Things We Love: Kodak Tri-X Black-and-White Film

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In the 78 years that Kodak Tri-X has been in existence, there have been finer-grained or faster films available, as well as films with more exposure latitude, better contrast, and even better tonality—but none of them have the signature look and the history of Tri-X.

Tri-X was originally released in 1940 as a 4 x 5" sheet film, followed by 35mm and 120 roll film versions, in 1954. It wasn’t long before the name Tri-X became synonymous with black-and-white photography. Despite the industry-wide downsizing of analog film production in recent years, Tri-X continues to be available in a range of formats that include 35m and 120 rolls, and 4 x 5, 5 x 7, and 8 x 10" sheets. It’s even available as 8mm and 16mm motion-picture reversal film.

I was first introduced to Tri-X in high school and, when I began my career in photography, I typically carried two camera bodies—one loaded with Kodachrome and the other with Tri-X. Between the two, I was covered, regardless of what or where I was working.

Fast-forward through two decades of shooting exclusively with digital cameras, and I’ve rediscovered the joys (and foibles) of shooting with analog cameras, which are invariably loaded with Tri-X.

Tri-X has a grain structure and tonal range one quickly learns to recognize. Depending on the roll or sheet size you’re working with, Tri-X has a native ISO of 320 or 400, with about three stops of exposure latitude (+/- 1.5 stops). Tri-X can be easily pushed one stop and even two to three stops with the right balance of exposure, film developer, and developing times. At the extremes, there are those who push Tri-X to ISO 3200 to 6400 although, at these higher speeds, image detail can become extremely grainy.

While its name has remained unchanged, Tri-X has been re-engineered several times, most recently in 2007, when the grain structure was further tweaked and the name changed from TX400 to 400TX. With a full roll in hand, I have little doubt I can still load roll film onto developing reels with ease, but these days I prefer to shoot film and hand it over to a trusted lab for processing and scanning. From there it becomes a digital process. I miss the dim amber lights of the darkroom, the sound of flowing water, and the smell of the chemistry trays, but Adobe Photoshop and large-format Epson printers have long since filled the void.

Do you have experience with Tri-X or another film stock? Drop us a line and tell us about it. And if you’ve never shot film, borrow a film camera and give it a try. A box of donuts says you’re going to like it.

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