Comparing 3 different B&W film rolls

Kodak Tri-X 400 vs Kodak 400 Tmax vs Ilford XP2 Super

I started shooting 35mm film quite recently so I am by no means here to deliver professional advice. This is more of a review where I compare the aesthetic differences and decide which one I like the most according to my creative preferences.

The first 2 rolls of colour film and first B&W film I shot were all during the same trip to Brazil I took in July, 2018. I had actually shot 1 colour roll a couple of weeks before but the place where I took it for development messed it up. I was notified about this by my father who went to pick it up when I was in Brazil and I had already used 2 rolls of Portra 400 so I was very worried that I had wasted all that money as I thought it was my fault. When I got the scans back by email after Brazil, I was so happy and I knew at that moment that the previous photography store who ‘tried’ to develop my 1st roll had messed it up because I shot the same Portra 400 from the same box of 5 and I loaded the film using exactly the same youtube tutorial. This was also the start of one of the most important lessons that analog photography has taught me which is to be patient and appreciate every one of those 24 or 36 exposures you have so that the output you get from every roll is more valuable, financially speaking but also on a personal, emotional and artistic level. Ok, lets dive straight in.

All of the following images have been taken on my Pentax K1000. I also own a Nikon F which my grandfather gave to me the last time I saw him before he passed away, together with about 7 or 8 vintage Nikkor lenses (fun fact: I bought an adapter and use these lenses with my Sony a7iii so that I can continue his legacy).

The 3 rolls of B&W film I will compare (and the only B&W film I have ever shot) are the Kodak 400 Tmax, the Kodak Tri-X 400 and the Ilford XP2 Super which is only available at speed 400 also, as far as I’m aware. My first B&W film roll (in Brazil) was actually a Kodak 100 Tmax thus in theory, I have shot 4 different B&W rolls but the 400 Tmax is already in the list. Also this way all the rolls being compared are the same speed hence making the comparison more accurate.

Kodak 400 Tmax

Bear in mind all images on my website, even negative scans like the ones above are optimised for web, so don’t try zooming in to analyse the grain. Talking about the grain, Kodak 400 Tmax consists of very fine grain which is only really visible in the midtones. Of course you have to take into consideration that 400 is a relatively slow speed so don’t use these indications to buy faster versions of this film. I really like how the grain changes as the midtones fade into the highlights.

In terms of contrast, this film has a nice amount but not too much. Perfect for shooting portraits so you can still see the detail on dark hair. It gives a nice boost to the dynamic range the 400 Tmax offers. Nonetheless, the tone is amazing in this film, specially from the darker grays to the highlights. The process type is gelatin-silver.

Below are a few images from the slower 100 Tmax version I shot in Brazil so you can appreciate how neat and beautiful the Kodak Tmax is.

Ilford XP2 Super

Ilford XP2 Super is a rare black and white negative film stock that is processed using the C-41 method which makes it a premiere choice for many photographers who tend to shoot a lot of colour film.

This film produces fine grain allowing for soft human skin texture. From my perspective it feels like there is greater contrast and dynamic range in the darker areas, giving some very nice details to the shadows. This makes the XP2 Super a great choice for architectural or geometric fine art representations. The highlights and reflections like those of the water are also beautiful.

Kodak Tri-X 400

Last but not least, the Tri-X. Very popular amongst B&W film photographers, this is the oldest of the bunch (although it was re-engineered in 2007) and was definitely one where I got some of my favourite B&W film shots ever.

The Tri-X 400 is certainly quite grainy from the upper shadows to the highlights but the detail across the spectrum and the perfect amount of contrast really creates a special vintage tone which you would expect from a film which was first introduced around 1940. The high sharpness it offers really adds to the incredible dynamic range, making the Tri-X a staple amongst the industry. Just like the Tmax 400 it is developed using the gelatin-silver process.

Each one of these films has a slightly different vibe and I love all of them. I don’t think I will be able to say which one I prefer until I have used multiple rolls of each in different conditions. The 3 of them are 36 exposure film rolls.

If you enjoyed this review and think that it has helped you make a decision on which film you want to try, please use the amazon links below by clicking the images.

Kodak 400 Tmax

Ilford XP2 Super

Kodak Tri-X 400

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s