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T-MAX 400, Tri-X, and P3200TMZ comparison

Kodak released an updated version of T-MAX 400 (400-2TMY) a couple years ago in late 2007. Certain improvements were made, including increasing the sharpness of the film, reducing grain, and removing the UV blocking layer in sheet format, a feature aimed alternative process printers. Personally, I think it’s amazing that a new film, much less a new B&W film was introduced at this time. Despite my excitement about this, I’d never shot any of the new film, from here on out referred to as TMY-2. This is partially due to the fact that my 400 speed film of choice is Tri-X (400TX).

To be honest, I’d never shot the original T-MAX 400 either. One only has to Google “tmax trix” to find plenty of people listing the differences of the two films. I didn’t believe most of them when I started shooting B&W about 4 years ago, and I don’t believe them now. However, I did succumb to the long history of Tri-X and the belief that it was more flexible and slightly faster than T-MAX 400. As a result, I never got around to trying out T-MAX 400, though I do use T-MAX 3200 (P3200TMZ) quite a bit.

Needless to say, I finally got around to testing these films. I also decided to test P3200TMZ and Delta 3200 as well. All films were fresh. Other parts of these tests focus on pushability and stand development. For now we will just focus on the differences between TMY, TX, and TMZ.

Testing procedure

TMY and TX were exposed at 400, while the TMZ was exposed at 800. Kodak’s tech pubs say that TMZ is really ISO 800-1000. I used an incident meter to get the initial reading.

The scene was setup and illuminated with one movie-style light set at 3200 K. The kitchen lights were also on, providing a small fill for the shadows. The scene consisted of a Kodak gray scale chart, a Kodak color chart, a Color Checker Passport, an empty TMZ box, a red beer bottle, and a couple of other trinkets. The glass owl on the right is made out of uranium glass and has a distinctive green color. The figure on top of the TMZ box is red, while the 3-eyed figure is baby blue with a pink mouth.

The scene was shot on a tripod mounted Leica M with a 50 ASPH Summilux. The 400 speed films were shot at f/4 while the TMZ was shot at f/8. Focus was on the Color Checker.

The tests were all shot at the same time and developed similarly. The developer used was XTOL 1:1. The TMY and TX were done at 72°, while the TMZ was done at 75°. I used the times right out of the Kodak tech pubs. My agitation technique is pretty consistent. I agitate for the first 10 seconds and then 5 inversions every 30 seconds for the duration of the time.

All frames were scanned on a Nikon Coolscan V with Vuescan at 4000 dpi, using the methods outlined here. In short, they were scanned flat and adjusted in Photoshop. Scans were not sharpened.

Prints were also printed in the darkroom on a Beseler 23CII with condensor head. All prints were made on 8x10 Ilford Multigrade RC paper at grade 2 and developed in fresh Ilford Multigrade developer. The full frame prints were made with a Rodenstock 50mm f/2.8 APO Rodagon N at f/6.7, while the crop prints were made with a Rodenstock 80mm f/4 APO Rodagon N at f/8. The crop prints were small sections of prints that would be roughly 26 inches by 19 inches.

Initial comments

I’ve always wished that TX was a bit grainier, since this is part of its heritage, but it’s never been that grainy for me. This might be due to my choice of developer (XTOL 1:1). Maybe Rodinal would be better. This was part of my mindset about never using TMY; I always wanted just a bit more bite than TX was giving me, so why switch to something that has even finer grain? Investigating grain properties of these films was part of my motivation for doing this test.

I must state a caveat about this test. It was only shot in tungsten lighting and developed in XTOL 1:1. Your findings might be completely different depending on the situations you shoot in, how you meter, how you develop, and what you do post developing.

Scanning

Clicking on any of the images takes you to the full 5600 x 3700 jpg scan.

400-2TMY scan

400-2TMY scan

tx scan

400TX scan

P3200TMZ scan

P3200TMZ scan

400-2TMY scan crop

400-2TMY crop

400tx scan crop

400TX crop

P3200TMZ scan crop

P3200TMZ crop

Comments on the scans

Grain wise, the TMY and TX scans look very similar to my eye. In fact, I might even like the character of the TMY grain more. The TX grain is slightly more non-uniform in areas of continuous tone. TMY looks grainier to me in the darker tones (to the left of the bottle and the bottle), while TX looks grainier in the lighter tones (the back wall). They meet in the middle, as seen on the right side of the Kodak gray scale card. This could be due to post processing, scanning, or any other number of factors. Regardless, if you scan like I do, your results might be similar.

The TMZ is noticeably grainier.

As far as adjusting the scans for tonality and contrast, I didn’t make an extreme effort to keep them looking the same. Slight adjustments with the curves can change the tonal distribution quite a bit, especially in the shadows. Don’t read too much into specific tonal distributions between the films. One must really work with the images themselves. To this extent, the unadjusted scans (as jpegs) are available here: 400-2TMY, 400TX, and P3200TMZ. I feel as if the grade 2 darkroom prints avoid some of this issue.

There was plenty of headroom on the scans above the captured highlights. Even on shots that were overexposed (not shown here) and/or overdeveloped had some recorded density in the highlights—they weren’t blown out, including the specular highlights on the bottle and the toaster. This only makes sense, as the density of highlights of a properly developed B&W negative is much lower than limits of the Coolscan. Of course, it is possible to get densities that are unscannable as many modern B&W films are able to build very high densities, but unless you are shooting in situations with incredibly high brightness ranges, or grossly mis-process or overexpose your film, this shouldn’t be an issue. You can also always pull your development to compensate.

Prints

Images

Clicking on any of the images takes you to the roughly 1400 x 1200 jpg scan of the respective prints. Full 600 dpi scans of the 8x10 full frame prints are available here: 400-2TMY, 400TX, and P3200TMZ. These are only put up for completeness’s sake - the medium sized images available by clicking below show plenty of detail.

400-2TMY print

400-2TMY print

tx print

400TX print

P3200TMZ print

P3200TMZ print

400-2TMY print crop

400-2TMY crop print

400tx print crop

400TX crop print

P3200TMZ print crop

P3200TMZ crop print

Comments on the prints

The character of the grain stands out more in the wet prints. TX looks grainier all across the board compared to TMY. This is especially obvious on the 8x10 print in the back wall. In the crop prints, brief inspection shows that TX looks grainier everywhere.

Obviously TMZ is grainier than both. It also appears that it was developed to a higher CI than other films by accident, because the grade 2 print has more contrast than the other prints. This could have been fixed by printing slightly softer.

Final thoughts

TMY is noticeably sharper than TX, particularly in fine detail. This is visible in 8x10 prints, where the actual image size was only 8.5 inches by 6 inches. The millimeter rule tick marks and the serial number on the upper left corner of the Color Checker are visibly cleaner in the TMY shot compared to the TX. This is evident in all the prints and scans. The big surprise is that TMZ renders fine detail better than TX too, though this is to be expected if one believes the MTF charts in the Kodak tech pubs.

I don’t know how to explain the differences in grain between the scanned and wet printed TX and TMY. Maybe grain aliasing has something to do with it. The scanned TX and TMZ grain is in line with what I’ve gotten in the past.

TMY seems to have less sensitivity to red. The figure on the TMZ box is slightly darker as is the beer bottle. In these cases, this works against TMY. However, the 3-eyed figure’s pink mouth is differentiated in tone from his baby blue body better on TMY than on TX. Also, TMY renders the white ‘drop shadow’ on the ‘P3200’ logo on the TMZ box much better than TX does.

I think I underdeveloped the TMY a tiny bit. It doesn’t look as dense, though it scanned and printed just fine. The printing time for the TMY was quicker than the TX, and the final prints came out very similar looking in terms of tones, so maybe I didn’t under develop the TMY. I’ll have to think about this.

TMY and TX seem to be basically the same speed. They both had almost equal amounts of shadow detail. Pushability of these films will come later. In shots overexposed by one stop, not shown here, there might be a tiny bit of more detail in dark shadow area to the left of the Kodak color chart in the TX shot compared to the TMY shot. The same area looks virtually identical in shots overexposed by 2 stops. If TX is faster, it is by an insignificant amount in this test.

TMZ was noticeably faster than the other two. Not only did it have half the exposure as the other films since it was rated at 800, but there was more detail in the shadows. This isn’t particularly visible in the corrected scans or the prints, but in the uncorrected scans, detail on the back wall in the shadows to the left of the Kodak color chart are visible in the TMZ shot that are simply not recorded on film in the TMY and TX shots. It looks like less than a stop; I believe the ISO 1000 rating.

I noticed if left to my own devices, I tended to correct the scans to a lower contrast than what I got on a grade 2 wet print. The wet prints look more or less ‘right’ to me. I might tweak the contrast a bit, but it wouldn’t be a big departure from what I ended up with, though the TMZ print could be at a softer grade.

Lastly, a comment on the supposed finicky nature of T-MAX films and TMY in particularly. This was the first time I have ever shot TMY in any form and developed it. I followed the directions in the tech pub and got perfectly scannable and printable negatives.