Finding film part five: All GAS-ed up and time for T-MAX 400
Late March 2017: During my last article I touched on the fact that I was beginning to get stuck in a photographic rut. I wasn’t feeling overly creative (it happens to us all), and it started to affect my motivation to shoot.
Around this time I was given an old lens from my grandfather; he is continuing his photographic clear out and had found a lens at the back of the cupboard he had no idea about. He asked if I wanted it, not realising what it was used for, or whether it was any good. So of course I said yes (any free lens is a good lens in my eyes) and as it turns out it was a Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 for the Contax/Yashica mount! It may not be a Hasselblad, but I will definitely chalk this one up as a win!
Feeling the excitement and buzz that G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) can give you, I found a Contax S2 on eBay at a very good price. The seller had had it up for a long time, and was keen to get rid. It had recently been serviced, looked in good condition, and I took the plunge and made a cheeky low bid, it was accepted! It was not medium format, sure, but shooting a couple of rolls of Poundland’s finest (Agfa Vista Plus 200), at 35mm, I felt rejuvenated again.
The change from black and white to colour, mixed with not shooting in square format, reminded me that it’s OK to mix it up every once in awhile, even if it isn’t my “best work” or what I usually enjoy shooting.
Feeling rejuvenated again, I had a couple of weekends away from photography (you know those weekends, when life seems to throw 100 different jobs at you all at once and they must be done right now? Yeah, those kind of weekends). I was more than ready to head back out again when the shoot week for TMAX Party rolled around. Fortunately for me, this shaped this week’s article, as the decision of “which film next” was made for me. I was definitely excited to shoot T-MAX, as the bold claim of “World’s Sharpest Film” on the box had me intrigued.
As is often the case, the TMAX Party started, and midweek there were many days of glorious sunshine, great light, stunning clouds in the Norfolk sky. However, all of the better weather seems to come when I am at work, unable to head out with the camera. We’ve all been there, right? By the time my day ends, the best light has gone, along with any hope of capturing something great…you know the story. Like most weeks, I have to wait for the weekend and leave it up to chance.
Saturday morning came, the weather was very average. Flat, grey skies, no interesting light, just another British weekend. The weather forecast for the Sunday was predicting rain and dark cloud, so I decided to chance it on Saturday and head to the beach. I was heading to the beach when I passed a woodland I have been to before and noticed a large amount of (necessary) deforestation had taken place (many of the trees in this area were infected and/or dying, with new trees due to be planted soon). This caught my eye, and having not shot in these woods for over a year, I decided to see what else had changed. Beach idea shelved for another week I entered the woods…lots had changed, and there was lots to shoot.
Shoot over I took the film home and headed straight for the darkroom. Kodak T-MAX claims to be the world’s sharpest film, so I decided to use ILFORD DD-X for my developer, just to see whether the film was sharp, without the helping hand of Rodinal, which I know can sharpen some films more than others.
I shot at box speed, so the film was developed at 20c, 1+4 for 8:08 with three inversions every minute. I used the same mixer of Ilfostop as my stop bath (1+19), and Fotospeed FX30 Fixer (1+9), as I have on my previous articles.
The film dried without any curl whatsoever, and scanned like a dream. I only had time to shoot one roll, so have ended up with 11 shots to work with (for some reason my Yashica misfired and I was left with a blank frame, very annoying). As always the only changes made to any of the images are fixing the square crop, straightening/alignment, and removing any major dust added whilst scanning.
Here are some of the results:
I was definitely impressed with the results of the film. The tonality was excellent, with good contrast and minimal grain. I was very surprised with this, as I was expecting much more grain from a 400 speed film.
I am not normally one to record my exposure settings down (I believe it does not matter if the image was shot at f8/f16/f-whatever at 1/xxx – if the photo looks good, who cares what the settings were), but I remember shooting the image above at f5.6.
I had used this as I had focused on the bench, and wanted the depth of field to fall away past the stagnant water. As the crops show, the areas in focus were sharp, very sharp, but impressively, the areas which were supposed to have an out of focus look were still sharp.
Results like these have restored my faith in DD-X as a developer. Every image was impressive, both in tonality/grain and sharpness. At the same time, I am very curious to how T-MAX performs under Rodinal, or even Kodak’s own developers (one for the future when my current developer stock runs out).
If it is this sharp with DD-X, I can only imagine that with Rodinal it is razor sharp. I know there is more to images than sharpness, of course. However, when a company claims that their film is the “World’s Sharpest”, I want to see how accurate that is and push it to the limits!
As I write this, early one Sunday morning, there are blue skies beginning to form (thanks Mr Weatherman), the clouds look great, and there is the distant sound of a lawnmower cutting some grass. There are still 12 (ish) hours of the TMAX Party left, so if you’ll excuse me, I still have some partying to do…
TLDR; if you find yourself stuck in a photographic rut, or are feeling uninspired to shoot, go and shoot the opposite of what you normally do. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, or it pushes you past what you know, or even if it isn’t award winning photography, who cares, it’s all a part of the learning curve, the journey, and most importantly, the fun.
As for T-MAX, is it my new favourite? At the minute it is too early to say, I have only shot a roll, and am yet to see how it works on Rodinal. That being said, if all of the other rolls turn out as well as this one has, it will certainly be my new go to film stock. The tonality is great, the lack of grain at asa400 is impressive, and the sharpness suits my needs.
There was no film curl, it scanned like a dream – what’s not to like?
If you enjoyed reading (I hope you did), then you can catch the four preceding parts of my adventure finding film in 2017 using the links below.
- Finding film part one: experiences so far
- Finding film part two: expanding my horizons with Kodak Tri-X 400 Rodinal and Ilford DD-X
- Finding film part three: Czeching out Fomapan
- Finding film part four: Ilford FP4+ strikes back
Thanks for reading.
~ Tom Rayfield
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