Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

By Ted Ayre

When it comes to B&W film choices we are blessed with an abundance of choice, from small companies and creative stocks, to stalwarts of the film industry. I knew of Kodak’s T-Max range for a while, and that it had been used for many celebrity portraits and studio work for years, however I’d avoided it because it said ‘professional’ on the side – and I am very much an enthusiastic amateur!

For this quick film review I have 5 x comparisons of Kodak T-Max alongside Ilford HP5+ so that I could have an overview of what to expect from receiving my scans back from the lab. I also have 3 x landscape format photos that are from the same roll of T-Max that I think typify my experience with this film stock. The pictures cover both nature and street photography, and both were shot at box speed @EI400, and developed by Come Through Lab, Ancoats, Manchester. The T-Max was shot on the Nikon FM2 with the 50mm f/1.8 pancake lens, and the HP5+ was run through my trusty Olympus XA with it’s built-in 35mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens.

Comparison of Kodak T-Max 400 with Ilford HP5+ at box speed (EI400)

Example 1

Brockholes, nr Preston – the lake was frozen over, and looked really cool! (pun intended!)  I missed focus a bit on the FM2, but it’s interesting to see how the films handle the highlights of the water and sky differently.

Example 2

Brockholes, nr Preston – around the other side of the lake the reed beds looked frosty. It’s hard for me to choose a favourite here, as the HP5+ has such a gloss and evenness about the whole photo. However, the extra contrast on T-Max adds to the feathery tops of the reeds, and I feel like I can get more of a sense of the frozen lake.

Example 3

Hello beautiful! – I met this handsome horse driving towards Sedbergh. I love the extra detail that T-Max brings, with more separation between the greys and deep blacks. HP5+ on the other hand gives you more options to bring out shadow detail in the trees etc.

Example 4

Looking down Oxford Road – this is a more difficult one for me to choose a favourite, as I think each film brings that balance between the shadows on the right, the bright sky, and the low winter sun hitting the buildings opposite.

Example 5

Manchester Chinatown, preparing for Lunar New Year – interesting to see the difference in perceived definition and detail here. In my eye the T-Max adds that extra contrast which makes the bricks of the building more pronounced.

 

Three Landscape format examples of Kodak T-Max 400 at box speed

Example 6

Brockholes, nr Preston – the distinct architecture of the visitors’ centre really brings interesting shadows and shapes to this photo. I don’t mind how T-Max buries some of the deeper shadows straight to black, as I think it gives a richness to the contrast.

Example 7

Part of the Haweswater Aqueduct – I like how this photo shows that T-Max 400 is great for detail, as I feel I could count every brick on the aqueduct! Even when there’s cloud cover the inherent contrast of the film helps add a bit more definition and clarity to the image.

Example 8

Macintosh Mills from Hulme St, Manchester – yet again this is a T-Grain masterclass in getting the most of the available detail! I just love the way this film sets off and compliments the natural light, and really has a nice distinction between greys and blacks.


Final Thoughts

I’m very happy with the results of trying Kodak T-Max 400, it definitely has its own personality compared to my usual Ilford HP5+. In my opinion, the T-Max results have given more ‘punch’ and ‘clarity’ to the images, and the film seems to have more inherent contrast than other ISO 400 speed stocks. I personally enjoyed the street photography shots, as I felt that the film brings out the details on buildings and subjects really well. I will be definitely be keeping T-Max 400 in mind for future use when I want a film stock with attitude – if you haven’t tried it yet, it’s definitely worth a go, and you don’t have to be a professional to use it haha!

What has your experience been with Kodak T-MAX 400? Do you prefer it just for certain situations, or is it a regular go-to film for you? Let me know in the comments below.

For more articles on 35mmc featuring Kodak T-Max 400 click here.
For more technical information on Kodak T-Max 400 please view the data sheet here.

All scans were developed and processed by Come Through Lab in Ancoats, Manchester.
Find them on instagram here: @comethroughlab .
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing more of my photos and experiences with this community soon.
You can find me on Instagram: @tedayre

Disclaimer:
Please remember this article is not science but subjectivity, with me sharing what I think about each image, and what values I see in them. I want you to know that I have indeed done a bit of post-processing on each image to get ‘the best’ out of the scan for my own taste. As someone who does not engage with darkroom culture, I want to share my results so that others can see another example of what they might expect back from their local lab. I do not claim to present this information as the definitive ‘version’ of the film stock, but just as a reference point along my own film photography journey.

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About The Author

By Ted Ayre
Manchester-based amateur film photography enthusiast. Sharing my learning journey here on 35mmc and via Instagram.
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Comments

DANIEL J CASTELLI on Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Hi Ted, Back in the day before digital was even a gleam in the eye of Kodak, I worked at a professional photo establishment. We carried high end equipment, never sold anything at discount (employees could buy at cost, but being a broke college student, I never could afford any of the gear.) Our clients were aerospace manufacturers, a US Navy shipyard, etc. We only sold Kodak professional products. Back then, what made the product 'professional' was that it was released to the retailers with a shortened exp. date. Like wine and blue cheese, professional films were aged so their release date coincided with the peak performance of the film.
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Ted Ayre replied:

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Amazing story Daniel, how fascinating!

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Stephen Fretz on Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

The spectral sensitivity of the films seems different; the Tmax would seem more blue-biased, hence the lighter skies. If I were to shoot with it, I'd probably use a yellow filter.
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Ted Ayre replied:

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

That's interesting, thanks Stephen! I haven't used a yellow filter before, that would certainly seem a good combination.

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Bill Watts on Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

I followed your analysis with interest, here are some of my ramblings on the subject to "T-grain or not to T-grain". I don't generally use 400ASA films, but I have shot a fair amount of FP4, Delta 100 and Acros 100. Usually I develop FP4 in HC110, dilution b, and Acros and delta 100 in Ilfotec DDX. I am of the impression from my pictures, at least, the combination of DDX and Delta 100 and Acros 100 tend to produce less visible grain (already good) and higher acuity - probably through slightly higher contrast. However, a good FP4 negative is pure gold!
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Ted Ayre replied:

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Thanks for the comment Bill! Interesting to hear what films you use regularly, I know that the Ilford Delta films are on my list to try next.

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Steve on Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

You sent them to a lab- at the same time? I’m thinking they were souped in the same tank, same chemistry, same developer, same agitation and time. If that is the case then this wasn’t a fair comparison. Or maybe for the same reasons, it was totally fair. I just think from what I’ve seen from other hp5 results that these are flat looking. Generally hp5 is so clear that you’d swear it was shot on Portra 400 post edited to b&w with just a hint of colors! It could just be me but I’m very biased toward hp5 and those just look like, admitted focusing errors aside, something else. The t max pics are good.
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Ted Ayre replied:

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Thanks for your observations Steve - thankfully I wasn't aiming for a 'fair' comparison, and I have no knowledge of darkroom culture, so you can be safe in the knowledge your HP5 bias is probably safe haha!

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Bruno on Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Thanks for the study Ted. It is interesting that you read the Manchester Chinatown T-Max 400 has having more contrat than the HP5 . If you look at the façades and the people the images on this webpage seem to distinctly show the opposite. One remark: something that made me choose HP5 over T-Max 400 for years is the fact that results with T-Max 400 are not constant (I have used X-Tol, D-76, and ID-11 with it). I print and do not scan my negatives, so the scanning also may be acceptable for some differences. Even Ilford Delta 400 or Fuji 400 were more constant. Going back to T-Max that inconsistency in T-Max 400 is not found in T-Max 100 which is my BW film of choice with at this sensitivity. Best,
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Ted Ayre replied:

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Very kind of you to call my ramblings a 'study' Bruno! That's interesting about your experience with T-Max 100 and the inconsistency you've found with 400. Yes I think it's always fascinating when individuals see different characteristics in images, thanks for sharing!

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Ken Rowin on Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

My thoughts are also that the exposures seem a bit different for the two films. The 400Tmax looks about a half stop “slower” than the HP5, which is well within the error of most camera meters. Did you use an incident light meter to standardize the exposures? Even that isn’t 100% accurate as the shutters in different camera bodies will also be “off” by a bit and so throw off exposure comparisons.
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Ted Ayre replied:

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Thanks for your comment Ken - as mentioned my article is definitely not scientific in any way, but it's interesting to hear your perspective on it.

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Davcid Hill on Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Thank you for this. I shoot a lot of black and white film, and always enjoy reading other peoples' experiences with different film. I agree that your photos show the TMax to be very slightly better than HP5 , although the 35 mm vs 50 mm lens does make comparison more difficult. Would a comparison against Kodak Tri-X (one of my old favourites ) have been more appropriate? I don't know. I have used, in the past, FP4 . HP5 , Pan F (for special occasions), Delta 100, Delta 400, Tri-X, and Fuji Neon Acros - all developed in ID-11. I have to say, at my level of photographic incompetence, that I see very little, if any, difference between them (apart from the lovely Pan F if you can arrange for the right light). I don 't recall having tried TMax, and will give it a go next time I buy some film. Thanks again, Dave
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Ted Ayre replied:

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Thanks for the comment David - glad I could give you a nudge towards trying some T-Max 400, it's definitely worth trying for yourself! It sounds like you're very experienced, but I do like the idea of using Ilford Pan F for special occasions, that one is on my radar for landscape stuff in the future.

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Ibraar Hussain on Kodak T-Max 400 – Is it my cup of T-grain? – Quick Film Review – By Ted Ayre

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Curious to know how you metered each scene?
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Ted Ayre replied:

Comment posted: 12/03/2023

Me too Ibraar! I just used the different in-camera meters, and tried to expose for the shadows.

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