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.
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.
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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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!