Kodak T-MAX P3200 Black and White Film Review

Box Speed Is the Best Speed

11 min read by Dmitri ☕️.

Kodak T-MAX P3200 “…is a multi-speed continuous-tone panchromatic black-and-white negative film that combines high to ultra-high film speeds with finer grain than that of other fast black-and-white films. It is especially useful for very fast action; for dimly lighted scenes where you can’t use flash; for subjects that require good depth of field combined with fast shutter speeds; and for hand holding telephoto lenses for fast action or in dim light. It is an excellent choice for nighttime photography.

☝️ This film review is introduced by a quote from Kodak’s 2019 P3200 datasheet. It’s a mouthful yet descriptive:

This blazing-fast film is and isn’t ISO 3200 (it’s multi-speed). Its grain, through prominent, can be managed well when adequately developed. And, if exposed at the box speed, this film is quite useful for night scenes — though it can also work in the daytime.

Let me unpack that further with some tips and examples.

“Multi-speed” films.

The nominal speed is EI 1000 when the film is processed in KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX Developer or KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX RS Developer and Replenisher, or EI 800 when it is processed in other KODAK black-and-white developers. It was determined in a manner published in ISO standards.

P3200 is marketed as a “multi-speed” film, which Kodak defines as an emulsion that can be shot and developed at various EI (ISO) ratings with good results. In other words, despite being an ISO 1000 film, it can be push-processed up to ISO 25,000 or pull-processed to ISO 400 sensitivities.

Vitessa L3 with green filter and Kodak T-MAX P3200: shot and developed at EI 1600 in Ilford DDX by The Lab, Vancouver.

“Box speed” is a number that film brands write on the packaging. It often coincides with the emulsion’s ISO, i.e., Pro Image 100, Portra 400, and Fujicolor Natura 1600. P3200, however, is instead the most impressive figure Kodak felt comfortable printing on the box.

Of course, not all ISO 800 films can swing that far, as push-processing often increases contrast and grain while also decreasing their dynamic range — often beyond acceptable limits.

✪​ Note: Film’s ISO is a rating made by following the international organization for standards’ method for determining film speed. Whereas EI (Exposure Index) is a figure indicating the proper exposure for a film of a certain speed in a certain light¹.

Ilford’s competing Delta Professional 3200 is the same way: an ISO 800 film, pushable up to EI 25,000.

Keep in mind that your lab will most likely develop your T-MAX P3200 at the box speed: EI 3200. And thus, if you’d like to shoot your film at its native ISO 1000, you’ll need to instruct your chemist — as they will most likely treat the box speed as “normal” and charge extra for “pulling” your film two stops to EI 800 (3200→1600→800, where 800 is a rounded down from 1000 to conform with most camera settings and development charts).

Vitessa L3 with Kodak T-MAX P3200 @ EI 3200. Ilford DDX by The Lab, Vancouver.

Dynamic range.

Photographic film is famously capable of producing images with a wide dynamic range. This means that some emulsions can capture high-contrast scenes without losing shadows or highlights when exposed properly (i.e., HP5+) — and do so better than many digital cameras. On the other hand, narrow dynamic range emulsions are preferred by photographers for the quality and strength of contrast they can add to an otherwise dull scene (i.e., Velvia 50).

Four film characteristic curves for different exposure ratings. Development: 13min ≅ EI 3200, 11min ≅ EI 1600, 9min ≅ 800, 8min ≅ 400.

P3200’s dynamic range is a decent ~10 stops, as seen from the graph (converted ~3 lux-seconds). However, the main strength of this film when it comes to contrast is consistency.

✪​ Note: Contrast and dynamic range are often used interchangeably. Where wide dynamic ranges correspond to low-contrast film and narrow dynamic ranges correspond to high-contrast film.

Kodak’s datasheet demonstrates this film’s consistent, almost linear response to light for four different exposure settings (EI 400-3200). The top curve shows a somewhat steeper slope (and thus more contrast) yet no loss in dynamic range, given that you have a scanner that can read DMax of 3.0.

Because of the shape of the characteristic curve of the film, you will obtain better shadow detail and highlight separation when you expose it at EI 3200 or 6400 than you can obtain with 400-speed films pushed by 3 stops.
Vitessa L3 with Kodak T-MAX P3200 @ EI 3200. Ilford DDX by The Lab.

T-MAX P3200’s ten stops of dynamic range are enough to capture most night scenes (which tend to have strong shadows and harsh highlights). However, I came across a few shots that had to have their highlights recovered in Photoshop — more on that below.

Vitessa L3 with Kodak T-MAX P3200 @ EI 3200. Ilford DDX by The Lab, Vancouver. Highlights restored in Photoshop (added some graininess in bright areas).

Grain structure, resolution, and sharpness.

T-MAX P3200 is a grainy film at its box speed. The granules can be seen on most large screens — though maybe not on a mobile device. You will definitely notice them in large print. And there’s no escaping the fuzz with larger formats: Kodak T-MAX P3200 is only available in 35mm.

When exposed and developed at EI 3200 in Ilford DDX, the grain appears sharp enough to preserve fine detail but not overly harsh.

At EI 1600, this film shows somewhat finer grain, but the results appeared less pleasing in my case. Developed in Ilford DDX by the same lab that took care of my EI 3200 exposures, the scans showed harsher, more distracting granules. Some of that change may be due to the significantly altered lighting (daytime with green filter vs nighttime with artificial lighting).

I’ve also noticed that scenes with lots of high-contrast shadows look best on this film. Choosing such lighting appears to distract from the grain’s prominence well (even at EI 1600):

Vitessa L3 with green filter and Kodak T-MAX P3200: shot and developed at EI 1600 in Ilford DDX by The Lab, Vancouver.

But if your goal is to highlight graininess, T-MAX P3200 at EI 1600 in a low-contrast setting and lots of bright elements is the way to go:

Vitessa L3 with green filter and Kodak T-MAX P3200: shot and developed at EI 1600 in Ilford DDX by The Lab, Vancouver.

Still, my favourite results with this film are made of EI 3200 exposures under artificial lighting, developed at box speed in Ilford DDX:

Vitessa L3 with Kodak T-MAX P3200 @ EI 3200. Ilford DDX by The Lab, Vancouver.

Developing Kodak T-Max P3200.

This film is made for a wide range of development times and exposure ratings. It also appears to behave best with the matching Kodak T-MAX developer.

From Kodak T-MAX P3200 datasheet.

However, P3200 can degrade quickly when developed using experimental or unproven methods, as you can see in the example below. Soaked in Caffenol-C-H and fixed in a salt bath, this film turned incredibly grainy.

FED 5b with Kodak T-MAX P3200. Caffenol-C-H + salt bath.
Your fixer will be exhausted more rapidly with this film than with other films. If your negatives show a magenta (pink) stain after fixing, your fixer may be near exhaustion, or you may not have used a long enough time. If the stain is slight, it will not affect image stability, negative contrast, or printing times. You can remove a slight pink stain with KODAK Hypo Clearing Agent. However, if the stain is pronounced and irregular over the film surface, refix the film in fresh fixer.

If you’re planning to develop this film at home, I recommend reading through Kodak’s datasheet for various techniques, development times, and tips — such as the warning about the fixer exhaustion (quote above).

Scanning Kodak T-MAX P3200.

T-MAX P3200 is an easy film to scan. It’s not particularly curly or thin; the average image density looks accessible for most devices.

The best scans, in my experience, were made with EI 3200 exposures with lots of contrast and artificial lighting.

Recovering highlights is possible with this film. I found that altering contrast digitally made my images slightly grainier (depending on how much and which way you bend the curves). But much less than some black-and-white films (i.e., Tri-X, Acros) that tend to rebel even after a slight contrast change.

✪​ Note: I use this method to scan all film for my reviews. It creates consistent results that make understanding and comparing the emulsion’s colour/contrast attributes possible.

Vitessa L3 with Kodak T-MAX P3200 @ EI 3200. Ilford DDX by The Lab, Vancouver.

When to shoot Kodak T-MAX P3200? Exposure and application guide.

Kodak T-MAX P3200 is a versatile film. With the right developer, this film can create good images at various exposure speeds (though you’d have to stay consistent throughout the roll). However, you’re advised to select well-matched chemicals and techniques, as deviating from those development notes can create harsh grain.

This film deals very well with high-contrast scenes; I’ve had great results shooting this emulsion at night under artificial lighting at box speed.

Given the large variety of chemicals you can soak your P3200 in and a wide range of exposure indexes it can be shot at, you can expect many looks from this film. From what I’ve seen, the granules’ size remained consistent across development techniques and exposure ratings; however, its qualities altered from harsh to buttery smooth mini-chunks.

Vitessa L3 with green filter and Kodak T-MAX P3200: shot and developed at EI 1600 in Ilford DDX by The Lab, Vancouver.

Travelling with Kodak T-MAX P3200.

If you plan to expose your film at EI 3200 or higher, you should be wary of airport X-Ray machines. Though scanning the film once shouldn’t inflict too much damage, multiple passes will fog your film and degrade overall results. You should also pay particular attention to CT scanners that take up to 200 X-Ray exposures per go.

You may find the following guide useful for ensuring the safety of your highly-sensitive photographic equipment: “How to Travel With Film Through Airport Security.

How much does Kodak T-MAX P3200 cost, and where to buy it.

Since its re-introduction in 2018, the film’s price has been steadily rising over the years, though not nearly as dramatically as that of colour negative film. As of this writing, a roll of T-MAX P3200 costs $13.73 — once averaged across various retailers. Given the versatility of this film and its unique nighttime photography applications, this is still a good deal. (The $13+ price point is the average cost of 35mm film across all brands and stores.)

If you’re interested in film prices and would like to stay on top of them, the best way is to subscribe to the free semi-annual reports on film costs. I do all the hard work surveying a curated variety of film stores across the world on this and many other film stocks.

❤ By the way: Please consider making your Kodak T-MAX P3200 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!