I brought my Pentax K1000 (a combined birthday and Christmas gift in 1988) back into service in 2021, after a decades-long hiatus from it, and after 15 or so years of not shooting film at all. I was surprised to find myself every bit as happy to be shooting film as I had been when I was quite a bit younger (though a camera with diopter adjustment is helpful these days!) Seeing things in black and white started to come back to me, and no doubt the familiar old K1000 in my hands was jogging my memory.
I remembered Kodak T-MAX very fondly from my first days shooting 35mm on a proper SLR, developing and printing them in my high school darkroom, and I was excited to revisit this stock. I was also quite looking forward to shooting on some Tri-X 400, which I’d loaded into my Canon EOS Elan to shoot alongside this one. I grew up in Rochester, NY, where Kodak (especially back then) was the only game in town. My memory is that T-MAX was pretty common, but Tri-X was more for the pros and rarer, and more “special”.
Imagine my surprise when, dusting off my old late-80s / early-90s negatives, I found that nearly ALL the images I’d made back then were in fact on Tri-X (it was bulk-loaded and labeled safety film, which I’m certain my teacher had said was T-MAX!) It seemed I’d only put one roll of T-MAX through my O.G. Pentax, with its original kit lens. Now I was even more anxious for the results, especially through a lately acquired 28mm Pentax M-series prime.
Very happy to say that the old Pentax itself is apparently very healthy. I don’t know what I was expecting from this film stock: maybe my memory of it as common gave my subconscious the idea that it was somewhat pedestrian. Now, with my T-MAX 400 scans in hand, I can’t imagine how I could be more pleased with the results.
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I found the contrast in these images, straight from the camera, to be striking. Alongside that, the smoothness across the entire range of midtones is just silky and seductive. Outdoors under sunny skies and grey ones, indoors under tungsten light and fluorescent, I’m super happy with the tonality and handling, and impressed with this stock’s versatility. I can’t wait to try out some 120 in my 645.
My first roll was only 24 exposures, but as I was shooting alongside two other bodies, I moved through it slowly, and it got some miles on it before processing — from the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, to NYC, and finally to Asheville, NC.
What more could I ask from my re-entry into film?! It’s like returning to an old friend, and finding out you didn’t know them at all! A great lesson for me, for this stock and all stocks; a reminder to keep a beginner’s mind.
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