TRI-X + Rodinal 01

Nikon F3 + 28mm f2.8, TRI-X + Rodinal, Alicate Spain, Scanned on Minolta Scan Elite 5400

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have decided to give the combination of TRI-X and Rodinal another go. To that end I shot 6 rolls while I was in Allicante, Spain and finished them off here in London. Well, I have developed the first 3 rolls and in no particular order and will discuss my findings here.

There is no surprise that the negatives were quite sharp with a long tonal scale, all of which I expected. However, the grain was large not clumpy but evenly dispersed through the images. Did I just say GRAIN, oh my, it’s there and proud of itself, so if you don’t like grain stop here and forget about this combination.

The development time and agitation was dictated by an app that I downloaded. It’s called Massive Dev sheet, which can be easily found on the web here ( The app called for 9 min in total with agitation for the first full min and then 10 seconds on the 12 every minute. This meant the film developer combination was standing for 50 seconds in every minute. Also as is my custom I pre-soaked for 1 min at 68 degrees which promotes even development. The same temperature that all the chemistry was used at.

So how did they look? First I have to say, the F3 continued to work well with no hitches whatsoever and the negatives were very well exposed and quite sharp. Although, I did find walking around with it to be a bit heavy and slow. I have grown very used to carrying a mirrorless camera around with me, so the extra weight was noticeable and also the slowness of the camera itself. I’m currently carrying a Fuji XPRO-2 which I have to say is a very sympatico camera for me.

Now back to the negatives. The shadows were fine, well-defined with excellent contrast and extending quite a bit down into the darkness. The highlights were reasonably well controlled and not blown out on any frame and I scanned all frames. However, and this is the rub for me on this first pass. I have given this a few days to percolate in my mind and have come to the conclusion that the mid-tones do not have sufficient micro contrast in them. This resulted in mid tones that were not particularly handsome, actually rather dirty looking. Overall the images had a rather dirty look to them. Not at all what I was expecting and at first I wondered if the TRI-X formulation had changed since I last used it some 20 years ago. But I have settled on the thought that it was the development agitation cycle which didn’t create enough mid-tone contrast. At least that’s what I think and I’ll stick with that for now.

So the next 3 rolls will be developed for the same time I indicated above but the agitation cycle will change. I have decided to agitate for the first full minute and then 5 seconds in every 30. I hope this will counter the compensating affect, which would have been created with all the stand time of the first development agitation cycle.

I have posted a few samples of the images here for you to look at and one that was created from my XPRO-2. You will easily be ably to see which is which although they are tagged appropriately. I post the digital one because it was taken at the same time as the B&W in Alicante and has the same contrast range. I do think it handles the scene better.


Nikon F3 + 28mm f2.8, TRI-X + Rodinal, London UK, Scanned on Minolta Scan Elite 5400


Nikon F3 + 28mm f2.8, TRI-X + Rodinal, Alicate Spain, Scanned on Minolta Scan Elite 5400


Nikon F3 + 28mm f2.8, TRI-X + Rodinal, London UK, Scanned on Minolta Scan Elite 5400


Nikon F3 + 28mm f2.8, TRI-X + Rodinal, London UK, Scanned on Minolta Scan Elite 5400


XPRO-2, 23mm F2.0, Alicante Spain,

Nikon F3 and TRI-X + Rodinal

Nikon F3 + 28mm f2.8, Kodak Colour Negative, Scanned on Minolta Scan Elite 5400

In the spirit of returning to my roots in photography, I have designed a small programme for myself. I’ll be shooting a Nikon F3, which I bought especially for this project and TRI-X developed in Rodinal.

First though, I would like to point out that I have never purchased used equipment in my long life, always believing that buying second hand was buying someone else’s problems. I’m not sure that’s applicable anymore due to the rapid changes in cameras over the last few years. Digital always gives you gas, buying the latest and greatest unlike when I started some 50 years ago. Cameras were updated at a much slower speed and the film always stayed the same or at least you could update your work by buying different film for the characteristics you now wanted.

My career with cameras and photography started with a new Canon FT. I must have bought it near the end of its life cycle as the FTb came out about 6 months later. This prompted me to buy the FTb in the hopes that Canon would have updated that infernal quick load mechanism! It always scratched my film and always only the images I wanted to print. The FTb didn’t change anything, the quick load mechanism was still there and scratching to its’ hearts content. In total frustration I ditched both and switched to Nikon. The Nikon I purchased new was a Nikormat ( and it solved all the problems associated with the FT and FTb except one. The one problem that became immediately apparent was the incredibly load shutter. Still I resolved to stay with Nikon from that moment on as it was far better at handling the film.

After some years shooting B&W with the Nikormat I wanted to investigate medium format, then Large format. Guess what, I think I burned through more cameras and formats all the way up to 8×10” cameras. Wow, did I spend and loose a lot of money over the years. The large format in particular almost broke me, I went from 4×5 to 5×7 and ultimately landed on a Toyo Field 8×10. It of course had its own problems such as after shooting for a short while you couldn’t actually lock either the front or back standards so they always creeped out of alignment, so f…k… annoying. I think I must have spent at least 30 years shooting black and white in all formats and cameras only to loose it all in an unfortunate incident which took all my negatives within a few hours.

Back to the F3 at hand: it’s in good shape with only a small amount of brassing on one top corner and for sure it could use a good cleaning. It came with a fresnal screen and not the default screen, I found this very hard to critically focus with so I had to go on the hunt for the default split image screen, eyes not being what they used to be. Next I had to buy a lens for it so I found a Nikor 28mm F2.8 on ebay so my total outlay was £325.00 which I considered ok, not great but a definite alternative to buying and selling a digital camera every 5 minuets. It is quite the tank I have to say and I’m not as precious with it as I am with my digital cameras, which I find quite liberating to some extent.

First out of the F3 was a roll of Kodak colour negative film. I only shot about 12 frames and took it to a 1-hour photo lab. I did this to test the meter and general camera performance. Something I would recommend anyone do before they start to trust used gear. All worked very well and you can see an image from that test roll at the top of this article.

The main aim is to shoot TRI-X and develop it in Rodinal. Now that doesn’t seem to be that unusual except it is for me. I never could get Rodinal to do what I wanted and finally gave up on it 40 years ago, perhaps I was too impatient when I was young. So this is about examining the two together and really trying to make it work for me.

I took the F3 and TRI-X with me on our annual vacation to Spain. Although it wasn’t the only camera I took, that would be taking too much of a chance for me. I did fire off 4 rolls of film though and just finished developing them. I’m currently waiting for them to dry.

My next post should be an evaluation of this first pass and then modifying the development times.

Hope you stay tuned!

To be continued…

Alicante, Spain

Alicante, Spain. Playa De San Juan Fuji XPRO-2, Tom Rice-Smyth

Alicante, Spain

Sorry for the lack of posts, I have been on my annual vacation with the family. Every year we flee this sodden town of London for blue sky and warm sunshine and our fill of vitamin D and when we got back to London I was gripped around the throat by laziness! It was probably a reaction to the cold and monsoon rain here.

Alicante, Spain, was this years’ destination. We have always gone to Spain for our summer holidays mainly because of cost, it’s cheap and the guarantee of sunshine. This year was no exception; we basked in 36-degree weather with a beach that just couldn’t be beaten it was a paradise.

There were a few things about Alicante that took me by surprise. I was expecting to see a traditional Spanish town and I was quite looking forward to photographing it over my holidays, but it isn’t. I have to mention this is the first time we haven’t rented a car for the duration so we were stuck in the city. Although I have to say there is practically no street parking so that was the upside. On first inspection it looked like the whole place had sprung up since 1950, mostly ugly multistory apartments rarely a house and a few squares that did have old trees in them. Why? I’ll answer that soon, it was nothing I had ever thought. However, after reviewing my photos when we got home I did find a few that were interesting.

Anyway, lets get on to the good parts of Alicante. There were more good restaurants than one could ever want for (it’s a Spanish holiday destination), at least 20 within a 5-minute walk from our apartment. The apartment was in the old town. My wife soon found a restaurant with fresh mussels, which she loves almost as much as oysters and it was approximately 3 minutes from our front door, bonus! And my daughter found an ice cream shop that sells artisan ice cream called Laneu, which was just below our apartment.

Then there was the main city beach that was 10 minutes walking from our flat, although it was very crowded as it was at the bottom of the city. We went there twice and then found another beach that was 15 to 20 minutes by tram (Note: the trams are air-conditioned) and the beach was paradise on earth.

Playa De San Juan is an amazing beach. The journey started at the Mercado tram station and we got there via Tram line; L3: Luceros-El Campello. It cost approximately €4.35 one-way for 3 of us and we got off at the Les Llances stop. You pay for your return journey on the tram from a machine that takes coins, paper and cards. The beach was right there only feet from the tramline. We rented 3 lounge chairs and 1 umbrella for €16 per day, which is cheaper than we have ever paid in the past. We were no more than 20 feet from the water and by about noon we had the beach practically to ourselves it was marvellous. I’ll post a pic or two of the beach.

Restaurants as I mentioned earlier were plentiful and here I come to some favs;

First up was Alma Del Sur, a small hole in the wall, it seats about 7-8 people in a pinch but the fries and the seafood are amazing especially the calamari and the proprietor is extremely helpful, she even left her restaurant to give us directions.

Second up was Bodhigreen. It’s a vegetarian menu but is so worth a try as an island of green from the majority of fried Spanish food, reservations are necessary and they are quite busy so book a few days ahead.

Why is Alicante just 1950’s apartments and newer even in the old town? This riddle was solved by chance. My daughter spotted a coffee shop called Canada Coffee . So of course I had to try it (I’m sort of Canadian but living in London, a long story), anyway, I started talking to the Barista who turned out to be from Kamloops BC, Canada. His name was Shawn, again someone who was immensely helpful, solved the mystery. He had been living and working here for 5 years and it turns out he went on a small tour recently. It seems that Alicante was the very last holdout against Franco during the revolution and he asked Hitler to carpet bomb the city. Of course he obliged and they turned the entire city into dust! Now the city is plagued with poorly built buildings from the 1950’s, which are slowly being pulled down and replaced with well built but modern apartments. Unfortunately the apartments are international in style so the Spanish character is slowly disappearing.

This was somewhat of a disappointment for my wife and I as we do enjoy looking at architecture and galleries. The only gallery was the Museum of Modern Art but when we went there the current exhibition turned out to be very good especially for me. Just before leaving for Spain I had ordered a book by Gabriele Basilico, ‘Bord de mer

Lately, I have been collecting books by Luigi Ghirri and his contemporaries that he collaborated with in Italy in 1970’s-1980’s. Anyway, their current exhibition included the Berlin photographs of Gabriele Basilico and someone I hadn’t heard of Horatio Coppola (HC). HC had some wonderful B&W that were done in 1933 Argentina.

Just before leaving for Alicante I decided to start a project in B&W. I purchased a Nikon F3 and a Nikon 28mm f2.8 and a brick of TRI-X and decided to have another go at Rodinal. I have never had much luck with this combination but Rodinal has some charachteristics that I really love so I have decided to give it another try. I took the F3 and TRI-X with me to Alicante so that I could shoot of some test rolls. I’ll report on my progress and the F3 on my next post. I would like to mention that this is the first time in my life that I have bought used gear so will report on my success or lack thereof in my next post.

Enjoy the photos and see you next time. All images taken with XPRO-2 and a combination of 23mm f2 and 35mm f2.



The Test Roll

Everything we have done up to now is to set the stage for the evaluation of the film, developer and time combination.

The first thing to do is go into the darkroom and make a test wedge of a part of the roll so that we can produce an accurate depiction of what’s happening on the film.

Test wedge

Take a short strip of the test roll approximately 5 to 6 frames and using grade 2 of your paper choice begin to make a stepped exposure wedge.

Firstly, stop down the lens on the enlarger so that you can end up with an exposure time of approximately 35 seconds. The steps in the wedge should be 5 seconds apart. That way we end up with a step wedge showing an exposure from 5 seconds to 35 seconds in 5 second steps. My reason for suggesting 35 seconds in total is because it gives you a sufficient amount of time for dodging and burning in the future.

How to evaluate the exposure wedge

The first thing you are looking for in the step is which step creates ‘maximum black with minimum exposure’. Redo this step until you have approximately a 35 second exposure for maximum black. This is done by stopping down the enlarging lens and or raising the enlarger head. Note that you should be looking at the rebate (sprocket hole area of the film NOT where the image is) and that you should be doing it in 5 second steps.

Its important to remember that when you have decided where that is and what the exposure is you should always repeat the exposure in 5 second bursts as photo paper has a reciprocity failure and 7x 5 second bursts is different to one 35 second exposure burst.

This is called ‘Minimum exposure for maximum black including film base plus fog’.

After doing the above the next step is to create a contact sheet of your test roll using this 7 x 5second bursts totaling 35 seconds. Mark the spot on the height of the enlarger and take notes of enlarger lens and f stop as you will use this from now on. This is done for consistency and repeatable contact sheets from now on.

Firstly, don’t worry if the images on the sheet look too light or conversely too dark as we need to know exactly what the film/development/time combination produces.

What we can learn from the contact sheet

  • Did the camera under/over expose?
  • Do we have a desired amount of shadow detail?
  • Are the highlights blocked up or conversely so underdeveloped that they just look grey?
  • Shortcomings in our processing technique.

Shortcomings in our processing technique

You can get a variety of the following; we all have from time to time. All of the following can be cured when we review and modify our film handling during processing.

  • Pump streaks; caused by excessive agitation which shoots the developer through the sprocket holes and creates areas of higher density
  • Bromide drag; this looks like mottled, dirty uneven highlights. Its caused by insufficient agitation. Sometimes associated with stand development and it is also more noticeable on sheet film development.
  • Air bells; these look like dark round spots. They are caused by not tapping the tank at the end of the agitation cycle on your bench. As I have previously said the tapping of the tank after agitation is to release the bubbles from the emulsion so that they rise to the top of the developer.
  • Crimping the film when loading it into the reel. This results in high-density areas.
  • The film sticks in small areas to itself during loading into a reel. This shows as areas of undeveloped film
  • Static marks; these look like star bursts on the film and usually happen during winter months when the air is too dry. This happens in camera and is associated with our handling of the film when it’s loaded into the camera.

So what does our contact sheet look like?

This evaluation step is critical and you should take notes of what you see.

  • If the images look too dark overall and remember you exposed the film at half the manufactures recommended ISO. You need to reduce the ISO and redo (shoot another roll of film and develop it). You have to do this until you get a contact sheet that looks good to you. It’s worth noting that any density below zone 5 (all the shadow density) is created by exposure and not so much influenced by development.
  • If the images have good shadow detail but the highlights are grey and muddy you will need to increase the development time. Then re-shoot a new test roll and review the results. If the development time starts to become excessive then you should change the developer dilution so instead of D-76 at 1:2 change it to 1:1.

Note: This is the most important!

You should only change one thing at a time and then re-shoot another test roll. So that you can either, rule out and continue the way you exposed/developed the first test roll and change another parameter to further refine your processing.

This will be the last posting of the development cycle. I will revisit the pages as this blog progresses and update with new information. The new information will be highlighted to make it easier to locate and read.

My next post will be about what I’m thinking about and listing upcoming book reviews from my own shelf. I will only review books I have purchased in the last 6 months and are on my shelf.

I would encourage anyone who has questions regarding the development of B&W films to leave comments and I’ll get back to you.

All future posts will be titled ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’.

Have a good one and see you soon.


Part 01



Exposing and developing the first roll of film

Exposing film can be done many ways, with the meter in camera, a hand held meter (spot or average, reflective or direct from the subject). I hate to carry anything unnecessary when I’m out and about so whenever I’m shooting 35 mm I use the in-camera meter.

I use a very old Pentax Spotmatic meter, when I’m exposing sheet film as I can use the zone system to great effect. I purchased it through the Fred Picker Zone VI studios many years ago. We could use the zone system, which is really good once you can get a handle on it.

For those that want to learn the zone system I would recommend “The New Zone System Manual” by Minor White, Richard Zakia and Peter Lorenze.

The New Zone System Manual.

However, as we are talking about 35mm film and the need to expose multiple frames in a way that is useful over a potentially huge range of subjects, I suggest a short cut which I first learned some 50 years ago at the studio of Fred Picker in Newfane Vermont.

For those unfamiliar with Fred Picker you can read about him here and here.

So the short cut.

Fred said and I have come to agree with him that the ISO that film manufactures assign to their individual films is wildly inaccurate in practice due to all the variables that are introduced by the user. The manufacture assigns an ISO based on the film being exposed directly to light with nothing between the light source and the film. Thus ignoring all the variables a camera can introduce, such as lazy shutter and poor glass etc.

So, what is the first step, and its very easy just half the manufactures ISO recommendation. Therefore, TRI-X 400 should first be tested at ISO 200. This recommendation goes for any film that you decided to use. Then you take a meter reading of the palm of your hand and open up 1 stop.

All of this sounds like overkill for the film but in practice it isn’t and its not a slow way of working either once you become familiar with it, it becomes quite a fluid way of working.

So go out and shoot that test roll!

The test roll

TRI-X 400 with the ISO set to 200.

The Development cycle

  • 1 minute, Water pre soak (68 degrees) tap water is fine for this as long as it’s at the same temperature as the following chemicals.
  • 8 minutes Developer D-76 at 1:2 dilution (68 degrees)
  • 1 minute, Stop bath (68 degrees) Constant agitation
  • 4 minutes, Fixer (68 degrees)
  • 10 minutes, First water wash (68 degrees)
  • 1 minute, Hypo clear agent for (68 degrees)
  • 30 minute, Final wash (68 degrees)
  • Photo-flow, just dip the film into a diluted solution of photo-flow and then remove and hang. Don’t use a squeegee on the film as this can create scratches which will give you black lines on the film. Tip: when making a print with scratches on the negative, nose grease can remove most of them. Take some grease from the outside of your nose with your finger and rub it on the film side, not the emulsion side.

We now have our first test film exposed and developed.
The next step is evaluating our results so that we can make intelligent guesses as to what we need to adjust to get the combination exposure/development we desire.

See you next time

Part 03

Part 05


King Street, Toronto. TRI-X, by Tom Rice-Smyth


So lets begin, I will be using the following:

  • 35 mm film TRI-X 400
  • Stainless steel reels and tanks
  • D-76 at a dilution of 1:2 (1 part concentrate, 2 parts water)

Stepping through the process:

  • Water pre soak (68 degrees) tap water is fine for this as long as it’s at the same temperature as the following chemicals.
  • Developer D-76 at 1:2 dilution (68 degrees)
  • Stop bath (68 degrees)
  • Fixer (68 degrees)
  • First water wash for 10 min. (68 degrees)
  • Hypo clear agent for 1 min. (68 degrees)
  • Final wash for 30 min. (68 degrees)
  • Photo-flow


When you use steel reels and tanks you have to use a Taurus motion, which is a combination of inversion while twisting the tank. Then at the end of the agitation you have to put it down on your table with a bit of a thud. This is to stop the bubbles created during agitation to float to the top and don’t stick to the emulsion of the film. If they stick to the film during a development cycle they will create air bells that produce overdeveloped circles on the film and they show up as a reduced density creating black spots in your print.

Water pre soak ( 1 min with continuous agitation)

This step helps reduce the number and severity of developer marks. These marks range from bromide drag to uneven development. This also helps to bring the film to the correct temperature (68 degrees) and swells the emulsion so that the developer can infuse into the emulsion without creating uneven development.

Development (start with continuous agitation for 1 minute)

Once the developer has been poured into the light tight tank the first agitation cycle should begin. I have found that the first 1-minute of continuous agitation is preferable and thereafter 10 seconds in every 30 seconds until the development time is reached. Remember to put the tank down with a thud at the end of each agitation cycle. This will release the air bubbles from the emulsion side of the film.

Stop bath (I minute)

This stage should have continuous agitation to stop the development cycle and should last at least 1-minute.


This should last for 4-minutes with continuous agitation for the first minute and 10 seconds in every 30 seconds

First water wash (10 minutes)

This is done for 10 minutes so that the chemicals can be flush from the surface of the film.

Hypo Clear agent (1-2 minutes)

I recommend this stage as it reduces water usage, and chemical fog on the film, which can introduce blocked shadow details. It also is an efficient way to archival wash film.

Final wash (30 minutes)

Photo flow (2 or 3 min with gentle agitation)

Film Development times

This is a tricky one as we are using D-76 at a dilution that is higher than Kodak recommends. Each developer/ film combination will be different based on the manufactures recommended times. So we have to sort of guess a bit. Kodak indicates 6 ¾ minutes at full strength for TRI-X 400 and as we are diluting it 1:2 I would recommend starting at 8 minutes and then adjust as necessary from there.

The next installment will be about exposing the film based on everything we have seen to now.

“You learn things through taking photographs; photography is your teacher. The main thing is to keep on taking photographs for ever and ever.”

Nobuyoshi Araki

Part 02

Part 04



Film stock choice.

There are not as many film choices as there used to be, but the main ones haven’t changed for years. I will just discuss the 3 main choices as I see it. If you decide to choose one of the many new start-up film types you should go through the same processes, for the sake of this article I will discuss only my choices.

Your choice of film should be based on your personal preference and not based on what others say that they are for.

Kodak TRI-X 400

Kodak’s Tri-X is the film the great photographers love. Anton Corbijn, Don McCullin and Sebastião Salgado tell Bryan Appleyard why.

Ilford HP5

This was and still is Kodak’s main competitor in the field. Although: I have not found it to be as effective as the Kodak TRI-X 400 in all areas.

Ilford FP4

This is a medium speed film, which can produce very fine grain and good highlights. However, it has more contrast than either TRI-X or HP5 and will need more careful processing, exposure and you will also need to have better shooting habits to maintain sharpness. I personally only used it with a tripod or when the lens was wide open and only in 120 format.

Chemistry (Developer)

For the purpose of this article I would recommend starting with a standard developer such as Kodak D-76 for roll film; Kodak HC-110 for sheet film.

Stock solutions change characteristics much faster than developer concentrates diluted just before use. I know Kodak used to recommend D-76 straight with TRI-X but I always got very good results with it diluted 1:2 (1 part concentrate and 2 parts water).

There are many specialised developers that have different characteristics. One such developer is Rodinal which is a high acutance developer. I would recommend not using them until you are comfortable with the results from the standard developer. My experience with Rodinal is that it can enhance the appearance of grain and sharpness of the final image. It can also be used as a compensating developer (a developer that exhausts itself very quickly in high activity areas of film such as highlights and yet keeps developing in the shadow areas where there is less activity, resulting in greater density and contrast in the shadow areas.) depending on dilution, giving a longer tonal scale. You will have to go through the same process as with D-76 and then make your own mind up.

Part 01

Part 03