Things We Love: Kodak T-Max 400 Film


Throughout my career as a film photographer, I’ve gone through numerous favorite films. With the unfortunate, yet consistent, demise of some of my favorites over the years, I’ve had to re-adjust and adapt to new films. While nothing can ever replace my true all-time beloved film (Kodak Tri-X 320, in 220) since it’s discontinuation, I’ve learned to love Kodak T-Max 400 as my go-to choice for pretty much anything and everything. It’ll never have the same fame or reputation as Kodak’s hallmark, Tri-X 400, but it’s the film I now stock up on and shoot by the hundreds of rolls per year.

After accepting the demise of Tri-X 320, in 2010, I started the search for a new film that came close to the lower contrast, smoother look I adored. Tri-X 400 is a popular film due to its grittiness and high edge sharpness, but in my experience, it always lacked in tonal separation and felt especially grainy when scanning. Since I had moved exclusively to scanning film, with an Imacon Flextight 646, this was of primary importance to me. Just like someone learns how to expose for and print in the darkroom with a specific film, I was on a mission to find a new film to learn how to properly expose and scan. T-Max 400 fills the bill here, because it has a noticeably tighter grain structure, due to its T-GRAIN emulsion. Whereas this finer grain is often attributed to its muddy look when printing in the darkroom, when scanning, this is a real benefit because sharpness is easier to achieve.

But, besides all the technical attributes of T-Max 400 I have grown to appreciate for my own hybrid workflow, I’ve really grown to enjoy how aesthetically plain the film is. It doesn’t have an overbearing look that screams “T-MAX!” It’s a subtle film that can be used to depict scenes accurately, but it’s flexible enough to handle a high-key, higher-contrast look. I also like simplifying my process to a single black-and-white film, save for some T-Max 100 for ultra-bright conditions or some Delta 3200 for ultra-dark conditions. The more I’ve shot T-Max, the more I’m impressed by how versatile it can be. It’s more than capable of producing gritty effects, as well as dialed-back smoother looks, and it handles high-contrast lighting in a similar manner to that of my forever-missed Tri-X 320.

What’s your favorite film? Have you been lucky enough to pick a film and still be able to use it today? Or, like me, have you had to adapt your film choices based on what’s available? Let us know, in the Comments section.

The “Things We Love” series articles are written by B&H Photo Video Pro Audio staff to talk about products and items that we love. Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the writers and do not represent product endorsements from B&H Photo Video Pro Audio.

1 Comment

This also is my favourite film. I use a few but this one, for my 35mm work and everyday street photography, is really wonderful for sharpness and the 'look' of the grain, as well as showing the tones really well from darker shadows to midtones.