Pushing Kodak T-MAX 400 to 1600 ISO

Nov 18, 2019
6 min read

Back in 2018, on a rainy day off while travelling across Portugal, we stayed for a while in a little town nearby Lisbon. On that day we were looking for some sort of indoor activity to spend some time and figured that visiting an old coal power plant would be something fun to do.

The Tejo Power Station was used until 1975 to supply electricity to the city of Lisbon. Inside you can see all the restored machinery and giants pipes used to provide electricity to every neighbourhood in the city.

The ticket also includes the entrance to the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture & Technology). The MAAT is a modern building with beautiful curves and leading lines whereas the Tejo Power Station is old red brick industrial construction dating from the beginning of the 20th century. Our visit will start in the past at Tejo Power Station before jumping into the future with the MAAT’s modern installations.

Expecting very little light during our visit, I figured that it would be a good opportunity to try pushing Kodak T-MAX 400 to 1600 ISO.

To help me on this journey, I picked up my Leica M6 and the Carl Zeiss 28mm Biogon f2.8 ZM. Certainly not the fastest lens I had at the time but I knew the wider field of view would come handy in such tight environment.

Like I mentioned, it was pouring that day and there’s was long/wet walk to reach the Tejo Power Station entrance so I didn’t take a chance to capture the building from the outside but that would have deserved a picture!

When it comes to pushing 400 ISO B&W film to 1600, TX400 or Ilford HP5 are both notorious for being great sports. You’ll find many street photographers using this well known recipe mainly for two reasons:

  1. The extra sensitivity to catch the street’s action with a fast shutter speed (usually not bellow 1/125th sec) while being able to close down the Aperture (around f8 or f11). The goal here is to extend the depth of field and make sure that everything is in focus from the foreground to the background, without worrying about critical focus.
  2. The increased contrast, that comes from the push, also works well with most encounters you can make in the streets. The more you push a film, the more contrasty it gets. Here’s an example of Kodak TX400 pushed at 6400. and another of HP5 pushed at 12800 😳This is extra contrast is also welcome on overcast weather when the light is flat. Another solution to boost the contrast on BW film is to use a yellow or orange filter.

Then we have T-MAX 400 which Kodak claims to be the “World’s finest grained & sharpest 400-speed black-and-white film” and also known to be more contrasty than TX400, when both shot at box speed. So I thought that it could be interesting try something else and see what this T-MAX 400 was made off in low light.

What interested me was to see how the grain and contrast would look like when pushed 2 stops. Kodak gives us an idea of what to expect in theDatasheet:

“When you need very high speed, you can expose T-MAX 400 Film at EI 1600 and increase the development time. With the longer development time, there will be an increase in contrast and graininess with additional loss of shadow detail, but negatives will still produce good prints.”

One of the effect of pushing film is the loss of shadow details, and these first pictures are good examples of how deep the blacks turned out. Exposing for the shadows is the best way to counterbalance the loss of information, and Kodak recommends “when detail in the deep-shadow areas is important to the scene, increase exposure by 2 stops and process your film normally.” But to be fair there was very little natural light coming in and most of the interior was really dark too, so not much to help us a catching shadow details here.

Instead, I exposed most of the scenes for the highlights to get a fast enough shutter speed and avoid camera shake. This also helped at retaining enough details in the brightest part of the scenes.

Being the “World’s sharpest 400-speed black-and-white film”, combined with a fast enough shutter speed, T-MAX 400 delivered fairly sharp and detailed negatives. The grain is obviously more visible but I find it nice and subtle in most pictures at the exceptions of some outdoor shots where it’s really more prominent in the brightest parts.

Next we moved on to the MAAT which was even darker so I could only get a few shots of the exhibition.

Then our tummy were crying for a coffee and the famous pastéis de Belem so on our way there, I got a few outdoor shots. I just wished the weather wasn’t so bad but the rain almost never stopped and didn’t leave me a chance to fully explore more compositions of the great piece of architecture that is the MAAT.

Now you may be wondering how I developed and pushed this roll of T-MAX400 – well, this time I left it to my lab Nation Photo, who developed in an ILFORD FP40 Minilab using Ilfotec RT Rapid developer at 26 C°, during 120 secondes. Thanks @traitement.croise for the infos 😉

By the way, if you’re based in Europe, Nation Photo recently launched the English version of their site and opened up at the same time their mail order film processing to all European countries. That includes a free pre-paid shipping label for sending your film in!

Before letting you go, here are two bonus shots taken on another day in a different location.

If you’re interested in other pushing experience, here are a few articles that you might find interesting:

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