Why I love Tri-X

It’s Thanksgiving, so what am I most thankful for?  Tri-X, of course.

I suppose it’s all about the mood.  There’s a lot of darkness in these photos, perhaps because I tend to use Tri-X where there isn’t a whole lot of light, and it always gets the image.  You can push it, pull it, overexpose or underexpose it and still get results.  It’s the most versatile film I know of, the best damn black and white film ever made.

You will notice that most of what I have here are people.  I suppose that with larger formats it would work great for landscape photography (which I don’t do a whole lot of in black and white), and I was experimenting a bit with caffenol back in the day, pulling film a stop and using a semi-stand development to reduce grain.  Fuji Acros 100 seems to be the king of black & white landscape photography these days, but I’ve always said it’s Kodak for black & white and Fuji for color (and I’ve always said that I’ve always said).  One of these days I’ll mix it up.

I’m not the only person in the world to love Tri-X, it does happen to be the best-selling black and white film in the world.  Because of its latitude and forgiving latitude in not only exposure but also development, it’s used in a lot of photography programs (including mine).  It was used by newspaper photographers from the 1950s to the 1980s, used by combat photographers in Vietnam, and countless street photographers to this day.  Think of a famous black and white photo and chances are it was shot on Tri-X.  Classic Americana.

Final project: portraits – Intro to Photography

Fall 2013.  I had been taking portraits here and there throughout the semester, this time around I decided to pursue it in a more serious way.  I started looking at other photographers’ work more, looking at what it means to take a good portrait.  They say that all portraits are actually self-portraits of the photographer, to some degree.  Living in a small mountain town, I have some nice-looking backdrops pretty much wherever I go, and some pretty interesting-looking friends as well.  The first I found that was a keeper was actually taken Summer 2013 before the class even started, with the faulty Hi-matic 9 that I have since given away.  It featured a son of some friends of mine, one of my favorite photographic subjects:

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It’s really hard to just put these up without talking about them, so I’m going to group pictures a bit.

Woodland Park used to host several different series of local music, all non-profit (don’t know how many there are at the moment).  The one that I was affiliated with was called the Mountain Acoustic Music Association (MAMA), unfortunately due to lack of attendance and too large a venue, they had to shut down.  This was the last show they put on, bittersweet memories.

Being in a photo class, I decided I had an excuse to spend a few bucks on a portrait lens, and the local camera store just happened to have a few new Canon FD lenses in, which was nice because I really wanted to try out the AE-1 I’d been given and see how it compared to the Minolta.

It did alright, one thing I discovered was both light meters lied about their readings indoors: if I followed what they told me, I ended up overexposing by 1 stop with the Minolta, and underexposing 1 stop with the Canon.  I did like the winding action better with the Canon…  Up above are final presentations from two rolls of Tri-X and the only roll of Plus-X I ever bought.  Three out of four were with the 50mm 1.4 S.S.C. lens, so that $100 I spent on the 100mm 2.8 S.S.C. doesn’t seem quite worth it, and which lens did I return?  The fast-50.  The middle two came from a roll that I accidentally exposed by opening the back before I’d rewound the film.  Thankfully, it didn’t affect the early exposures!

In the Canon outtakes you’ll see a picture of two bearded individuals: that one was my original portrait, but the fact that I fudged the focus so badly (that Canon 50’s depth of field is narrow) nagged at me, and I redid it when I went over to my friend’s house to take more pictures of his beard.  I went back to the Minolta, because I still had a few more exposures in the Canon, and this particular roll I pushed 2 stops to get faster shutter speeds, the first time I’d ever pushed a roll of film before:

Once again, all on one roll.  Perhaps it was because I was just used to working with that camera?

The last thing I did was to make portraits of two newborn babies, as two sets of friends had just given birth (only hours apart).  I had just the week before (and only several days after buying that Canon 100mm lens) found a screw-mount portrait lens for the Spotmatic (and it didn’t cost $100 either) at a thrift store, a Chinon 135mm f/2.8.  I decided if there was ever a time to break out the Spotmatic, this was it.  Since both families wanted pictures in time to send out as Christmas cards, I decided using some chromogenic film was in order, and I bought a 36-exposure roll of Kodak BW400CN for that purpose, knowing I could get it developed and scanned in a day, then make my own prints at a more leisurely pace.

At the time, I’d never used Photoshop for correction, and the scans I got back were actually pretty low-contrast.  I have to say, now that I know what I’m doing I quite like the look of BW400CN.  Unfortunately, it’s no longer made.  The Chinon turned out to be a worthy lens, but I sort of retired it after I found the 135mm Super-Takumar.

I spent more time talking to my subjects than I did taking pictures, and usually I’d be taking 5-7 shots in a row; it seems that burning a couple shots up front helped my subjects relax, helped me get more natural looks.  My little bit of street photography experience helped me out as well, as some of those portraits were completely candid.

I have lots of pictures that I didn’t end up using, and they can be found here.

Contemplation

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From the first roll of Tri-X I ever shot

This is from one of the rolls from Summer 2013, and the first one that I sent through my Minolta F-2400 scanner.  It took a hell of a long time to get a routine down on that scanner, and while the results are good enough, the hassle just wasn’t worth it in my book, especially when the scanner sensor accumulated dust that started leaving lines on the scan.  And after that the Windows 98 machine I’d been using with it decided to stop working.  It wasn’t too big of a deal for me because I’d been pretty happy with the scans I’d got from the local camera store.  Just look at this.  Hopefully I’ll be getting a new scanner in the next week or two.

By the way, I really wanted to love the Minolta Hi-matic 9, but mine ended up being pretty trashed.  The shutter only ends up firing about half the time, so out of a 36-exposure roll, I got a little over 20 actual pictures.  What really killed me is that I paid more ($25) than for any other camera I’ve ever bought.  I was really looking forward to getting into rangefinders but now that’s been put on hold.  While the 1.7 lens it has is nothing to sneer at, I learned of the Yashica Lynx 14 which is a fixed-lens rangefinder with a 1.4 lens, so that’s the one I’m looking out for now, but it isn’t a huge priority, I’m still loving the Spotmatic.

edit: back in December 2015 I gave this camera away to my classmate Reggie.  He has a big thing for rangefinders and some experience fixing leaf shutters as well. I told him that if he ever got it fixed I’d take it back from him, but I have a much nicer rangefinder camera now and don’t miss it much.