HandMade Photographic Images

T-Max Films --
What Rochester Forgot to Tell Us

(Some long overdue preliminary test results)

Copyright William A. Bascom, 1996

For three decades I have been devoted to Kodak's Tri-X films in roll and sheet film sizes. It has been hard to find time to do the necessary recalibration and comparison tests needed to break in a new product, but for the past year or so I h ave been doing just that. What follows are my own tentative conclusions based upon field tests with my own equipment which confirm what Kodak says in its brochure, F-32, revised 7/94, available from Rochester for the asking. Just give Kodak a call at 1- 800- 242-2424 (Free!).

Before going any further, a few words of caution: Do not forget that seeing is subjective and that what I may judge to be a Zone III or VIII luminance value in a scene or print probably does not coincide with yours. To further confound things, everyone 's meter is apt to be different from everyone else's. I find that T-Max 100 works very nicely at an ASA of 100 on my Pentax Digital meter which was modified and calibrated by Zone VI Studios several years ago. Readings with this meter always indicate an exposure of twice that of my Gossen Luna Pro, my Minolta Meter and the through-the-lens meter built into my Nikon F-3. ASA settings of 50 work better for those meters. Similarly for the T-Max 400 films (sheet and roll), settings of 400 on the Pentax and 200 on all of the others produces the desirable shadow densities in the negatives and details in the prints. Do not blame the meters. Remember that it is more important for your meter to be consistent than to agree with someone else's. Do not blame yo ur meter or the film, just be sure the make some calibration tests of your own. You will find calibration procedures in any number of good texts dealing with the Zone System, a particularly concise one is Exposure and Development and the Control of Black and White Negative Density Range and Print Tonal Scale for the Mathematically and Scientifically Disinclined (see ViewCamera, January/February, 1991). The author's intelligence is matched only by his humility. In spite of differences in individuals' per ception and our instruments of measurement, I think you will find the information which follows a good place to begin.

So what's the big deal? If Kodak told us everything we needed to know in publication F-32, why waste time with all this business? Well, from what I understand, Kodak did not quite tell the whole story. The Rascals in Rochester even misled us a bit. Pe rhaps in carefully calibrated mechanical processors the, T-Max developer, which appears to have been the primary recommendation, worked fine, but for those of us processing films in trays and small tanks results were so inconsistent or unsatisfactory that many gave up on the film. For those of you who gave up before trying all of the possible developer/dilution combinations, and for those of you who never tried the films in the first place -- read on!

When I began experimenting with the T-Max films, I first tried HC-110 as a developer. I was not pleased with the results. Tri-X in HC-110 was still superior in my view. Next I tried the T-Max films with the T-Max developer. That seemed to be Kodak's p rimary recommendation. The results were even less consistent -- too grainy and the contrast too hard to control. To be fair the problem may have been that my processing techniques, which try as I might, were inconsistent. In any event, the results (rol l and sheet) were not what I had been led to believe they should be. I think that Kodak touted its new T-Max Developer as the primary recommendation for its T-Max emulsions. The developer has its place, but it is not the best developer for the T-Max fil ms as its name suggests. Again to be fair, it might work better at dilutions other than the recommended 1:4 (anyone with the time might want to give this a try).

A few years passed, and a bunch of my T-Max film went belly up in the ice box as its expiration date came and went. Well, to make a long story not quite so long, a year or so ago I was at my local photographic supply house which is a good outfit interes ted in long-term customer satisfaction and not short-term gadget sales, and I happened to mention to my friends, Steve and Wayne, that I was getting less-than-satisfactory results with the T-Max films. They told me that recently a Kodak technical represe ntative had told them what I am now going to tell you. I am telling you because it worked to solve the contrast, grain, inconsistency problems I had had with the T-Maxes and turned them into the films with more latitude, less grain, more speed and great er flexibility than I had been told they were. Sure I still use Tri-X, but I have found little the T- Max films cannot do just as well if not better that the old classic.

Here, then, is what Kodak forgot to put in the instructions with the film, and what may be common knowledge around the labs in Rochester (and Boise, Ponca City, Walla Walla and Blue Eye too for all I know). If you dumped the T-Maxes for the same reasons I did ,try the following and see if you don't agree that they are worth a second look.

For the kinds of work I am doing (everything from architecture to animal portraiture) the best developer combination with the T-Max films is good old D-76. Yes that's Dee Seventy-Six. The same developer we all cut our teeth on twenty-five years ago -- w ell, some of us did, anyway. I have found that Kodak's and Steve and Wayne's suggestion has been confirmed -- it works extremely well diluted 1:1 at 68 degrees and developed for 12 minutes for roll and sheet film for the 100 version and 11 minutes for th e 400 version. That is almost what Kodak said in its brochure! The problem was that D-76 was listed as a third or forth choice and that the 1:1 dilution, the one I think best, was not listed for sheet film development at all.

Now just one more suggestion -- agitation. When Big Daddy says to agitate, do it! If you are developing your roll film in tanks, take a look at the drawing on page 5 of the Kodak publication and in the immortal words of Jerry Rubin, DO IT! Roll films -- five or six top-over-bottom, martini shaker kinds of twists every thirty seconds; and sheet films -- plenty of agitation. For a stack of four sheets cycle films top to bottom (or bottom to top) and rotate each film a quarter of a turn when replacing it in the stack repeating the shuffle through the stack at least once a minute.

I think you will find that with D-76 1:1 and with firm agitation, you will begin to realize some of the claims of fine grain and flexible scale that Kodak makes for the T-Maxes. I am looking forward to getting to know them even better in the not-too-dist ant future.

The following are some preliminary suggestions based upon laboratory tests and density readings. These times gave results of a Zone I density of .1 above film base and fog and a Zone VIII density of 1.35 AFB&F. Field tests have indicated that developin g times of about 10% less are better. Again these are only starting points. I urge you to adjust your calibration to suit your own equipment, processing techniques and tastes.

I am lumping the roll films (35mm and 120) together and the sheet films (4x5 and 5x7) together. Consider the following as starting points. I hope they will save you some time in your own work and help you get the most out of these two excellent films.

Suggested Development Times for T-Max Films: (cold light enlarger) Times will need to be cut for condenser type enlargers:

T-Max 100 rated at 100 and T-Max 400 rated at 400 with my modified Pentax meter. Be sure to see notes in second paragraph. Consider these times starting points. Use the same setting you used for Tri-X for the TMY (400) and interpolate for the TMX (100). All temperatures at 68 degrees.

Recent Tests suggest that T-Max developer may produce a greater degree of fog density than the newer T- Max-RS brew. Personally, I no longer use the older stuff and lean toward D-76 1:1 as my primary developer for these films.

A Few Closing Notes:

  1. I have found that when pushed beyond N+1 that the films appear to work best in the T-Max Developer. Otherwise the D-76 is just fine.
  2. Another real advantage of the film is improved reciprocity characteristics which are greatly improved over Tri-X for long exposures (10 seconds to several minutes.) Last summer I tried some city scapes of New York out my hotel window at night (I was terrified to go out onto the street without a body guard and armor). The results were terrific with unexpectedly rich details in the shadow areas -- one could almost count the mendicants in the dark recesses of the alleys.
  3. Several months ago and after the first draft of this article, John Sexton cautioned me that D-76 chemically changes during storage. He suggested that the stock solution not be kept for over a month. I have read similar cautions by other careful workers. In my experience, I think if you do keep the stock too long you will discover that density will be inflated with old developer stock.

Good luck, let me hear from you.

Bill Bascom
35 Magnolia Drive
St. Louis, MO 63124-1554