400 speed films - you say you can see the difference?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Leica Photography : One Thread

Recently we took a poster here to task for claiming that "B/w 400 (HP5,TriX,Tmax,etc)are pretty much the same".

Some samples of the responses (with, truly, no invidious intent towards the responders, many of whom I've agreed with in the past on other subjects):

• "all 400 B+W are NOT the same. There are dramatic difference in tone, range, and grain"

• "You're wrong, truly, about B+W films. There are dramatic and subtle differences in emulsions and composition which enhance or detract from images."

• "stating that all of them are "pretty much the same" is like saying that all red wines taste alike. Even Tri-X and HP5+, which are often cited as giving very similar results, appear different to my eyes -- and yes, I'd bet a brick that I could pick out prints made from one or the other in a stack of 8x10s."

• "From my limited experience, I noticed that if you're developing film yourself, the non t-grain film tends to give better negatives (i.e more detail) This is through usage of tmax 400 and tri-x."

• "Saying, for example that Tri-X is (chunky grain, extreme latitude, probably the most forgiveable film exposure and processing wise) at all similar to Tmax, which though extremely fine grained (for 400ISO) has very narrow latitude and is not at all forgiving is simply ludicrous."

Here's a little experiment. Two shots, each made with very 'different' 400 B&W films. Can you tell a difference? And can you tell which film was used for each shot? (I apologize for the 'unartistic' nature of the images - I needed a fairly static subject in order to get two identical images with a wide tonal range.) If there really are "dramatic" differences in tone that could be "picked out of a stack of 8x10s" you should be able to see them here.

A hint: One shot is with a 'traditional grain' film (HP5 Plus or Tri-X). The other is with an innovative 'modern technology' film (Tmax 400 or Delta 400 New).

Another hint: I was somewhat surprised by the results, myself.

Technique: Both films exposed the same, at 640 ISO, and processed in Ilford DDX for Ilford's recommended NORMAL (ISO 400) processing time for that film. Just to keep it on topic, both shots were made with a Leica-M 21mm Elmarit @ f/5.6.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I realize at this scale you will have to go on tonal range and not sharpness/grain or other 'finer points'. Once I get a few responses I will post full-resolution details from the images for further discussion.

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), January 30, 2002


Khmmmm... Well I would say that the left one is Delta 400 and the right one is HP5+. I would say that the left one is Delta due to more mellow (blueish) grays... At least that is what I get from Delta (ID-11) compared to Tri-x (Rodinal) or HP5 (ID-11).

But then again I could be wrong ;-))


-- Boris BRECELJ (bbrecelj@mac.com), January 30, 2002.

I would guess the photo on the right is T-Max or Delta 400. I prefer the photo on the right.

-- David Enzel (dhenzel@vei.net), January 30, 2002.

Andy, I definitely cannot decide "who is who" looking at this images only. In the darkroom I get much wider variety from the SAME negative when I change the type paper (RC vs FB, matte vs glossy vs pearl etc) even leaving aside changing paper grade and other manipulations (burning, dodging etc). In other words there are a lot of ways to change the tonal range of a print, thus from this point of view I think your puzzle is unsolvable.

-- Andrey Vorobyov (AndreyVorobyov@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

I am intrigued by the answer but also agree that each could be 'balanced' by using different contrast/exposure combinations. LHS could do with 1/2 grade more contrast IMHO. i have found that tri-x is very suseptable to flatenning with too little contrast and too much exposure (sometimes a matter of 2-3 secounds in a 60min exposure) so it could be the LHS.

-- Charles Curry-Hyde (charles@chho.com.au), January 30, 2002.

It's a bit silly to compare like this. You have to develop to the same CI and then look at the negatives under a loop. These scans just dont cut it...

-- Russell Brooks (russell@ebrooks.org), January 30, 2002.

There is a clear difference in contrast in both pictures. The left one is much higher. I can't say which is which because I don't ahve the expirience (I only use T-max). I would say in first thought the left one is most modern film

I have some preference to the left one, the right one seems to me a bit dull due to the lack of contract. I'm really curious which is which

BTW a photographer should always note his own shadow :-)

-- ReinierV (rvlaam@xs4all.nl), January 30, 2002.

I don't think this proves anything except that the internet is a lousy way to look at photographs. Just slightly ahead of printing them on toilet paper.

-- Dave Jenkins (djphoto@vol.com), January 30, 2002.

I think the sign post and bicycle in the lower right corner add dramatic tension to the shot, and...(uh, sorry.)

Seriously, I think the shot on the left is Tri-X because of the mid- tones, such as the panel right above the truck windshield. Of course, though, it's hard to tell on an internet scan.


-- Dennis Couvillion (couvilaw@aol.com), January 30, 2002.

Lets be realistic. You could have shot these on medium format Plus X and on a computer screen there would be very little if any difference. Does that mean there is no difference between 35mm, 6X6 or 4X5 and we should get rid of the larger formats? Send anyone interested a sample print of each and then let them decide.

-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

I think the sign post and bicycle in the lower right corner add dramatic tension to the shot, and...(uh, sorry.)

yes! it definitely adds dramatic tension...mwahahahah...:-)

seriously, although i would agree that it would be a difficult way to discern the difference using the scans above...but i think i still can...and i think traditional grain is on the left because of more contrast.

-- Dexter Legaspi (dalegaspi@hotmail.com), January 30, 2002.

I rest my case.......

-- Phill (philkneen@manx.net), January 30, 2002.


I'll take a GUESS... The one on the right is the traditional emulsion, due to the fact that it shows signs of slight under exposure (640), and I would suspect TX, because it tends to block up rapidly with underexposure. IME the chromogenics have better latitude, hence I pick the image on the left for the chromogenic, and I would suspect T-Max due to the contrast.


-- Jack Flesher (jbflesher@msn.com), January 30, 2002.

I agree with Bob above. I don't see this can tell us anything really helpful.

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), January 30, 2002.

Look at it this way. In nearly every comprehensive photo course one of the things they do in first year is to have the students shoot a number of different films and compare them so they have a reference point when choosing a particular film for a project. Any first year student can see the diffenence. To state there is no discernable difference between a T-grain film and a conventional film is akin to saying Leica glass or Pentax - there is no difference. And guess what Andy - on a scanned photo put on the web I guarantee that you'd not be able to see a difference. So are you going to sell your Leica gear.....

-- Bob Todrick (bobTodrick@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

"It's a bit silly to compare like this. You have to develop to the same CI and then look at the negatives under a loop. These scans just dont cut it... "


I believe the idea was for real-world conditions, which is where Phil started. Reproduction in newspapers, magazines, on the Web. Well, here we are on the Web and folks want to make all kinds of excuses for why they can't tell the difference, which IS PRECISELY THE POINT! Sure, if you put the damn negative under a microscope you could get a better idea of what film it was. Who reads newspapers, magazines or looks at their computer monitor with a loupe? Do you take a magnifier with you when you go to galleries/museums so that instead of looking at photos you can stand back and say, "Definitely Ilford HP3, probably developed in Rodinal 1:25 or maybe rat urine."

No, all red wine does not taste alike, but there is a difference between saying Chateau Latour doesn't taste like Chateau Margaux and saying, "this 1961 Latour was probably stored at a perfect 55 degrees Farenheit in a moldy cellar in Southwest France, while this bottle of 1961 Haut-Brion, while stored at a perfect 55 degrees, was likely kept in a refrigerated home storage unit in an apartment on the Near North Side of Chicago."

It sounds once again like we are besieged by folks who would rather split technical hairs than make photos or evaluate photos for their content.

When we exhaust the ISO 400 B&W thread how about restarting the discussion of bokeh?

www.getalife.com, indeed.

-- Robert Schneider (rolopix@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

Andy: Which is which? Thanks.

-- Max Wall (mtwall@earthlink.net), January 30, 2002.

"It sounds once again like we are besieged by folks who would rather split technical hairs than make photos or evaluate photos for their content"

I couldn't have put it better myself Robert.

Here's a little project for you all:-Put 4 or 5 different black and white films into a bag,close your eyes and take one out,give it to a friend to load into your camera(don't let him tell you what it is).Now,here's where it might get tricky for some.Go out and take some photographs,forget about the film,your friend has set the film speed.Get home and ask your friend/wife/partner to unload the film and take it to a good proccesser(this will help).Pick up the developed film and enjoy the pictures.

Go on,I DARE YOU.......

-- Phill (philkneen@manx.net), January 30, 2002.

Robert - I have to take issue with your stand. I highly doubt that for most of the people on this site that 'real world' conditions consist of newspaper, magazine and web use. In the 'real world' of prints (at say...8X10", anyone who can't see the difference between TroX and Tmax 400 isn't looking very hard........

-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

But,the real world IS people who can't see/don't care about the difference Bob.

-- Phill (philkneen@manx.net), January 30, 2002.

Show me the negatives and I promise you I can tell the difference...unless, of course, they've stopped printing the name of the film along the edge.

Seriously, I may be a rank amateur, but I've been one for a long time. For about twenty years I used nothing but Tri-X. Having just gotten back into photography in the past year, though, I've tried a number of different b&w films (practically everything on the market). I can look through my prints and usually tell which ones were shot with Tri-X. To me Tri-X has a distinctive look (smoother tones) than the others, which generally appear a little sharper to me (but, I do have trouble sometimes telling Neopan 400 apart from Delta 400). Could I tell the difference in a newspaper or magazine photo? Of course not.

I think I understand the context in which Phil's statement was made. Of course there is a difference in b&w films, but you have to be paying attention to tell; and, a lot depends on how the film was processed and printed, and in which medium it is reproduced.

I don't think Andy's exercise is a waste. I think it's interesting and actuslly supports different view points in different ways. Let's have more like this.


-- Dennis Couvillion (couvilaw@aol.com), January 30, 2002.

C'mon Phil, this is ridiculous in the extreme! Guess what - I actually tailor my exposure and development to suit the different films I use (and unlike some on this site I've shot probably 10000 roll of TriX and a few thousand of Tmax). So to shoot them with no regard to the characteristics of each film is simply ludicrous, of course I may not be able to tell which is which under this scenario. But as a pro I'm sure you use the proper tool for the job. Even a plumber would be able to figure this out......

-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

It's true,the only people who care about this are the 'tecno- nerds'.99.99999% can't see the difference,like 99.9% of people wouldn't know their cheap red Safeway plonk from their '58 Chatneuf du pape.

-- Craig (craigsmith@hotmail.com), January 30, 2002.

The picture on the left is slightly over-exposed or exhibits an inferior tonal range compared to the other. Just look at the highlights on the street and sidewalk.

Assuming your scanner settings were kept constant Andy.

-- John (ouroboros_2001@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

I've always maintained that all images, no matter what film is used (Velvia, Tri-x, whatever) taken on all equipment, regardless of size of format, make etc are all absolutely identical, regardless of subject matter etc. (so long as you view the pictures in absolute darkness, of course). Actually, I agree with Bob.

-- steve (stephenjjones@btopenworld.com), January 30, 2002.

Wow, I sure hope nobody starts using 4x5" monitor images to justify the existence of LEICAS.......


-- Rick Oleson (rick_oleson@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

....Earth to Bob......Earth to Bob.......come in Bob....this is reality speaking......Earth to Bob.

I use Fuji neopan 400(at the moment),box rated and Fuji neopan 1600,also box rated.I send the film to Fuji and they proccess it,because if they can't deal with their own film then we are all doomed.Like alot of pro's I never go near a darkroom(I do hate those smelly chemicals).When I get portfolio or exhibition prints made I send them th Joes basement in London.

Earth to Bob.............return to the Mothership.......................................earth to Bob......

-- Phill (philkneen@manx.net), January 30, 2002.

Steve,if you think they all look the same,then why do you agree with Bob?

-- Harry Grant (harrygrant@aol.com), January 30, 2002.

Phil, in answer to your suggestion, let me tell about something that happened last year.

My wife asked me to shoot pictures of our children's state championship soccer games. She likes black and white. So I pulled out the Nikon and zoom and shot away with whatever was in the bag, which happened to be a mix of Tri-X and TMax 400. When I completed one roll I simply reached in the bag and grabbed whatever was on top.

I shot about eight rolls split either 4-4 or 5-3 between the Tri-X and the Tmax. The lighting conditions were pretty consistent for all rolls, too: lots of sunshine. I had them developed and printed at a quality processing place, not your typical K-Mart one hour job.

The results: The Tri-x prints were smoother and less contrasty, with much better shadow detail than the TMax.

My wife wouldn't know TMax from a T-bone steak, but she could see a difference in the prints. In her view some of the pictures were just better than the others.

So, while this may prove nothing, it may also demonstrate that there is a difference than anyone can see.


-- Dennis Couvillion (couvilaw@aol.com), January 30, 2002.


I like the picture on the left better than the one on the right.

I don't know anything about B&W films, development, exposure techniques. I have scanned my own prints and noticed you don't have the viewing or picture quality on a computer screen you have with the original.

That being said, your point is made. There clearly is a difference, to my eye, between the two photo's. And those that suggest the films are all "pretty much the same" aren't looking at the two pictures I'm looking at. To me, one is "different" than the other. And I like one "better" than the other.

I marvel at those calling to question the methodology, the unscientific variables,and the discrediting of the premise. HELLO PEOPLE!!!! Andy posted two pictures of the same scene taken with different films. Either they are "pretty much the same" or they aren't. Taking Andy to task and discrediting his presentation does not change the appearance of the pictures.

Thanks Andy, for the presentation. I find the differences interesting and await the answers.

I challenge the naysayers to post their own experiments. I have no doubt I will also find them interesting.

-- David Smith (dssmith@rmci.net), January 30, 2002.

Excuse me, everyone, but splitting hairs with a bunch of anal retentive technoheads in a forum populated with incredibly opinionated know-it-alls IS real life. Who cares what a picture looks like in a newspaper or magazine. This is way much more fun. You are all reading and posting to these discussions, aren't you? And thank you for that! ;-)

BTW, TX on the left Tmax on the right. Prefer the left.

-- Hil (hegomez@agere.com), January 30, 2002.

Dennis I think you kind of lost the point of Phils project.

-- Craig (craigsmith@hotmail.com), January 30, 2002.

Anyway,I think it's the same film,but printed differently.

-- Phill (philkneen@manx.net), January 30, 2002.

It's hard to tell on the monitor, but Tri-X on the left.

-- jeff (debontekou@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

Or the same film with a slight change in exposure.

Or scanned differently.

-- Phill (philkneen@manx.net), January 30, 2002.

Earth to Phil.......So how do you want me to respond. How about Ralph Gibson (whom I've been in semi-regular correspondence) process his own film.. How about Steve Simon (a close friend from NY, a Life Magazine award winner) who processes his own film. How about countless other pros that I know who do their own processing. Of course I guess people like Gibson probably aren't as busy as you so they have the time. Maybe as you yourself have said, if you spent less time on the net while your waiting for scans you could process your own film. BTW I too have shot quite a bit of Fuji. Definitely finer grained than Tri X but not quite so smooth when over exposed....

-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.


Thanks for going to the trouble of posting this experiment. I'll be interested in seeing the comparison of the enlarged details, as well.

It seems to me that these two images could be used to support either of the positions being taken by responders. On one hand, the images are "pretty much the same" while on the other hand, the differences could be described as either subtle or obvious, depending on how one wants to play the semantics game.

The manner of "publication" - whether a nice custom 8x10 print or a reduced copy published in the Sunday paper also affects the perception of the differences between the films used here. Additionally, the personal preferences of the viewer come into play. I'm not sure that a universally acceptable answer can be arrived at within a diverse community of visual tastes. Definitely an interesting exercise, however.

-- Ralph Barker (rbarker@pacbell.net), January 30, 2002.

In terms of "my real world", my output has consisted of 8x10 or 11x14 silver based prints from HP5 negs, soon to be scanned and digitally output. I think is an interesting thread and I can appreciate the needs of the professionals on this forum: I used to work professionally in the medical field and we used a half-dozen different b&w films depending upon the application, same with color film.

Basically it comes down to subjectivity.

-- jeff (debonetkou@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

Bob,you seem to being taking this way too seriously.I don't print my own work because I'm crap at it,there are people who have trained for years as printers,so I let them do it.You know countless pro's who do their own printing,I know lots who don't.....so what? You think I'm a plumber,I think you're a boring nerd.....so what? I know you need to have the last word,that's fine,but make it an interesting word,please.

-- Phill (philkneen@manx.net), January 30, 2002.


-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), January 30, 2002.

OK. Here's the "loupe" version - max. resolution scan - which equates to a 57" x 38" print - or, at 72 dpi screen resolution, 53 line pairs per mm (106 lines per mm). The same films are on the left and right as in the first pair.

Some further notes on technique: The images are scanned directly from film. They are grayscale scans - if you're seeing any "image color" it's your monitor setting, not the scans. I locked out the scanner's autoexposure routine by scanning a chip of film from the fogged/ unfogged part of the leader (max density/film-base-plus-fog). I made exactly four manual adjustments to each scan - set black, set white, adjust the middle part of the curve for midtones (the roof of the UPS truck) and unsharp mask for the full-frame images once they were reduced to web size since the downsampling adds a lot of fuzziness - NO "sharpening" of these full-res. scans.

My only comment so far - I spoke before of the 'narcissism of small differences." The word that comes to mind now is "Rorscharch" (sp?). 8^ )

Remember that in this "test" you can be incorrect but never "wrong". For those who were brave enough to make choices based on the small images, feel free to "revise and extend" your remarks.

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), January 30, 2002.

"Chateau Latour doesn't taste like Chateau Margaux "

I have a story about Chateau Latour. About Chateau Latour and my Father and an oven, actually.

But I'm not going to tell you what it is.

-- rob (rob@robertappleby.com), January 30, 2002.

You going to have to beg.

-- rob (rob@robertappleby.com), January 30, 2002.

Alright, then, I'm not going to tell you ever ever ever.

So there.

-- rob (rob@robertappleby.com), January 30, 2002.

I still maintain that I could pick them out from a stack of 8x10s. In fact, from the experience of shooting hundreds of rolls of both TMY and HP5+ and processing them in the same set of developers, I think you could show me virtually any two prints, one TMY and one HP5+, and I could sort them out. But not from my monitor. (I work in the public sector, so my monitor is probably worse than most of yours.)

-- Douglas Kinnear (douglas.kinnear@colostate.edu), January 30, 2002.

And for what it's worth, these two scans appear very different in both the toes and the shoulders, and your "loupe version" shows differences in grain and sharpness. So I am still not offering a guess, but I do think that these two images show that there ARE pretty significant differences between the two films.

-- Douglas Kinnear (douglas.kinnear@colostate.edu), January 30, 2002.

Andy,I beg of you,end our misery....PLEEEEEEASE!!!!!!!

-- Phill (philkneen@manx.net), January 30, 2002.

C'mon, Andy, tell us before Phill and Bob start fighting again!!!

(Sorry, Bob. Sorry, Phill. Hope you're foot's getting better.)


-- Dennis Couvillion (couvilaw@aol.com), January 30, 2002.

I continue to prefer the image on the right. I think it is T-Max.

-- David Enzel (dhenzel@vei.net), January 30, 2002.

I'm going to put in my 2 cents before reading the other answers. I believe I see more "snap, crackle & pop" in the left image, and that I can also see a little better into the shadows in the left one.

Now, what does that tell me about the film? I would say the left image isn't T-MAX, which to me does not have that kind of a look. But it could be Delta Pro, which, to me, does. So if the left one is Delta Pro, then the right one could be, I don't know: HP-5? I hesitate to say it's Tri-X, because, again, to me, Tri-X does come across with good pop on an overcast day. If the left one is Tri-X, then the right one could be TMX.

SO: I say either: Left Delta, right HP-5.

OR: Left Tri-X, right TMX.

Now I'll read the other answers.

-- Bob Fleischman (RFXMAIL@prodigy.net), January 30, 2002.

Oops, since it's 400-speed I should say TMY, not TMX. I missed the second set of pictures when I responded, but I think I'll let my answer stand.

-- Bob Fleischman (RFXMAIL@prodigy.net), January 30, 2002.

Andy, you've made your point. I do see a difference in tonality between the two images.

I'd say the left hand side was made with the modern technology film because it's contrastier. Not to impugn your development process, Andy, but it is easier to get a higher CI with TMY than with Tri-X. On the other hand, TMY has a higher shoulder than Tri-X which implies that the right hand image with more detail in the highlights, the one taken with the modern technology film... Ahhh heck, spill it, Andy!

-- Bong Munoz (bong@techie.com), January 30, 2002.

It's a hectic night here at the OK corral - the Olympic Torch passed through Denver today and the newspaper is hoppin' - so I'll reserve my comments til later.

To end the tension - the envelope please......

...and the film on the left is ye olde Tri-X, the film on the right is Delta 400 new.

I'll get back to you.

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), January 31, 2002.


I see differences - I don't see what I would call "dramatic" differences.

I also don't see some of the things I expected. For example, the Delta film (right) actually does a slightly BETTER job of separating the highlights (light buildings in the background, bright parts of the trucks headlights, e.g.) And the Tri-X is not substantially grainier than the Delta, although the grain (and the edges of details) are a little mushier (see the license plate lettering and edges around the truck's lights).

I think the slight underexposure (640 - if it WAS underexposure: real ISOs vary so much depending on the meter used, technique, etc.) helped both films - keeping grain down and keeping the highlights off the shoulder and on the 'straight-line' part of the H&D curve.

If I wanted maximum sharpness I would go with the Delta 400 - but if I ran short of film, I'd be perfectly comfortable picking up some Tri-X at the local Walgreen's (American chain of chemist's shops, for the Manxians and other global folks).

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), January 31, 2002.

Andy,why did you take EXACTLY the same photo,with the same lens,from EXACTLY the same position(see shadow)both within a matter of seconds of each other,but with different film????

I think someone is telling porky-pies.I suspect Phill may be right.

-- Craig (craigsmith@hotmail.com), January 31, 2002.

For me there´s no diference, well no a substantial one.

-- r watson (al1231234@hotmail.com), January 31, 2002.

What developers did you use?

-- Paul Chefurka (paul@chefurka.com), January 31, 2002.

"Why take the exact same picture from the exact same place with two different films?"

Uhh...Craig. In order to see how the films compared (which is the whole point of this post). It wouldn't have meant anything to move around and take different shots and then say "Holy Cow, the truck sure looks sharper in the Tri-X picture - of course it's twice as BIG in the Tri-X picture - but heyyy....!"

It's called the scientific method - change only one variable at a time (the film), and keep everything else constant (viewpoint, shutter speed, aperture, lens, etc.)

Paul: "Technique: Both films exposed the same, at 640 ISO, and processed in Ilford DDX for Ilford's recommended NORMAL (ISO 400) processing time for that film." Normal times are 9 minutes for Delta 40 and 8 minutes for Tri-X @ 20/68 degrees C/F.

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), January 31, 2002.

OK Andy,I'm sorry,I was only asking.

-- Craig (craigsmith@hotmail.com), January 31, 2002.

Craig: That's OK - I just came in from shooting for two hours at 20 degrees and was cold and grumpy.... 8^).

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), January 31, 2002.

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