Shooting Real Film - Kodak TMAX 100
This film was one of the few modern black and white triumphs of Kodak. It is actually unbelievable. I have shot a ton of this stuff in both 35mm and medium format. I really was not that interested in the TMAX line when it appeared on the scene. Of course I did some cursory tests of TMX and it’s siblings to get a feel for it but I never really dove in until availability of Agfa APX 25 started to become a problem in the states and ultimately disappeared. I loved APX 25 for certain subjects and for those subjects I had hard won proficiency that I was not willing to give up so easily. When the writing was on the wall of APX 25’s demise I started searching in earnest for a replacement. After much shooting, testing, calibrating and evaluation turns out that Ilford PanF plus did not cut it but the big surprise was that TMX was a more than worthy replacement.
Opinions will vary but in my eyes Agfa APX was not only a technically fabulous film but it was also a very “beautiful” film. This may get me lynched but I found that TMX was even more technically fabulous, much faster, and every bit as “beautiful” in every single way. The two are probably more alike than different. The reason saying this may get me kicked out of the Agfa APX 25 fan club is APX 25 not only had a cult following, it’s legend and fervent followers became bigger after it was gone. Poor old TMX on the other hand is not only still available just about everywhere but it also got a reputation for being “picky” and hard to deal with. I never found this to be the case.
TMAX 100 is actually not only pretty reasonable but extremely flexible in terms of contrast manipulation. What that means is that you can get any negative contrast index you want out of it. It also means that you cannot underexpose it and over develop it and get a normal negative. I guess this is what TMX haters were talking about but hey - the behavior is pretty much the same only more flexible with a wider range of contrasts than Ilford PanF, Agfa APX 25, and Agfa APX 100. TMX is actually better “behaved” than Kodak Panatomic X in my humble opinion.
The image at the top of the post was shot on TMX developed N in TMAX with a Nikon F2 105 Micro at 1/125s f2.8. Here are a couple unsharpened views of a 4000 dpi scan so that you can see the detail this film is capable of and the virtually non-existant grain structure.
Note the idiotically shallow depth of field. Here is a better view of the grain structure. If you know black and white film you know this is quite amazing - if you don’t take my word for it.
To wrap this up, TMAX 100 is a both technically a fantastic film as well as a film with a lot of “beauty”. You can make prints from 35mm that look like they were shot on medium format. On medium format you would have a very difficult time telling the difference from a 4x5 view camera print. Great stuff, pretty fast compared to anything else in it’s class. I prefer it over Ilford Delta 100 by a mile and although I am sad not to have Agfa APX 25 (from Agfa or Rollei) around I really do not miss it since discovering TMX was a superior film in virtually every way.
One word of warning, I have not tried the new TMAX 400 but the old stuff had nothing in common with TMAX 100. It’s actually funny that TMX, TMY, and TMZ were in the same Kodak family - they are nothing like each other. Maybe I will get around to trying the new and improved TMY sooner or later.
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