Finding film part two: expanding my horizons with Kodak Tri-X 400, Rodinal and Ilford DD-X – Tom Rayfield
Welcome to part two of my journey with film in 2017. As you read in part one, I’ll be using this series to share my experiences throughout 2017 with different films and developers – all new to me – along with what I learn along the way. For this, part two, I’ll be discussing my experiences with Kodak Tri-X 400 in medium format using both Rodinal and Ilford DD-X as my developers of choice.
Here we go.
Expanding my horizons
Having shot nothing but Ilford FP4+ up to this moment, I decided to choose something different (not made by Ilford!) for my next couple of rolls.
I had heard a lot of positive things about Kodak’s Tri-X 400; and it seems to be a staple of black and white film photography. In fact, there are many shots I have admired in the past taken with it.
So, simply put, Tri-X had to be my choice of film to begin expanding my horizons. The reputation alone was the big draw.
I wanted to do something fancy for my first development article, so I headed to London to meet a local photographer and friend of mine for a wander, chat and the chance to shoot together. The British weather didn’t disappoint us; grey clouds, overcast, little light and the odd rainy shower – brilliant.
Despite the bad weather, I managed to shoot a couple of rolls over the day. Here are the results.
Both rolls of Tri-X were shot at box speed (ISO 400) in the Yashica Mat-124G I mentioned in part one. I decided to develop my first film in Rodinal (1+50) for 13 minutes at 20c. My second film was developed on the same day (in the same conditions), using Ilford DD-X (1+9) for 12 minutes at 20c.
Both films were agitated for 3 inversions every minute. I decided upon the combinations of developer/water as the development times were similar, and I thought it would possibly make the playing field a little more level.
For those that want to get super technical, I used Ilfostop as my stop bath (1+19), and Fotospeed FX30 Fixer (1+9) on both rolls of film.
During the development process I noticed how much thicker and “durable” Tri-X seemed compared to the Ilford FP4+ I’d been using up to that point. I found it slightly easier to get on the spiral – only marginally, though. So far, so good.
Development went fine with both developers (although the Rodinal did produce a darker purple colour when the developer was discarded.Having not used Tri-X before this left me a little alarmed.
The only negative (pardon the pun) thing I can say about the Tri-X experience was with film curl and scanning. Previously, in my experience, Ilford film NEVER curled whilst drying. Yet even with the weighted clips, the Tri-X curled, and curled, and curled.
Still, 24 hours under some heavy books soon fixed this.
I am hoping this test was on an off-day for my scanner – it was really struggling to differentiate between the different frames on both rolls of film. Despite my best efforts, and trying scanning on both sides, the scanner said no. So unfortunately all 24 shots had to be scanned individually for the scanner to play ball.
However, I did get them all scanned, and there was no weird cropping/miss-framing when scanned, it was just a major pain in the backside, compared to my normal workflow with Ilford. If anyone has any tips on scanning Tri-X on an Epson V series scanner, I would love to hear them!
My results – Kodak Tri-X 400 / Rodinal 1+50 / 20c
Here are a couple of shots from the Rodinal roll of Kodak Tri-X. The only changes made to any of the images are fixing the square crop, straightening/alignment, and removing any dust added whilst scanning.
I am very pleased with the tonality on the film, there is a good balance of saturated blacks and the whites have a nice tone that is not overpowering. The mid grey is not too muddy, and the amount of noise is quite low (I was expecting it to be higher given the film speed rating).
The main advantage of using Rodinal that I can see is the sharpness, as the images (and 100% crop below), demonstrate. I was blown away by the sharpness of the image (I realise sharpness isn’t everything, but sometimes it helps) and am already looking forward to shooting the next roll if Rodinal continues this way.
My results – Kodak Tri-X 400 / DD-X 1+9 / 20c
I did however, notice a difference on the DD-X developed roll of Tri-X. Despite the similar conditions, I was not as blown away with the quality of the second roll. The greys were slightly muddy, the film lacked contrast (on all 12 shots), and the results were noticeably different from the Rodinal roll.
Up close, the sharpness found on the previous shots has gone, with the crisp edges noticeably lacking this time around. That said, it may be an off roll, or maybe DD-X is better suited to other film stocks, maybe it is me, either way I was less impressed this time around.
So, what have I learnt so far? Well, I really love Rodinal as a developer, great first impression. DD-X is OK, and that was how I felt about Ilfosol 3. I am hoping DD-X may turn out to be better with other film.
As for Tri-X, I am generally pleased overall with the results. For me, the main advantages were:
- Easier experience in the darkroom
- Good tonality (on the whole)
- Lower than expected levels of grain.
However, the film curl and scanning experience were a disadvantage, and whilst this has not put me off using Tri-X again. I am prepared to give it another chance, as I think I could grow to like it.
See you for part three soon!
~ Tom Rayfield
DISCLAIMER: as mentioned in my last article, this is about my journey with film and discovering the different types of medium format black and white film on the market. You may find totally different results when using the films. I am not looking to create some sort of film showdown with this series. Whilst I have tried to keep the development conditions as close as possible, but by no means is this a scientific experiment. At the same time I am aware that there are probably better ways of developing the film, better developer/water combinations and different agitation methods that can be used. I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert in the field, I am just looking to share my own experiences in case it is of use to someone out there.
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