Film Review: Kodak T-MAX 100 B&W Film Profile

Ahh… Kodak. There for a while it looked like they where in trouble, then they emerged from bankruptcy as Kodak alaris, and seems to have stabilized, and today they still produce some of the best professional film around, though with a much more limited selection than from before.

But what a selection!

Today, we’re going to take a look at Kodak Professional T-MAX 100 Film, or 100TMX, which is it’s film code (for brevity, we’ll refer to it by its film code from here on out). This is a medium speed B&W film that comes in 35mm roll, 120 roll, and 4×5 sheet form. In 2002 Kodak released a new version of this film with much improved resolution, finer grain, and a shorter recommended development time. As a long time user of 100TMX film, I can say that it is indeed right up there in terms of resolution and fine grain. Since it’s a black and white film and has no standardized development formula or development time, it can sometimes be difficult to pin down the best way to shoot and develop 100TMX film, but once you have it, it’s downright gorgeous.

I primarily use 100TMX for those times when I really need the maximum resolution possible and light is not an issue.

I’m a hybrid shooter, meaning that I shoot film, but it gets digitized and is digital all the way to the end delivery of either a print on paper, or a digital delivery. Because of this, my process may differ from someone who also does analog prints in a wet darkroom.

Before we get too far into things, I just want to iterate that this post is not meant to be a “pro-film”, or a “why you should shoot film”, or a “film vs. digital” debate. This is meant to take a look at a particular film and document its various characteristics so that if you want to shoot with this film, you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

Resolution

Oh baby. 100TMX has resolution and lots of it. Looking at Kodak’s tech pub for 100TMX (document F-4016, published Feb. 2016, google it for the latest link), Kodak states that 100TMX has 200 line pairs per millimeter at 1000:1 contrast ratio. That’s a lot. If you do the math, that’s over 10,000 dpi of resolution on the film. My film scanner is 9600 dpi (though it probably doesn’t actually go that high, another story), and the film grain is fine enough that I can’t see it when I scan at max resolution, even with a wet gate scan.

35mm (135) Film (Small Format)

In full frame 35mm (135 film) terms, 200 line pairs per mm works out to a solid 14,400×9600 pixels or just over 100 megapixels for a 35mm frame. Granted, very few if any 35mm lenses can actually resolve that kind of resolution onto the film, so in practice, the amount of resolvable detail you’ll actually be able to see in the frame has more to do with your lens resolution and shooting prowess than the film. I typically scan at 9600 dpi, then scale down to my working resolution (or house size) of 7200×4800 pixels, which is more than enough resolution for everything up to a 24×16 inch print at 300 dpi. For that purpose, 100TMX film is effectively grain free.

120 Roll Film (Medium Format)

For 120 roll film, 100TMX can deliver some pretty stunning resolution. If you shoot 6×6 and scan in at 9600 dpi, you can easily have a 400+ megapixel image, and it goes up from there for 6×7, 6×8, and 6×9 frame sizes. Again, with that being said, in practice, most medium format lenses don’t put anywhere near 200 line pairs per millimeter on the film (and 9600 dpi is 188lp/m, way more than most lenses will do), so your effective total image resolution is limited by your lens resolution multiplied by your film frame size. I mostly shoot 6×9 and have standardized my medium format working resolution at 4x the resolution of the small format house size, which comes out to 14400×9600 pixels. At that resolution, I can do 32×48 inch prints at 300dpi and they would be awesomely sharp with no visible film grain. Again, 100TMX is effectively grain free at medium format resolutions.

4×5 Sheet Film (Large Format)

For sheet film, 100TMX is not the limiting factor in terms of resolution, but can deliver some awesomely huge resolution by fact of the sheer size of the image frame. In large format sheet film, the resolution of your camera lens and the resolution you can scan at is your limiting factor. Unless you have a super expensive large format lens, your average large format lens can put 50-60 line pairs per mm onto the film. Some are a little less, some are a little more, but that’s about where it is, which comes out to about 2400-3000 dpi of resolvable detail on the film.

Scanning-wise, to see that resolution, you should scan at at least that resolution. I consider 4800 dpi to pretty much be the minimum resolution to scan large format film at. If you scan the whole 4×5 frame (which has an exposed area of 4.75×3.8 inches) you come out at about 400 megapixels. This doesn’t sound like more resolution than medium format, but in practice it is. Medium format lenses are not twice the resolution of large format lenses, so even though you’re scanning large format film at a lower resolution, because you’re scanning over 4x the exposed film area, your total resolution and fine detail is a lot better.

For me, I almost never scan the whole frame. I generally go for a 1.5:1 or 2:1 aspect ratio. My film scanner maxes out at 2.75×9 inches for 9600 dpi scans, so I generally either scan 2.75×4.125 inches (for 1.5:1 aspect) or 2.375×4.75 inches (for 2:1 aspect) at 9600 dpi then scale it down to 4800 dpi, which gives me 19,800×13,200 pixels for 1.5:1 aspect, and 22,800×11,400 pixels for 2:1 aspect. I do the 2:1 aspect for landscapes, and the 1.5:1 aspect for everything else.

With respects to 100TMX, in large format film land, it’s very much grain free, even for the largest most massive enlargements.

Sample Images

Kodak TMAX 100 (100TMX) 9600 dpi film grain inspection 01
The image above was shot with a Hasselblad 500C/M, scanned in at 9600 dpi and cropped to 1.5:1. You can click through to Flickr and look at the larger 9600 dpi version. There’s no film grain.

Kodak TMAX 100 (100TMX) 9600 dpi film grain inspection 02
The image above was shot with a Hasselblad 500C/M, scanned in at 9600 dpi and cropped to 1.5:1. You can click through to Flickr and look at the larger 9600 dpi version. There’s no film grain.

Exposure Latitude and Dynamic Range

When doing research for this post, I ran across a lot of opinions about how much exposure latitude and dynamic range this film has. In my own experience, in a hybrid workflow, 100TMX film has a massive amount of exposure latitude and plenty of dynamic range. I’ve seen a lot of people say things on the internet where it’s clear that they don’t really shoot 100TMX, or if they do, they don’t develop it and scan it themselves. Kodak officially rates it at one stop under, 3 stops over. In my experience, for most subject brightness ranges seen in daylight type shooting, I routinely shoot plus or minus 2 stops without worry and no change to how I develop the film. To put it in simpler terms, 9 times out of 10, I generally expose using the sunny 16 rule and 99% of the time, once I scan it, I have an image that I can totally use. 1/125 and f/16 (or equivalent exposure) is always my starting point. If there are clouds in the sky, I don’t change anything. If it goes to full overcast, I don’t change anything unless something that I want to have good detail is in full or open shade, then I’ll open it up by a stop or two. As it starts to go to late afternoon/early evening, I’ll open it up by a stop, then by another in mid-late evening. Much longer than that, and I start getting down into f/4 and 1/60 or 1/30 a second territory, so at that point, if I’m still shooting, I’ll switch to a faster film (Kodak T-MAX 400 in case you where wondering).

As a hybrid shooter, as long as you get an exposure that has enough density in the darker areas of the frame that are important, once you scan it (raw with no gamma correction), you’ll have an image that is totally usable and you can tweak to your hearts content. As you get closer to the extremes of over and under exposure, your unique tones start to get squashed closer and closer together until at some point they’re close enough together that your scanner can’t tell them apart. It’s at that point that you don’t have a usable image. There’s a zone leading up to that point (particularly on denser negatives) where your tones are close enough together that even though your scanner can see them, you don’t have enough unique tones to prevent banding in your image as you push and pull it around in your digital dark room. Those images aren’t completely un-usable, but you will be limited by how much you can push it around. Once you get out of that zone and into good tone-density territory, pretty much anything is usable once scanned.

So with that being said, just how much exposure latitude is there? Time for some sample images!

Sample Images

Below are some sample images that I’ve taken of the same scene during noon day sun. I’ve exposed the scene over 8 images, with each image exposed 1 stop brighter than the last image. Following the sunny 16 rule, that image that is nominally exposed will be considered to be EV 0. The first of the 8 images was exposed at 1/500 of a second and f/32, a whopping 4 stops under exposed or EV -4. The last of the 8 images was exposed at 1/30 and f/11, a whopping 3 stops over exposed, or EV +3, for a total of 8 stops of exposure latitude.

The scene is comprised of a black foam core board (for reflected black), a white foam core board (for reflected white), a grey exposure card, a white balance card, and an X-Rite color checker chart. All the scans where completed with the same scanner gain setting. After scanning, each exposure was gamma corrected so that the exposure card was at 46.6% luminance level. The unified scan level and gamma correction was done purely as a baseline to make all the exposures roughly the same exposure level so it would be easier to see the differences between each exposure level in terms of contrast and unique tones.

In practice, each image would be scanned with a scanner gain setting at the maximum level while not clipping the lightest part of the negative to allow for the maximum tonal resolution possible, and then post processed with whatever would be the best combination of gamma and exposure/curves/contrast to get the best looking image.

So with that, the images!

EV +3

EV +3

EV +2

EV +2

EV +1

EV +1

EV 0

EV 0

EV -1

EV -1

EV -2

EV -2

EV -3

EV -3

EV -4

EV -4

Results

Looking at the images above, every single one of those is not really an issue. That’s 8 stops of exposure latitude (on the same roll and developed the same way) and none of the above images would really present a problem when it came to tuning them up into usable images. Some would take a little more tweaks than others, but as a whole, not a single one of them is even remotely close to being a problem image. In fact, the image that was exposed a whopping 4 stops under (EV -4) I scanned it in, inverted it, and changed the gamma from 1.0 to 1.01. I could have not changed the gamma at all and simply did some contrast and curves tweaks and ended up with a nice image.

Caveats

The more contrast and dynamic range contained in the subject you’re photographing, the faster you will run into banding and unusable images as you over or under expose. It’s a fact of life and a fact of how film works. Not just this film, but all film. As I’ve said before, in practice, with 100TMX, I’ve not had a single issue with +-2 stops for most things you’ll encounter during normal daylight, and there’s a lot of scenarios where there’s even less contrast and dynamic range in the image and you have lots more exposure leeway, but with that being said, it’s exposure leeway. It lets you shoot into darker and darker light, and if indoors, lets you set 1 exposure setting with flash and shoot away without having to worry about it. As long as what your shooting is within the range of your flash, you can get a usable image. It has such a huge exposure latitude, that unless you just completely blow the exposure and are way off in the weeds, you’ll get a usable image.

Development

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. As with all black and white films, there are development guidelines. Any film photographer that shoots black and white and is worth their salt develops their own film. We all have our preferred methods. Every single film has a multitude of ways it can be developed, none of which are really standardized.

For 100TMX, I prefer to use plain old Kodak D76 developer and Kodak Fixer. D76 comes in powder form, and so it’s really easy to measure and mix. I’ve had really good results with it and frankly, it’s reasonably cheap, and keeps in powder form for a really long time. I dilute the D76 to 1:1 as a one shot mix that gets discarded after use. Doing that, a single bag of D76 nets me about 15 rolls of either 35mm or 120 film, or about 60 sheets of 4×5 sheet film if I develop 4 sheets at a time.

My development process is as follows:

  1. I get a roll of 100TMX loaded into my Paterson daylight processing tank using my film changing bag and place the Paterson tank in the bathroom on the bathroom sink.
  2. I measure out 600 milliliters of room temperature filtered bottle water and pour it into the tank to let the film soak.
  3. I measure out 27 grams of D76 powder (using a table top food scale) and mix it with 550 milliliters of room temperature filtered bottle water (in a reused and clean gatorade bottle)
  4. I shake the gatorade bottle until it looks like all the D76 has dissolved, then use a food thermometer to measure the temperature. If it’s warmer than 75 degrees Fahrenheit (almost never) I’ll throw it in the freezer or fridge until I’m ready to use it a few minutes later.
  5. I go out into the garage and get the gallon of Kodak Fixer that I have mixed up and stage it next to the Paterson processing tank in the bathroom, I’ll generally make sure I can quickly open it before starting, as sometimes it can get a bit stuck if it’s been a while since I’ve used it.
  6. I measure out 600 milliliters of room temperature filtered bottle water and stage it next to the paterson tank. This is the stop bath.
  7. I get the D76 mix from the fridge (if I put it there) and measure the temp again. I look up the development time for whatever the temp is on Kodak’s D76 tech pub for 100TMX (it’s the shorter time between the two 100TMX films listed unless you have the old pre-2002 version of the film). I round up to the next temp time if the measured temp is between two of the temps on the tech pub. This is not a big deal. Just don’t be over 75 degrees or under 65 degrees.
  8. I turn on the sink water and pour out the soak bath while the sink water is running. The soak bath will be purple. This is OK! Turn the sink water off after the soak bath is rinsed down the drain.
  9. I start my phones lap timer and at the same time pour the D76 into the Paterson tank.
  10. I get the lid to the tank on as quickly as possible (this usually takes 15-20 seconds to do), then slowly perform tank inversions until the timer hits 60 seconds.
  11. Set the tank down and tap it on the sink counter a couple of times to dislodge air bubbles.
  12. At the 90 second mark (30 seconds after the last inversion sequence), do 3 tank inversions over a 5-10 second period for all three combined. Each inversion should be about 2-3 seconds.
  13. Repeat steps 11 and 12 for the remainder of the development time. Basically, you want to do inversions every 30 seconds and tap to dislodge bubbles after the sequence.
  14. Remove the lid to the tank after the last inversion sequence before the time is up, this should be 15-30 seconds before the time is up.
  15. 5-10 seconds before the time is up turn on the sink tap and start pouring out the D76 mix into the sink.
  16. Immediately pour the 600 milliliters of stop bath into the tank and use the mixer stick that came with the tank to agitate the stop bath. Do this for 60 seconds.
  17. Pour the stop bath into the sink.
  18. Pour the Kodak Fixer into the tank. You need to put at least 500 ml in (and can measure it out if you want to), but I generally pour it in until its in the top funnel part of the paterson tank, which is enough.
  19. Put the lid back on the tank (after rinsing it) and restart the lap timer.
  20. Do 3 inversions every 30 seconds for the first 5 minutes, then 5 inversions every 60 seconds for the next 5 minutes. At this point, if your fixer is new and fresh, you’re good to go, if it’s getting exhausted, you’ll need to keep going. You can’t over fix. I generally fix for 10-15 minutes. New fixer is 10 minutes, older fixer is 15 minutes.
  21. Pour the fixer back into the fix solution bottle. This is the one thing you do re-use. The more exhausted it is, the yellower the mix will be.
  22. You can now open the Paterson tank.
  23. With the film still inside the paterson tank (open or not), put the tank under the sink faucet (cold, not hot) and rinse the film until it is no longer pink. This takes anywheres from 15-20 minutes. Sometimes longer. What I do is turn the faucet on just fast enough to fill the tank in about a minute and leave it running. Once every 5 minutes, I dump the tank and put it back under the faucet. I do that until the film isn’t pink any more.
  24. Measure out 600 milliliters of filtered bottle water and put 1 drop of baby shampoo in it.
  25. Turn off the sink faucet, dump the water out, and pour in the 600ml that you just put the baby shampoo in.
  26. Let it sit for a minute then pull out the film, get it off the development roller and hang it to dry.
  27. You’re done! Clean up your mess. Put the Fixer back in the garage. Wash all the tank parts and set them out to dry.
  28. A couple hours later, your film will be dry, take it off the hanger, cut it fit your film sleeves, and scan in the ones you want to digitize. Then sleeve your film.

100TMX Film Look

So, if you do a reasonably good job shooting and developing it, what does it look like?

It looks like that!

It looks like that! Pretty awesome right?