Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Testing Kodak's TMAX 400 for Astrophotography

Traditional film users have a thinning line of film to choose from these days, but there perhaps has never been a better time to shoot black and white emulsion.  Combined, manufacturers such as Ilford, Rollei, Fuji, and Foma have a formidable line of film for the working artist.  Even Kodak maintains a line of products for b&w shooters.   Kodak released its newest version of T-Max 400 in 2008.  A panchromatic film utilizing Kodak's proprietary tubular grain structure offering high speed and fine grain.  While most, if not all of today's b&w films lack the red response associated with Technical Pan film, many record starlight extremely well, this is especially true of T-Max 400.  T-Max offers very good sensitivity to starlight and records stellar images very well.  Kodak claims improved reciprocity compared to the original T-Max 400 of yesteryear.  That being said, T-Max 100 specifications show it to be even better in the reciprocity department and will surpass the speed of its 400 speed cousin in a matter of a several minutes.  A test of T-Max 100 will take place later this year.  Below are a few images obtained on March 10, 2012 from my dark sky home in Maine.

Two images, both taken with the Pentax 67 and 300mm f/4 lens using exposures of 15 and 30 minutes.

Faint details of the Orion Nebula appear region show up well.  The emission nebula NGC-1977 registered very well, owing to the films blue spectral sensitivity.  I'm imagining galaxies would do well with this film. 

A cropped section of the 30 minute exposure.

This image of the Milky Way in Puppis clearly shows the benefit of T-Max to record faint stellar images.  This film will do well for open star clusters and the star clouds of summer.  When enlarged, the grain was remarkably tame.  Halation was not a problem.  The bright stars did produce overly sized spot images, but this was an aberration present in the lens used.
The Milky Way star fields of Puppis as revealed by TMAX 400.  300MM @ F/5.6 30 minutes exposure.

Black and white astrophotography can still be done in the 21st century.  I found the experience rewarding and I am looking forward to years of future work with films like T-Max 400.


  1. Interesting work. As one who shot and processed film commercially for over 30 years and who has been doing digital since 1994, I can't imagine why anyone would still be using film, especially for high res needed for astrophotography, unless you're just really into film. Nothing wrong with mastering that medium. I'm not criticizing you for doing this, just wondering why you'd go to the bother. I know quite a few folks in their 20s and 30s who dig film and are into the darkroom thing, which I also did for 30 years. Tmax film was(is) great stuff - did some really good work with it. Interesting choice of camera. Pentax 6x7 is rugged, inexpensive, and handles well. Had a photography teacher who was an astronomy nut. Had a 12 inch Refractor (!) in his back yard. Used 1000mm Ektar lenses on Hassleblads to shoot the moon. He printed up gorgeous 30x40 black and white of the moon. His Questar photos appeared in their magazine ads. He gave all of his students a great appreciation for the subject by example. He pioneered the use of computers in photography and electronic imaging at Rochester Institute of Technology in the 80s and early 90s. Although he died several years ago, I think he might be as puzzled as I am about someone still using film for this purpose. I have found that I can do so many things with the digital camera that I really couldn't conceive of with film, and I did a lot of in camera effects with film. I also found digital has a greater dynamic range than film, based on all the measurements I've made over the years.

    1. Doc - reading your post is interesting in that you mention those early years and the efforts of the people with fondness. That's where we live and prefer to stay. It's a way of life and love for us film buffs. We would rather look at a frame of film over the light table via a loupe than hold a chip plugged into a computer.

      If a movie such as the Third Man was on TV, you would not watch it because it was shot in B&W? The technological world is advancing at warp speed leaving behind a mountain of useless archaic 2 year old cell phones, computers, and dslr's. My cameras are over 30 years old, still in use, and a treasured archive of film and photographs.

      So you can lump us film users in with old car buffs, biplanes with radial engines, and steam locomotives. All left behind by technology, and therefore of no practical or economic value to todays society.

  2. I hope you do not judge film astrophotography by this film test. It was just that, a test of Kodak T-Max 400 in an attempt to see how it performed.

    There are many reasons for my use of film, and perhaps none would be convincing to you. I won't bother. Two pieces of my film work have been selected for an international exhibit this year and will accompany the best of modern digital work.

    I take it that you do not use aesthetics in your photography and are therefore perhaps unqualified to express anything other than techical prowess. You are entitled to that.

    I suppose you would admonish other artists from others walks of life; painters that use water colors, a variety of pigments, or charcoal.

    Digital does amazing work and if I had the money, I might get into that, but what I do is on a shoestring budget and I have more than a few admiring artists that counter your ignorance.

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  4. I too shoot film. that's what I started on 17 years ago when I was 7 years old and that's what I shoot today (well last night in the middle of BFE NC rather). Why? well if I could afford a digital I would have one but not for regular shooting but for actual for-pay events such as weddings and what not.
    But some of the main reasons I shoot film still is because I wish not to be counted with all those other "professional" photographers who bought a $3000 DSLR with a couple lenses and flashes, took $1500 6 week photoshop course and can't tell you the first damn thing about photography. Unfortunately thought I'm finding that these days nobody can tell the difference between a monkey with a camera and a photographer and as such counts anyone with a film camera as a scam.
    Even more reason to abstain from digital.

    When it comes don too it there isn't a damn thing you can do with digital that you can't do with film. All the examples I've heard to the contrary are from people who know nothing about photography and don't really care for it.

    Name somehting you can do with digital and I GUARANTEE you it's been done with film before it was done with digital with comperable or better results. Digital is pretty advanced now days but it's still very limited. It wasn't until the last year or 2 that digital finally got into full frame image sensors, OR the ability to get up to 8.5 frames per second which is what my Minolta Maxxum 5 can shoot when the shutter speed is anywhere between 1/1000sec and 1/4000sec which; I've had exposures CALCULATED (not metered because I'm a real photographer that doesn't need a digital to lie to me) out to 1/1000sec on a sunny day (EV16) at f/8 with 100ISO film.

    Hell a while I had en event where I was told "here take this Nikon D300 and shoot this here and then go shoot that obstacle course" and having had almost no time to familiarize myself with it I had to roll with program. It was a sunny morning about 10am or so, so around an EV of 13 AFTER I got done shooting everything which included action I found that the camera was saying it has an ISO of 200 and a shutter speed of 1/20sec. with a Panic I looked through the photo's to find only about 1 out of 5 were usable. The rest were blury, washed out, sun spots, all KINDS of things wrong.

  5. Sure it's EASIER with digital. No need to calculate and use your brain just shoot and bracket. No need to account for proper exposure (EV, aperture, shutter-speed, focal lenth, stop up or down, speed and composition of subject, white balance, back drop, angle of lighting etc) or reciprocity failure or any of the things you SHOULD be doing with a digital anyway. BUT yes there are some things that are SLIGHTLY better about digital for the fact that you can switch from ISO100-ISO1600 with the click of a button without finishing the roll, no reciprocity failure, slightly better color retention in longer exposures, it's instant, auto image stabilization, auto neutral density, shooting both color AND BW at the same time etc BUT all in all it serves the same purpose and there isn't hardly a damn thing a good photographer CAN do with a digital that an equally good photographer CAN'T do with film. It's all in the skill set of the user. AND what I like about film is I HAVE to learn all this stuff to get it right and make GREAT photo's. I Can't be last or shitty or cheap so instead of me just being a digital camera with a monkey what hits the shutter button every different project or shoot I'm going to be doing I learn more and more and more and get better and better and better.

    Like last night I set out to see if I could get some of that meteor shower. Before hand I had to plan. Where's the best location? How long will it take to get there? How many miles? How much gas? How much money in gas? What will I need? What films will I want? which are best suited? What aperture(s) would be best on what lens? what different effects comes from what various shutter durations (because this wasn't a question of speed so much as duration.)? How do I calculate and adjust on the fly if conditions change? What time is the Pinnacle of the meteor shower? what direction will they be traveling from/to? what will the weather be like? how many extra layer should I be if the meteorologist is WRONG? etc etc etc.

    If all you do is DO it and don't LEARN it or love it are you really a photographer?

  6. Also Nightfly thank you so much for still using film. I spent about 20+ hours in search of all the information I needed and it was one of those where you read through a forum for about an hour and then finally someone mentions something to indicate they're talking about digital.

    It's quite exasperating that it's almost IMPOSSIBLE to find any useful information, resources or ANYTHING for that matter relating to film.

    Again, thank you so very much.