Photography / Tips and Solutions

B&W Slides from Tri-X? You Betcha!

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Agfa Scala was a wonderful, ISO 200 black-and-white slide film that was produced about 25 years ago. Scala had an amazing tonal range with rich blacks and lovely highlight detail. If there was a downside to shooting Scala, it was that there was only one lab in the US that would process Scala—Duggal Color Labs, in New York City. Luckily, I worked down the street from Duggal so, for me, it wasn’t a hardship.

Then digital technology bulldozed the business and like many films, Scala became a thing of the past, and instead of shooting black-and-white film, we began converting RGB files to monochrome and made the best of the situation.

A few months ago, I was having a discussion with my co-worker, Jill Waterman, about Agfa Scala, which she enjoyed shooting, too. During the conversation, she told me about a fellow named David Wood, a photographer / photographic chemist who has taken the concept of black-and-white reversal film to a whole new dimension. It seems Wood also liked shooting monochrome, and this was part of the reasoning behind his quest to perfect the art and craft of black-and-white reverse-film processing.

Photographs ©2017 Allan Weitz

Kodak Tri-X 400 reverse processed by dr5-Chrome 2017 Allan Weitz

Dr5-CHROME

Wood's process—dr5 CHROME, which he began tinkering with as early as 1989, is a fifth-generation process designed specifically for processing black-and-white negative film as monochrome transparencies and slides. Basing his experimentation on black-and-white reversal processes like those used in the production of early Hollywood movies, the black-and-white transparencies produced by Wood’s dr5 CHROME process contain greater dynamic range and sharper detail compared to the same films developed conventionally as black-and-white negatives.

According to Wood, E-6 slide films (Ektachrome, Fujichrome, and other films ending with the suffix “–chrome”) have dynamic ranges of about 5 stops. Black-and-white films developed as transparencies via the dr5 CHROME process can display up to 10 stops of latitude, which is one of the reasons I personally became so intrigued by the dr5 process—the tonality is simply stunning.

The terms “transparencies” and “slides” are interchangeable. The difference is that the term “slide” is reserved for 35mm reversal images, while “transparency” is a blanket term for all reversal-film formats.

Using a custom-designed Tecnolab film processor, Wood’s first black-and-white reversal processing line was partnered with A&I Color Lab, in Los Angeles, in 1998. About a year later, he flipped coasts and opened his own lab, on West 38th Street, in Manhattan. This move was followed, in 2005, with a move to Denver, Colorado, which in turn was followed by a move, in 2016, to the lab’s current location, Stuart, Iowa.

Wood’s dr5 CHROME process is compatible with a number of easily obtainable roll and sheet films from Kodak (Tri-X-320, Tri-X-400, T-Max-100, and T-Max-400), Ilford (FP4, Delta 100, Delta 400, Delta 3200, HP5, PanF 50, and SFX200), Rollei (Superpan 200, RXP 25, and Retro 80S), Adox (Scala 160, Silvermax, and CHS-2), and Fomapan R 100. A full list of compatible and non-compatible film stocks, along with recommended ISO settings, is listed on the dr5 Film Type Review page.

Ilford FP4 reverse processed by dr5 Chrome 2017 Allan Weitz

Exposing Black-and-White Negatives for Reversal Processing

Wood has invested much time and effort into establishing optimum exposure settings for each of the recommended film stocks, along with recommendations regarding how far you can pull or push each of the films. Some films can be exposed using the films’ indicated ISO rating, while others require higher or lower ISO ratings for optimal results. The best film for push/pull processing is Kodak Tri-X (TX and TXP), which can be exposed ISOs 100 to 1000. (According to Wood, Kodak Tri-X “sings” when rated at ISO 100-125.)

Pushing the ISO increases contrast, while pulling the ISO sensitivity decreases contrast. It’s also worth noting that a new variation of Scala is available from Adox, and its characteristics are reportedly very close to the original film.

To add a dash of drama into my images, I used an orange filter on some of my earlier rolls of film, which Wood immediately picked up on and admonished me for. Rather than filters, a better way of increasing (or decreasing) contrast is by adjusting ISO sensitivities.

One of the beauties of the dr5 process is that every film has a unique look and, by making small adjustments to your exposures, one can create many “looks” or film signatures to match the mood of your photographs. Best of all, Wood is extremely accessible and eager to help. As he puts it, “All I do is keep the line steady, so six months from now, the results are the same.” As a photographer, these are comforting words.

Something users must keep in mind when computing exposure times is that, unlike negative film, which you expose for the shadows, when shooting reversal films you must expose for the highlights, be they traditional E-6 films or black-and-white negative films processed by dr5 CHROME.

It’s also worth noting that your film can be processed in a choice of two tones using the dr-5 process—neutral monochrome or sepia.

Ilford HP5 reversed processed by dr5 Chrome 2017 Allan Weitz

Cameras and Lenses

The photographs accompanying this article were exposed and processed per the recommendations found on the dr5 CHROME website. The cameras I used included a Hasselblad Superwide with a (fixed) 38mm Zeiss Biogon, a Leica MD-2 with a 21mm Zeiss Biogon, and a Nikkormat FT-2 with 55mm and 200mm Micro-Nikkor lenses. I used a Sekonic L-308B light meter to take light readings, and all exposure settings were set manually.

The 35mm slides were scanned using a Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 ED. The medium-format transparencies were scanned on an Epson Perfection V850 Pro scanner.

Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook, New Jersey

The location of the accompanying photographs is Fort Hancock. Located at the northernmost tip of the Jersey Shore, at Sandy Hook, the origins of the fort date back to 1857. Parts of the fort were designed by a then-young Captain Robert E. Lee, of the Army Corps of Engineers. Hancock was an active Army base and artillery range until it was decommissioned in 1974. Today, Fort Hancock is part of the National Park Service.

Some of the original batteries were dismantled to make way for newer fortifications, while others were repurposed or modified to accommodate newer armaments. Some are fenced off and others are totally accessible to pedestrian traffic. All of them are fascinating in their own right, and they translate beautifully to monochrome as photographic subjects.

Rollei Superpan 200 2017 Allan Weitzman

A Few Words about Shooting Film

I enjoy taking pictures with film cameras and digital cameras, and I’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of both media. Digital cameras offer instant gratification. They also offer the user the ability to see in real time whether exposures and color balance are correct. This is truly invaluable when photographing unique or once-in-a-lifetime moments. If there’s a downside to this convenience, it would have to be the loss of anticipation you get when waiting to get the film back from the lab.

Regardless of how long you’ve been taking pictures, and how skilled you are at the craft, not knowing whether you “got” the picture or not, for days or maybe weeks after the fact, can be daunting. The payoff is that if everything comes out as planned, it’s not because you used a terrific, state-of-the-art camera, but because you did everything right up front. And for me, this is a priceless commodity—and part of the fun of shooting film that I doubt I would ever want to relinquish.

2017 Allan Weitz

To learn more about shooting and processing black-and-white negative film as transparencies, visit the dr5-CHROME website.

Have you been shooting black-and-white transparencies or slides? Drop us a line—we’d like to hear about your experiences below, in the Comments section.

32 Comments

Hey Allan, thanks for this great article with wonderful images. I just got my 1st few rolls back from Dr5. I just emaild David this same question but thought I would ask it here as well. Sorry if you have already answered this, I have not read all the comments. 

I'm curious about getting darkroom prints from B&W transparencies. I wouldn't need to do it oftern but might from time to time. Curious your thoughts and knowledge on who does this sort of work.

Thanks for any help.

James 

I have always been somewhat interested in this process and find it to be very interesting though I never had the right set up to try it.   I worked in the darkroom at home for years processing black and white and using the zone system and then started shooting color slides.   I now shoot digital and love it even though I was one of the last to change over from film.    

Is there a lab now that will process the film with the reversal technique or do you have to do this at home in a darkroom?    I would still be interested in trying it sometime if there was a lab to use for the processing.   I have not used the chemicals in the darkroom for years now.

Is there a lab that reverse processes B&W negatives? 

Wouldn't you know it - that's exactly what this story is about!

Check out dr5-Chrome in Stuart Iowa.

AW

>> The terms “transparencies” and “slides” are interchangeable. The difference is that the term “slide” is reserved for 35mm reversal images, while “transparency” is a blanket term for all reversal-film formats.

A minor detail - the term "transparency" refers to a non-reversal film that is intended to be projected.  If you take a single frame of transparency film and mount it into a cardboard carrier for projection, it is a slide.  The term comes from being able to "slide" it into a slot, rather than using a film strip. 

Great Article! It's nice to see film is coming back. I started out shooting all film from age 15 to going pro in my early to mid 20's,(Up to 1998) and it was all hand processed and printed. B & W was the go to 80% of the time. I started out using Tri-X for a preiod of time, but later found T-MAX was better to control in my opinion. But, for most projects, I chose Infrared Film, which produced excellent and amazing results. However, about 2001, I decided to go Digital, even though CCDs and CMOS censors were basic. It was due to sinuse problems, because of being exposed to chemistry for too long... And also economic reasons.

Though, film and printing is much more a challenge, than tweaking sliders in Photoshop!

Hi Joseph,

I love shooting digital but I'll be the first to admit shooting film is theraputic for me though it's admittedly far more expensive and time consuming compared to blasting off hundreds of JPEGs and RAW files.

The good news is we have choices and we can play in both worlds as we see fit.

Thanks for your feedback.

AW

Really cool article and images, thank you for the information. I shoot film and digital but was not aware of this process, this is exciting news to me; something I will definitely try in the near future.

Do so! You won't be dissapointed.

AW

It absolutely has to be the wait, and of course the cost of shooting film, that ensures you are disciplined to get everything right.

Rushing to get my positives from the lab (I shot on Ekta- and Kodachrome, and processed Cibachrome) and then into darkroom, the process to get one or two great shots was daunting.

I recall I was devastated when my light meter (a Gossen Pro X if I recall) was stolen. Without this could I trust my camera's light meter?  Now I don't even need a light meter, fire off a few test shots, shoot in RAW and pull it into LR or Davinci to fix it.  

I miss the old days, and then again I don't!

There's something to be said for the immediacy and real-time realities of shooting digital. 

That said, I still relish going out to take photos that I know I may not get to see for days if not a week or two.

Choice... I love it!

AW

I used dr5 a lot over 10 years ago when I lived in the DC area. The results were always stunning. I used mostly Ilford films, but tried others including Scala and Rollei. My film days were shortened by the use of x-rays in airports. I had many rolls of film shot in Europe fogged by airport security x-rays by security people who claimed that they didn't harm film and didn't give me an option. Later I ran into the security chief who was on duty at Dulles when the plane left for the Pentagon on 9/11. He said I can insist on hand inspection of film. I was successful on numerous occasions, but the uncertainly with exposed film was too much to take. I still use my film cameras, Nikon & Hasselblad, but haven't tried sending film from Sweden where I live now to dr5. Is there a safe way to ship exposed film internationally? I would love to shoot some film and have it processed by dr5. Thanks for the excellent article and the wonderful memories of dr5.

Hey Wayne,

Thanks for tuning in.

As for a safe way to ship film from Sweden I've been told that unless a suspicious package passes their way or there's an alert going on FedEx does random X-raying of packages. Most packages pass through without incident.

You might want to question your local FedEx facility and see what they have to say about it.

They sure don't make it easy to shoot film these days, that's for sure!

AW

My all time favorite black & white transparency medium was 120 (medium format roll film)  Kodak Tmax 100 processed in Kodak's short lived black & white chemistry. I metered the film at ISO 32 to 25 depending on the lighting. Slightly under exposed it had ultrafine tonal gradations over an extremely long tone scale. Nothing, not even the Dr 5 processes, looked anything like it. 

I had problems with T-max, it did not accept yellow, orange, or red filters, which prevented 'bringing down the sky.' It was not 'panchromatic.' Love Tri-X and Plus-x.

Hi Ellis,

I'm not familiar with this process but i will definately look into it - perhaps the film revival will encourage Kodak (or somebody else) to reintroduce this process.

I'm game!

Thanks for the feedback.

AW

I made a bunch of B&W slides with Panatomic-X about 50 years ago when I was just getting started. They were OK with fairly decent tonal gradations, but nothing to write home about. I recently tried to scan a few of them, but what I got was extermely contrasty. Any suggestions?

Yup... check out the dr5 website, see what films they recommend, and start playing.

I've had wonderful results and based on the feedback we're getting I'm far from alone.

Cheers!

AW

 I love black-and-white images ever since I was a kid going to Look and Life magazine.I live in St. Louis Missouri tomorrow morning at 0600 hrs. I'm going down to the  Central west then with my Pentex II  6+7 and a couple rolls of try X film, my Fujifilm X-Pro 2, and my 5D Mark III which i will also shoot  in black and white  Digital .I enjoyed your  article very much thank you.

Hi Earl,

Many thanks for the feedback.

Hope you get a few killer shots on your trip - film or digital... either is worth the time and effort.

AW

Allan,

Thank you for this article about dr5.  Dave Wood is a great guy and has developed a process that delivers stunning B&W chromes.  I don't even bother with sending my B&W's to anyone but Dave.  I have sent him HIE, TechPan, HP5, FP4, Plus-X, Tri-X, and SFX.  I just can't emphasis enough just how amazing these images look.  The tonal range is amazing.  And one thing I can vouch for is the consistency of dr5.  I have been a customer for 10 years and dr5 is nothing, if not consistent.  That is something I really appreciate.

Within the past two months I've sent Dave TechPan (I still have 30+ rolls in the freezer) and some Tri-X and was very pleased with the results. The subjects ranged from portraits to architecture and all were rendered with a high level of detail and wide tonal ranges.  As you said in the article follow Dave's recommendations for film ISO's.  I can also say that I don't own a film scanner so I use dr5's scanning service which is excellent.  

I recommend to every B&W film shooter to send dr5 a roll.  It is a treat you will be very happy with.  Those FP4 and HP5 images published in this article are beautiful.  FP4 and HP5 work very well in the dr5 process.

Thanks for the positive feedback and kudos - it's much appreciated.

AW

I have shot a lot of film in black and white, but when color came out and was affordable all of my further efforts were in Color. Have digital cameras now and while most of them would have a sepia option, have never opted for that. B &  W reminded me of early last century. I did enjoy using B & W but I guess it is better accepted by B & W affectionados.

For some it's color while others prefer monochrome.

Me? I like them both and have no problem shifting between the two based on the image I see in the finder.

Thanks for the feedback!

AW

 Hi, my name is Dave Wilson. I often shoot stereo with a home made twinrig, two Nikon N2000s with Nikon 24-120 AFD lenses. I took some some Night shots at a Railroad night photo shoot at Steamtown on Ilford Delta100 processed by dr5. The  results were awesome, kind of like O. Winston Link in stereo. The tonality range of dr5 processing  works well with black subjects like steam locomotives. Also works well for architectural subjects.

Dave -

The steroe train pix sound amazing.

I just wish I didn't have to wait a week-plus to see my results, but then again, that's half the fun of it.

Thanks for chiming in!

-AW

Are any of your photos available for viewing?  

Nice images. When were they taken? I was at Sandy Hook at took pictures at this fort (color slides, not black and white), one week before Superstorm Sandy (the weekend was when lighthouses up and down the New Jersey coast were open to the publlic). Haven't been there since. I wish I had gone down to nearby Sea Bright and got some shots of Donovan's Reef, a beach side bar that was destroyed but reopened this past summer.

Again, I love the images. Thanks for posting. 

Hey Kenneth,

These pix were captured back in July. I often bike through Sandy Hook and I had been wanting to shoot among the ruins for some time.

This project was perfect!

And thanks for the kudos.

-AW

I enjoyed your article concerning B&W transparencies. All the B&W film I purchase is processed as a slide.  FYI, Dave Wood also developes older film including Kodak HIE.  This image, although taken a few years ago, was developed by Dave.  It is from the same venue discussed in the article, Sandy Point.

Hey Barry - thanks for the feedback.

I'm only sorry it took me so long to find out about dr5...

- AW

I've shot 100's of rolls of film processed by dr5 over the years. Favourite film dr5 reversed is Delta 100, perfect for landscape photography in Scotland where I live. I meter and use this in the same way as landscape photographers use chrome film like Velvia - I use ND Grads on skies etc. This film is amazing, lots of image latitude and keeps detail in the blacks and whites. DR5 processing is tremendous - scrupulously clean - I've never had a poorly processed or damaged roll over 100's.

Like I said, just so sorry it took me so long to get on board!

AW

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