My job regularly requires international traveling and this is by far the greatest advantage, especially when you are asked to spend a couple of days in Sitges, a nice typical village of Costa Brava, just outside the magnificent (yet busy) Barcelona. This time I was not sure I would have the time to take some pictures and I reluctantly brought just my Nikon FM2n and only 1 roll of Kodak TMAX 400. What a mistake! I didn’t know that I would find myself in the middle of Festa Mayor, the most important and highly traditional celebration of the shared patrons of Sitges, Sant Bartomeu and Santa Tecla.
I had the feeling that TMAX 400 was the right BW film for the small 35mm format (it is a T-grain film that has its advantages on a small format) but had a limited experience with it. I bought two rolls but somehow decided to load only one and basically found myself shooting all 36 pictures in less than 20 minutes! For once I decided to play by the rules and I rated the film at exactly 400 ISO, mainly because 1) I wanted to see how it looked without push processing or simple overexposure, and 2) I knew I was going to develop the film myself using Ilford DD-X (which is quite generous with film when it comes to showing their advertised ISO value).
Some days later I also shot the other roll (this time with the unique intent of testing its characteristics) and in some cases I took the time to do the same picture with both the FM2n and my old Nikon D700, using the same Nikkor 55mm f2.8 Macro lens. I wanted to see if I could get the same results (or even better) by simulating the TMAX grain in SilverEfex Pro. The short answer to the question is: almost. As you can see below the two images are very similar, and while I can tell which is which by comparing them (the TMAX version has smoother transitions and less blown highlights), I don’t know if I could say the same thing of a single image with a simulated look. The good thing is that I am no longer trying to prove that film is better (or the other way round): I just found myself shooting film sometimes and I still like to use Digital when I’m lazy.
Coming back to the Sitges roll, the negatives came out really well, and the ones showed here don’t really do justice to the rich tonalities that are stored in them. As stated several times, the main pain point of my actual workflow is probably the scanning, especially in 35mm format where I lack both the skills and the gear to get a high quality result. Still I think it’s worth considering TMAX 400 as the de facto standard (at least for my taste) for small format BW pictures. I might give Neopan Acros a try (seems like they are very similar) but for the time being its price and the lower sensitivity keep me away from it.