Film stock review: Kodak EASTMAN DOUBLE-X (5222) – 35mm format – by Alexander Laurent

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Any cinephiles reading this have seen Kodak’s DOUBLE-X 5222 shine its magic even if they didn’t know it. It’s the stock that Manhattan, Schindler’s List and Raging Bull were shot on, as well as parts of Casino Royale, Kill Bill, and Momento. When shot properly, it yields fantastic results.

Those familiar with Cinestill’s films may recognize DOUBLE-X as their “BwXX” — they are one and the same. I bulk load Kodak’s motion picture stock, but a review of Double-X can be seen as a simultaneous review of “BwXX”.


A note for the technically inclined: Cinestill’s 50D and 800T offerings are modified Vision3 stocks which have had their anti-halation layer (remjet) removed, creating a unique glow around severe highlights. DOUBLE-X has no anti-halation layer, so Cinestill’s BwXX is identical to the stock straight from Kodak.

A brief history of Kodak EASTMAN DOUBLE-X (5222)

In 1933, Kodak introduced Panatomic-X, a (relatively) slow speed, panchromatic, black and white film. Rated at 40 ASA in 35mm format, Panatomic-X served as Kodak’s first foray into the new world of small format photography.

Keep in mind, Oskar Barnack invented the LEICA (Leitz Camera) only twenty years prior in 1913, and the first production models weren’t released until 1925. 35mm film was still brand new to the world and not readily embraced by professionals.

With the onset of WWII (and right before the United States’ entry into it), Kodak released their Super-XX film; their first “high speed” 35mm film, rated at 200 ASA. Available in rolls and sheets, Super-XX was Kodak’s flagship, high-speed, black and white film, until the release of Tri-X in 1954 (which has remained unchallenged since).

After Tri-X’s release, Super-XX was discontinued in rolls and only offered in sheet form, until it was fully discontinued in 1992. In the 1950s, Kodak’s motion picture department began refining the original formula for Super-XX, eliminating much of the film’s original coarseness in its grain, and in 1959, Kodak Double-X 5222 was born in the iteration we know it today.

My connection with Double-X 5222

I arrived at Double-X after looking for a replacement for Tri-X 400. I will say, there’s no logical reason for replacing Tri-X, it is by most metrics a close-to-perfect black and white film and available across all formats. Being the masochist that I am, I like to change things up frequently and challenge myself with new stocks. Out of all the other black and white stocks I’ve tried, I’ve been happiest with Double-X.


Kodak rates Double-X at EI 250 under daylight (5500K) and EI 200 under tungsten light (3200K). I have been shooting Double-X exclusively for the past five months or so, and in that time I’ve shot it everywhere from EI 200 to EI 1600. I feel confident saying Double-X performs excellently across that entire spectrum, though it certainly shines in the bottom half.

For this article, I’ll be focusing on two groups of negatives; ones shot outdoors at EI 400 and ones shot indoors at EI 1600 (usually in poor lighting).

Double-X 5222’s sharpness

The first thing one notices with Double-X 5222 is its sharpness. This is an incredibly sharp film for professional filmmakers on sets where millions of dollars in production budgets are on the line. It shows.

Your lens selection is, of course, going to have an effect on the image-structure characteristics, but when you nail your focus this film will capture all of it.

It should be noted the work included here was shot on both a Leica M3 with a 5cm f/1.5 Summitar and a Leica R6 with a 60mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit. I mention that because optical formulas and lens coatings have significantly improved over the last 70 years. Some of that is going to be present in the negatives.

Exposing Kodak Double-X 5222

Pushing film in daylight is a bit of an unnecessary practice. Some choose to for the grain, others for the contrast. I pushed Double-X 5222 for the reason I mentioned at the beginning — I was looking for a replacement for Tri-X 400, so the logical place to start was shooting at EI 400.

EI 400 for Double-X is a +2/3 stop push from Kodak’s recommended exposure index. Photographers are afforded a number of luxuries that filmmakers are not, the most noticeable being shutter speed. Filmmakers are usually limited to 1/48 as they are filming at 24fps. That requires slower film speeds (in relation to photographic films) as apertures and ND filters can only compensate so much.

I shoot quite a bit on the street in cities, and your lighting conditions change drastically over the course of a couple of hours. Between direct sunlight, reflected sunlight, shaded streets, and interiors of shops and cafes, you could be looking at upwards of five stops in variance over the course of a day. The extra +2/3 of a stop when pushing the film to EI 400 comes in handy on the bottom end.


Though the film can be pushed, the exposure latitude of Double-X is more limited than its photographic counterparts. One could be off by a stop or two with Tri-X 400 or HP5 PLUS and be fine. A few adjustments in the scan or the darkroom and it’s as though it never happened.

Double-X requires your exposure be as close to spot on as possible.

Underexposure muddles tones a bit and leaves highlights lacking. That being said, it still produces nicely silver- toned images, though they will hang largely in the middle in terms of tonality with little present in the highlights.

Overexposure, on the other hand, is a different story. Double-X does not handle backlighting well. I shot into backlight on both uncoated vintage lenses (5cm f/1.5 Summitar and 9cm f/4 Elmar) and a modern multicoated lens (60mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit) with similar results. Completely blown highlights, blown midtones, and washed out shadows. A significant amount of work needs to be done to negatives in the darkroom or in the scan to produce a usable image in these instances.

Correct exposure yields a wonderful result, though due to the limited exposure latitude you need to keep in mind what your compositions look like in high contrast situations. High contrast can be your friend if used to your advantage, i.e. silhouettes, negative space, etc.

My recommendation would be to shoot Double-X on a cloudy day where your lighting conditions are even and consistent and relatively low contrast. Though this is usually ideal for most film stocks, this is especially true with Double-X. If clouds are not an option (i.e. you live in Los Angeles or Tucson), I would highly recommend investing in a #8 yellow filter and/or an ND2 filter (both -1 stop in variance) to help compensate for potential overexposure.

Shooting Kodak Double-X 5222 at EI 400 and EI 1600

Indoors and at night, however, is where Double-X really shines. If you’re shooting indoors or in a controlled setting, Double-X is your friend. It produces incredibly rich silver tones across the entire gradient, losing nothing from the highlights or shadows (so long as your exposures are as close to accurate as possible).

Double-X produces wonderfully rich blacks, making your shadows strong and your tones fall off nicely. Concert photographers and night-time street shooters have a friend in Double-X. I will mention again, as above, that the latitude on this film is not nearly as forgiving as Tri-X 400 or HP5 PLUS.


Be sure to expose for the highlights and let the shadows fall off where they will. Between my nighttime walks and my documentation of iconography, I have been very pleased with the results Double-X has given me.

I will note, when scanning film I processed at EI 1600, I drastically reduced the contrast. A similar process can be accomplished in the darkroom using a yellow filter when printing. Shooting Double-X at EI 1600 makes your negatives very dense. That being said, they are 100% workable.

Conclusions

Double-X is a professional film made for professional crews on film sets. It is not forgiving and if you are careless or ignorant you will not be pleased with the results. However, if you slow down, take your time, and pay attention, it will produce magnificent results. The result is well worth the patience.

Thanks for reading,

~ Alexander

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5 thoughts on “Film stock review: Kodak EASTMAN DOUBLE-X (5222) – 35mm format – by Alexander Laurent”

  1. Tri-X @ box speed is my go to film for general street shooting, but I have experiment with bwXX. I processed it in D96 and got great results. I shot my images in daylight slightly cloudy with a yellow Y2 filter. The contrast was a little flat but got very good detail in the shadow area. I’m not too crazy about the D96 one step developer because of the unpredictable results I’ve been getting, but will try processing my next roll in Rodinal.

    Reply
    • Hi Ken —

      Sorry just seeing this!

      For the images above I used the following:

      5222 @ 400 ISO
      Ilfosol-3 (1+9) @ 21°C for 8:33

      5222 @ 1600 ISO
      Ilfosol-3 (1+9) @ 21°C for 15:30

      I was developing these as I was shooting while in Spain, so the only chemistry I had access to Ilfosol. When in my own darkroom (for 400 ISO), I develop in Rodinal at 1+25 dilution @ 21°C for 5:45 ~ 5:55. I prefer the way Rodinal renders the grain and tones. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with the Ilfosol. If in a pinch, it’ll work just fine.

      alexander

      Reply

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