Plus-X vs. Tri-X for larger prints (16x20 or 20x24).

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by numbah_wan, Dec 20, 2008.

  1. Happy holidays! Relative newbie here, especially in regards to B&W film. Currenlty, I'm a grad student preparing for a doc photography project on health vulnerabilities for the homeless population in my area.
    In a previous photo class, I used ISO400 speed film exclusively (Tri-X, HP-5, Neopan, all developed D76-1:1) and liked the results for the 4x5 prints I produced. For this project, though, I aim to make larger prints (16x20 or 20x24). In digital, I would try to use lower ISOs to protect image quality and manage grain. For film, should I make a similar decision in choosing Plus-X over Tri-X, given that most of my shots will be outdoors with adequate lighting? I am worried that Tri-X prints, which have lovely grain on 4x5, will look too coarse on larger prints.
    I understand that print preferences vary widely, including when it comes to grain. However, any words of wisdom on how much difference a lower ISO film will ultimately produce on larger prints will go a long way towards making sure I'm wasting my time or money. (Note: For supply reasons, I am not likely to choose any film other than Plus-X or Tri-X.)
  2. Oops, I meant *NOT* wasting my time or money. I'm already on the ramen-7-days-a-week diet. =)
  3. I think that plus-X is an old and poor choice if image quality at that iso is your goal....Fuji Across seems to be the pick as the current 100 iso conventional B&W film....cheers, Bob
  4. Choose a film because it fits your vision, the conditions that you must face when shooting or you are very familiar with it. If you want finer grain, use a larger film. Sure a slower film will give you less grain, but there are other considerations, such as using a larger aperture and/or a slower shutter speed, which in turn, may cause the image to be less sharp.
    Keep in mind that a 4x5 print is viewed from a distance of about 18 inches, maybe less. A 16x20 or 20x24 print will be viewed from a distance of several yards. The amount of apparent grain at that distance will not be very different as you would see from a smaller print at a closer distance. What you will see is sharpness -- that is, a larger print will show deficiencies in sharpness more than smaller prints, so using a smaller stop and/or higher shutter speed when making a larger print is much more important than seeing grain. Moreover, there are more differences between films than just grain. Grain is only one aspect. The others, equally or more important, are ease of processing to your tastes, its tonal scale, its H&D curve and, well, you get the idea. Grain is simply the most apparent, but not, by far, the most important.
    Since you say that your funds are limited, then I assume you are shooting 35mm. If that is the case, then I may also assume that a good number of your images will be done with the camera hand held. If that is so, then you would need the highest shutter speed possible while closing down the lens so that it can perform at its optimal. Since you are doing documentary photography, additional lights may not be possible. Thus, you would need the highest speed film possible. If all those assumptions are correct, then Tri-X may be the best choice, especially if that is the film that is most familiar to you. Do not worry about grain. Worry about the image. But if grain is still a consideration, then use a larger camera.
    I hope this helps and good luck with your project.
  5. Stick with the films you're familiar with. There's nothing wrong with Plus-X and Tri-X. Technique matters more than the film stock.
    The trick to maximizing your negatives for very large, high quality prints is to minimize grain and control contrast. That starts with the exposure and ends with development. It's the old cliche: expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights. But too often the rationale and practical technique are glossed over.
    Whatever the ISO rating, cut back a bit. For example, Tri-X or HP5+ at EI 200-320, developed in ID-11, D76 or almost any developer for the appropriate amount of time will yield much finer grain and better tonal range for easier printing.
    Many folks (especially students) tend to underexpose their negatives and compensate with overdevelopment. This used to be called push processing. Now a lot of photographers new to b&w film photography approach it as standard practice rather than an exception, a special technique to be used only when needed or desired. And with some films, shooting at the rated ISO and developing according to manufacturers data *is* pretty close to push processing.
    For example, the last time I used Agfa APX 400 it was nowhere near a true 400 film. I don't know how Agfa arrived at that rating but I have to assume they adhered to ISO standards. It was, at best, a 200 film, and pretty good at that speed. But pushing it to 800, even in a speed enhancing developer, looked like a 1600 push of Tri-X or TMY.
    BTW, I'm a push processing fool. You name it, I'll push it. But it's a specific tool for a specific use or aesthetic. It doesn't make for the kind of fine results most folks hope to achieve.
    Whew... 'scuse the digression.
    Rate the film of your choice at 1/2 to 2/3 of the ISO. Expose carefully. You don't need to bother with Zone System arcana, just use a deliberate approach. When in doubt, use an incident meter - it takes the guesswork out of using a typical averaging reflective meter or even a spot meter when it's not clear which area to meter.
    Depending on your enlarger type, adjust the development to suit the needed results. For a true condenser head, give it slightly less; for a diffuser, slightly more. Many countertop "condenser" enlargers of the past few decades are actually hybrids, using a diffuse light source above the condensers - typically an opal lamp or sheet of opal glass/plastic. I tend to develop for that type of enlarger as I would for a dichro head.
    Do this and just about every negative on a 35mm or medium format strip will print without much fuss.
    Example: the best results I've gotten with FP4+ were attained rating it at EI 64 and developing in ID-11, 1+1 dilution, for 9 minutes. The scenario was very tricky, bright sunlight dappled through heavy tree cover. Contrast was perfect, no need to fiddle with dodging and burning or selective use of magenta/yellow filters. Grain was remarkably fine - even a 16x20 from 35mm would stand up to most scrutiny. It wouldn't rival medium format, but came awfully close.
    For even finer grain you might try Perceptol, or just use ID-11 or D76 at full strength. This might reduce acutance a bit but grain will be finer. Actual detail won't be reduced, just the impression of fine detail due to the difference in edge effects. Depends on the subject matter. For landscapes and subjects demanding critical detail, lean toward more acutance; for portraits, or subjects will large expanses of same/similar tones (large bodies of water, skies, etc.), acutance is practically irrelevant, so develop for the finest grain.
    And be careful with that diet. By January you'll be a mutant hybrid noodle-person. At least toss some cilantro, chives or red pepper in there. Or find a good cheap place for pho. Ask 'em for tips on making noodle soup enjoyable to live on.
  6. Sounds like you got some good responses. I say go with Tri-X. Actually, I say buy a roll of Plus-X and a roll of Tri-X, shoot them both on a test subject and make some prints. You don't have to make 16x20 prints - just set the enlarger as if you were going to make a print that size and then use a sheet of 8x10 or 4x6 just to test to see if the grain is objectionable.
    I like Plus-X. It's a good film. I think it mixes well with Tri-X and have no problem using it when I want a slower film. Then again, a couple of my cameras only have a max shutter speed of 1/1000, so Plus-X lets me back off a little bit when its bright out.
  7. IMO, Plus-X is not an old or poor choice for any outdoor photography. It is a very different film from Acros, but not worse. Acros is a t-grain/new technology film and is very fine grained. Plus-X is a convention grain film. It's more a question of what look you like, not a better or worse contest. Try some of both.
  8. Tri x at EI 200 with reduced development, yields beautiful negs. D 76 stock 4.5 min at 68. or D76 1:1 6.6 min at 68. When you show the prints, they will not believe it is tri x usless you show the neg.
    Plus x is better at 125. D 76 1:1 7.5 min at 68. I don`t have a time for D76 stock, but .65 x 7.5 will be really close.
    If you can work at EI 64, plus x times are 3.4 for stock and 5.6 min for 1:1 at 68.
    These times are for well calibrated meters, shutters, thermometers, condenser enlarger and for D76 that is stored in full bottles less than 6 months. One week with air in the bottle and the times are off, first too long, then it dies fast and times are too short. I mix a liter and decant into 4 oz bottles immediately upon cooling. I either use it up or throw it away after 6 months wichever comes first.
    Like Lex explained, these will be negs you will not believe for quality. I only wish I know this much when I could get Panatomix x now long discontinued. Tri x and Plus x are different films now so maybe it would have not bee nso good.
    Regardless, the key is sufficient exposure and minimal development for best quality. Brand and speed of film do not matter.
    Test your equipment first and print a section of 16z20 to see how it is working.
    To work at the short times, drop a tempered reel and film into the tank already full of developer, cap and agitate. Start pour out at 15 sec before the end of time. Use NO water or stop bath and go straight to fix. Either has the effect of diluting the developer and increasing grain. The penalty is shortened fix life. So what! Agitate 30 sec on immersion, and 5 cycles up and down every 30. Don`t get into some crazy scheme of gentle agitation.
    The tri x will scan fine. the Plus x will print perfectly on #2 paper just like tri x, but the highlights will block somewhat if you scan. Recucing the time somewhat will improve scanability, but not fix it. This is all for darkroom prints on condenser enlargers. Add 10% for cold light of diffusion.
    The best film I have used for both print and scanning is Delta 100. All the same rules apply.
  9. If you are enlarging to 16x20 or larger and shooting 35mm expect the grain to be prominent. I also disagree plus-x is poor choice. Shot at 100 and developed in D76 it's one of my favorites and certainly finer grained than Tri-x.
  10. Plus-X is an excellent film.
    I shoot it @ EI 64 and develop in Perceptol 1+2, 68F, 10min, agitation every 1 min. I had absolutely no problems with printing the negatives (grade 2).
    The film is very sharp. Grain will not be a problem.
  11. Wow! I am overwhelmed by how generously and thoroughly you all have shared your time. Thanks for helping me make sure I get the right start for my project. As I read through your responses again, I’ll try to summarize what you’ve taught me, and follow that with additional questions in reply.

    - Don’t neglect to use proper technique for sharp, properly exposed pictures. Especially for larger prints, this may make a bigger impact than the brand or speed of film used.
    - Grain is.. just grain. What’s more important is having a better understanding of how a particular film responds, develops, and prints.
    - Sticking with one type and getting familiar with it will provide significantly greater returns than worrying and experimenting, at least now for this project. Plus-X will be just fine for large prints.
    - Try pulling Tri-X to ISO200. I may be very surprised!
    - When printing, try setting the enlarger to the right size and just check with smaller sheets, like 4x6, to assess print quality first. It’s like making test strips and will help me quickly and cheaply assess experiments on film type and developing.
    - (RE: Lex’s post) At this point, cilantro may save my life. =)

    Here are a few replies..
    - Bob, you really had me scared for a second. I haven’t heard of Acros until today, and it’s a film that I will definitely try someday in the future. For now, I’m buying the Arista Premium 100 & 400 rolls, which according to extensive online research, is produced by Kodak and identical to their Plus-X and Tri-X. If anyone else is a looking for a bargain, you’ll find the Arista film at Freestyle for $2 a roll (36exp).
    - What’s EI64, which Lex and Stan mentioned?
    - Ronald, what do you mean by “[d]on’t get into some crazy scheme of gentle agitation?” Currently, I agitate for the first minute and then invert twice every half minute. Is there a better technique? I also don’t understand the process you described: skipping stop and going straight to fix. You mentioned that it would increase grain?
    - Unfortunately, I don’t have access to anything other than D76 1:1, which is supplied by my school’s darkroom. From what I’m reading, though, acquiring and using a different developer is going to open a whole new can of worms, and probably not a good idea for this project?
  12. Stick with D-76 for developing. It's been the standard for 70 years! Use Tri-X in low light, and PLus-X when there is plenty of light. Both films are superb. Tri-X is probably more versatile, but plus-x is good when you want lots of contrast.
  13. What’s EI64, which Lex and Stan mentioned?​
    Abbreviation for Exposure Index. It's a personal film speed rating, arrived at through testing. Strictly speaking, it's based on true shadow detail but through casual usage many of us slopbucket photographers have applied it to any EI other than the nominal ISO, including push processing, which probably causes gnashing of teeth and rending of darkroom aprons among purists.
    ISO speed is a nominal rating based on very specific criteria, specified in the ISO standard. Any deviations from the ISO standard, whether using another developer, time/temperature, agitation, etc., is likely to influence the true speed of a film.
    While the true speed of a film may indeed be the same as the ISO, that doesn't necessarily produce the best results in terms of our personal aesthetics. We may prefer slightly more or less contrast, grain, rendering of tonal qualities (a nebulous characteristic), etc.
    EI 64 would correspond to setting the light meter to "ISO/ASA" 64, which is 2/3 below 100 and 1/3 above 50. On some older cameras these are indicated by unlabeled notches. Modern SLRs and most light meters will show the actual numbers, usually in 1/3 increments.
  14. david_henderson


    If this were me, then heading for an important project I'd test these films out rather than just asking folks. In both cases you're planning to make prints that are pretty large from a 35mm startpoint, and the large prints you make are liable to have quite a different look. Its not just a question of avoiding or handling grain, its a question of what aesthetics handle your subject matter. Given what you've said about your subject matter it is possible that a grittier, grainier approach might suit it better. So a roll of each and one print at 20x24 from each roll, and another at 20 x 16 from the same images and you'll have a self generated perspective on which film and what print size is likely to communicate your point best.
  15. To clarify EI 64, I've confirmed that ISO64 is indeed 2/3 below ISO100 rated film. Would the ISO400 parallel be ISO250 then?
    David, I appreciate your words of wisdom. I understand what you mean by having to judge for myself, too. We should all try to learn from the experiences of others, but if finding the "right" balance were as simple as posting on a forum, then we'd all be making the same prints! Instead, our conclusions will be different for each person and each particular assignment. I look forward to starting my work in January/February.
  16. For me, I find that the single most important and thing I can do to make large prints satisfactory is *USE A TRIPOD* to take the shots. Everybody knows the rules of thumb about how long you can handhold what focal length of lens, but seriously, all the super-fine-grain-high-acutance-magic-formulas in the world won't compensate for noticeable camera movement. As the print gets bigger, the camera movement becomes more noticeable. Don't kid yourself about this.
    Now, do I use a tripod for everything? Nah, most of the time I'm just hand holding it and shooting for fun. But if I was working on a project that enlargement size matters, then I dare say you will get as good an image on 35mm with a solid tripod at 1/2 sec as you will get on MF at 1/60. Plus you can use slower film successfully.
    As Francisco points out, you can probably do better by using a larger format film, but since you say you're a grad student I assume that funds are at a premium, and springing for a decent field camera is probably out of the budget for this project. Assuming you're using a not too heavy 35mm of some kind, you can get a cheap but serviceable video camera tripod at Wal-Mart/Best_Buy/Target/Insert-favorite-big-box-here. You can always fold the legs together and use it as a monopod if speed on your feet is important.
  17. Good point regarding tripod use, Michael. Several years ago I visited a special Eliot Porter exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum here in Fort Worth. (They have the bulk of his estate, but this was a more elaborate display than usual.) Besides his dye transfer fine art prints from large format the exhibit also included prints from his trip to China, taken with a handheld 35mm camera. Motion blur was obvious in some photos. I'm guessing that by the time of that trip Porter was old enough to find it more difficult to handhold steadily. (Heck, I'm only 51 and can't hold as steadily as I could at 30.)
    I can also see subtle differences in sharpness when comparing photos taken from a tripod mounted camera, depending on whether I trigger the shutter with my finger or use a cable or remote release or self timer with mirror lockup. Even on a tripod mounted camera using my finger to trigger the shutter induces a slight motion blur.
  18. I have used Neopan all the way from 320 to 1600 developed in Rodinal, mainly 1:50 with excellant results - tonal range, contrast and sharpness all as good or better then Tri-X (which I do use and love the results with) and at least here in Ca it is 70 cents cheaper (in 120) - I think no matter, you should experiment and go with what fits your vision and purpose - good luck
  19. For this project, though, I aim to make larger prints (16x20 or 20x24) ... In digital, I would try to use lower ISOs to protect image quality and manage grain.​
    A 10x enlargement is about it for prints that can bear closeup scrutiny. Prints from 135 at the mentioned sizes will look just fine from a few feet away, but temper your expectations at nose to the print distances.
    Give more modern emulsions a try. In an ISO 400 film, TMY (actually TMY2 now) is excellent; have a go at Acros or TMAX for ISO 100. These films are sharper and lower grained than Tri-X and Plus X. They do, however, have a different look. Whether the look is desirable is up to personal preference.
    Perhaps shoot with a larger format camera if you can swing it. I use an old 6x7 press rangefinder camera sometimes. All the hand wringing about the kind of film and development for sharpness and low grain disappears simply by having to enlarge less.
    If high sharpness and low grain is really a priority, noise suppression and frequency based sharpening of the scanned files can give you images almost indistinguishable from those originating from a DSLR. Of course, if this is acceptable, a DSLR should probably have been employed to begin with.
  20. Numbah, my last career's project was precisely done (years ago) after comparing trix and plusx with several developers. Shots were finally done with Hasselblad and tripod, and paper was Bergger grade 3. Even though you already got more than enough great answers, I just wanted to tell you that plusx is one of the best films ever made. I was -and even teachers- amazed at 1 meter prints without grain. The absolut winner developer for both films was PMK, and finally, even beeing night shots, I went for plusx over trix!
    PMK is made with Pyrogallic acid, and is the kind of developer widely used for decades in the 1800s. Replaced by other developing agents just because some people died, not because of its quality. The ABC of Pyro is a recommended book. Anyway PMK liquid made by Bergger is easily handled just with gloves. It's true that if skin is in lasting contact with developer, as with wet clothes, there's no medical back, and death comes, but it's also true that biggest risk with pyro is mixing powders: breathing a bit of pyro dust in the air while mixing makes you a ghost.
    But the benefits remain there forever... Great shadow detail with highlights that don't block easily, and the pyro staining mark: grain masking. The space between grains is chemically filled too! No other developer is like pyro. Fantastic for clouds and fog... As always, pyro is good for nothing unless you have a great composition with outstanding exposure and really know how to put it all into best paper...
    Good luck!

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