I’ve been experimenting with Kodak’s ultra-fast T-Max P3200 black-and-white film. I know it’s great for handheld night shots (here are some), and I’ve had some luck using it for candid family photos indoors. But does it work as a general-purpose film? I mounted my 50mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor macro lens to my Nikon FA, screwed it onto a tripod, and photographed some household objects on a table. I developed these in HC-110, Dilution B.
The P3200’s heavy grain creates a certain creaminess to these images, and it’s an interesting look. I’m glad I tried it. But I think I prefer a smoother look. Because I had the Nikon FA on a tripod, I could have used a much slower film and accepted the slower shutter speeds I would have gotten.
After Rana died, my company gave me some time off to grieve. Believe it or not, I wavered on whether I’d take it. I worked straight through after my dad died and it was a wonderful distraction. But Dad’s death was expected, and I was as ready as anyone could be. Rana’s death was a deep shock, and it knocked the stuffing out of me. I wasn’t able to focus on anything. So I took the time off. (I go back to work Tuesday, after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.)
My old friend Michael reached out just so I could talk. Michael and I go way back, to 1985, and he and I attended the church where I met my first wife and Rana. He knows the whole story of my first marriage, including how both of us contributed to its destruction. He mentioned he was off work the next day, and I asked if I could drive out to see him. Both the drive and the company would do me good. We had lunch at a favorite place near his home, and lingered.
I had a roll of Kodak T-Max P3200 in my Nikon FA, which I’d brought along. I’d always used this film for night photography and inside available-light work. But there I was on a cold, sunny day shooting this fast film at tiny apertures.
I stopped by Headstone Friends first, and was sad to find them closed on a long New Year’s break. Headstone’s is a music shop, a throwback to a long-ago era. I was shocked to see the condition of their sign and mural. It’s long overdue for a repaint. Check out this post to see what it looked like in 2017 and 2008.
I’m sure I’ve seen Headstone’s door closed before, but I can’t remember the last time. They’re open Monday through Saturday noon to 8. Those have been their hours since before my first visit there in 1985! Headstone’s was founded in 1970 — it’s still 1970 when you step inside.
Headstone’s has always tacked notices of new releases to this bulletin board. I was surprised to find that Neil Young, Santana, and the Doobie Brothers all have recent releases! Visiting Headstone’s really is like stepping into a time machine!
Since Rana’s death, I’ve slept a lot. I’m not normally a great sleeper, but I’ve easily slept nine or ten hours a night since she died, and sometimes have needed a nap in the afternoon. I felt a little sleepy after Headstone’s, so I went downtown looking for a coffee shop. I found one right at the Crossroads of America, 7th Street (former US 41) and Wabash Avenue (former US 40 and the National Road).
I was a little sad to see Federal here, as it displaced the Crossroads Cafe, a favorite spot of mine from long ago. Sadly, the Crossroads Cafe didn’t survive the pandemic. The good black coffee and gluten-free blueberry muffin went a long way to soothe my disappointment, however.
Across the street from Federal is this historic marker. Old timers in Terre Haute can tell you: this intersection used to be constantly choked with traffic. US 40 connected the west and east coasts, and US 41 connected the top of Michigan with the southern tip of Florida. Before the Interstates opened, these highways were critical.
I had just a few more frames left on the roll, so I walked a little to shoot familiar scenes. I’ve always liked the entrance to the old Terre Haute First National Bank building.
The old Indiana Theater is a block south on 7th Street. When I lived in Terre Haute it showed second-run movies for a dollar. I saw a whole bunch of movies in here!
Now that I’ve shot T-Max P3200 on a sunny day, I never need to again. As you can see, it works; I got usable images. But as I suspected, the grain is obtrusive. It’s obtrusive for the night and indoor photography I normally use it for, too, but that’s a reasonable tradeoff for the ability to get those shots at all. I developed this film in HC-110, Dilution B — I’ve seen other developers, namely T-Max and Xtol, get far less grain from this film. But I don’t use those developers and don’t intend to start. There’s no reason to accept this kind of grain when smooth T-Max 100 would have worked just fine on this full-sun day. I have 10 rolls of that stuff in the freezer.
I shot my family’s 2020 Christmas celebration on film. I decided to do it when I stumbled across a roll of Kodak T-Max P3200 I forgot I had. I shot it in my Nikon N90s with the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens attached. I developed it in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, but I misread the Massive Dev Chart and developed it for a few minutes less time than specified. The negatives looked plenty dense, but when I scanned them on my flatbed, the grain was pronounced.
I decided to print them. I don’t have a darkroom; I just sent the scans to my nearby CVS pharmacy’s photo department. The paper they use in their machines is thin, nowhere near as sturdy as the stuff they used as recently as 10 years ago. But the prints looked all right. I laid them on the dining table with the Christmas tablecloth still on and photographed a few of them with my Canon PowerShot S95. Even rendered this way, you can see the huge, ugly grain in these photos.
These scans are straight off the scanner. No amount of Photoshopping made them look any better, so I quickly gave up. I did tweak VueScan’s settings to bring out shadow detail, however.
When that roll was done I wanted to keep going, but I was out of P3200. Then it hit me: I develop my own film now and can easily push process it. I had some Ilford Delta 400 in the freezer, so I thawed a roll, loaded it into the N90s, mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens, and set the camera to ISO 1600. I knew this stuff would push well because fellow photoblogger Alyssa Chiarello did it recently and got great results.
Ilford still prints developing instructions inside their film boxes. They listed a developing time in Ilfotec HC (their HC-110 equivalent, also equivalent to the L110 I use) for the film at 1600! I followed their instructions and got gorgeous negatives and the best scans my flatbed can deliver (which still aren’t great). They look better than the P3200 photos — the grain is smaller and much more pleasing. Delta 400 is a darn sight less expensive than T-Max P3200, too. I think I need never buy P3200 again — I’ll push an ISO 400 black-and-white film to 1600 instead. I had CVS print these scans, too.
This was fun, but I don’t see this experience leading me to print my work more often. I get it that a photograph is meant to be printed, a physical object. But I’m an online kind of guy and that’s the way I show 99% of my work. My wife prints family photographs all the time, and I figured she’d like to add these to her collection, so I gave them to her.
It is such fun to make photographs well after nightfall, holding my film SLR in my hands, with only building and street lights shining on the scene. As I walked along the river in Chicago, Kodak T-Max P3200 let me make photographs as if it were 9 a.m., not 9 p.m.
It was cold that night, being the first weekend in January. My Nikon F3 can handle that kind of treatment, which is why I chose it. I mounted my 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens so I could fit more of the city in each frame.
My wife and I had just come from Navy Pier, where we photographed the Chicago skyline from the Ferris wheel. We had plenty of time for a leisurely walk along the Chicago River before our dinner reservations within the Loop. We walked on both sides of the river, crossing the bridges wherever we felt like it.
Chicago at night is a perfect subject for Kodak T-Max P3200. The built environment generates plenty of light to render subjects beautifully.
I forget exactly what apertures and shutter speeds I used to make these photos, but they let me shoot easily and comfortably. My lens wasn’t wide open, and I didn’t have to worry about camera shake.
As you can see, the P3200 does return noticeable grain. A couple of these photos do show slight underexposure. My F3’s meter did the best it could to read this light but didn’t always nail it. A few of these images looked a little foggy, but a little tweaking in Photoshop cleared that right up.
I remain amazed by how well this film works. I know some people push other films, such as Tri-X, to 3200 and get good results. But you have to push your processing accordingly. That’s not a huge deal when you process your own. But I send my 35mm black-and-white film to a pro lab. It’s nice not to have to pay extra for the push processing on P3200.
My wife and I had a lovely walk along the Chicago River as I shot this roll of Kodak T-Max P3200. I look forward to doing it again someday — and to finding other subjects that this film can make sing.
Chicago’s Wrigley Building was built from 1920 to 1924 as the first skyscraper north of the Chicago River. It’s a stunner at any time of the day, but I especially like it at night. Its white facade, beautifully lit, stands in contrast to the dark buildings all around it.
The building’s south tower is the taller of the two, 30 stories vs. 21.
The building is covered head to toe in terra cotta, providing no end of interesting detail to study.
I focused my lens on the south tower far more than the north, but here’s one good shot of the north tower, its entrance.
The north tower is 410 N. Michigan Ave., the south is 400.
The two towers are separated by a little alley, with a third-floor bridge connecting the two buildings and framing the scene.
There are no shortage of wonderful angles from which to compose interesting photographs.
Nikon F3, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Kodak T-Max P3200.
“I want to get a good view of the Chicago skyline at dusk,” my wife said. “I’d like to photograph it.”
Instantly I thought of Navy Pier and its Ferris wheel. I’d ridden it before, years ago, and remembered its commanding view of the city. So we made our way over. The view was as commanding as I remembered.
It was only about 5:30 pm, but it was already dark on this early January day. Interestingly, the Kodak T-Max P3200 saw through the night right to the overcast sky, and that’s what it rendered.
The Ferris wheel cars are enclosed and heated, making it comfortable to make these photographs on a 25-degree evening. However, the glass is tinted, which robbed me of a stop or two of exposure. I shot these with my Nikon F3 and 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens wide open, which gave me shutter speeds of 1/15 and 1/30 sec. I’m glad I have a steady hand.
This is the same Nikon F3 that has developed a light leak thanks to a failed light seal. But at night, there’s too little light to sneak past that seal and leave streaks on the film. So this whole roll turned out fine.
The ride moved slowly and went around several times, giving us plenty of time to make these photographs. I arranged them here as if I made them in one pass, but in reality I shot one or two photos on each pass.
I forgot one key thing: my wife’s tendency to motion sickness. She found the gently swaying car to be a little challenging. But she got some fun shots with her DSLR, in color.
I bought this roll of P3200 that morning, at Chicago’s famous Central Camera. I stepped in the front door and there behind the counter was Johnny Sisson, of the Classic Lenses Podcast. He looks just like the photo he uses in social media, so he was easy to spot. I introduced myself and we chatted for a couple minutes. Affable fellow.