Kodak Professional T-Max 100 is my current favorite film. I’ve said the same in the past of Fujifilm’s Superia 1600 and Ferrania’s P30, two lovely emulsions that I love to shoot. But the former is discontinued and rolls of this endangered species now cost more than $15 per (from unscrupulous eBay gougers), and the latter is in a sad state of quasi-existence. Ferrania is still doing what they can to become a long-term continually operational film producer, but until that day I won’t be shooting any P30 (and I’ll remain sad about it).
No. These days, there’s really only Kodak for me. And when I want to shoot black-and-white I’m going to choose Kodak T-Max 100. I’ll get to why that is, eventually.
What is Kodak T-Max 100
Kodak T-Max 100 is a continuous-tone panchromatic black-and-white negative film for general outdoor and indoor photography. These generic descriptors come from the brand’s data sheet, which adds that T-Max 100 offers extremely high sharpness, extremely fine grain, and very high resolving power, making it the perfect black-and-white film for detailed subjects where maximum image quality is needed. The takeaway from this is that Kodak T-Max 100’s data sheet generally reads like every other black-and-white film’s data sheet.
Of course, the details of the data sheet are interesting for people who are interested in details; reciprocity characteristics, for example. But let’s not get too bogged down. Check out the data sheet for specific answers to specific questions.
The things to know for those looking for a quick summary of T-Max 100 can be laid out in three small words; sharp, fine, slow.
Kodak T-Max 100 uses T-grain, so it will produce finer images than more traditional black-and-white films like the grain-laden Tri-X. It’s a 100 ISO film, the slowest of the T-Max lineup in fact, so it’s best suited (on paper) for use in strong light. It’s a forgiving film, but not as forgiving as some other mid-speed black-and-white emulsions.
Shooting Kodak T-Max 100
The best advice I can give for shooting T-Max 100 is to do so at box speed. When we’re shooting Kodak T-Max 100, we’re looking for smooth images with little to no grain, and we’re looking for rich tonality. Though the film can handle some push/pull, it’s really not intended for these acrobatics.
In instances where we’re attempting to increase or decrease contrast, the best practice is to do so with exposure time in-camera, rather than through development adjustments (though these can also be made if desired). To increase contrast, increase exposures by one or two stops and develop normally. If you’re still not getting enough contrast, increase development time by ten percent. The inverse is also true when we’re looking to decrease contrast – take ten percent off your dev time. But don’t get too wild. You’ll find that greater development adjustment simply lowers the overall quality of the image, and at that point you may as well be shooting Tri-X (I expect that our writer and resident Tri-X adherent, Josh, will be lacing up his going-to-war boots over that line – bring it on, pal).
Over- or under-exposure should be avoided, but for those moments when the light was misjudged, all is not lost. Kodak T-Max 100 can easily handle one stop of under-exposure, and two stops of over-exposure and still retain normal shadow and highlight detail. This isn’t the best on the market, but it helps in situations where we’ve made a slight error.
The film’s resolution is exceptional, as we’d likely expect from a film billed as “the finest-grained black-and-white film in the world.” I could talk about its resolution in lines per millimeter, or its granularity rating, but wouldn’t you rather read that “Kodak T-Max 100 makes images that are smoother than a silk sock full of wet, baby mice?”
There are plenty of ways to develop Kodak T-Max 100. Kodak’s data sheet will be your best cookbook.
Why I love Kodak T-Max 100
I may be flirting with anachronism, but I prefer T-Max 100 to its faster 400 speed counterpart (and certainly to the new P3200) not just because it’s finer or smoother than these films (though it is noticeably finer and smoother), but mostly because it’s slower. Shooting this stuff at box speed creates variables that I enjoy immeasurably.
The insensitivity of this 100 ISO film introduces supposed flaws into the final images, and these flaws, specifically motion blur, help me create the kinds of images that I find fundamentally appealing. My favorite images could be described more accurately as expressive rather than strictly photographic. This is coincidentally the reason I prefer to shoot a film camera over a digital camera.
I am bored by sharpness and clarity. I prefer the idea of a thing, more than the thing itself. Dreams are better than reality. How else can I say this? I detest perfection because the pursuit of it is futile and boring. Kodak T-Max 100 is not perfect, and in any light but perfect light it will make an imperfect photo. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.