Film review: The magic of TMZ – Kodak T-MAX P3200

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.

~ Kurt

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Kurt Gledhill
Kurt Gledhillhttp://kkgledhill.myportfolio.com
I’m an Englishman living in Okayama, Japan. I have been making photographs for about 12 years now and moved to analog only about 5 years ago. I mainly shoot black and white film.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. I used the original TMax P3200 in My canon A1 at ISO12800!! and developed in T-Max developer I thought the results were great.I’ll try and post them. Likely on Flickr. and pop back here when done with link (if allowed). Never tried this before.

  2. Great Read! I also love this film stock but I almost exclusively shoot it pushed to 6400 to shoot night photography without a tripod!

    • Hi Maxime, To be honest, I still haven’t shot it at that speed yet, I haven’t been in any situation thats needed it. I would definitely like to try it though.

  3. I like the idea of trying to shoot some Tmax 3200 since I often take shots in circumstances that could benefit from the broad tonal range of this film, such as my kids’ band and chorus concerts and indoor sports events. However, I develop at home with HC-110 and Rodinal and don’t think that adding the Tmax developer to the mix would be worth it as I wouldn’t be shooting enough Tmax 3200 to use the developer before it’s shelf life is gone past. Seems like an expensive proposition. I have gotten good results with Tmax 100 and 400 in HC-110 before (dilution B) and I think I’ll just keep pushing HP5 to 1600.

  4. Great inspirational article. I’m one of those guys who shot 1 roll and didn’t like it. You have certainly convinced me to shoot some more of it and develop with TMax developer. Thanks.

    • You should definitely give it another go. I actually believe my negatives are a lot sharper than the scans here. I’m using a very old Epson flatbed with slight module on the glass. If I used a better scanner or made a darkroom print the images would look even better.

    • Yeah you should really give it another go! Actually my negatives are a lot sharper than these scans. My scanner is very old with fungus growing on the inside of the glass. If you use a good scanner or digital camera or even darkroom print. These images will look a lot better!

  5. I didn’t realise that there were actually P3200 reviews out there that discouraged its use. Grain comes with the high speed film territory and I think it must largely “old fashioned” photographers who so vehemently attempt to minimize grain in their work. In my view, we now have digital if your goal is grainless images but film is still around and can be used as a foil to that. Diversity is good though.

    At any rate, I’m really pleased to hear you find magic in every box of P3200. I do too! And that’s an interesting observation that P3200’s T-grain has a Tri-X look to it. I can see what you’re saying but never verbalized this previously. I also enjoy the film’s versatility. Providing you can get down with the grain, I’ve considered not even shooting slower film at all and just shooting everything on P3200 and/or Delta 3200, day or night.

    Nice write-up with fun examples. Happy shooting!

  6. I didn’t realise that there were actually P3200 reviews out there that discouraged its use. Grain comes with the high speed film territory and I think it must largely “old fashioned” photographers who so vehemently attempt to minimize grain in their work. In my view, we now have digital if your goal is grainless images but film is still around and can be used as a foil to that. Diversity is good though.

    At any rate, I’m really pleased to hear you find magic in every box of P3200. I do too! And that’s an interesting observation that P3200’s T-grain has a Tri-X look to it. I can see what you’re saying but never verbalized this previously. I also enjoy the film’s versatility. Providing you can get down with the grain, I’ve considered not even shooting slower film at all and just shooting everything on P3200 and/or Delta 3200, day or night.

    Nice write-up with fun examples. Happy shooting!

    • Hi Johnny, Actually to be truthful some reviews don’t discourage people from using it but the reviewer clearly states they most likely won’t be using it again. Ted Forbes just to name drop one of them.
      I shoot P3200 as much as I can but like I say its very expensive here so sometimes I have to choose the cheaper option.
      I have just gone through a bulk roll of TMY400 and hopefully have a full review coming soon. I was surprised (in a good way) with the results from that!

  7. Interesting. I tried 1 roll a few years ago, processed in HC-110 dilution H, and was less than impressed with the results. I use Xtol primarily now at 1+2 and push Tri-X to 3200 without the grain I got with the P3200. I have to wonder if part of my issues with P3200, and your successes, have more to do with the developers used than anything else? I wouldn’t imagine trying any T-grain films in Rodinal.

    • Hi Richard, Tmax developer is my favorite developer and I use it for all my black and white film development. I have only ever used Tmax dev with P3200 but judging by the results I have seen other people get on YouTube I would imagine it is very sensitive to the type of dev used.

  8. Thanks for the review. I wa starting few times tmax3200 but it was always “too much” although I like dirty look and like grain. Even when I was developing it in t-grain developer (tetenal ultrafin s) So I was using it only in medium format. Now I want to try again. One more chance in Kodak t-max developer 🙂

  9. Thanks for the review. I wa starting few times tmax3200 but it was always “too much” although I like dirty look and like grain. Even when I was developing it in t-grain developer (tetenal ultrafin s) So I was using it only in medium format. Now I want to try again. One more chance in Kodak t-max developer 🙂

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