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Repulsion to attraction: my Kodak T-MAX 400 story so farRepulsion to attraction: my Kodak T-MAX 400 story so far

Repulsion to attraction: my Kodak T-MAX 400 story so far

Kodak T-MAX 100 is undoubtedly the film I prefer after Tri-X 400 but despite this T-Grain appreciation, I have never been able to fully appreciate T-MAX 400. Although on paper it could replace Tri-X for my 35mm photography, I still find the old queen unbeatable amongst ISO 400 black and white emulsions.

Tri-X 400 has been my favourite film stock since the beginning of the 1980s, despite the fact that at that time I was constantly in search of no-grain/low-grain films. Nowadays, with the dominance of unnaturally sharp digital images, I have learned to appreciate the grain of classical films even though I am still fascinated by the sharpness delivered by new technology films such as T-MAX 100.

Living two these two passions at the same time is not easy but I have found a place of balance by taking both traditional grain and T-grain emulsion photographs during my portrait sessions.

Wanting to give T-MAX 400 another chance at my leaderboard, I purchased a few rolls and began testing…

 

 

Returning to T-MAX 400…

My first rolls were shot at box speed and processed in Microphen for 9 minutes at 20°C with my usual agitation scheme of two inversions every three minutes. I choose Microphen not for any particular reason other than it is the developer I normally use for high sensitivity films and above all for push processing.

The results were really below my expectations. In truth, I expected negatives similar to T-MAX 100 even if with more grain. I should state that I have always exposed T-MAX 100 at box speed.

After Microphen, I made a second attempt with Rodinal, the developer I have been using for low sensitivity films over the past four years. Again, I stuck with my usual agitation scheme (above) and dilution – 1+25 for 9 minutes at 20°C.

Rodinal delivered more “personality” in my negatives, however, it did not produce the desired effect: making me scream like a teenage girl.

Still having some rolls to use, I paused my shooting and began to browse the net trying to understand how others develop T-MAX 400 and found some nice images with good shades of gray and acceptable details in the blacks.

Some I particularly enjoyed were developed using Kodak HC-110, others with D76, a few with T-MAX developer. It was then I remembered good old D76, a developer I used intensively from the late 1970s up to the 1990s.

…and finally, it was with the help of D76 that I got some nice negatives from T-MAX 400. Although I must say that they were slightly underdeveloped: I will increase the time slightly with the next roll.

Here are a few shots from that roll, exposed at EI 400 and developed in D76 stock for 10 minutes at 20°C with two inversions every three minutes. They were all taken with my old Canon EOS 500N and an EF 50mm f/1.8 STM except the last, which was taken with my EF 40mm f/2.8 STM wide open.

Up to this point, T-MAX 400 was giving me what I felt were conflicting results. I felt puzzled because it wasn’t always giving me the range of grays I had come to expect through my research.

Perhaps this was because of having Tri-X as my reference for ISO 400 film stocks or perhaps I have not yet found the correct development scheme to squeeze the best from the emulsion.

 

 

An unexpected twist

A change in my attitude towards the film came following my daughter’s dance recital, held at a local theatre. I had been informed that I would not be allowed to photograph during the event; so only I took along the gear necessary to capture a couple of outdoor shots: a Canon EOS 33 with EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. I loaded a roll of ILFORD FP4 PLUS and took along an extra roll of T-MAX 400 because you never know, sometimes a high sensitivity film can sometimes save the day!

That’s exactly what happened…

Entering the venue I saw many people with cameras and big lenses. An announcement made it clear that the photography prohibition was limited to the use of flash and not to taking photographs. Well, I pulled out the Canon and quickly took a light reading of the stage.

I would need to expose the film at EI 3200 to obtain a shutter speed high enough to freeze “my ballerina” and remembered having seen several examples of T-MAX 400 pushed 3 stops, so I did! I took only a few frames that I, of course, processed later in Microphen – 15 minutes at 20°C.

I was very pleasantly surprised with the results of which I share two frames below.

The scene was very contrasty and my exposure was based on a spot reading on the pink ballerina outfits. In addition, I was a quite far from the stage and was only able to use my 85mm lens, so the pictures are cropped but I am really happy with the images and feel that they speak for themselves.

 

 

Developing my relationship with T-MAX 400

All this goes to say that at box speed, Kodak T-MAX 400 isn’t really my cup of tea – yet.

I prefer much more “grainy” ISO 400 films such as Tri-X 400, ILFORD HP5 PLUS (especially pushed a bit) and Foma Retropan 320 and my initial dissatisfaction with T-MAX 400 was based on a deception of my own making, I was mistakenly expecting to be able to compare it with Tri-X and expect similar outcome – obviously not the case.

Based on the results you see here – my T-MAX 400 journey, if you will – I will definitely be pushing T-MAX 400 again and very probably, I will try it for some ambient light portraits… maybe even at box speed as well!

As ever, there is a long road ahead, filled with many more experiments, surprises and maybe one day, a place on my favourite film stock leaderboard.

~ Mauro

 

 

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About The Author

Mauro Pastore

It was in 1979 when I fell in love with photography. At the beginning of 1982 I caught the occasion to enter the world of professional photography as an assistant of Franco Bottino. Many years passed away, but I am still passionate as the first day.

14 Comments

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  1. I started with D76 agitated once per minute and now use Pyrocat hdc or hd with tmax 400. Great film; I only use FP4+ when tmax400 is too fast or when I run out of tmax. Works well with xtol as well. It has a vastly different spectral response than tmax 100 and FP4+ spectral response is sorta between the two.

    Reply
    • Mauro Pastore

      Hi Jason,
      I don’t have experience with Pyrocat, but I know well Xtol. Pity that it is no longer available for 1lt. solution.
      I believe I am going to get more information about Pyrocat and, who knows, eventually try it.
      Thanks for your tip!

      Cheers,
      Mauro

      Reply
  2. Mauro Pastore

    Hi Bug,

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Cheers,
    Mauro

    Reply
  3. Mauro Pastore

    Thanks Scott.
    You could “sacrifice” a film by bracketing the same framing then cut the film in more clips and developing each clip with different agitation. There is app called Film Developer Trial that helps to calculate the increasing/decreasing time depending the agitation.

    Reply
  4. analogphotobug

    At least for 120 rolls, T-Max 400 should be exposed at 200. Learned that at a workshop. And yes T-MAX is more contrasty, That’s what I like about it.

    Reply
  5. Thank you for the info, I have done mine the same way for so long, I think more out of habit than anything else (it was how I was taught) so I am going to start playing with this idea!

    Reply
  6. Mauro Pastore

    Hi Rick,

    In my experience t-grain emulsions are undoubtedly more contrasted than classical grain films, this is very probably due to the grain structure. When I need, I regularly push Tri-X and HP5, but this was my first experience with a T-Grain emulsion and for sure I am going soon to try T-Max 400 pushed 1 or 2 stops.
    If we compare low speed t-grain films to classical grain emulsions we can see that t-grains negatives are more contrasted.
    I don’t have any experience with ILFORD DELTA, non for particular reason, just didn’t happened yet and I will do this experience soon because I would like to compare the Delta 100 to the T-Max 100.
    So, for answering you question: yes, T-grain emulsions deliver more contrasted negatives.

    Reply
  7. For what I recall T-Max films need more fixing time than the standard grain films and the fixing bath will exhaust quicker. That drove nuts some of my photographer friends. One of them expressed his frustrations trying to get rid-off the “pinkwish” film base color noticeable mostly on poorly fixed films (after 10 solid minutes of fixing bath and 15 minutes water wash). The solution was to re-fix in fresh fixer (preferable Rapid Fixer), water rinse for 3 to 5 minutes then hypo clear for a minute or so before the final 15 minutes wash; and that did the trick. He also complaint about excessive contrast on the printed image (variable contrast paper) and that was the result of poorly fixed films. Nonetheless, well treated, is a wonderful line of films.
    Thanks for the article and the pics !!

    Reply
    • Mauro Pastore

      Thanks Nissim.

      I personally do not have much problem with the “pinkish” anti-halation layer of the T-Max and, considering the irrisory cost of the fixer, I don’t mind keeping a longer fixing time. Yes, the hypo clearing help to short down the washing time however it is better indicated for fiber-base paper, it does the job with films as well.

      Reply
  8. Nice write up on TMAX 400. I hadn’t expected it to push as well as it did. A couple of years ago, when I was searching for a 400 speed b/w film to bulk load in 35mm format, I briefly considered TMAX 400 but then quickly dismissed it after developing a few rolls. I followed it up with Ilford Delta 400, and did the same thing. I’m wondering if the T grains are better suited for the slower speed films? My 100 speed film of choice is Delta 100. So I’m kind of wondering if it’s them and not you.

    Reply
  9. Mauro Pastore

    That’s correct, the agitation method influences contrast and tonal range of negatives. A less frequent agitation requires increasing the developing time, while continues agitation needs shorter processing time and delivers much contrast by increasing the density of the highlight and light areas of the negatives.
    During the years I have tried different methods of agitation, until I have found the agitation scheme that delivers me the negatives the way I like. My agitation scheme is done by a gentle initial agitation for about 40sec, the 2 gently inversions every 3mins; this give me beautiful tonal range expecially with Rodinal.
    The important thing is the constancy, no matter which is the agitation scheme used. Keeping the same method make us have full control of the outcome.

    Cheers,
    Mauro

    Reply
  10. scottmicciche

    You have an interesting agitation scheme. I would think under agitated for the time but it seems to work and I’ll have to try that sometime.

    Reply
  11. Mauro Pastore

    That’s correct, agitation impact the negatives for contrast and tonal range.
    Less agitation requires increased developing time, more intense agitation needs shorter developing time.
    Contrast is proportional to the intensity of the agitation.
    During the years I have tried different types of agitation, until I have found out the method that deliver me the negatives the way I like.
    So, no matter the way each one process his negatives, but it is important keep the same method in order to get constant results.

    Cheers,
    Mauro

    Reply
  12. I shoot both T-Max and Tri-X 400 frequently, I also develop myself generally with D76. I had a question about your agitation method. Why only 2 inversions every 3 and how does this impact your negatives? I generally agitate once a minute. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

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