Tabular: terrific or terrible? Your opinions, please.

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warden

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I’m curious what people think of the dim view of t-grain films taken by Troop and Anchell in the Film Developing Cookbook (1998), pp. 14–15. In an aside, they call them “inferior” and chalk them up to the need to reduce silver content by penny-pinching manufacturers. That seems a bit hyperbolic since in the main text they point out that t-grain films offer finer grain and better sharpness/higher resolution. (See the higher resolution figures for t-grain films than conventional films posted by Henning Serger on this forum.) Still, T&A point out that this requires trade-offs, some already mentioned here: t-grain films require more exacting control of time and temperature in development and have less latitude for underexposure (and overexposure?). But I was interested in their claim that another trade-off is that the flatter-but-larger shape of tabular grain increases micro contrast at the cost of “smooth gradation of fine highlight detail” found in more classic films. Of course, the latter is harder (impossible?) to measure; the curves published here show macro contrast. But is this trade-off something experienced photographers have noticed?

I’m just getting back into film, and am drawn to Tri-X—perhaps partly because that was what I used when I first learned the art, as a kid, now many years ago—and I think Kentmere 400 looks great. (Of course, Tri-X is no longer the same either: Anchell laments the loss of older, gritty, cubic grain to the new Tri-X made of “semi-flat grain film with color-dye sensitizers” in Darkroom Cookbook [2012], p. 36.) The linear curve of TMX produces a wide, lovely range of tones evidenced by some of the examples posted here, but I have shied away from TMX so far because I’m interested in film as a change from the digital look of a grain-free, linear response with quick-to-clip (or blow-out) highlights. Is the preference for conventional grain just a sentimental attachment to the analog noise of film grain, as an escape from the digital grid? Or is it also that films with more of a shoulder to the curve handle highlights and overexposure more gracefully (which I see as a real benefit of film)? And can we see real differences in micro contrast, fine highlight detail, gradation, etc., between the different film types, as T&A claim? (They recommend overexposing by up to 2 stops and underdeveloping by 20–30% to reduce micro contrast and improve the gradation of t-grain films.)

It is interesting to hear some prefer Delta 100, which, according to Anchell and Troop’s description, has a slightly more conventional grain shape than TMX, even as others hold out TMX as the technically “superior” film (according to measurements of film speed, finer grain, etc.).

Welcome to the forum!
 
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Cubao

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Acros II is fine as a b&w film but the worst thing is that you can't use the Ilford wash method with it.

Yes, you can. There is a simple and very effective way: the two-bath fixing method. After that you can wash your negative as always using ilford wash method. No pink dye anymore
 
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And, finally, we have the Fomapan 200.

First, Fomapan's own curves:


And here are mine:


And here is the conventional counterpart, Fomapan 100:
 

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Yes, you can. There is a simple and very effective way: the two-bath fixing method. After that you can wash your negative as always using ilford wash method. No pink dye anymore

Acros II is the one and only film I've used that has the issue. Even Tmax washes out quicker. It's not so much better than other films that I'll change my workflow for it so after I finish what I have, I just won't be using it again.
 

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The hardest film to wash out residual dye for me is FP4. It seems to retain about 4 cc of magenta which gradually fades, esp if subjected to UV. With TMax films in my case, it is basically zero once the film is dry. And I've never had a noticeable issue with Acros,
but admit I've never tried the new II version yet. I don't hold a grudge against any of these film, and frankly love them all, but for slightly different reasons. I certainly find myself walking a little brisker at the moment due to my wallet getting distinctly lighter after a visit to the local camera store for some more TMax about an hour ago. So there are apparently distinct health benefits from sticking with Kodak film.
 
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@Alan Edward Klein Thank you for the tip! I will try it next time. If this solves my banding problem, I owe you one!


I have started retesting Acros II, given that some of you have found it to be close to ISO 100 in your own tests. I want to emphasize the fact that I am not trying to dispute your findings. I am simply reporting on my own.

Since I cannot currently change the light quality of my sensitometer, I decided to use daylight as my light source and do the typical Zone System test for film speed. This particular variant of it is based on Fred Picker's method (e.g., Zone VI Workshop, 1974), but it has been recommended in other ZS-focused publications over the years. The method assumes Zone I density being 0.1 over B+F. I don't mean to suggest that this is "correct," only that it is a commonly used approach among ZS practitioners. There are, of course, alternative methods of estimating film speed.

Here's a summary of the method:
  1. Place a black card in shade or overcast light (to simulate Zone I).
  2. Put camera on a tripod.
  3. Focus on infinity.
  4. Fill the entire frame with the card.
  5. Set the spot meter to 1/4 of the manufacturer’s recommended speed (here ISO 25) (determined using a Minolta Spotmeter F).
  6. Close down 4 stops (with aperture and/or shutter speed), thus placing exposure on Zone I.
  7. Transfer reading to camera and expose.
  8. Close down and expose subsequent frames in ½ stop increments (I used a Minolta X-570, in good operating shape and a 50mm f/1.4 lens).

Here are the results:

I processed the film in stock XTOL (to give it a fair chance for full speed, as opposed to XTOL-R, which gets a fraction less speed) for 6:30 minutes at 20C, using rotary agitation (aiming for the CI of around 0.62).

I found the film speed to be around ISO 50, which is almost exactly what I expected based on my XTOL-R speed of ISO 41. Again, these are just my findings. There's nothing definitive about them. Here's a cellphone picture of the negative. The ISO changes by the factor of about 1.4 from one frame to the next:



I will continue testing Acros II, developing in D-76.

Edit: I forgot to mention that I ran this test twice, as I always do.
 
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Adrian Bacon

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@Alan Edward Klein Thank you for the tip! I will try it next time. If this solves my banding problem, I owe you one!


I have started retesting Acros II, given that some of you have found it to be close to ISO 100 in your own tests. I want to emphasize the fact that I am not trying to dispute your findings. I am simply reporting on my own.

Since I cannot currently change the light quality of my sensitometer, I decided to use daylight as my light source and do the typical Zone System test for film speed. This particular variant of it is based on Fred Picker's method (e.g., Zone VI Workshop, 1974), but it has been recommended in other ZS-focused publications over the years. The method assumes Zone I density being 0.1 over B+F. I don't mean to suggest that this is "correct," only that it is a commonly used approach among ZS practitioners. There are, of course, alternative methods of estimating film speed.

Here's a summary of the method:
  1. Place a black card in shade or overcast light (to simulate Zone I).
  2. Put camera on a tripod.
  3. Focus on infinity.
  4. Fill the entire frame with the card.
  5. Set the spot meter to 1/4 of the manufacturer’s recommended speed (here ISO 25) (determined using a Minolta Spotmeter F).
  6. Close down 4 stops (with aperture and/or shutter speed), thus placing exposure on Zone I.
  7. Transfer reading to camera and expose.
  8. Close down and expose subsequent frames in ½ stop increments (I used a Minolta X-570, in good operating shape and a 50mm f/1.4 lens).

Here are the results:

I processed the film in stock XTOL (to give it a fair chance for full speed, as opposed to XTOL-R, which gets a fraction less speed) for 6:30 minutes at 20C, using rotary agitation (aiming for the CI of around 0.62).

I found the film speed to be around ISO 50, which is almost exactly what I expected based on my XTOL-R speed of ISO 41. Again, these are just my findings. There's nothing definitive about them. Here's a cellphone picture of the negative. The ISO changes by the factor of about 1.4 from one frame to the next:



I will continue testing Acros II, developing in D-76.

Edit: I forgot to mention that I ran this test twice, as I always do.

I suspect the differences between what you found and my results may be down to metering differences and the fact that I used a gray card with incident metering and you're using a reflective black object and reflective metering. Regardless of incident or reflective metering, if the meter is calibrated to ISO specs, the reading it returns will be for 12.5% reflectivity, so if you take an incident reading then put a grey card there, it will return about a half a stop brighter because it's returning 18% reflectivity. This is why a grey card metered through the lens with a reflective meter is always about a half stop brighter than the incident reading, and is probably why you're results say ISO 50 and mine say ISO 80.

Neither way is wrong, they're just a different way to determine usable speed.
 
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I suspect the differences between what you found and my results may be down to metering differences and the fact that I used a gray card with incident metering and you're using a reflective black object and reflective metering. Regardless of incident or reflective metering, if the meter is calibrated to ISO specs, the reading it returns will be for 12.5% reflectivity, so if you take an incident reading then put a grey card there, it will return about a half a stop brighter because it's returning 18% reflectivity. This is why a grey card metered through the lens with a reflective meter is always about a half stop brighter than the incident reading, and is probably why you're results say ISO 50 and mine say ISO 80.

Neither way is wrong, they're just a different way to determine usable speed.

Agreed. Some discrepancy is to be expected, besides, most photographers run their tests anyway. It's nice to have a variety of data to look at.
 

Sirius Glass

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I’m curious what people think of the dim view of t-grain films taken by Troop and Anchell in the Film Developing Cookbook (1998), pp. 14–15. In an aside, they call them “inferior” and chalk them up to the need to reduce silver content by penny-pinching manufacturers. That seems a bit hyperbolic since in the main text they point out that t-grain films offer finer grain and better sharpness/higher resolution. (See the higher resolution figures for t-grain films than conventional films posted by Henning Serger on this forum.) Still, T&A point out that this requires trade-offs, some already mentioned here: t-grain films require more exacting control of time and temperature in development and have less latitude for underexposure (and overexposure?). But I was interested in their claim that another trade-off is that the flatter-but-larger shape of tabular grain increases micro contrast at the cost of “smooth gradation of fine highlight detail” found in more classic films. Of course, the latter is harder (impossible?) to measure; the curves published here show macro contrast. But is this trade-off something experienced photographers have noticed?

I’m just getting back into film, and am drawn to Tri-X—perhaps partly because that was what I used when I first learned the art, as a kid, now many years ago—and I think Kentmere 400 looks great. (Of course, Tri-X is no longer the same either: Anchell laments the loss of older, gritty, cubic grain to the new Tri-X made of “semi-flat grain film with color-dye sensitizers” in Darkroom Cookbook [2012], p. 36.) The linear curve of TMX produces a wide, lovely range of tones evidenced by some of the examples posted here, but I have shied away from TMX so far because I’m interested in film as a change from the digital look of a grain-free, linear response with quick-to-clip (or blow-out) highlights. Is the preference for conventional grain just a sentimental attachment to the analog noise of film grain, as an escape from the digital grid? Or is it also that films with more of a shoulder to the curve handle highlights and overexposure more gracefully (which I see as a real benefit of film)? And can we see real differences in micro contrast, fine highlight detail, gradation, etc., between the different film types, as T&A claim? (They recommend overexposing by up to 2 stops and underdeveloping by 20–30% to reduce micro contrast and improve the gradation of t-grain films.)

It is interesting to hear some prefer Delta 100, which, according to Anchell and Troop’s description, has a slightly more conventional grain shape than TMX, even as others hold out TMX as the technically “superior” film (according to measurements of film speed, finer grain, etc.).

Welcome to APUG Photrio!!
 
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One other thing I want to mention is that a hypo-clearing agent can reduce the amount of the pinkish cast from the film base pretty effectively, in my experience. In fact, after washing the tabular grain films, my Kodak Hypo Clearing Agent has turned a nice shade of pink.

I found an interesting quote in Woods (Zone System Craftbook, 1993) regarding pushing and pulling t-grain films: "This variable zone placement must be used with care and only when the T-Max developers are used. When some conventional developers are used, the extreme high values produced by overexposure will "shoulder" quickly," and later "I again stress the need to use the special developers designed for this film to achieve the maximum benefits from it."

I wonder if statements such as this bear out in your experience. In my tests, the Kodak t-grain films do not shoulder particularly easily with XTOL or D-76, but perhaps they do in your experience? Do we really need to use the T-MAX Developer with tabular grain films? Or was that just a marketing ploy to make sure we buy those special developers?
 

Kodachromeguy

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This is why a grey card metered through the lens with a reflective meter is always about a half stop brighter than the incident reading, and is probably why you're results say ISO 50 and mine say ISO 80.

I have been using both the original Acros (only a few rolls left) and Acros II. I usually expose at EI=80 or 100 and typically meter with a Gossen Luna Pro Digital in incident mode. The film gets commercially developed in Xtol. I can't see obvious differences between the original and Acros II. I have not made A-B comparisons and photograph different topics, so of course there are minor differences in subject reflectivity and contrast. Regardless, 80 or 100 work for me.
 

DREW WILEY

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aparat - All kinds of common developers work just fine with both speeds of TMax film if you do your homework first. There's no need for a special developer; and besides, the special one Kodak recommended for their sheet films is not longer made, and was always unreasonably expensive. Of course, different people have their own favorite developers. And since I use TMax films for widely different applications, I keep several developers on hand, respective to each type of application.

Don't take that old Woods quote carelessly. The original version of TMax 100 did shoulder off quickly, but that was improved long ago. And tabular grain per se has nothing to do with this; the same thing potentially happens with traditional grain films, which themselves are capable of being engineered for a wide variety of characteristic curves.

But when that Wood's infers that "variable zone placement" can be risky in cases of plus development, that's what I've been preaching all along. Since the characteristic straight line of TMax goes way down to the threshold of Z2, and if you meter carefully, that is where your threshold of perceptible shadow gradation (not pure black) should be placed. Those who default to shadow placement all the way up on the belly button of Zone 3, through either paranoia about their own metering competence, or due to stubborn custom with past films, unquestionably and unnecessarily risk blowing out the highlights. It's their own fault, and not that of the film. But this does reinforce the fact as well as stereotype of TMax films needing more careful metering than many other films. Like I stated earlier, it's a film for responsible adults, and not for shoot-from-the-hip Billy the Kid types.

The combination of TMax and D76 was indeed a just a convenient marketing marriage, and not necessarily an ideal one at all. They PR contracted John Sexton to go out and shoot and develop with this specific combination, even though people soon learned the benefits of other developers instead. For critical technical applications, D76 almost never gets chosen; but as a middle of the road routinely-available Ford/Chevy kind of developer, it's certainly usable. It puts too much sag in the middle of the curve for me, and hence an extended toe sweep too, which I find counterproductive to choosing this film in the first place. If I want that effect, there are cheaper films like FP4 which deliver it.
 
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Nicholas Lindan

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I'm a great fan of TMAX-100 and Microdol-X 1:3. The combination produces a Tech-Pan-like (lack of) grain, though not the look of 4x5 from a 35mm negative that Tech Pan is famous for.

It doesn't have to be M-X, the homebrew version of Microdol works just as well.
 

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Nicholas - Tech Pan was pathetic at trying to mimic 4X5 results. Not only was it incapable of handling highlights and shadows anywhere near as well as ordinary film, even using special developers, but if enlarged directly from 35mm much, exhibited enlarged little dots in the sky too. I had a backpacking pal addicted to it, who used very expensive Zeiss 6x6 lenses. Sharp, yup, but with that proverbial "soot and chalk" look which AA derided, and lots of tiny sky blemishes. He eventually got frustrated and switched to FP4, and while it was still availlable used Efke 25 roll film on my recommendation, which gave him something super-fine grained, but without TP's headaches.

The edge effect of Tech Pan was abominably mediocre. So yeah, doing the very best that could be done using 35mm TP, and comparing the resultant print side by side to the worst that can be done using actual 4X5, by some klutz with a warped film back, dumpy lens, and the grainiest film he can find, devoid of a focus loupe, and that old BS Kodak ad sorta, vaguely, remotely rings true. But I've got 8x10 Tech Pan film on hand - so that must be equivalent to traditional film ten feet across if you want to believe Kodak's old marketing ploy!

My biggest complaint with TMX100 is its own disappointing edge effect despite very fine grain and otherwise exceptional detail capacity over a very long contrast scale. That's why I develop small sizes of it (including 120 roll film shots) using Perceptol 1:3, which gives me a very nice boost in edge effect, yet only a minimal increase in graininess. TMY400 has very good edge effect, so in its case, all kinds of developers work well, though I lean toward PMK pyro as my standard option. Sometimes, like for portraiture, I actually prefer to keep the softer-edged look of TMX100 as-is. Note that this has nothing to do with overall detail capacity or the reproduction of subtle microtonality, but just the Mackie line edge effect itself.
 
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Radost

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I like TMAX 100 and 400. But the one complain I have is the blandness of white skin tones.
In a TMAX image everything looks great except white skin tone.
 

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I like TMAX 100 and 400. But the one complain I have is the blandness of white skin tones.
In a TMAX image everything looks great except white skin tone.

A light blue cooling filter should take care of that. Maybe a green filter outdoors in summer.
 

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I’m curious what people think of the dim view of t-grain films taken by Troop and Anchell in the Film Developing Cookbook (1998), pp. 14–15. In an aside, they call them “inferior” and chalk them up to the need to reduce silver content by penny-pinching manufacturers. That seems a bit hyperbolic since in the main text they point out that t-grain films offer finer grain and better sharpness/higher resolution. (See the higher resolution figures for t-grain films than conventional films posted by Henning Serger on this forum.) Still, T&A point out that this requires trade-offs, some already mentioned here: t-grain films require more exacting control of time and temperature in development and have less latitude for underexposure (and overexposure?). But I was interested in their claim that another trade-off is that the flatter-but-larger shape of tabular grain increases micro contrast at the cost of “smooth gradation of fine highlight detail” found in more classic films. Of course, the latter is harder (impossible?) to measure; the curves published here show macro contrast. But is this trade-off something experienced photographers have noticed?

Generally I like the Film Developing Cookbook, but that particular sidebar on T-max/tabular-grain films is tendentious, in my opinion. Anchell liked Tri-X, and T-max 400 didn't behave the same way. That's ok, but where he went astray is blaming it all on penny-pinching at Kodak and making TMY out to be objectively worse, rather than a matter of preference.

It is worth remembering that we don't actually see the individual tabular or cubic shaped light sensitive grains. The visible grain structure that you see in a developed negative is much larger aggregates of developed silver that are formed in the developing process (nucleated at the exposed grains). So although the visible developed grain structure does depend on the film and the developer, it is wise not to get too hung up on "cubic grain films look like this, tabular grain films look like that." There are more variables than just cubic vs tabular.
 

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This is an addendum to my earlier post. I dug out some of my college materials: My roll film testing was Ilford Delta 100 developed in Tmax developer. I vaguely remember getting the gallon jug of Tmax liquid concentrate for fee. I'm pretty sure that drove my slightly odd decision on film/chemistry combo.
 

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Since the characteristic straight line of TMax goes way down to the threshold of Z2, and if you meter carefully, that is where your threshold of perceptible shadow gradation (not pure black) should be placed.

Perhaps I misunderstand your statement..............but, if talking zones, I would have to disagree with the notion that the threshold exposure is at ZII, that seems to me what is being implied, but I could have the wrong perception. Wouldn't the threshold exposure be at ZI (the speed point, if talking ZS).....i.e., the first useful density on the negative above Z0, or above the paper's Dmax, where it has a differentiating low tone but no texture? I agree completely with your assessment of the standard ZIII placement of shadows that can often push the important high values too far up. For myself, I look first to place "a" shadow value at ZII or ZI, that, being the shadow area(s) where I'm not seeking full texture (ZIII) but will accept less than that. Then, if I can get my most important shadow detail to "fall" on ZIII or IV even, I'm happy with that, because that helps to protect the upper end of the curve where the most important high value will be. I may feel that an N-1 development is still needed, given my initial placement, but then that's what the other side of film holder is for.
 
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Perhaps I misunderstand your statement..............but, if talking zones, I would have to disagree with the notion that the threshold exposure is at ZII, that seems to me what is being implied, but I could have the wrong perception. Wouldn't the threshold exposure be at ZI (the speed point, if talking ZS).....i.e., the first useful density on the negative above Z0, or above the paper's Dmax, where it has a differentiating low tone but no texture? I agree completely with your assessment of the standard ZIII placement of shadows that can often push the important high values too far up. For myself, I look first to place "a" shadow value at ZII or ZI, that, being the shadow area(s) where I'm not seeking full texture (ZIII) but will accept less than that. Then, if I can get my most important shadow detail to "fall" on ZIII or IV even, I'm happy with that, because that helps to protect the upper end of the curve where the most important high value will be. I may feel that an N-1 development is still needed, given my initial placement, but then that's what the other side of film holder is for.

The Zone System and the various ASA and ISO photography standards are not always perfectly matched. I admit that Zone System interpretations give me a headache, but perhaps Drew meant that the "standard" exposure meter will "interpret" minimum usable density to fall around the middle of Zone II, so, if interpreted literally, i.e., without adjustment, by the ZS photographer, underexposure can occur. Some films handle it better than others. It gets even more complicated than that, but I'll just stop here to avoid getting that ZS headache :smile:

This diagram shows the effect:
 

Nicholas Lindan

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Tech Pan was pathetic at trying to mimic 4X5 results. Not only was it incapable of handling highlights and shadows anywhere near as well as ordinary film, even using special developers, but if enlarged directly from 35mm much, exhibited enlarged little dots in the sky too.
Could you post some of your pictures that show these effects?
 

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Chuck - there are no set rules to the Zone System. It's rather elastic. And quite a few people do seem to standardize on Z3 for shadow placement. A few notable Zone gurus have insisted on it. But generic advice is basically worthless because everything depends on the specific film and development regimen involved, and in relation to a whatever the scene contrast range happens to be, and how one wishes to visually interpret that. I understand the ZS well, but don't endorse its reliance on compression or minus development. And that's what's required to keep the highlights from shouldering off when the film gets overexposed with too high a shadow placement.

Nicholas - sorry I can't post any pics of TechPan results. The web is a miserable medium for such comparison, and I think I already threw away my own last print from it, trying to find more storage space for a large quantity of much better prints. I used tech pan mostly for forensic applications like sleuthing art forgery or special image restoration application, back before digital technique took over those niches. But I never used it in 35mm. Like I stated, I had a friend who did use it in 6x6 format. Somewhere I do have a print of his, which does show the characteristic lack of gradation in the upper and lower regions, along with predictable sky blemishes. It never was designed as a pictorial film; that was another marketing division afterthought. Many people tried it for general photography, including me; but few were happy.
 
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