Grain for days!

Kodak Tri-x 400 film can be pushed to ISO 6400 very easily. Much better than I expected. I’ve been using Tri-x for a long time, but never actually pushed it this much. As it happens to be the darkest time of the year, I finally decided to give this a go.

I’m not a huge fan of low light shooting and I’ve always been quite skeptical about substituting good lighting with anything else. If the light is bad, it’s bad, no matter how fast the lens or ISO is. (Not to say low light is necessarily always bad though.) Coming from this kind of thinking, I was very surprised to see how usable the results were. Kodak Tri-x can take the four stop push to 6400 like a champ with much less grain or crazy contrast than expected. It of course doesn’t magically generate more light — the exact amount of photons will land the emulsion no matter what, but with pushing, you can make the the emulsion to bring up at least some information from the little light that came through the lens.

The gear and developing

I used my Leica M6 with two fast lenses: Voigtländer Nokton 50mm f1.5 and 35mm f1.4. The funny part is that I didn’t have to resort into shooting wide open almost at all. 6400 is a ridiculously high value to meter for and you could easily do this with a f4 lens if needed.

I used Kodak D-76 developer at 1:1 dilution. I didn’t find exactly a great deal of information concerning developing times, so I guesstimated a developing time of 18 minutes with slight agitations once a minute, which seemed to work fairly well.

The look

As you know, when pushing film, you’re amplifying the amount of grain and contrast. I’ve shot Tri-x many times at EI 800 and 1600. 6400 is a much harder push and I was expecting huge increase in grain and contrast. The grain actually looks just about the same as with lower pushes. Who would’ve expected that? Kodak Tri-x pushed to 6400 looks much smoother than for example Ilford Delta 3200 or Kodak T-max P3200, that are both much more expensive films. So if you want to save your pennies, buy Tri-x instead.

Is this a bit too fast?

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is such a high ISO that it is almost unusable during the daylight, unless your camera has very high shutter speeds or if you use an ND filter. ISO 6400 is not a good all-round solution. It is surprisingly un-intuitive to meter for and only good for certain kind of conditions.

Sample photos

To capture motion blur, I wanted to shoot at 1/15sec, which meant I had to stop the lens down to f8. Pretty unusual for a scene as dark as this.
Another shot of the train before take-off. Surprisingly good tonality!
This shot particularly had an amazing amount of shadow detail and very acceptable amount of over-blown highlights.
Not as nice rendition, but still not bad at all. This photo is cropped about 40% and looks grainier than it actually is.