Kodak’s T-MAX P3200 High Speed Black & White Film Makes a Comeback

Kodak’s T-MAX P3200 High Speed Black & White Film Makes a Comeback

2200 1237 James Tocchio

Kodak Alaris recently surprised the film photo world when they announced their intention to resurrect T-MAX P3200, a high-sensitivity black-and-white film that had been discontinued in 2012. And now they’ve done it. P3200 is back, and it’s one of the most versatile and useful black-and-white films available today.

CP staffer Dustin and I have shot the new P3200 in a number of different conditions (night shots, daylight, indoors; shot at 800 and 3200), developed these rolls with varying techniques, and now we’re here with our results.

Quick takeaways; T-MAX P3200 allows us to shoot in any light conditions; depending on our chosen exposure index, it can retain incredible shadow detail; and it’s one of the most forgiving black-and-white films we’ve used.

Let’s get to the details.

What is P3200?

Kodak Alaris describes P3200 as “a multi-speed continuous-tone panchromatic black-and-white negative film that combines high to ultra-high film speeds with finer grain than that of other fast black-and-white films.” That’s all probably true, though every film company tends to claim the title for finest grain. We’ll have to see. Kodak Alaris goes on to say that P3200 is “especially useful for very fast action; for dimly lighted scenes where you can’t use flash; for subjects that require good depth of field combined with fast shutter speeds; and for handholding telephoto lenses for fast action or in dim light.”

Good info, sounds legit, and anyone who knows a thing or two about film won’t be surprised by any of it. P3200 is a black-and-white film for taking shots in the dark. But this description doesn’t tell the whole story.

Based on the name, you might think that P3200 is a 3200 ISO film. But that’s not really true. The film’s nominal sensitivity is in fact EI 1000 when processed in Kodak Professional T-MAX Developer or Kodak Professional T-MAX RS Developer and Replenisher, or EI 800 when processed in other Kodak black-and-white developers. For the sake of ease, Kodak has rounded the nominal EI to 800.

This means that P3200 is a 3200 speed film only insofar as it’s an 800 speed film that has an above average ability to retain shadow detail even when shot and pushed at 1600 or 3200 (that’s what that “P” signifies, wouldn’t you know). At these speeds we see higher contrast and more significant grain, but less of each when compared with 400 speed films that have been exposed and pushed the same number of stops.

And it’s this push-ability that earns P3200 its bread and butter. It’s also the primary reason for anyone to shoot P3200. It’s a film that can handle pretty sadistic pushing without sacrificing image quality.

Test Parameters

I ran my roll of P3200 through a Contax G2 fitted with the rather incredible Zeiss Biogon 28mm f/2.8 wide-angle prime. I set the G2’s ISO to the film’s nominal speed of 800, popped the shutter speed dial to aperture-priority, and hit the streets of Boston on a painfully cold April afternoon.

In my pocket was a pass to a massive tech and video game convention, PAX East, and I hoped that the expo would provide an opportunity for some decent shots. The show floor did not disappoint; dimly lit, with pops of bright light and an incredible swarm of people drifting in and out of deep shadows. It was a setting for which Kodak Alaris’ newest film seemed tailor-made.

Getting over the initial culture shock that naturally results from seeing a human-sized Jigglypuff walking the halls of a convention center, I got to work. Shooting mostly wide open, but occasionally stopping down to f/4 or f/5.6 for greater DOF on sweeping shots, the G2 worked well. I seldom found myself struggling against shutter speeds slower than 1/60th of a second, and shooting was pretty effortless. Just hold still and let the camera do the work.

The resultant images (if lacking in creativity and style) show rather incredible shadow detail and a beautifully nuanced tonality. Shot the way it was shot, P3200 is a balanced film with a touch of drama.

Grain is, true to its makers’ claims, remarkably fine. Though this can change depending on shooting and developing methodology, at its nominal speed of 800, P3200’s grain resembles that which we’d more reasonably expect from a 400 speed film. It’s pretty fantastic.

That said, I think that Ilford’s Delta 3200 gives T-MAX P3200 a real run for its money in the fine grain department. The grain found in images made with Ilford’s ultra high-speed film is really fine, and I think it may edge Kodak Alaris’ new (old) film here. See samples and make up your own mind.

Later in the evening I hit the streets of the city and found a world plunged in darkness. This, too, proved no problem for P3200. Shots retain plenty of detail, and in some cases exposures could’ve even benefited from a bit less exposure (next time I’ll shoot at 1600 or even box speed). I finished the roll the next day, in daylight and around the house.

Dustin shot a couple of rolls of P3200 in California’s afternoon sun (the bastard). His first roll was shot at 800, same as mine, to get a baseline. His second roll was shot at 3200. His shots are shown in the gallery below and are each labeled to show settings.

In all cases his experience with the new P3200 seems to fit with my own. The new P3200 is a do-everything-in-any-situation film.


Development of my film was handled in-house following manufacturers’ recommendations. I used Sprint standard developer, stop-bath and fixer, the typical soup into which all my black-and-white film gets dunked. This stuff isn’t as sexy as other brands, but it is what’s available at the local camera shop, and it does a fine job. It’s a very conservative developer that does well to keep things even so that curves can be adjusted to taste in post-processing.

I never agitate to excess, simply sticking to the minimum as recommended by the film and developer makers.

Dustin’s development went something like this – HC-110 (aka, liquid gold), dilution B, temperature around 68 degrees, followed the recipe. Same as always, he says, adding that his full process can be seen in detail via his recent Delta 400 writeup.

As time passes, we’ll update this profile with additional sample shots and our evolving opinion on this versatile film.

The Takeaway

At $8.75 per roll, P3200 won’t be for everyone, and it won’t be an everyday film. While it’s less costly than Ilford’s 3200 speed film, shooters in normal light and those on a strict budget will be better served by the more affordable lower-sensitivity films. But even for the penny-pinchers among us, it would be fun and rewarding to splurge on P3200 every now and then, if for no other reason than that it allows us to get usable images in times and places that might otherwise preclude this.

T-MAX P3200 can handle whatever you throw at it. It somewhat surprisingly mimics the beautiful tonality and fine grain of lower sensitivity black-and-white films when shot at its nominal speed of 800, even in dim light. The real strength of P3200, however, is that when the light gets too low for those other films, P3200 doesn’t blink. It’s ready to go no matter what. And even at the very extremes of limited-light shooting, P3200 can make usable (and indeed, beautiful) photos.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • I shoot events sometimes in light that even ISO 800 film struggles with. P3200 might well be the ticket for my next outing. Great review; thank you!

    • Hey Jim. I’ll be shooting a roll of this stuff at 6400 (and possibly beyond) very soon. Check back on the post periodically for samples.

  • Joe shoots resurrected cameras April 11, 2018 at 10:43 am

    I’m so excited to try this film out!

  • I think that going to thia film as a 3200 film if choice, Is giving Kodak a reward for playing with us. When they want, they pull out a film. When they want, rhey bring one back. And what will happen is that people will buy their films, just for us to see companies like ILFORD or other small manufacturers who took care of us film shooters all those years, start losing sales and revenue, closing film lines and maybe closing up ahop completely, Just for Kodak and Fuji to decide to pull their films again out of production.
    Paying back with loyalty is also a good reason to buy specific products. Not only their price or performance.

  • First moment I heard the news I had two thoughts:
    – Nice that Kodak brings back films
    – Why should anyone need this 3200 ASA film ?

    Lets be honest at speed over 800 any digital chip outperforms film.
    So for sports, festivals and street analog wouldnt be my first pick.

    When I take one of my old Nikons I want to travel light on a easy day trip somewere
    and a 400 ASA film is more universal and better at any results – so the Tri-X is on board.

    • I think you miss the point. People using this film are doing so because of the look. If one wants ultra low noise high iso, with the digital look, than yes, a DSLR will be best. If one wants the look of this film, then no digital can match it.

      • Shit on the look. High sensivity film was never about look (it was and is subpar) but about getting a picture or not getting it at all. This said I use 3200 film for the fact that I want to see something, not peep trough the hole of a digital camera. But well… that is for me the entire reason to use film, the cameras that enable me to really see. (Maybe very expensive digital cameras have wievfinders comparable to good ones on analog SLRs, but I can not afford those.) In bright light I can endure the masochism of peepholes, but I don’t need that in dark environments.

        • As many photographers, myself included, like the look, and don’t just use it in the dark…you would be mistaken..

        • I also shoot film for the look. I like to carry old cameras and using them. 3200 ISO film is great because you can shoot indoors without a flash.
          If I wanted clean looking pictures, I would just use my DSLR… or my smartphone
          I recently tried Marinette 1600 (tasma aerial 42L), you should try it, it’s great!

  • Thanks so much, this was really informative – im planning on shooting a roll of this in dimly lit conditions but using a compact with auto DX encoding. Ive been deliberating over whether I should hack the dx code to make it read as 800 and develop the film for 1600 to get +1stop of exposure.

  • Many beginners, and those who know very little about photography, assume you need to use a fast speed film in low light in order to get a good and properly exposed picture. Not so! Any film reguardless of the speed can take pictures under any light. All that is needed is the proper camera setting: shutter speed and Aperture / F – stop. The shutter controls the length of time the film is exposed to light, while the aperature controls the amount of light striking the film. But the shutter and aperature have other functions. The shutter also controls movement. So if you’re using a shutter speed slower then 1/60th of a second…a 30th or slower, you’re going to see the movement of the camera. When setting the exposure, there is more then one shutter speed and F/stop setting combination that will produce the same exposure. So can’t you use a faster shutter speed and adjust the aperature? You can, but what if the aperature is f/1.4, the widest, and the shutter speed is say 1/15? You can do only one thing: use a tripod and shutter release cable. You can not use the next faster shutter speed because there are no more lens openings. Or you can just stand very still. So when you want to take pictures in low light situations and need to hold the camera, you need to use a fast speed film. Driving around your city at sunset, dusk and night. You want to get interesting shots, but do to the situation you can’t put the camera on a tripod. Then you need to use a fast speed film.

    Another reason to use fast speed film, is to photograph action, like sports. You want to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, but also a small f/stop for greater depth of field. The aprature also controls the depth of field. This is the area in front of and behind the point of focus the appears in focus. So if you photograph a runner jumping over hurdles, you may want the foot and leg over the hurdle in focus, not just the runners face.

    But when using a fast speed film, there’s usally a lot of grain. This can make the image look bad, give it an artistic look, or be nuteral . The p3200 is said not to have coarse grain. Then it’s how you develop it.

  • I love this film. I use it for everything. Day time, night time, shade, sunlight ETC. Doesnt Matter.

    The real film speed is 800-1000 ISO depending on developers you use. XTOL or Tmax will give you a film speed of 1000 ISO. something like d76 will give you 800 ISO for normal speed.

    Everything else above that is PUSHING this film. It is NOT a 3200 ISO film. the P3200 stands for – PUSH UP TO 3200 ISO.

    See Kodak’s data sheet for information.

    Even in the sun, I use it, with a yellow-red filter to get into usable exposure speeds. In New England, its not super bright, so most of the time it is fine.

    I have heard people complain about the highlights being blown, especially with TMAX developer. Kodak wouldn’t make a Tmax film, and a Tmax developer, and have them be unusable together, this is nonsense.

    The biggest problem people have with film these days, is a lack of calibration and testing, to their supplies and their methods. You need to test a film, run different speeds for your camera, calibrate it to your enlarger, Work out max black testing in the darkroom, and then adjust your development times based on highlight printing tests, also in the darkroom. That way you know for the camera you use, to the film you use, to the developer you use, to the agitation you use, to the enlarger you use, what your EXACT film speed ratings are for your camera, development times, etc to get great prints under an enlarger.

    Testing and calibrating things takes only a few hours. We didn’t jump about from film to film like the hipster film folks do now, we testing and calibrated to get the BEST prints.

    If you don’t do these things, don’t complain about bad pictures, blown highlights, etc on this amazing film. That is user Error, and its usually from shooting 10 films at once, and using 40 different options for scanning, developing, etc.

    If someone doesn’t know how to do this, contact me and I will send you detailed instructions on calibrating your tools, for free, in a DM. I find it baffling people dont do this anymore, how do you know if 400 ISO on your camera is ACTUALLY 400 without tests?!

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio