Photos & Projects

Pushing T-Max 400 to EI3200 with a Leica M3 Monochrom and First-Gen Summilux 35mm f/1.4 – Steven Bleistein

February 19, 2020

If you shoot monochrome film, you don’t have to make do with shooting at box speed if it is a higher speed that you want, and if that is the case for you, you should not hesitate to push process. If you have not heard of push processing, it means altering the developing process so that you can under-expose your film and still get great results. If you would like to learn more about push processing, there is a good article here.

Kodak T-Max films are designed for pushing, even up to three stops. So that means you can push T-Max 100 as high as 800, T-Max 400 as high as 3200, and T-Max P3200 as high as 25,600. Kodak provides recipes for all of these. 

To develop Kodak T-Max 400 at box speed requires only five minutes in Kodak T-Max Developer at 24C. To push to EI3200 merely requires an extra 4 minutes and thirty seconds or nine-and-a-half minutes altogether. Easy peasy.

If Kodak Tri-X 400 happens to be your film of choice, no problem. You can push process Tri-X up to EI3200, and maybe even EI6400 if you like, although Kodak does not recommend pushing beyond EI3200. Other films stocks such as those made by Ilford are also likely pushable, but I have no experience with these. If you do, please feel free to share in the comments.

Some film stocks don’t push well at all. When I have tried to push Fomopan stocks, or their Lomograpy doppelgänger equivalents, I’ve gotten unattractive results. Some developers also have push processing limitations. Kodak D-76 will work only up to two stops, not three, even on Kodak T-Max films. I have tried for three stops using D-76, and gotten some pretty hideous results. Better to follow Kodak’s advice here. 

Some developers have limitations with certain pushable films. Rodinal allows me to push to EI800 both T-Max 100 and Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100, and presumably the new Acros II. However, Rodinal used with higher sensitive films like T-Max 400 gets overly grainy results, whether push processing or not.

Street photography is my thing, so I rarely if ever shoot at box speed. I typically want to shoot at no less than 1/250th of a second in the street when I want to freeze motion, and I prefer to shoot stopped down as much as possible, preferably f/16 or f/11, to get the greatest depth of field. I zone focus and when I adjust focus, I need to move fast. No time for precision. A high EI helps with that, particularly on an overcast day, like the day I shot the photos for this piece.

Leica’s recent introduction of the Leica M10 Monochrom, the third incarnation of its digital M bodies with their unique monochrome-only sensors, has been generating much fuss, fawning, and pontification about a nostalgia for an analog past of shooting monochrome film, made to sound so idyllic as to be irreconcilable with my actual memories. These days, Leica’s engineering and industrial design prowess are only exceeded by its branding acumen, but who can blame them? Leica has the right to make money like any other business, and they have certainly learned from past mistakes failing to do so. 

Marketing faff aside, the idea of a monochrome-only sensor that can achieve far greater resolution for the ISO and distinguish much more subtle argentique shades of gray is a brilliant idea. The funny thing is that a monochrome sensor is not a technical upgrade over a color one, but rather a downgrade, with the color bayer sensor layer removed, allow for the greater ISO sensitivity and subtler silver shades! 

It is a wonder that other camera makers don’t offer their own monochrome models. Can you imagine a monochrome X-Pro3 or a monochrome X100 series? Surely there would be enough demand to justify the product. Are you listening, Fujifilm? 

Alas, if you want a Leica M10 Monochrom you will have to shell out US$8000 or so for the pleasure. However, in case you would like to avoid cashing out your kid’s college fund, why not spring for the original Leica M Monochrom? I am not talking about the M9 Monochrom here. No, the real deal is the Leica M3.

And your sensor? Well, choose whatever film stock you like–Kodak, Ilford, Ferrania, Bergger, Japan Camera Hunter, Kentmere, Adox, Rollei, Seagull, Lomography, Fujifilm, or any other.

And the ISO range? How does ISO 25~25,600 grab you? That stacks up pretty well against the Leica M10 Monochrom’s ISO 160~100,000, and let’s face it. At ISO 50,000 and above, you might as well be shooting photos with a Gameboy! And when was the last time you actually needed ISO 100,000 anyway?

I shot all the photos in this piece in the Ginza and Yurakucho areas of Tokyo, Japan with an original Leica M3 Monochrom, a Kodak T-Max 400 sensor with ISO set to 3200. I used Kodak’s T-Max developer image processor with its highly effective monochrome processing algorithms. Judge the results for yourself.

I am a street photographer who lives in Japan. If you would like to see more of my work, have a look at my website bleisteinphoto.com, or my Instagram @sbleistein

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    Rob
    February 19, 2020 at 10:20 am

    Nice article. I also like your work. Very solid. Truth be told, I actually like the look of pushed bw to the look of the M10’s output. You just can’t beat film.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 19, 2020 at 3:43 pm

      It’s not a competition. Film is distinct from digital, neither better nor worse. I shoot both film and digital, and enjoy each for what each has to offer. Glad you like my work!

  • Reply
    Stuart L Marcus
    February 19, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Bleistein, for your article and your inspirational photos. You made me want to run out and buy a Leica M3…but only momentarily. I have promised myself a Fuji X100V and look forward to experimenting with monochrome and color in similar street photography in my New York City

  • Reply
    James T
    February 19, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Your remark on the difficulty of getting decent results pushing Fomapan, revived a thought that has been floating around in the back of my mind for a while.
    It seems to me that there is a correlation between films that are hard to push (e.g. Foma) and high levels of reciprocity failure. The idea makes sense in that both high reciprocity failure and poor pushability imply a lack of response to low intensities. I don’t know if anyone has looked into this in a thorough way. (As a primarily landscape photographer I don’t push film very often, apart from HP5+ to 800 in the woods).

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 19, 2020 at 3:37 pm

      The idea is that you you have lots of options to choose from. No need to limit yourself to box speed.

  • Reply
    Ron Scibilia
    February 19, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    Very good advice. Striking photos. Appreciated.

    I have never pushed film. I’ll have to try it.

    Thanks,

    RDS

  • Reply
    Michael Scott
    February 19, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    I love these pictures which show the real virtue of black and white film with grain creating a mood which draws the viewer in. Great stuff!

  • Reply
    swimmyboi
    February 19, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    why are you calling it an m3 monochrom?

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 19, 2020 at 8:36 pm

      The “M3 Monochrom” is just toungue-in-cheek. My only point is that if you really want to have an authentic M Monochrom experience, you can pick up a Leica M3 for $800 and roll of film rather than a Leica M10 Monochrom for $8000. The choice is yours.

  • Reply
    JK Lockwood
    February 19, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    Well done. I’ve been contemplating writing a story for Hamish entitled “My 30MP Leica M4-P Monochrom”. You’ve saved me the trouble. I do pine for an M10/M10P/M10M/M10-D or even the SAFARI! Kickstarter?

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 19, 2020 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks! You should still write your article and submit to Hamish. I’m sure your perspective will add to the discussion. You have already piques my interest just with the title!

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    February 19, 2020 at 11:02 pm

    Nice job, Steven! I think your pushed Tmax examples as well as the others turned out amazingly well. I chuckle at the contrast: you are using EI = 3200 and even higher, while I am still using Panatomic-X at EI = 20, with slow lenses at that. It shows that film is such an amazing creative medium because there are still so many choices and it can be exposed/developed so many ways

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 19, 2020 at 11:53 pm

      I agree completely!

    • Reply
      Kodachromeguy
      February 20, 2020 at 4:17 am

      Oops, I forgot to mention: I really like the young gent with the fedora and the suit with wide lapels. I hate to admit that I once had suits with lapels like that….

      • Reply
        Steven Bleistein
        February 20, 2020 at 6:22 am

        I don’t think he is Japanese. Seemed more like a tourist.

  • Reply
    John Murch
    February 19, 2020 at 11:57 pm

    Hey Steve, I always enjoy your “up close and intimate” people shots. Nice selfie by the way, I will be looking out for you on the streets. Cheers also from Tokyo!

  • Reply
    Kevin
    February 20, 2020 at 11:20 am

    A fascinating article. I’m quite new to film photography, I’m learning a massive amount from these Instagram blogs. Thank you for sharing with us.

    • Reply
      Steven Bleistein
      February 20, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      My pleasure! 35mmc.com has become a tremendous knowledge base. Have a look at articles from past years too. Particularly when we are talking about analogue cameras, the older articles never go obsolete!

      And when you are ready, contribute to 35mmc.com as an author. Even if you are just beginning, writing about your thoughts and experience is helpful to others.

  • Reply
    Brett Soul
    February 25, 2020 at 9:31 pm

    The other year I was out shooting a small club night in London, I took my Nikon F3 with 50mm 1.8 but I forgot the flash attachment even though I had the flashgun, my stock was Ilford delta 400, whilst on the tube I pushed the iso to its highest setting of 6400 I practised with the lens at 1.8 and thought I’ve nothing to lose. I developed the roll in Microphen and a bit of research I got a Dev time of 17 minutes 30, some of the frames didn’t work out but the few that did had a fantastic grain that was choc full of atmosphere and suited the mood of the night, it’s not something I’d recommend to push a film to its very limit but just like life have fun and experiment .

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