literacy and uses longer sentences than are usual today. A second assumption is the the reader has  good intelligence and is reasonably well educated. There is plenty of maths and chemistry with the assumption that the reader will follow the discussion with little explanation.


Chapter 1.

This chapter gives very brief details of what photography is. It occupies six pages so is clearly rather scant.

Chapter 2.

Here we have a similarly scant exposition on what light is. This is worth reading for any photographer – it also is only six pages long.

Chapter 3.

Where does light come from? What are the differences in the light from differing sources? All is made clear.

Chapter 4.

This is the first chapter on optics. Refraction is introduced and the basis of complex lens design explained – this involves algebra! A very useful chapter for any photographer. Only eighteen pages long so no reason not to read it.

Chapter 5.

This chapter of 22 pages is about the speed of a lens. That is mostly (but not entirely) about apertures. There is a good and mathematically rich explanation  of an ƒ/number and the ƒ/number series.

Chapter 6.

Twenty eight pages here with the heading “Image Size, Angle of View, Perspective and Depth”. This chapter basically describes the functions and usages of different focal lengths of lenses. Every photographer would benefit from reading this chapter.

Chapter 7.

This chapter deals with the various aberrations all lenses are prone to.  Modern lenses are designed by computers which allows the lens maker much finer control over the details of lens design – these modern lenses are still subject to all these aberrations but to such a low degree that they are usually not visible. The thirteen pages here are less mathematical than some previous chapters and are well worth reading.

Chapter 8.

The seventeen pages here are about the types of lenses used in photography. This chapter is fairly technical and probably rather outdated. It is still interesting to read, mind.

Chapter 9.

This chapter describes thick and compound lenses and how to calculate the two nodal positions. This is mostly academic for practical photography but does help the photographer to calculate the image nodal point which is essential for taking multi-image panoramas.

Chapter 10.

Here we learn how to choose a lens and, having chosen it, how to test the lens. For practical pictorial photography (i.e. what we amateurs do) this does not really matter at all but for those involved in technical photography it is rather more important.

Chapter 11.

What camera do we buy? There is much less choice today than there used to be. Today, the choice is between a DSLR, a ‘mirrorless’, a digital rangefinder or a compact camera. The main choice we have is sensor size and lens mount. It used to be much more complex. 35mm or roll film or sheet film? Leaf shutter or focal plane shutter? Fixed lens or changeable lens? Reflex or viewfinder? Type of flash synch? Hand held or tripod based? Price?

The rest of this book is entirely film (aka analogue) based but still very interesting.

Chapter 12.

Film is a complex material. This was even true in 1958 when this book was written, before the advent of cheap colour film and T-grain Black and White film. This chapter describes the manufacture of film and photographic paper. Obviously, as major makers of film and paper, Ilford have kept this chapter to generalities – they give away no trade secrets.

Chapter 13.

There are only seven pages to this chapter which deals with the structure of a film image after development.

Chapter 14.

The study of the response of photographic materials to light is termed ‘sensitometry’ which is what this chapter is about. There are fifty six pages here – sensitometry is fundamental to photography including digital photography but this chapter is pretty much dedicated to film.

Chapter 15.

This chapter is about measuring the speed of film. This is an interesting chapter for those of us with a mathematical mind and a technical bent. Even for those of us still using film, this chapter is basically irrelevant as ISO speed measurements have a different technical base to the older ASA speeds even though the speed numbers are the same. Digital speeds are completely different again.

Chapter 16.

This chapter is still relevant even though it is based on black and white film. This is of use to us film users as film has changed little since 1958 but still has information useful to digital photographers.

Chapter 17.

This is about recording colours with black and white film. Again, more interesting than useful.

Chapter 18.

This extends the topic in chapter 17. The parts relating to our visual response to colour is technically incorrect – human biological stady has progressed massively since 1958.

Chapter 19.

Twenty three pages on the use of filters. An interesting read – filters used to be very important in photography.

Chapter 20.

This chapter is basically a very brief introduction to the techniques of composition and lighting. It is worth reading for a complete beginner but is rather basic. There are some example photos to illustrate various lighting techniques which are worth studying.


Chapters 21 to 28.

These deal with processing film and printing the positives.

Chapter 21.

This is about developing the film and goes into quite a bit of theoretical detail over 38 pages. There are brief details of the ingredients of developers followed by a discussion of the various developer types in use in 1958. This is followed by the techniques of actually developing the film and some of the image defects encountered.

Chapter 22.

This deals with fixing and washing the film. This is not as involved as developing and it only occupies eighteen pages.

Chapter 23.

The title of this chapter is ‘Intensification and Reduction’ and is mostly about improving poorly exposed negatives.

Chapter 24.

This is the analogue version of Photoshop! Hand-work on Negatives is about removing small defects from the image before printing. This was always specialist work.

Chapter 25.

Entitled The Darkroom, this chapter is about the design and layout of a darkroom with thoughts on the equipment required.

Chapter 26.

Papers. There are as many types of photographic paper as there are types of film. As well as discussing types of paper, this chapter also mentions development  and – more importantly – washing of the print.

Chapter 27.

This is about printing on the paper. There is discussion on enlargers and light sources together with determining exposure time. When I started out with photography in 1973, I found this chapter very useful.

Chapter 28.

Eight pages on toning prints. This is the act of converting a black and white image to a single coloured image, usually brown and white  – called sepia – but other colours were used as well.

Chapter 29.

Here we learn about presenting the print once we have produced it. Strange to say, in this age of smartphones, pictures used to be framed and hung on walls or placed on mantlepieces. This chapter spends some 24 pages explaining how to do this well, together with pictures of some examples.


Chapter 30.

This is about the faults that are commonly seen in photographs. While much of this chapter is about analogue photography I found it very interesting to read.


Chapter 31.

This chapter was already archaic when this book was written in 1958 – making lantern slides. By 1958 it had become normal to use slide film which came back from Kodak mounted in frames ready for projection.


There are twenty appendices over 79 pages. The information in these pages would have been very useful back in the day but 62 years later it is all horribly outdated and irrelevant.

  1. Recommended meter settings for Ilford films and plates
  2. Ilford films and plates suggested for different subjects
  3. Daylight exposure guide for Ilford films
  4. Ilford world-wide daylight exposure tables
  5. Exposure table for interior photography by daylight
  6. Flash exposure guide numbers for Ilford films
  7. Photoflood exposure guide for Ilford films
  8. Exposure tables for artificial light
  9. Exposure tables for copying
  10. Filter factors for Ilford films and plates
  11. Recommended development times for Ilford films and plates
  12. Useful formulae
  13. Reversal processing of Ilford roll and 35 mm films
  14. Physical development for fine grain
  15. Weights and measures
  16. Logarithms
  17. Trigonometrical ratios
  18. The pH scale
  19. Some outstanding dates and names in the early history of photography
  20. British Standards on photography.

Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

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