Film Photography

The mixed results I get from Kodak T-Max P3200 are putting me off this film

When I first shot Kodak T-Max P3200, I was blown away by the great results. I shot the film in my Nikon F3 with my 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens attached. I don’t remember for sure who I had develop and scan the film, but it was probably Old School Photo Lab.

A pilgrimage to Central Camera
Chicago
Open late
State Street at night

Unfortunately, I’ve had mixed results using other labs, and developing and scanning this film myself. I shot these two images with my Nikon FA, the first with my 50mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor and my second with my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor. I developed them in HC-110, Dilution B, and scanned them with my Plustek OpticFilm 8200i. I find the grain to be obtrusive and not pleasing on these.

Belleek
7th & Wabash, Terre Haute

On my recent trip to Chicago I shot a roll of this film in a Minolta Maxxum 5 with a 35-70mm f/4 Maxxum AF Zoom lens. I had Dwayne’s Photo develop and scan the roll. If this had been my first experience with this film, I would never have bought it again.

Blue Chicago sign
Chicago River at night

I believe my cameras all to be in good working condition with accurate meters. Perhaps this film requires great care in developing and scanning. If that’s true, I clearly haven’t found the touch yet. Perhaps this film looks better in developers other than HC-110. I suppose I could always send this film to Old School Photo Lab, as I get the best results from this film when I use them for processing. But I want films that I can develop and scan at home and get consistently good results. With my home development, I’ve had great luck pushing HP5 Plus to 1600. I think the next time I’m up for some night photography, that’s what I’ll try.

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Camera Reviews

Minolta Maxxum 5

When a reader offered this Minolta Maxxum 5 to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, I had no idea how tiny it would be. Indeed, upon its 2001 introduction it was billed as the smallest and lightest autofocus SLR of all time. I happen to favor compact SLRs, so I was excited to give this diminutive Minolta a try.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The Maxxum 5 was introduced in 2001. Typical of late film SLRs, this camera has a list of specs as long as your arm. I’m not going to try to list them all, as the Maxxum 5 does everything you’d expect. It loads, winds, and rewinds film automatially. You get programmed, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual exposure modes. It has a built-in pop-up flash, and also a shoe for Minolta’s proprietary external flashes. Its shutter operates from 1/4000 second down to a full 30 seconds.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The Maxxum 5 uses a seven-point autofocus system and a 14-segment honeycomb-pattern meter that emphasizes the chosen focus point. There’s a switch on the front to turn off autofocus when you want to focus manually. There’s also a button on the back that turns on spot metering, which uses only the center metering segment.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The camera reads the film cartridge’s DX code to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can override that, however, and set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. The camera even has an “eye start” feature — when your hand is on the grip, and you bring your eye to the viewfinder, it begins metering and focusing immediately. (I found that feature to be annoying, so I turned it off.) 2 CR2 batteries power this camera, without which it is inert.

It says a lot about the 2001 state of the SLR art that the Maxxum 5 was considered an amateur’s SLR. The advanced amateur Maxxum 7 and the professional Maxxum 9 offered even more functionality.

The Maxxum 5 was a ton of camera for its price — $403 for just the body. I’m sure almost all of these came with the 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 Minolta AF Zoom kit zoom lens, however. Mine came to me with an almost certainly superior 35-70mm f/4 Maxxum AF Zoom lens.

If you like auto-everything Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the Maxxum 7000i (here), the original Maxxum 7000 (here), the Maxxum 9xi (here), and the Maxxum HTsi (here). I’ve also reviewed the Minolta SR-T 101 (here) and SR-T 202 (here), as well as the delightful rangefinder Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here) and later Hi-Matic AF2 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I brought the Maxxum 5 with me on a trip to Chicago in mid-January. I had three rolls of film with me, and I began with Kodak Ultramax 400.

On the Chicago River: Minolta Maxxum 5

Temperatures were in the mid to upper teens all that weekend. I had a hotel right on the Chicago River, in the Loop but right across from the River North neighborhood. I photographed the river’s bridges and the neighborhood extensively, keeping the Maxxum 5 inside my coat until I was ready to frame a scene. The camera performed flawlessly even in such low temperatures.

On the Chicago River: Minolta Maxxum 5

The viewfinder is small, but bright. The focus points the camera chooses light up clearly inside the viewfinder.

Ahead: Minolta Maxxum 5

I walked for a couple hours that night with Kodak T-Max P3200 in the Maxxum 5. I got uneven results. The negatives were very thin — either the Maxxum’s meter is way, way off, or the lab bollixed the development. I’m leaning toward blaming the lab; I think the Maxxum’s meter is right.

Chicago River at night: Minolta Maxxum 5

Several shots had vertical light streaks through them, like this one. Normally I develop my own black-and-white film, and I wish I had done so this time.

Down LaSalle St.: Minolta Maxxum 5

Still, a number of the shots I made turned out well enough, like this one.

Shockingly: Minolta Maxxum 5

The next day I loaded Fujicolor 200 into the camera and kept shooting. Despite all of the Maxxum 5’s modes and options, I never varied from straight-up Program mode. But then, I’m sure, neither did 95 percent of people who bought this camera new.

Fire chief: Minolta Maxxum 5

The 35-70mm zoom lens is on the small side, which befits this small camera. I have 50mm prime lenses that are almost as large. The lens offers macro mode, which I used on a couple shots. I was pleased with this lens’s sharpness.

Graffiti: Minolta Maxxum 5

I had only two minor complaints with the Maxxum 5. First, the strap lugs are right by the door hinge on one end, and the door closure on the other. Every time I loaded film, the strap got in the way of closing the door.

Wrapped in lights: Minolta Maxxum 5

Second, the button to open the camera back is in a nonstandard place: on the back, lower right, below the door. I was a little worried that this would make it easy to accidentally open the camera. But while researching to write this review, I learned that the Maxxum 5 will open only when film is not wound around the takeup spool.

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta Maxxum 5 gallery.

Auto-everything SLRs from late in the film era, like this Maxxum 5, are the great bargains of film photography. You can pick these up on eBay every day for under $40, and sometimes for as low as $20, usually with a lens attached.

On the balance, Minolta made wonderful auto-everything SLRs, and the Maxxum 5 is no exception. I like them more than the contemporary Nikons and Canons that I’ve tried. The Maxxum 5’s small size and rich featureset distinguishes it from the other Maxxums I’ve used. This camera is a keeper.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Photographs

Still lifes on Kodak T-Max P3200

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.

Pot
60 Chev model
Belleek
Mug
Olympus Trip 35

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.

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Photographs

A visit to Terre Haute on Kodak T-Max P3200

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.

Headstone's

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

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!

New Releases

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).

7th & Wabash, Terre Haute

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.

Muffin and coffee

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.

7th & Wabash, Terre Haute

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.

Terre Haute First

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!

Indiana Theater

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.

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Film Photography, Photography

Family Christmas photographs

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.

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Film Photography, Travel

The Chicago River at night, on Kodak T-Max P3200

Around the Chicago River - Kodak T-Max P3200

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.

Around the Chicago River - Kodak T-Max P3200

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.

Around the Chicago River - Kodak T-Max P3200

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.

Around the Chicago River - Kodak T-Max P3200

Chicago at night is a perfect subject for Kodak T-Max P3200. The built environment generates plenty of light to render subjects beautifully.

Around the Chicago River - Kodak T-Max P3200

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.

Around the Chicago River - Kodak T-Max P3200

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.

Around the Chicago River - Kodak T-Max P3200

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.

Around the Chicago River - Kodak T-Max 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.

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