Black and white film high EI shootout part 2: Kodak Tri-X 400, T-MAX 400 and Ilford HP5+, Delta 400 at EI 25600
The high EI shootout is back for part two: the pushening.
Poorly executed references to the terrible sequel that was Highlander 2 aside, I’m hoping that you’ll find this extension of part one just as informative as the first and you never know, there may be another part covering EI51200 at some point in the future…maybe.
For those of you coming fresh from part one, you might remember my little reference to making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Hopefully, the images below will provide better examples of what I was trying to say.
As a quick aside, there was some great discussion following the release of part one…and some not so great. The not so great end of things booked down to, “What’s the point of this?”, “It’s not as if you’d actually shoot at these speeds in real life”, and “This all seem like a waste of perfectly good film”.
My rebuttal: stop being so literal about everything. This little experiment is all in the interest of the “what if” and not meant for everyone, every day. It may come as a surprise that there may be times when one may decide to shoot at these insane EIs for the sake of artistic intent, or pure madness. Please let it rest at that.
Let’s see what happens when we shoot the best selling black and white ISO400 films today at EI25600 (a six stop push). It’s as simple as that.
We all know that black and white film has bags of latitude. The oft cited Ansel Adams spoke about his eleven zones of exposure detail, a working knowledge of which, could be used to effectively capture scenes of varying contrast and lighting conditions. I’m a proponent of both his exposure and development system and will generally use N+/-2 for my day to day development in order to bring out detail, increase, or decrease contrast.
If we assume that we can use N+/- to perform expansion/contraction development (push/pull) up to five stops, as per part one, then why not see how much further we could go?
One final note before moving on. Negatives produced by the tests both here and in part one are incredibly thin. Whilst I’ve yet to move into the darkroom proper, I think I can safely say that there’s little chance of making decent prints from them in the traditional sense.
As with part one, the four films shot were Kodak’s Tri-X 400 and T-MAX 400; and Ilford’s HP5+ and Delta 400 Professional. All four films were fresh as a newborn lamb, cold stored when purchased and given several hours to thaw before use. They were all shot on the same camera, lens and film back combination; and metered with the same light meter (as per part one).
Each shot was taken at between f/8 and f/22 and as before, I tried as much as possible to normalise at around f/8 at 1/1000 sec.
With the exeption of the final rolls of Delta and T-MAX at EI25600, all of the films were shot under similar dull, boring, natural winter light. I used the same shoot/develop system as with the first test (shot within 60 minutes and developed within 24 hours).
The development scheme was also the same: HC-110 1+79 at 23c using a continuous first minute plus 5 seconds each minute thereafter agitation scheme.
I had already worked out calculations for 5-stop pushes for each of the films but the 6-stop push needed some extra work. For each 5-stop development time, I added approximately 19% more.
Here are the times I used for these 6-stop / N+6 pushes:
- Kodak Tri-X 400: 23m 45s
- Kodak T-MAX 400: 29m 15s
- Ilford Delta 400 Professional: 47m 00s
- Ilford HP5+: 25m 30s
The results: EI25600
Kodak Tri-X 400 at EI25600
Chronologically, this was the second roll to be shot. I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed here. There was only one shot which came out as I expected it to (the first image below). Compared to HP5+, it’s a little flat but I think that this has much more to do with the light, than anything else.
If you look at the first shot in this set, it’s plain to see that in nice, open light, we still have a full range of tones and detail from the windows of the high rise in the background, the balcony guard rails and air conditioning units in the middle distance, and the wheels of the flatbed truck in the foreground.
I wasn’t expecting magic but overall, I’m happy with this one shot.
Ilford HP5+ at EI25600
HP5+ blew me away. Shooting this roll was a complete accident, as I thought I had loaded Tri-X 400 for an extension of the original Tri-X 800-12800 article. After developing the roll, scanning it and posting a few shots, it was feedback from this roll which started the ball rolling for the High EI Shootout as it is here now, so I guess I should thank my absent-mindedness.
What surprised me most was the shadow detail and clarity of the inside of the market stalls to the right of the second frame below. Absolutely not what I was expecting at all.
Kodak T-MAX 400 at EI25600
I’m sorry, TMAX. Can we be friends again? I nearly, very nearly didn’t shoot T-MAX 400 at EI25600 purely because of its utterly terrible performance in part one. I now realise that it was the photographer and light, not the film.
Part of this roll and much of the Ilford Delta 400 Pro roll happened to be shot under some unexpectedly wonderful natural light.
The results both indoors and outside under bright sun very nice in their own way but stand orders of magnitude apart…just look at them!
Ilford Delta 400 Professional
Well…won’t you just look at this. Undoubtedly a huge difference compared to everything here today and part one (with the exception of the final T-MAX 400 at EI25600.
When I first saw the negatives, I was hopeful. When I finally got my scans, I was gobsmacked. Sure, the shots taken indoors are quite similar to those of the T-MAX 400 above but when taken outside, they’re slightly more contrasty and whilst not particularly fine grained (which was never going to be the case), the character of the film changes somewhat.
To my eye, we’ve gone from a rather clean and occasionally clinical film to one which looks more like pushed and over developed HP5+ or Tri-X 400.
I love it.
Compare the final five shots with the rest in this post and the one which preceded it. I think my comment about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is best demonstrated here.
I’m not going to summarise winners and losers here, as I don’t think it’s relevant. You can take away what you want from the images above, try it for yourself and make up your own mind. There’s certainly room for more testing here, whether it’s doing it all again but using Ilford LC-29 instead for a fair comparison, or even using DD-X as a better suited high-speed developer. I know that on a personal level I want to see how far I can go. Both 50K or 100K pushes are on my mind, although I won’t be using T-MAX 400 or Delta 400 Pro as the development times already border on the ridiculous.
These films – no matter your preference – are incredible. Sure, the results might be grainier than the norm and a little flat in places but considering that most of the frames shown here were shot under drab winter light, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even shot under poor light, there’s still a lot to be said for the quality of the results as far as tonal range and shadow detail are concerned. Take a look again at the Kodak Tri-X 400 and Ilford HP5+ shots to confirm for yourself.
When I first pushed Tri-X 400 to EI12800, it was on a whim. I didn’t expect much and wasn’t overwhelmed by the results. They were adequate and interesting purely because of the push involved. After accidentally taking the roll of Ilford HP5+ (shown here) to EI25600, my interest was piqued once more. If I had just seen the images posted online by someone else, I would have been hard pressed to guess how the roll was shot, let alone that it was a six stop push.
The last two rolls above is where things got really interesting for me. The unexpected sun help me reaffirm my faith in not only pushing film but also pushing to these kinds of extremes. Importantly, it reaffirmed my thinking that film should not only be pushed to attain smaller apertures and faster shutter speeds in poor light, but also for the artistic effect – in bright sunlight. It’s something that I did quite a bit of in 2015 and seeing these results has made me want to do more, even when the idea seems ridiculous.
Anyone up for some summer HP5+ at EI3200, f/22 and 1/2000 sec?
Great. I’ll see you on the streets.
Bonus (shadow) self portrait
I made a quip and it would be rude not to deliver.