morning, Southern France. This is my favorite yet from Tri-X:
5 minutes in Ilford's DD-X 1+4 at 21.5ÞC, 71ÞF.
Why 71Þ? It was a warm day. Always adjust development
times until you get the results you like most--and
don't be too frightened about making small adjustments
to compensate for temperatures other than the sacred 20ÞC,
68ÞF. (Voigtländer's Bessa-T, 50mm f/2.5
Color-Skopar, yellow filter (B+W 2x).)
Photos © 2003, Frances E. Schultz, All Rights Reserved
Well, "the best"
is a big claim. But the latest incarnation may be the best Tri-X yet--and
that means that yes, it is one of the best films in the world.
I've used Tri-X before. It was good. But I never thought it was
anything special. When I heard that it was being updated, I wanted to
try it again. I've changed my mind. Now, it is something special.
It's competing in a crowded market. There are over 20 ISO 400 films
available. "First class" doesn't begin to describe the
best of them: they are better than that. The new Tri-X joins that select
It's still an "old technology" film: cubic crystal,
not T-grain or epitaxial. This is not a disadvantage. It has enormous
exposure latitude, including "pushability," and it can be
developed in virtually anything. It is true that it is grainier and less
sharp than its "new technology" rival, TMY (T-Max 400). But
it has a very different tonality--and that is what keeps this 63-year-old
The latest Tri-X is quite different from the Tri-X of 1939, of course.
Tri-X 320 Professional can trace more of a direct lineage, but even that
is a very different film. Besides, since 1954, Tri-X has been available
in 35mm and 120: in 1941, according to my Kodak Reference Handbook, it
was available in "All regularly listed sheet film sizes from 21/4x31/4"
to 50x60" and from 4.5x6cm to 50x60cm." I'd like to
try 50x60" Tri-X. All I'd need is a very big camera with a
2000mm standard lens...
phone in Slovakia. Tri-X still excels in the "mean
streets" look. This wasn't actually a mean street
at all: it was a residential area where someone had taken
exception to the phone. But it looks mean! (Ilford's
DD-X, 8 minutes at 20ÞC, 68ÞF--it was a
dull day. Voigtländer's Bessa-T, 50mm f/2.5
Color-Skopar, yellow filter (B+W 2x).) .
Is It Better Than
The "Old" Tri-X?
Whenever Kodak updates or improves any of its films, there is an immediate
outcry. Lots say, "They have ruined it." What people mean
when they say this is, "I am used to the old version, and I know
all the work-arounds to get the best out of it, so I don't want
anything different, even if it is better."
Well, if you feel like that, bad luck. But from the point of view of an
Ilford HP5 Plus user, who used to think Tri-X wasn't anything special,
the new film is pure improvement, without any drawbacks. Before, Tri-X
couldn't have tempted me away from HP5. Now, it could. If you are
an existing Tri-X user, you now have an even better film. If you're
not a Tri-X user, you have a good reason to consider becoming one. Yes,
you may have to re-jig your development times. So?
New Developing Times
At first sight, this change in development times is the biggest difference
between the old Tri-X and the new. They are shorter for some, maybe most,
developers; longer for a few; and unchanged for others. Do not assume
that Kodak just makes these numbers up--why would they bother to
change them if there were no need to do so?--but equally, remember
that all development times should be modified to suit your particular
subjects, equipment, techniques, and preferences.
I get the best results with quite a bit more development than Kodak recommends,
anything from 10-20 percent. But then, I always find that I need more
development with most manufacturers' films, if I want to print on
Grades 2 and 3 instead of 3, 4, and 5.
I don't know, but I suspect that these changes in development times
are the result of changes in the way that the film is hardened. You might
not expect this to change the tonality, but it does. And tonality, to
me, is the real difference.
at 17.5 times magnification. The grain is very apparent,
but you can still read the numbers on the buttons.
Tonality Tells The
Tonality, after all, is what films are about. Who cares if you have super
fine grain and ultimate sharpness if the tonality is ugly? The problem
is that fine grain is easy to sell to photographers who are not very knowledgeable.
Tonality is a lot harder to sell, but it matters a lot more to most photographers
who really understand and care about black and white.
Kodak makes a great fuss about its state of the art coating line, but
this is a bit of a smokescreen. The change in where the film was coated
(Rochester, but on another line) was almost certainly commercially driven,
not by a decision to make the film better. But the change presented the
opportunity to get rid of a well-known fault--the old Tri-X had rather
a tender emulsion, and was prone to reticulation when sloppily processed--and
to add other real improvements as well.
I have already explained why I fell in love with the new Tri-X: the tonality.
But what are the other advantages?
Crisp, clean grain. Tri-X has always been famous for this, but I felt
that the previous generation was rather too gritty. It was fine for in-your-face
New York City pictures, but not so good for rural scenes. The latest generation
handles rural landscapes every bit as well as "mean streets."
A lot, of course, depends on how you develop it. As I have already suggested,
you can develop this film in almost anything. I haven't had a failure
yet, but when I came to check the technical data for the pictures I selected
for this article, I found they were all developed in Ilford's Ilfotec
DD-X for the equivalent of 6-8 minutes at 20ÞC, 68ÞF. I've
no doubt that Kodak developers will work just as well (they couldn't
work better--these were stunning) but I don't normally use
Kodak film developers and I couldn't see any particular reason to
try them, seeing how good the other developers all were.
and river, Southern France. This picture shows the excellent
resolution of detail which Tri-X gives. The picture has
an enormous tonal range: it was taken against the afternoon
sun, the building on the left being used to prevent excessive
flare. (Ilford's DD-X, 8 minutes at 20ÞC, 68ÞF--it
was a dull day. Voigtländer's Bessa-T, 50mm f/2.5
Color-Skopar, yellow filter (B+W 2x).)
Some developers give big grain
and high speed--some give big grain and low speed--while others
lose half a stop or a stop and give significantly finer grain. It seems
to me that there is more variation than before. This suits me fine. When
I develop a film, I want to be able to choose the effects I get. This
is the third big advantage: what the experts call a good developer repertoire.
Then there is speed, latitude, and flexibility. ISO 400 is perfectly realistic,
but you can overexpose by a stop or two with only a small penalty in grain
and sharpness. Underexposure by half a stop or even a whole stop does
not bring too many penalties either, though there is a loss of tonality.
You can also push it, though I wouldn't bother: a faster film is
always a better idea. If I were wedded to yellow boxes, I'd go straight
to TMZ P3200. As it is, I use Ilford's Delta 3200: tonality, again.
You want more reasons to try it than this? Why? Be realistic. This is
a great film: one of the greatest that the Great Yellow Father has ever
made. What more do you want? Go out and buy some--now. "Tri-X:
For more information about the new Tri-X, visit Kodak's website