Kodak’s T-Max 100 is probably one of the most overlooked films currently on the market and honestly, we’re not so sure why. Yes, it might be a bit pricier for a 100 speed black and white film, and most people do shoot colour. But even among all the black and white films currently available, T-Max doesn’t get the same amount of fanfare. This is a mistake, in my opinion.
The T-Max family of films (it comes in 100, 400, and 3200) is often said to be the BW equivalent to the Portra films. They are incredibly sharp and fine grained, and in fact it’s so good in this regard that it is often used for testing lenses. Why is that? What makes it different?
The T-Max films were introduced in the late 80s with tabular grain technology. In comparison, older stocks like Tri-X used cubic grain structure. The main difference between cubic grain and tabular grain is the size of the grain itself. Cubic grain tends to be more sand like, as each silver halide crystal has a larger surface area in relation to its size. As you go faster and less sensitive to light you will get more grain. Tabular grain, in comparison, sees the crystals being a lot flatter and instead of looking like clumps they end up making a much more smoother image. It makes the image look even finer grained as we aren’t picking out individual grains when we see the picture. Most colour films have tabular grain structure these days (it’s why Ektar and Portra and Pro400H is so sharp), but only a few BW films do: Kodak’s T-Max, Ilford Delta and Fuji Neopan. We’ve covered Fuji Neopan Acros II before and I raved about how sharp it is to the point of almost looking like digital. T-Max 100 may not share the same tones as Acros II but it rivals it in terms of fine grain.
So it makes sense that a slow, tabular grained film will be incredibly sharp. Of course, a lot of people prefer the look of cubic grain films as they have that archetypal, vintage BW look. Tri-X, for example, has gone on to define the photojournalistic, documentary photography look that so many people love. But the thing is, T-Max has a more modern contemporary look while still maintaining the fact that it’s film. The smooth tonality, from the highlights to the shadows can only be described as gentle and gradual. It lacks the harsh sudden contrast present in film stocks like Ferrania P30. Not to say that it lacks contrast, but the tonal transition washes over the photo unlike Tri-X.
A lot of people like it for landscapes and portraits due to this perceived smoothness. I’m not gonna lie and say that it looks like digital. There is still some grain. Buts it’s smooth instead of muddy. And it’s not a perfect film by any means. It is slow and it doesn’t have as wide a latitude as some other films. It is the kind of film that might highlight the imperfections of a lens. You can use this to your advantage as there’s plenty of vintage lenses with “character” that you can exaggerate but do this at your own discretion.
Like usual, tomorrow and Saturday only, it will be 10% off in all formats. So grab yourself a few rolls for the holiday season, and maybe you can shoot some snowy landscapes with it.
In the meantime, here’s some photos from Nicole, Meghan, Hunter and I taken with the film!