Kodak Tri-X 400 — for Film to Digital Workflows

Black and White Film Review

5 min read by Dmitri.

What is Kodak Tri-X 400?

Tri-X is an old recipe that’s been in production for over 81 years. This classic, always-in-demand film has a well-balanced contrast curve and an ability to retain it across various speeds, all the way up to ISO 6400.

Tri-X remains relevant in 2021 for its solid performance with scanners and a simplified workflow thanks to its fantastic contrast profile. Having weathered war, Kodak’s bankruptcy, and the (still ongoing) pandemic, this film isn’t likely to vanish anytime soon. Its resilience is rooted in its reputation and the ability to change — most recently through chemical alterations that made it less toxic to the environment and thus still licensable for sale in countries with stricter pollution control.

Of course, it helps to have a memorable, prolific brand that’s almost as old as 35mm film format, immortalized in museums, books, and films.

Sample photos.

Unless otherwise specified, all of the photos below were shot with Minolta TC-1 and developed in Ilford DD-X at box speed by The Lab. I scanned them with PrimeFilm XAs using VueScan without any sharpening or inversion into lossless 16-bit TIFFs at 5,000DPI. I then inverted those files with no Curves/contrast adjustments and minimal to no equalization.

My favourite property of Kodak Tri-X 400 is that the negatives it produces, at least when developed in Ilford DD-X, are a nearly-finished product. It takes only a second to invert them, after which, the file is good to share, print, or archive. There’s no need to work on the look: the iconic Tri-X style is baked into every frame by the manufacturer.

The default contrast profile of Tri-X seems to work very well in the evening light. Plenty of definition with some detail loss in the shadows that only adds to the drama.
I’ve increased the contrast in this frame slightly to make the clouds more visible and to create a slightly more sinister motif. Tri-X can definitely benefit from a yellow or an orange filter as its sensitivity to blue light makes the cloud cover feel rather dull in mid-day light. Unfortunately, Mounting filters onto Minolta TC-1 camera is not possible.
Even low-contrast scenes manage to retain inky black points with Tri-X. Highlights tend to retain a decent amount of information, though if you need to pull them back by more than 2 stops you may notice the severity of the grain increase.
Deep-green vegetation has a dramatic appearance on Tri-X 400. Without any adjustments, it is stark, deep, but not completely devoid of detail.
Tri-X seeks out blackpoints and makes them noticeably present while letting the highlights carry the rest of the dynamic range.
While Tri-X tends to crush deepest shadows, its overall exposure range remains impressive. As you can see here, there’s discernable detail under the tables of a badly-lit Burger King AND in the brightly-lit street that’s at least nine stops brighter.
The contrast that Kodak Tri-X delivers is ink-thirsty in all the right spots if you manage to make an exposure that needs no adjustments (which isn’t too difficult with this film). And the scans retain their signature style through digital processing and various displays.

When it comes to grain, Tri-X 400 shot at box speed and developed in Ilford DD-X is perfectly reasonable; it is nowhere near overwhelming. In 35mm, the crunch is barely noticeable on large displays though it becomes significantly more present if contrast/exposure is altered.

Price and availability.

Tri-X is a popular film. You’ll be able to find it in most stores that sell any sort of black and white Kodak film. As of this writing, it sells for an average of $9.33USD (measured across eight popular stores online). Three years ago it was $6.20.

For an up-to-date market price and more sample photos with Kodak Tri-X, see Film Prices web app.

Scanning.

Restoring highlights with Tri-X isn’t difficult — there’s plenty of details there. However, that makes the grain a lot more noticeable.

Tri-X needs no post-scanning adjustments for most well-exposed frames. Once you get your negative digitized, it’s usually enough to just invert it. No equalization, no contrast adjustments, no sharpening needed.

However, though this film delivers plenty of character, it gives little room have its signature look altered. There’s plenty of information in highlights that may give you an opportunity to add definition to blown-out areas but doing so may flood your frame with grain and could cause your image to feel off-balance.

I found that this film works best with fast workflows, committed to classic black and white film look. You’ll find Kodak Tri-X to be reliable, balanced, and beautiful — as long as you let it paint your pictures with minimal intervention.