I originally wanted to start this article off with a divisive answer to the question, “What’s the best black and white film in the world?” Unfortunately explaining my way out of it meant that I started rambling, so I decided to lead with this:
Kodak TRI-X 400 is the best black and white film in the world.
dig myself out of a hole explain. It might not have superfine grain and it doesn’t always hold highlights and shadow detail as well as I’d want but what it does do in spades is give me is an unmistakeable look that’s been going for over 60 years. TriX is the film you want if you’re looking for a consistently flexible film that’s reliable in all kinds of conditions. To be fair, if you’re reading this, you’re probably already shooting it. Tri-X forgives all and is a lot of fun in the process.
This Tri-X review is accompanied by an experimentation guide, where I take Tri-X from EI 400 all the way up to EI 12800. Have a read! In addition, you might be interested to see Tri-X pitted against T-MAX, HP5 PLUS and Delta 400 at both EI 12800 and EI 25600 (a 6-stop push).
Let’s take a quick look at what Kodak have to say about both TRI-X 320 and 400:
“KODAK PROFESSIONAL TRI-X 320 and 400 Films are high-speed panchromatic films that are a good choice for photographing dimly lighted subjects or fast action, for photographing subjects that require good depth of field and fast shutter speeds, and for extending the distance range for flash pictures. TRI-X 400 Film (400TX) is available in 120 and 135 sizes and 35 and 70 mm long rolls. You can retouch the 120-size film on the emulsion side. TRI-X 400 Film is recommended for push-processing applications.
TRI-X 320 Films (320TXP) feature excellent tone gradation and brilliant highlights. They are especially well suited to low-flare interior lighting or flash illumination. They are also useful for portraiture with low-contrast backlighting outdoors.
One TRI-X 320 Film (320TXP) is available in 120 and 220 sizes on a 3.9-mil acetate base, the other is available in sheets on a 7-mil ESTAR Thick Base. You can retouch these films on the emulsion or base side.”
|Type||Black and white|
|Exposure latitude||±4 stops|
|Push processing||6 stops
What’s it really like?
It’s very easy to use hyperbole when speaking about film. It’s an evocative medium and everyone has their own opinion. That said, there’s one thing that most film photographers I’ve met all agree on; Kodak’s TRI-X is legendary.
TRI-X captures images in a way that could be described as utilitarian, dirty and sometimes other worldly. It has a feeling that’s altogether unique and being somewhat of a chameleon, it’s a film stock that can be hard to capture with words. Sometimes, the best way is just to see for yourself.
Sharp, super contrasty and shot at EI 6400, a four stop push and one stop more than Kodak tell us it can do but that’s not the end of it. Read on for more.
A step apart
There are many, many wonderful black and white films in existence today, Ilford’s HP5 and FP4, Fuji’s Across 100 and Rollei’s Superpan 200. For me, TRI-X brings something extra to the game; it’s not fuzzy but it’s not super, super sharp. It’s a film that can go from showing amazing shadow detail in one shot, to giving nothing but sweeping, almost obsidian blacks in another (see below)
You can shoot TRI-X 400 with spot-on metering and get an amazingly balanced shot. If that’s not enough and you want something more, then you can push the film and cook it in processing and get super high contrast images that make you feel like you should look at them with eyes the size of dinner plates to catch every little detail.
That said, you don’t always need to push the film in order to get “pushed” results. The shot below was metered at EI 400 but when processing the film, I decided to use much warmer water, as well as using a more reactive concentration for my chemicals (Ilfotec LC29). The results may make the shot look as it was pushed quite a bit:
TRI-X is almost universally loved and has been with us in its 35mm and medium formats for over 60 years. The first TRI-X films actually appeared all the way back in 1940 in sheet film form. That’s 75 years at the time of writing this article. Think about that for a while.
In practice, the film provides a wide and forgiving latitude. It pushes incredibly well, pulls incredibly well and has a grain structure that can vary from fine and sharp, to very soft depending on the processing techniques used.
The bottom line is that it’s very flexible and is easily manipulated during shooting and/or processing to produce the results you want. No wonder it remained the reporter’s film of choice throughout the life of film photography for the mainstream press.
I highly recommend saving this Intelligent Life article for some further reading.
There we have it. It’s hard to hate this film. If I was to try really hard to find a fault, I’d say that it’s almost too easy to use. Slap a roll in your camera, set it to whatever EI you feel like and just shoot. It’ll do all the heavy lifting for you.
For this reason, TRI-X is often overlooked by photographers wanting a “special look” to their film. Sure, there’s Kodak’s Double -X (5222), Polypan F50 and even Ilford’s lovely FP4 for that but we shouldn’t forget that the “look” we’re sometimes overlooking TRI-X in search of, is actually the look created by that very same film in the first place. Make sense? To sum up:
Legendary. Flexible. Versatile. Forgiving. Dirty. Obsidian. Contrasty.
For me, these words and the pictures above sum up Kodak TRI-X 400 completely. There’s nothing more to say than go shoot some.
If you’re looking for more, you can jump over to our Kodak Tri-X 400 experimentation giude, or you can scroll down to review the images featured in this review, as well as Kodak’s technical datasheet. Oh, there’s always our Tri-X field notes here.
Speaking of ridiculously high EI’s, you’ll probably want to try and develop those rolls yourself. You can find development times for Kodak Tri-X 400 from EI 200 to EI 25600 here.
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