Kodak introduced Tri-X film in the 1950s and I probably used it for the first time around 1957. It was usable at 400 ASA (now ISO) and could easily be pushed to 800 and higher. It was a very forgiving black and white film and was certainly the most popular one for available light photography.
So I decided to set my Panasonic DMC-FZ28 to emulate Tri-X and see how a modern digital camera stacks up against my old 35mm cameras.
In photography, every decision has tradeoffs. Every gain in one area usually involves a sacrifice in another area. Let's look at film speed (the ISO rating). Available light photography revolves around film speed. The higher the ISO, the faster the shutter speed that can be used. And the faster the shutter speed, the less image blur there will be. You can see why this becomes an important factor when you start shooting where the light is low.
Image blur comes from two causes -- camera movement and subject movement. While a camera with a built-in optical stabilizer can nullify camera movement to some extent, it has no effect on stopping subject movement. You need a faster shutter speed to fix this.
Why not just set the camera to the highest ISO setting and be done with it? The tradeoff for higher ISO is lower inherent image quality. This usually shows up in the form of noise (with film it was grain).
But there's yet another tradeoff. Lower ISO settings mean longer shutter speeds and more blur. So the tradeoff becomes one between an image with lower noise but more blur, versus an image with more noise, but sharper because of a faster shutter speed. So, when the light is low, it's possible to use a higher ISO and still get better results than a lower ISO setting might yield.
A higher ISO setting would also let you use a smaller f/stop for greater depth of field. That isn't a consideration here as the FZ28 already starts with a smaller f/stop than the cameras I used way back when, and the smaller sensor size of the FZ28 gives much greater depth of field than a 35mm camera.
I set my FZ28 and the Artist's muse's FZ18 for a guess at a Tri-X (800 ISO) equivalent.
Here it was, Sunday night out in the boonies, where to go for our Tri-X experiment? Not a lot of choices, so we headed up the road to the outlet mall. The stores would be closed but there would still be lots of things to shoot, including each other.
So how was this different from shooting Tri-x in my 35mm camera all those years ago? The film is free, I can dial the ISO up and down to suit the subject, image-stabilized zoom lens with 18X range, autofocus and auto exposure, and one more thing.
I first noticed this on my Olympus C-2100UZ, which had a black and white mode, and it's the same with the FZ28 and other cameras that have this mode. You see the image in black and white in the viewfinder and on the LCD monitor. So what? Well think about all of those photographers, since the dawn of photography, shooting black and white film and trying to visualize the final result while looking at a color image on a groundglass.
Can you imagine what Edward Weston or Ansel Adams would have given to see the final image in black and white before clicking the shutter? And we take it for granted. (Eat your heart out, DSLR owners.) While it's true that you can shoot pictures in color and convert them to black and white later on, it's a lot more fun to set the camera for black and white and see the world in Tri-X while you're shooting.
So what was the result of our first Tri-X test? To me, the results seemed as good as I got from my 35mm camera, loaded with Tri-x film, fifty years ago.
Stay tuned for more details.
Copyright 1957-2023 Tony & Marilyn Karp