Can Film Keep Up With Digital? The Results of Push-Developing Kodak Tri-X Four Stops

Digital sensors have come a long way in the past 15 years or so, but even so, pushing a shot four stops is getting close to the limit of file latitude in most situations. So, how well can film hold up when you do the same? The answer is very well.

If you don't know Kodak Tri-X, it's by far one of the most ubiquitous stocks out there, and if you're interested in trying out film, I highly recommend grabbing a few rolls, especially because it's remarkably forgiving of any exposure miscues, making it perfect for beginners looking to get their feet wet. In this video, Vincent Moschetti push-develops a roll of Tri-X four stops, increasing its effective rating from ISO 400 to ISO 6,400. Pushing Tri-X (and other stocks) a couple stops was actually a very common practice back in the day, particularly among sports photographers and photojournalists, but it's especially interesting to see how the results stack up in an age when we're used to digital sensors and the near-remarkable results we can get out of them. Personally, I think the Tri-X did quite well, and I find the grain much more pleasing than digital noise.

[via PetaPixel]

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I've shot Kodak TMAX 3200 pushed two stops to ISO 12,800. I used a professional B&W lab since I don't have a home developing setup. The grain exploded, but it was what I needed to do to shoot in the low light of a rock concert.

Alex Cooke's picture

I would love to see those shots!

Here's the link to Trans Siberian Orchestra's Beethoven's Last Night

Michael Holst's picture

Digital noise behaves much different than it does on film and dynamic range deteriorates on digital the higher the ISO so you might get a noisy (including color noise not just grain) image but I've yet to see a comparison where your claim holds any weight. There are programs that will simulate noise to any configuration. Wouldn't that be easier? Plus it would leave you with more highlight/shadow Information in the file.

Michael Holst's picture

Could you show some examples of high ISO looking like film grain?

Michael Holst's picture

Just asking...

I see color noise in all of my high ISO images while my film scans show neutral grain texture.

If you can't tell the difference I'll be amazed.

Michael Holst's picture

My point is that if you need to use some sort of adjustment to take away any color noise then why not just add a film grain in post.

Wouldn't it be better to shoot with lower ISO (better dynamic range as I mentioned earlier) so that you don't have images that limit what you can do with it later? Or if you shot too high of an ISO you've then added more noise than intended without the ability to lower your ISO later. With ISO performance being different from camera to camera replicating a particular film grain by shooting in higher ISO's becomes a guessing game too. While shooting in low ISO to add grain later allows more control. If later you one decides they only wanted a very little amount of grain they can just put a little in but with high ISO you cant really take it out without IQ loss.

I guess were debating which way is better to get to the same result but I'm coming from a mindset that you'd want more options and control in post.

Michael Holst's picture

It's not news that scanning adds color noise but clearly the color noise is something to be avoided.

You're point has also been to suggest people simply shoot higher ISO (to get the look of film) and thats where I've jumped in. It really doesn't matter anyways because if people really enjoy the look of certain film... I say they should just shoot that film. It's what I've been doing. Now if the cost of film is whats scaring people away I don't see any issue with them trying to re-create the same result. Different strokes for different folks.

Michael Holst's picture

"As I have said elsewhere to you, I'm not trying to prevent people from using film."

HAHA just enjoying it

I wish he had either used a different developer to reduce contrast, or shot in different conditions. You can't compare film and digital photography like that. There's more to push developing than increasing film speed. You do it on purpose to increase contrast. If not, you need to find yourself a developer that keeps the contrast under control. These negatives are way too contrasty.
Even if you do like lots of contrast, you would go for less because you can always add it in the darkroom/post.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Really too many factors to directly compare. Format? Grain will be much less apparent on larger format, etc. Developer? Scanned or darkroom? Technique in the darkroom?

Hans Rosemond's picture

Haha. That’s because 35mm is crap. But that’s my bias. But there’s no direct comparison between large format and medium format bigger than 645 for that matter. And yes, the other factors absolutely will. Developer choice and technique can dramatically change apparent grain in a print.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Sorry, me hating 35mm film is just a long running gag with me. As for movies looking great on 35mm, that’s because they’re moving at 24 FPS.

As for 35mm digital formats bettering medium formats, absolutely. I’m the first to say digital beats film in almost every regard. However, I’m not sure if grain to noise is one of them.

Of course, large format is a very small segment of the film world, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t curiosity about its grain structure compared to digital, if not purely for academic purposes. Hell, I’m curious!

In the end, I think anyone shooting film with a notion that it’s “better” is just wrongheaded. I do it because I enjoy it and the craft.

2018... we're still talking about this..

Glenn Riegel's picture

Exactly - any of the "old" stuff that being "rediscovered" by another generation flares the discussion. Likewise, since the "old hands" were rather forced to move on commercially in order to maintain clients that were sucked into the digital vortex, the old ways were not passed along. Up until 2004 I taught darkroom process as a daily rigor. As we moved into the glitz and technophile mindset, darkroom and film as not "cool" and in demand, even though at the time, film held a distinct edge. So now, lessons are learned all over again as a new gen plays at "retro-cool" Can you still buy control test strips? Densitometer readings, anyone? Grain and noise are not an equal concept. Film has moved into the "alt" or fine art process.

Michael Aubrey's picture

Yeah. Because in 2018 film sales are up.

The bottoming out of the market was years ago. Now it's recovering as a small niche market.

Michael Aubrey's picture

They'll be up in 2018, too.

Back in the late 1970’s, my buddy (and fellow photographer) Scott Champion and I regularly pushed TriX & HP5 to ASA 8000 with a 1:1 of Microdol X and a product called Push 8000 that his dad sold at his camera store. We were able to produce beautiful results (8x10 prints for publication in the Miami Herald) and experienced no reticulation even though we were cooking it at 100 degrees f. Wish I could find that stuff again, would be fun to try again, especially for fashion!

Glenn Riegel's picture

Microdol for pushing and fine grain-YES

Beverley Nash's picture

I have just shared this to our Facebook page.. It will be interesting to see what our readers comment - we have thousands (and thousands!) of film users who use VueScan

Scott Weaver's picture

It looks just as I'd expect: very grainy. That's a great look and can have its special purpose. Comes down to is shooting on film useful to you? if you're a fine art photographer it may be, but for 99% of pros shooting digital will be the choice.