New Kodak T-Max 400 (May 7, 2008)
Announced in october 2007, but only available since a short period, the New T-MAX 400 has been branded as the sharpest ISO400 film on the market. Such a designation is quite interesting. We know from tests that current low speed films have an edge compared to digital capture where definition and resolution of really fine detail is required. Adox, Spur and Rollei film emulsions occupy this domain with a wide range of special developers to get the most out of these films. The slow speed has one big disadvantage: current image culture is biased towards a wide depth of field, as this is the standard for most digital cameras with smaller sensor areas and therefore smaller diagonals. The art of the selective sharpness plane is in danger of becoming extinct. Modern zoomlenses start at f/4 or /5.6 and then depth of field is not a problem and indeed most pictures are sharp from front to end. A slow speed film requires a slower shutter speed and then picture quality will be reduced unless a tripod is being used.
The best selling monochrome film is Tri-X. Grain and tonal reproduction and sharpness impression deliver a picture quality that is hard, poetic, honest and confronting. Many of the most impressive picture icons are made on Tri-X. Black and white films are indeed quite poetic, but offer the grain impression is a bit harsh on a sensitive eye. Recently the maker of the new Bob Dylan movie complained that is very difficult nowadays to find a true monochrome film that captures the spirit of the sixties, because most monochrome films are color films with the color component filtered out When using digital capture, this is the only option: use RGB and convert to black and white. This is a world apart form a film that is only sensitive to luminance differences and converts these into grey tonal values.
T-MAX 400: TMY400-2
The new film has a bluish coating for additional UV protection as is known form the T-MAX 100 emulsions. Kodak makes some fuzz about new development times, but I did not notice any significant departure.
The properties of the film have changed: The T-MAX 100 has an RMS granularity of 8 and a resolution of 63 to 200 c/mm. The old T-MAX 400 has an RMS of 11 and a resolution of 50 to 125 c/mm. The new T-MAX 400 has an RMS value of 10 and a resolution of 50 to 200 c/mm. The spectral sensitivity has changed a bit and more sensitivity can be seen in the red part of the spectrum.
The specifications are quite promising: we know that some grain must be visible to enhance the sharpness impression (see Tri-X) and very fine grain is required for good definition, but these images lack some bite. A fine balance between these conflicting demands would be very nice indeed.
I used the Sekonic 758D for exposure measurement at ISO 400, and the film has been developed in the Heiland TAS developer system with the AM50 developer. The TAS is processor based and gives excellent development results with a smooth development rhythm and very consistent results. Fixing and washing according to Ilford instructions and after a 15 minutes processing cycle the emulsions are ready to dry.
The tonal values are measured with the densitometer and are as follows: (NOTE: updated values: previous data were not based on Zone system ranges, but on my own preferences. As there has been some discussion about the value of these numbers I have now given the values as required by the Zone System: fim is quite flexible in its behavior! ). Bold numbers are the Zone System ranges
fog = 0.30
Zone V = 0.85 (0.65 to 0.75)
Zone IV = 0.59 (0.46 to 0.54)
Zone III = 0.32 (0.27 to 0.33)
Zone II = 0.16 (0.18 to 0.22)
Zone I = 0.06 (0.09 to 0.11)
Zone VI = 1.07 (0.83 to 0.97)
Zone VII = 1.32 (1.00 to 1.20)
Zone VI = 1.63 (1.18 to 1.42)
Zone IX = 1.85 (1.35 to 1.63)
Zone X = 2.05 (1.45 to 1.85)
These values tell you that the film is a true ISO400, but for best shadow results a half stop over exposure would be helpful. Exposing the film as EI=320 and less development time will produce a tonal scale that is almost identical to the ideal values of the Ansel Adams Zone System.
Sharpness and tonal values are better than what you get with Tri-X (without the characteristic gritty grain impression of that film) and the old complaint that T-MAX 400 has a characteristic curve that is difficult to print is no longer true.
Comparison with TMY (old).
A comparison with TMY indicates that the differences are visible and significant
Next is a chart, showing the characteristic curves of both films. Note that the new TMY-2 gives a higher density from Zone 2. This behavior supports the claim by Kodak that the development times should be changed, compared to TMY. Based on these measurements, TMY-2 can de developed between 15 and 20% less time than TMY in the same developer and the same ISO settings. Note also that the dynamic range is a full seven stops and this can be extended by another stop when you pull the development time for an additional 10 to 15%.
Sharpness and grain.
Below you will see two pictures (selections of the full image) left TMY-2 and right TMY.
The grain impression of the TMY-2 is finer and the grain is packed more tightly, giving a more closed (solid) impression of homogeneous areas of equal density. Note too that the edge sharpness is higher. This scan has been made with the Coolscan 5000ED and the image has not been manipulated at all. This is the straight image of a section of the negative. The results on wet paper will be a bit different.
The new T-MAX film is a true addition for the craftsman-photographer’s toolkit and still likes to use chemical means to create a picture. Any ISO 400 emulsion that closes the gap with the ISO 100 films is very interesting. I have never been a friend of the higher speed films
because of grain and sharpness loss, but this new film gives you food for thought. A pity that film is now a footnote in the progress of the photographic craft.