I have always been on the fence about Kodak’s T-MAX 400 film. I have been using it on and off for the last ten years now but only had really used it for specific purposes, mainly portraits due to its super sharp rendering and high resolution with very fine grain. T-MAX 400 also has beautiful contrast right off the negative witch is great because I do love contrasty black and white images.
Not so long ago I managed to get hold of a bulk roll of T-MAX 400. For those who don’t know, a bulk roll is an uncut 30m / 100ft roll of film that you load into film canisters by yourself via a daylight loading machine. As you might imagine, buying film this way greatly reduces cost. It was because of this that T-MAX 400 film was the only film I was shooting for a while. I managed to get eighteen rolls of film from the bulk roll and put it all through my Nikon FE and F100 cameras. I have defiantly put the film through its paces, shooting it in many different conditions and many different speeds and I now feel I can give an honest review in case someone else is looking into trying T-MAX 400.
I am now a believer! I love this film stock. It’s not quite as good as T-MAX P3200 (my all-time favorite film) but its definitely up there with Tri-X now. The reason why I don’t think it’s as good is simply down to personal taste. I prefer my work to have grain, I love images that have a charcoal drawing, texture to them and T-MAX 400 is just simply crisp and clean. Also, T-MAX P3200 is a lot more versatile and can be used in many different circumstances and situations. That being said, Tmax 400 will definitely try its best to get you out of a sticky situation.
I began shooting the film at box speed (ISO 400) and developing it as recommended by Kodak: T-MAX 400 @ 400 using T-MAX Developer at 24c for 5:30s. I ALWAYS agitate for 5 secs every 30 secs when developing and the results were as expected… Super sharp, super clean with lots of detail and wonderful contrast. With that, I decided to start experimenting!
I shot the next few rolls at EI 800 and this is where things began to become interesting. I was always under the impression that Kodak T-MAX films were not that great for pushing and pulling compared to other black and white films due to the tabular grain (t-grain) structure but I was wrong. The contrast was the first noticeable thing. With just a +1 stop push, it was greatly increased.
Shadow detail and sharpness slightly decreased but nothing that was really noticeable without zooming in close. Actually I really liked the look. I don’t mind my shadow areas turning pure black. Also at EI 800, the grain becomes more noticeable, and because the film utilises t-grain, it provides a distinct look when compared to say Kodak Tri-X 400 or other black and white films.
I developed T-MAX 400 @ 800 with T-MAX Developer at 24c degrees for 6:30s. This seems to give a nice density to the negative.
I decided to push it +2 stops and shoot a few rolls at EI 1600. Now, I have to say I really like the look of this but I’m sure its not for everyone. I do like high contrast black and white images and shooting it at EI 1600 really does increase the contrast considerably. Most of the shadow areas of the image become pure black and the detail is pretty much nonexistent now.
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What I have noticed is that no matter what speed you shoot it at, it’s very good at retaining details in the highlights. Very good! The grain is greatly increased at EI 1600 but I still really like it, especially in the out of focus areas, and as expected the sharpness is decreased further. I found when shooting at this speed I had to do a lot of sharpening after scanning the negatives.
I developed again in 24c using Kodak T-MAX Developer for 7:30s. I usually just add on an extra minute for every +1 stop. I know its not the correct way of doing it but it seems to work for me.
I did one more test with T-MAX 400 and this actually turned out to be one of my favorite looks yet. I shot it again at box speed but this time I developed it at 28c degrees and I was very surprised with the results. Sharpness and shadow detail were retained while grain and contrast were increased.
I found this to be a great way of keeping all the characteristics of T-MAX film but introducing more grain, which I really love. Obviously the grain isn’t as noticeable as EI 1600 but its defiantly more noticeable that box speed grain.
The development time is greatly reduced when developing at 28c degrees. Only 4 minutes! T-MAX 400 @ 400, 28c T-MAX Developer for a time of 4 mins.
I have heard many people say that this film stock is not that versatile but now I have to completely disagree. It is a highly capable film that gives some very interesting and unique results and looks when playing around with it. I highly recommend people to buy a few rolls and have a play!
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