What can be said about Kodak’s venerable workhorse film? This film is the one that most of us, from the US anyways, learn on when we start learning black and white film. It is forgiving. It looks stunning. If you have ever seen a black and white photo then chances are you have seen Tri-X. Most of the pictures on my site are Tri-X at this point. It can be pushed, pulled, stand developed... you name it and Tri-X can probably take it in stride.
This will not get into technical details. There are countless sources for that info just a Google search away. This is more of a review about the heart of the film. Tri-X has a heart of gold... if somewhat tarnished gold. It is gritty. It is sharp. It is contrasty. It produces different results in different developers. Sometimes it is smoother and softer (D76) and sometimes it is grainy and hard and sharp as glass (Rodinal). My favorite image was taken in a private garden on an autumn day in the late afternoon and developed in Rodinal. The details captivate me.
For beginners this is the film to learn on. It can handle your misteps. It can take the beating you give it and still give you back images that make you smile. Like a lot of beginners, I went out and bought a roll or two of whatever I could get my hands on. Ilford, Foma, Rollei, Kodak... anything I could find. Once I started to dial in the use of my Hasselblad, to understand how those gorgeous Ziess lenses rendered light, I was able to start seeing how different films handled that light information. And for a long long time Tri-X handled it in a way that I enjoyed more than any other films with the exception of Ilford’s PanF + but that is a whole nother low speed beast for another day. Once I was happy with how I could shoot Tri-X and started to learn film development for myself, I couldn’t have asked for a better film to learn on. I didn’t know anything about developing so I went to a shop and bought what I had heard of. I got Ilford’s Perceptol and Tri-X still gave me nice results. I decided Perceptol was too expensive here in Tokyo so I got some D76.... and again Tri-X gave me great results. I think it is the only film I have ever used where every roll has developed well and I haven’t wasted a roll (I’m looking at you PanF and your moody temperment). I learned over time and research that many of the images I loved from my heroes were made on Tri-X and souped in Rodinal. After searching and searching and searching and calling and mailing and many months of fruitless effort zi was finally able to get Rodinal (R09 One Shot but for all intents and purposes it is Rodinal) here.... shipped from Silver Salt in Nagoya. The first time I pulled a roll of Tri-X from the tank and held it up to the light I started laughing. There it was. There was the look... the elusive thing we all chase. We all have our version but mine was Tri-X in Rodinal. The grain, thick but smooth and more of a texture than a distraction, the shadows, detailed and clear and deep, and the highlight, open and warm and practically glowing from the paper.
There have been times when Tri-X has driven me mad. Too much grain, too much contrast, too much.... everything but that all boils down to how you shot it and how you developed it. Grab a roll, or better yet a box or two or three, and prepare yourself for a new addiction. Try to push it, try to pull it, try to develope it under normal conditions, vary temperatures and dilutions and developers, and do stand and semi-stand developing. See what it gives you from what you have given it.