The 400 ASA films that I’ve tried enough to have an opinion about include: Kodak’s Tri-X and TMax 400 and Ilford’s HP5 and XP2 Super. At this point, TMax has become a pretty clear favorite. It is without a doubt my most used B&W film in 35mm and in 120, though I explore more films more often in 120, it is the film I go to for consistent performance. While I do try to explore more and more films all the time, it is difficult to replace the flexibility and acutance of TMax 400 when it comes to shooting 35mm B&W.
If I’m being completely honest, this is where I feel TMax 400 disappoints me the most. It’s hard to explain why, though. Over every other film I’ve tried like it, I love the sharpness of this film and lack of pronounced grain. What’s different about this stock that I don’t love is the amount of middle grey and overall lack of contrast that photos have when taken in strong, daylight scenarios. In dimly lit (tastefully lit?) situations, the contrast is upped enough though to really hit the sweet spot for me.
I’ve tried this film a bit in the studio but I’ve not loved the results. That is for sure my fault and not the fault of the film. I prefer the lower speed of TMax 100 so that I can have more dependency on the strobes and stop down a couple extra stops where for 400 ASA, I lose some of the control because of the speed of the film. I suspect that with some practice in the studio, I will come to love this film a lot too but when you’re able to completely control the amount of light, why not go for the lower ASA? Using the film in natural light settings, I still don’t care much for the film in strong, daylight settings without some curves adjustment. In natural light when the light is very low, contrast is high and this film finds its stride.
Pushing and Pulling
I can honestly say that I have more experience pushing/pulling this film that any other film stock. I’ll start with saying that I don’t like the results from pulling this film. I can’t even imagine a context when someone would want to do it. Why did I do it then, you ask? Great question – I pulled it because I was in a pinch, wanted some 100 ASA film but only had TMax 400. So I pulled it and found the results to be far too bland.
I do not know how this film retains so much dynamic range when pushed. Though I don’t know if this is true, I wouldn’t be surprised if TMax 400 performs just as well if not better than TMax 3200P at 3200 ASA. It can be pushed more and more without having many if any faults. It is because it can be pushed so much without seemingly any repercussions that it has become my go-to B&W film.
Similar to TMax 100, my first experience with this film stock was on our Banff trip in 2019. I actually only brought it for the 35mm as a back up film and it produced some of my favorite frames from the entire trip. I was pretty skeptical to try it before then but after that trip, I bought a few more rolls in 35mm and when I finally got around to shooting them, I was pretty amazed with the results. I’ve continued to try it more and more and I have found my go-to B&W film.
Last thing I’ll say is that I recently picked up a Tamron lens with vibration control which allows me to shoot as slow as 1/13th of a second and still get tack-sharp photos. This, paired up TMax’s ability to be undersexposed and work out just fine, made for opportunities to shoot well into the evening and late at night. I love it.