Today, we’re going to take a look at Kodak Professional TRI-X 400 Film, or 400TX, which is it’s film code (for brevity, we’ll refer to it by its film code from here on out). This is a high speed B&W film that comes in 35mm roll, 120 roll, and 4×5 sheet form. The sheet form of this film is 320TXP.
There are many ways to develop 400TX. If you send your film in here to Simple Film Lab, we develop 400TX with Kodak D-76 mixed at 1:1 for one-shot usage. The development time is 10:00 at 68 degrees Fahrenheit in a Paterson daylight tank with 1 inversion every 15 seconds. We use a 1:4 water:vinegar stop bath between development and fixing. We fix all BW films in Kodak Fixer.
Using Simple Film Lab, here’s the characteristic curve for 400TX:
The scale along the bottom is exposure EVs, the scale along the left is the measured density as seen by the film scanner. The EV 0 mark is an 18% exposure card exposed correctly via an incident light reading via a Sekonic light meter through a T-Stop rated lens. Every dot along the curve is a full stop of light. As a safety measure, I’ve extended the curve by a couple of stops on both sides of the scale to account for variances in development and scanning, though the film, development process, and scanner is generally very consistent.
Exposure Guidance and Dynamic Range/Exposure Latitude
400TX has a very good amount of dynamic range. Following the development practice described above, the film base plus fog starts to happen in EV -5 and is fully clear film base at the EV -6 mark. On the highlight side, I’ve reached the limits of how much exposure I can pump into the emulsion part way through EV +12 and can’t quite get 400TX to EV +13 in terms of density. This gives a dynamic range of -5 to +12 EVs as a worst case.
For exposure guidance, if developing this film as described above, or if sending it in to be developed by Simple Film Lab, I recommend taking an incident light reading of the darkest part of the scene you want to retain details in and subtracting 2 stops of exposure from that reading. For example, if the darkest part of the scene that you want to retain detail in reads 1/125 shutter, f/4.0 at ISO 400, either set the shutter to 1/500 or close down the aperture to f/8.0, or a combination of the two to reduce the exposure by two stops.
If you don’t have a light meter, then set your camera exposure compensation to +1 stop, and that will generally result in an acceptable exposure for most situations once scanned in and density corrected.
If you want to add a stop of shadow information to the image, then place the darkest part of the image you want details in one stop down from the meter reading instead of two. 400TX has enough highlight exposure latitude that this is safe to do and still retain good highlight information for pretty much anything except the highest contrast scenes.
400TX has acceptable resolution for a 400 speed film. Looking at it’s tech sheet over at Kodak Alaris shows that it is at about 50 line pairs per mm of film at a 50% contrast response. In short, it’s nowhere near terrible, but it’s also nowhere near stellar. It’s right down the middle.
In terms of grain, there’s not much to be said here that hasn’t already been said pretty much everywhere else. It is Kodak TRI-X film, one of the most popular, classic, and legendary film emulsions ever made in the history of photographic film. If you’ve seen any black and white photos published in the mainstream media (magazines, newspapers, etc) over the last 40-50+ years, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ve been looking at TRI-X.
In 135 format, it’s grain is very present, but also very pleasant. In 120 roll medium format, it’s significantly reduced and that much more pleasant. In sheet form, it’s there if you look for it, but otherwise not really an issue. 400TX just has that look that is instantly familiar and recognizable. You know you’re looking at film, but there isn’t anything about what you’re looking at that would turn you off from film. It’s managed to hit that sweet spot of resolution, dynamic range, and graininess at just the right moment in photography that it took off and became the legend that it is today. If you haven’t shot any TRI-X, you should, just so you can say you did.
Here’s a Flickr Gallery of images shot on 400TX. I’ll be adding new images as I shoot more film.