Kodak Tri-X 400 — for Film to Digital Workflows

Black and White Film Review & Loads of Sample Photos

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

I then inverted those files; amazingly, they required minimal to no equalization. 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.

Compared to the typical few minutes per shot that I spend on my computer to get the colour, sharpness, and contrast right, Tri-X took zero time for this task — with only rare exceptions. If the shot was framed and focused perfectly, with a great lens like the Minolta G-Rokkor 28mm 1:3.5, was 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 the expensive software. All you need is your film and a scanner.

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. However, the baked-in contrast profile of this film is absolutely fantastic:

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.

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.

Scanning.

Restoring highlights with Tri-X isn’t difficult — there’s plenty of details there. However, that could make 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 to 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 chunkier grain and could cause your image to feel off-balance. That was my experience, you may have better luck with another developer/scanner combo. Or, if you print on silver gelatin, the game may be different altogether.

I found that this film works best with fast workflows, committed to the 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 for you.

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.

Adorama is selling it in 35mm/36exp., a slightly cheaper 35mm/24exp., packs of 5 in 120, 50-sheet packs for 4x5 in ISO 320, 10-sheet packs for 8x10 in ISO 320, and a few other formats and packages. Ilford DD-X developer can be bought there also. eBay also has plenty of pricing and package options available in all corners of the world.

By the way: If you choose to buy your film from eBay or Adorama, please consider using the links above so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!