Tri-X vs. TMax100 : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I have recently started shooting large format. A photography instructor that I know maintains that Tri-x has a much richer tonal range than TMax100. He feels that this is due to the Tri-x being a true silver based film rather than a dye process which he maintains is the problem with TMax. I don't want to start a war but I would like some informed opinions. Sincerely, Jerry

-- Jerry Cunningham (, May 07, 2002


The tonal range most will see is in the print, not the negative. Pick any modern film and work with it a bit and you can get excellent results. Finding which you prefer is a matter of experimenting a bit & printing from them to see which film gives the results you want.

-- Dan Smith (, May 07, 2002.

Both TMX and Tri-x films are silver based emulsions. The difference comes in with the shape of the density versus exposure curve. That is, they have inherently different tonal qualities.

-- David Goldes (, May 07, 2002.

Both TMX and Tri-x films are silver based emulsions. The difference comes in with the shape of the density versus exposure curve. That is, they have inherently different tonal qualities .

-- David Goldes (, May 07, 2002.

Seems to me you instructor needs more instruction.

Anyway, fwiw, Tri-X and T-Max 100 both give silver-gelatin negs, not chromogenic dye-cloud negs. The curve shapes, which govern tonal reproduction, are most likely somewhat different in general but could be made very close with processing specifically designed to do just that, and differences in spectral sensitivity can be matched by filtration. Or iow, you could probably develop both negs to pretty much matching characteristics (if you wanted to). The range of each film also greatly exceeds the range that can be printed.

No point in arguing with the guy; he obviously likes Tri-X for visible and probably imaginary reasons.

-- John Hicks (, May 07, 2002.

Was your instructor able to provide any examples to drive his point home? You may want to do such a test yourself using the same subject under the same conditions with the only variable being the film.

-- Jim (, May 07, 2002.


As others have already said, both films are true silver based B&W films. But their spectral sensitivity is slightly different. This results in a different tonal rendition of colors. Both films can record a rich tonal range. You better compare Tri-X and  T-MAX 400, which is in the same speed class. I'm personally convinced that TMY developed in XTOL delivers an even larger  tonal range than Tri-X is able to. But the appearance of Tri-X is still convincing, because it renders some colors more pleasingly, e.g. skin tones. But this is also a matter of taste.


-- Thilo Schmid (, May 08, 2002.

I have used both extensively and find that Tri-X is generally the better of the two and more versitile. Not to say Tmax 100 is not good film, it depends how you process it.

I find for Tmax, processed in Tmax developer 1/4 @ 68 gives very smooth, grainless prints. The the tonal seperation in the zone 4 to zone 6 range is not as great. Processing at 1/8 @ 75 degrees expands this range somewhat. T-Max does not work well with compensating processing for extreme contast reduction.

Tri-X processed in HC-110, 1/62 from concentrate @ 68 degrees gives grain only slightly greater then Tmax and really not that noticable. However, the tonal range is far greater then Tmax. Tri-x also works very well in compensating development. This is basically HC110 1/150 from concentrate, @ 68 with agitation every 3 to 4 minutes. Consult The Negative, in the Ansel Adams Photo series.

Personally, I switched to Tri-X film exclusively right now.

-- Rob Pietri (, May 08, 2002.

There are several issues in the statements that Jerry was given. First, there are two different Tri-X films and even though the ordinary Tri-X (non-pro version) isn't available in sheet formats, it differs quite a lot from the pro version. The non-pro version does have higher local contrast in the shadows and consequently a lower local constrast in the highlights. The pro version is on the other end, i.e. it has a higher contrast in the highlights. Skipping the technical mumbo-jumbo, this means that the pro version gives you "snappier" highlights while the shadows might be a little flat. This also accounts for the (former?) popularity of ordinary non-pro Tri-X in roll film formats when used in low-light situations, as it had a lot of detail in the shadow areas and that it consequently could take some underexposure.
Anyhow, TMax 100 does have a a little higher contrast in the shadows, so it certainly has a different "caracter" than Tri-X pro. (It is a bit like non-pro Tri-X, but I'm not saying that they are "alike".)
As for the "dye" in TMax films, it isn't really a dye in technical terms, but rather some chemical (I think it is iodine, but I'm not sure.) that is used/needed to make the T-grain technology possible, or at least as good as possible. I guess most/all(?) of us have struggled with getting rid of the magenta color of the TMax films.
Again, the tonal range, but in more general terms. I have found that correctly developed TMax films, and TMax 100 in this case does have a very nice tonal range, but it is also a matter of knowing your material. Whether it is better or worse than Tri-X is hard to tell. I like them both a lot. But I think that Tri-X is much easier to tweak in the developer to get the results that I want. TMax films are very fuzzy about being very exact with exposure and development, while Tri- X is much more forgiving. Hence I favor Tri-X in general, especially for MF and LF. Learning how to deal with TMax films is rewarding though, and if the light is good, i.e. not too harsh, and the subject contains a lot of fine detail I'd rather go for TMax 100 as it definitely is the sharper film of the two. Well, at least I know for my self that it is sharper, but unless enlarged to really huge sizes, I wonder if anyone really can tell the difference as "sharpness" and "grain size" really does matter in 35mm but much less so in LF.

-- Björn Nilsson (, May 08, 2002.

Although I shoot more Tri-X than T-Max 100, I would note that T-Max 100 has much more favorable reciprocity-effect characteristics and would be my choice for exposures over 1 minute. Just my 2 cents.

-- Benjamin Marks (, May 08, 2002.


The previous responses are excellent. Many photographers love the older emulsions, like Tri-X, Ilford FP4+ and HP5+, and Plus-X. Notable users of this type of film include Bruce Barnbaum. If you have ever seen any of his prints, they are beautiful. Other photographers love the new technology films, like T-Max 100 and 400, or Ilford Delta 100 or 400 (400 is only available in 35mm or 120mm). John Sexton uses T-Max 100 primarily, also 400. If you have ever seen any of his prints, they are beautiful.

Get the picture? It really does not matter which film you choose. You can get spectacular results with old or new technology films. It is a question of taste, and of how you like to work. The T-Max films are more demanding in terms of technique. If you are sloppy, you will get poor results. This, in turn, means that if you want to make subtle changes in your negative using time and or dilution variations, the T- Max films have a lot to offer. Perhaps the best characteristic of T- Max 100 is the way it handles long exposures. It requires less reciprocity correction, and actually becomes "faster" than Tri-X once you get into really long exposures.

It is really a question of personal preference. I prefer Ilford HP5+ or Arista 400 (which is Freestyle Photographic's store brand - generally considered identical to HP5+), but that is just me. I like the way my photographs look using that film. I came to this conclusion after trying a variety of films, including the T-Max and Delta films.

Try a few films them out. See what you like. Then stick with that film until you really get to know it and feel comfortable with it, until you know its characteristics. Jumping from film to film usually does not help the quality of your work over time.

-- Dave Karp (, May 08, 2002.

David: Kudos on an articulate and intelligent response to this post. You really hit the nail directly on the head. This is the stuff that makes this venue so valuable.

-- Michael Kadillak (, May 08, 2002.

Jerry, the best explaination of the difference between conventional films (Tri-X) and tabular film (T-Max) is in The Film Developing Cookbook, by S. Anchell and B. Troop. Chapter 2. This is a must-read book for your instructor friend. He may have been thinking chromogenic film (Kodak T400CN) when he said that T-Max is a dye process film.

-- Eugene (, May 08, 2002.

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