Approaching a review of Kodak Tri-X provokes some nervousness. Tri-X has been around since 1954 (though reformulated many times since then) and was the black and white film which defined a photographic era for fashion and journalism in the 1970’s and 1980’s, creating a dark gritty look which is still used today. It’s still the best-selling mono film (according to Kodak).
The great Don McCullin used Tri-X for his famous photographs of the Vietnam war. For David Bailey, Irving Penn, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and Cartier Bresson it was a mainstay too. In short it’s one of the few films which has legendary status so I’d best be thorough! For a fuller description see here for an excellent history of this film.
When a film has been going for 60 years it’s got to be good – but does the modern version capture that ‘look’ I loved thirty years ago? Best shoot a few rolls.
All these shots rated at 400 ASA on a Olympus OM2N with a variety of Zuiko/Vivitar lenses and developed in D76 – D76 and Tri-X must be a classic combination. Scanned on the usual Plustek 7500 and subjected to some levels and contrast adjustment.
The film feels like a quality product in a well made cassette with solid felt light baffles. It’s difficult to break into for loading on a film spiral – always a good sign. It loads easily onto the spiral too.
Drying it doesn’t attract much dust and is quite a ‘hard’ emulsion when dry. When you’ve had 60 years to perfect a film it should be one of the best I suppose!
One of the properties of Tri-X was to capture a subject’s essential details – complete with grain, dirt and darkness in the process. It was famous for it’s deep black tones and is often used to emphasise the grittier side of life – with a bit of PP in the contrast department it does it well.
Exposure latitude is wide too allowing shooting in a wide variety of situations.
However – is it grainy enough? That’s what this search is all about!
And a small enlargement :-
Nope – I’m looking for more grain than this. Let’s try uprating it to 1600 ASA and push processing it for 12 minutes.
Outdoors in soft sunlight :-
Well it’s made things a little more grainy but not as much as I’d hoped. Tri-X is made to be pushed to higher speeds so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. These were developed in D76 but it’s (annoyingly!) done a good job on the grain structure that I’m thinking for the next roll it will have to be souped in Rodinal which should harden the grain up a bit. It’s amazing how good modern film is by comparison with 30 years ago. All of the high-speed films tested so far have proved highly resistant to heavy grain formation – so much so there’s not a huge difference between them and 100 ASA film. Even Ilford 3200 was tame at 1600 ASA.
Finally – for those who don’t like slopping chemicals around – can Tri-X be replicated digitally in DXO Filmpack? There’s a preset for it so let’s see.
Here’s a Tri-X ‘original’ :-
And here’s a DXO converted shot from an EPL5 :-
Close enough I’d say, though film development and PP variations (in both cases) mean that DXO can only really do an approximation of the final ‘look’. The stonework on the house is brighter in the later shot due these being taken many weeks apart – the DXO shot has the advantage of some sunlight on the wall face.
Well what to make of it? Tri-X is still an excellent film just past it’s 60th birthday and as good as it’s competitors if you prefer a darker look (think of it crudely as a fast Ilford PAN-F). As a photographer who still shoots lots of film as well as digital, it’s worth a thanks to Kodak for keeping this stuff in production. My recommendation is to give it a try – I’m about to order 10 rolls!
Thanks for looking – hope this is useful!
p.s. There a reviews of lots of other films on the film, camera and lens review index tab.