The moment has arrived: I picked up the prints from my first roll of developed Tri-X 400 earlier in the week. First things first, and you have probably heard most people say this, but it felt great to experience the thrill of ‘picking up the photos,’ opening up the envelope and looking through the prints. It’s a fantastic feeling and while digital does have it moments, when you spot an imported image that you instantly know is a keeper, it doesn’t quite compare to the anticipation and excitement of processing film.
On the downside, it seems that the OM-10 is suffering from signs of old age as there is evidence of light leaks. Most of the images that I took in bright daylight suffer from a slight over-exposed banding down the right hand side, running vertically across the frame. The positioning is fairly consistent throughout and I’ve been lead to believe that it is likely the foam seals on the back of the camera door that have failed. It has probably affected half the roll.
This is, of course, disappointing. Nevertheless, it is not the end of the world and, thankfully, some of my favourite shots are not affected. I’m going to need more time to look through my work before I can provide a fuller analysis of the things I have learned, so in the meantime I wanted to share with you my initial impressions of Tri-X 400. As I mentioned in my first Foray Into Film post, Tri-X 400 is a film that I was especially eager to try. It is legendary in the field of street photography and I keep trying to recreate it digitally (with varying degrees of success!).
So, let me attempt to describe the findings of my first Tri-X 400 experience:
For street photography it just ‘feels’ right. I would estimate that about two thirds of the 36 shots fall into the rather nebulous category of street photography, but those that do really stand out. Tri-X has such a distinctive look – a subtle brooding – that gives images an edge. Architecture too. I successfully nabbed a few shots of the Lloyds Building, Gherkin, and the Walkie Talkie and it is so effective in capturing urban environments. On the other hand, I wasn’t as impressed with the effect it had on landscapes, with the few I took being overly oppressive and bleak.
The exposure range is outstanding. From shadows to highlights, the tonal range that is captured is extremely impressive. Personally, I find the shadows to be a little too dark – although I accept that this is partly a result of me not having control over the developing process. But the detail in the mid-tones stands out in particular and is probably one of the most apparent differences I have noticed between film and digital.
It turns grain into an art form. The grain produced by Tri-X 400 is as aesthetically pleasing as I had been made to believe. It is so well controlled and consistent, but neither does it steal the show. It discreetly adds to the image, rather than distract from the main subject. It’s fine, it’s smooth, and for me, its presence is one of the main reasons you would want to shoot black and white.
Colourful subjects need colour film. OK, that is over-simplifying the matter considerably, but I did see a pattern emerging when reviewing my shots: subjects with strong colours significantly lose impact when shot in mono. For example, with shots of flowers, while the Tri-X performed well, when I view these particular prints I am visualising them in their original vibrant glory.
Shooting Tri-X 400 is a user-friendly experience. Let me clarify this point: I do not feel that the film is punishing me for every little mistake that I may make. The wide exposure range no doubt assists significantly here, but regardless, it feels like the film is always working with you and trying to get the best out of every shot. This obviously makes it great for first-time film shooters.
I will hopefully be able to post some scans of my shots in my next post. In the meantime, if anyone wants to share any DIY tips for fixing light leaks, let me know…