What do we know about it as a film?
Well, it’s been used by some of the most famous photographers to create important, fantastic, iconic images across all genres of photography. If you’ve seen a black and white photo over the past 60 years (or more) that has stopped you in your tracks, chances are it may well have been shot on this film.
It was originally released in 1940 in sheet format, with 35mm and 120 formats being released in 1954. Like other things that have stood the test of time of that era (like a Fender Strat or a Gibson Les Paul), some tweaks have been made since then. But fundamentally it is still the same. They got it pretty much right first time out.
Some of the photographers that have used this film are my benchmarks: Don McCullin, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Pennie Smith, Garry Winogrand, Vivian Maier, Anton Corbijn….. and many more. Apparently Sebastien Salgado wouldn’t even switch to digital until he was 100% sure he could emulate Tri-X.
It’s the kind of black and white photography I love. It’s not overly grainy, but still has a bit of bite and grit to it. It has life to it. But it also has a lot of history to it because of all those fantastic photographers. In the same way as picking up a fantastic guitar has, you know that you can’t hide behind any excuses. There’s no “oh, this film is a bit too grainy/doesn’t expose properly in the midtones/hard to scan” etc etc blah blah blah.
No. This film has been proven to be bloody awesome.
Which is why I think I’ve not tried it until now. I’ve been a bit scared of it.
So, I put a roll of it in my OM10. Rated it at 200, took a deep breath, and went out to play.
I’m not sure if I got my best ever shots whilst trying it out (more down to the usual things - light not being perfect, missing a particular moment etc) but WOAH!!!!!! this film is soooooo good!!!
I’ve said before how I love Ilford Pan 400. And I do. Really, it’s an ace film.
But Tri-X really is on another planet to anything I’ve shot with before.
Once I’d scanned the negs and popped them in Lightroom, it was an absolute breeze working with the shots. So much flexibility in the tones. I could crunch the blacks down but still keep loads of detail if I wanted (look at the blacks below! Yum Yum Yum!!!). There was massive amounts of detail in the highlights I could pull back down. The grain was nice and tight; just enough to give the shots a bit of life without being intrusive.
The missus even stopped what she was doing to say how good the shots looked (this is a rare thing - she likes my photos but rarely stops what she’s doing to actually come and look over my shoulder as I work).
This film just has life to it. It has something which you just cannot put your finger on.
It’s not cheap. So I’m not going to shoot a lot of it. But it’s going to be my go-to film for special stuff. (Honestly. I’m not going to order shedloads. Really!!)
Is picking up a 60s Strat going to turn me into Hendrix on Voodoo Chile?
Is picking up a 50s Les Paul going to help me make the sounds Clapton did with John Mayall?
No. Not a chance.
I’m not expecting this film to give me McCullin’s eye. There’s way more to it than just the film.
But shooting with this is a pretty damn good starting point to getting a gorgeous image.
Seriously hooked on this….