The Search for Grain Continues – Kodak Tri-X. Lots of Shots and Some Photographic History.

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).

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Salisbury Cathedral again on an overcast day. This needed some PP but the dark ‘look’ I remember is still there. Zuiko 28mm f2 though not as grainy as I’d remembered.

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.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Inside the cathedral and that tonality is lovely – enough to feel optimistic! Vivitar 17mm lens.

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.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

A further interior – and good too. Vivitar 17mm lens. The textured stone of the interior masks the graininess as always.

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.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

The last from Salisbury and a bit of a gothic type shot – working as hoped. Vivitar 17mm lens.

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.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Hard light suits this film. The humble Zuiko 50mm f1.8.

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!

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Zuiko 50mm f1.8.

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.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

To portray dark grittyness this is excellent. Zuiko 28mm f2.

Exposure latitude is wide too allowing shooting in a wide variety of situations.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Shooting into the light and a nice result – flare, grain and all.

However – is it grainy enough? That’s what this search is all about!

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

The whole frame.

And a small enlargement :-

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

This small section of the negative looks quite detailed with reasonable grain for 400 ASA.

Nope – I’m looking for more grain than this. Let’s try uprating it to 1600 ASA and push processing it for 12 minutes.

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

This is a little more like it in low light. 50mm f1.8.

Outdoors in soft sunlight :-

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

Time for a frame enlargement and here’s the full frame. Zuiko 135 f3.5 (a recent acquisition!)

 

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

And here’s a small section enlarged. Slightly harder grain than a 100 ASA film but not that much.

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’ :-

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, D76

And here’s a DXO converted shot from an EPL5 :-

Kodak Tri-X, 35mm, Olympus OM2N, DXO Filmpack

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.

 

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Zuiko 200mm f4

This is the twelfth (and almost the last!) of a series of posts for photographers who want to try cheap but fast manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. The subject of this mini review is the Zuiko 200mm f4, a 320mm equivalent on an APS-C DSLR and just a bit faster than a 75-300mm AF Canon zoom lens at the same focal length. This ones another on loan from Pete and Jayne – Pete apparently has a weakness for telephoto lenses.

_MG_8730s

The lens is easy to focus in bright light, and produces some excellent results using centre weighted metering mode.

The filter size is 55mm and the aperture range is f4 to f32 (not sure why f32 is needed but it’s nice to have). The focus rack goes from infinity to the minimum focus distance of 2.5 m in quite a bit more than 180 degrees.

_MG_8744s

Colours are on the cold side, but very acceptable. The contrast across the aperture range is good too, better than the 135 f2.8. The depth of field is obviously very narrow at 200mm at f4, and the bokeh is pretty good.

The built-in lens hood protects the front element from flare effectively, and makes me wonder why they aren’t built into all lenses.

_MG_8889s

In bright light there’s not much chromatic aberration (purple on the left top of the sign), and telephoto compression is starting to get very pronounced.

_MG_8742s

More very soft bokeh and sharpness of in focus areas – this is excellent.

Physically the lens is made to an exceptionally high standard – light weight and all metal with a real quality feel to it. It ‘fits’ the 60D really well, the generous focus ring is smooth – all pretty much perfect.

IMG_0118

The lens mount adaptor is the very well made made Fotodiox EF to OM.

A great MF lens then, and highly recommended? Like the 135mm f2.8, a qualified yes. F4 is only 2/3 of a stop faster than a normal tele zoom lens so there’s no real aperture speed advantage. Focussing in dull light is at best ‘hit and miss’ on the standard 60D focussing screen even for stationary subjects – let alone moving ones. As sports and nature photography are this lenses’ home territory this is unfortunate.

The negatives aren’t about the lens itself, which is truly excellent, rather about using medium telephoto MF lenses on DSLR. I’m a bit sceptical about the need for AF up to around 85mm where the speed of equivalent MF lenses make focussing easy. As the max apertures drop to f2.8 at 135mm, and f4 at 200mm, the focussing screens get darker, and the focussing becomes progressively more critical – two unavoidable principles of optical design. As a consequence, AF comes into its own at longer focal lengths, as well as IS.

For me the ‘break point’ is 135mm. I took loads of shots for this test, but those taken on overcast days weren’t that good – though that might be just me!

In conclusion then, if you’re determined to use one or have one lying around give it a try but be aware that focussing on anything other than a sunny day may be a problem. If you’re not that determined, I’d suggest instead a modern AF lens – the Canon EF 70-300mm is a good all-rounder, even if the build quality doesn’t come close to these superbly built old Zuikos. A final alternative, even if it is a very heavy one, is the Vivitar 70-210 f3.5 macro, which is a bit easier to focus, and has a very nice macro mode too.

These lenses are relatively rare on the second-hand market varying between £90 and £150 (there’s a cheaper f5 version too).

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful!

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

To see how this – and virtually every other known Zuiko lens known to man – performs on four thirds and micro four thirds sensors have a look here – an excellent series of tests at biofos.com!