Kodak Tri-X 400 Film Review

A Classic High-Contrast, Easy to Scan Monochrome Emulsion

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A brief history of Kodak Tri-X.

Kodak Tri-X is an old emulsion recipe that’s been in production for over 81 years.

Having weathered World War II, Kodak’s bankruptcy, and the (still ongoing) pandemic, this film isn’t likely to vanish anytime soon. Its resilience is rooted in its versatility (fine grain, high contrast, ease of push-processing) 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.

Tri-X 400 dynamic range and resolution.

Tri-X can balance punchy contrast and wide dynamic range brilliantly. What’s more, it retains these fantastic properties relatively intact when pushed all the way to ISO 6400.

Figure 1. Kodak Tri-X 400 Film Characteristics Curves.

Tri-X can easily provide 10+ stops of dynamic range when converted from 3+ lux-seconds (Figure 1) for a 12-min development process with 1-min agitation in D-76 film developer.

Tri-X is also available in ISO 320 for large-format cameras. This format appears to give slightly more contrast while retaining exposure latitude.

Despite the speed, Tri-X retains an RMS granularity index of 17, which is only slightly chunkier than Provia 400F’s RMS 13.

You can find more graphs and tech info in this PDF.

Scanning Kodak Tri-X.

Scanning Kodak Tri-X is easy. Its base + fog is of low density, which means that you may skip the equalization step entirely. It’s enough just to scan and invert the negatives.

In other words, this film looked great immediately after being scanned and required no extra time for adjusting contrast/sharpness in Photoshop, Lightroom, or whatever software you use to post-process your images.

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

If the shot was well-framed and sharply focused, well-exposed, developed in Ilford DD-X, and scanned on a good scanner like PrimeFilm XAs — there’s no work left to do after inverting the negative with the simplest and cheapest of tools that would allow it. Forget expensive software. All you need is your film and a scanner.

Note that Tri-X gives the opposite of a “flat” profile some photographers prefer. While there’s still room to make the scans “your own” with this film, Tri-X won’t give as much freedom to do so as do other, more neutral contrast emulsions, like the Kodak T-Max. But the baked-in contrast profile of this film is fantastic.

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 chunkier grain and could cause your image to feel off-balance.

You’ll find Kodak Tri-X to be reliable, balanced, and beautiful — as long as you let it do its thing.

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 contrast adjustments into lossless 16-bit TIFFs at 5,000DPI.

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 somewhat 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. Unfortunately, Mounting filters onto my Minolta TC-1 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.

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, 35mm/36exp versions of the film sell for an average of $9.33USD (measured across eight popular stores online). Three years ago, it was $6.20.

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