Have you ever wondered if magic is real or not? Well, I can tell you that it is, and somehow, Kodak has managed to harness that magic and stuff it into a small film canister for me to bewilder over. I have absolutely no idea how they did this but I’m so happy they did. Kodak T-MAX P3200, this versatile, high speed, panchromatic black and white film has knocked Tri-X 400 off its pedestal as my all-time favorite film. Which is kind of funny to be honest, because the main reason why I like this film stock so much is that it reminds me of Tri-X 400. I know… that makes no sense right?
Well, let me explain.
Just to let you know, I’m no scientist so this is kind of what I think is going on… TMZ (Kodak T-MAX P3200) is a T-grain emulsion from the T-MAX family of Kodak’s black and white films. The T-grain is a newer emulsion compared to Tri-X’s traditional grain. It has different shaped silver crystals that produce a sharper image with finer grain, especially with the slower speed versions, T-MAX 100 and 400.
It’s kind of an acquired taste, some people love it, some people hate it. Personally I quite like it. But TMZ is different! And although it’s still a T-grain emulsion, it renders images more like Tri-X… classic Tri-X from the 1940s and 50s, rather than the standard Tmax look and that’s why I love it so much.
There are a few things I would like to talk about and I will start with the speed. The box says its a 3200 ISO film but the reality is it’s a nominal 800 ISO film if you are using most black and white developers, and a nominal 1000 ISO if you are using T-MAX developer.
It’s a super versatile film that can be pulled down to EI 400 or pushed up to 6400 but personally I think the sweet spot is metering it at 1600. That’s pretty much how I like it, shot at EI 1600 with me Nikon FE and Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens and developed in T-MAX developer at a 1:4 dilution and developed for 8 minutes at 24c degrees. This combination and processing technique as advised by Kodak will give you a sharp image with an outstanding tonal range and beautiful grain.
Another thing I would like to talk about is the grain…or the amount of grain.
I have seen quite a few videos and read a few posts about people trying out TMZ for the first time and them not really liking the film because they end up with ridiculous amounts of grain. With TMZ the amount of grain will vary depending on what developer you use, what temperature you develop at and your agitation process.
I have seen someone on YouTube try it for the first time and got bad results because he developed it in Rodinal which in turn produced a crazy amount of grain and then he went on to say he didn’t like the film and wouldn’t recommend it to people. Another guy on YouTube developed it in Cinestill Df96 developer and had the same results as Rodinal and also didn’t recommend it to anyone.
What I’m getting at is, if you expose the film correctly and follow Kodak’s recommend developing techniques you will end up with something magic.
A few of the downsides of this film; first, the price. I live in Japan and here it is probably the most expensive black and white film you can buy. A roll of this will cost you ¥1360 each compared to Tri-X 400 at ¥1100 or ILFORD HP5 PLUS at ¥900 per roll. I truly hope that Kodak will release a 100ft bulk roll soon.
Another thing is it is super sensitive to light being such a high-speed film, so it’s best to load it into your camera indoors or in the shade. I once loaded a roll in the bright midday Japanese summer sunshine and light leaked across the first four frames of the roll.
If it’s so expensive why not use Tri-X 400 or HP5 PLUS and push to EI 1600?
You can and many people have done this with great results, myself included. You need to remember when you push film you introduce more contrast and grain. Also the more you push film the more shadow detail you loose. The advantage of using TMZ over pushed Tri-X 400 or HP5 PLUS is you retain lots more shadow detail. Lots more. In shadow areas where it would have normally turned to pure black, TMZ will fill your heart with delight when you see all that detail still there.
So… why do I love it so much?
First and foremost is the look. It is exactly what I want my work to look like. The deep blacks, the punchy highlights, and that stunning tonal range in between. I also love the grain! There is something so romantic about this film grain when developed with the Tmax developer. The grain itself speaks to my artistic side and love affair with charcoal drawings.
Another reason why I love this film so much is its versatility. If you are out on a bright sunny day, you can shoot it at EI 400, or if you are going out for a night shoot, push it to EI 3200 and you can count on it to be consistent while maintaining that same high quality.
Would I recommend this film? Yes, yes, yes!!
Even if you don’t like the look of it I would still recommend you try it at least once. I guarantee it will change your life.
Share your knowledge, story or project
At the heart of EMULSIVE is the concept of helping promote the transfer of knowledge across the film photography community. You can support this goal by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this personal passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and giving as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.