This might sound like something of the Girls Gone Wild genre, but sadly, it isn’t. I recently picked up a batch of expired (2006) Kodak TMAX 400 120 film for the Hasseblad; 40 rolls at a rather good price of about $3 each. I knew going into this that the results wouldn’t be 100%; but plenty of research and the opinions of film photographers I trust suggested that it should be fine; just add around an extra stop of exposure, or be prepared to push the negatives a bit more during development. Time just degrades film sensitivity, in theory. The seller assured me he’d run a roll recently and it came out fine, just a little desensitized – which was in line with what I’d heard. I knew that storage temperature also affects things, but again – ‘cool, dry warehouse’. Supposedly fine. I’d also shot one of my own rolls of Neopan from 2005 and not found any issues; then again, it had been kept in a fridge the whole time.
I loaded up the ‘Blad, brought another four rolls and went off happily to a family dinner, shooting plenty and exposing at EI 800 plus a bit, with the intention to push two stops over the normal developing time for TMAX 400 during processing. A previous test roll of fresh TMAX 400 gave it the same developing properties as Delta 400; 4min in Ilford DDX 1+4 at our local ambient 26C water temperature. It’s worked fine for me in the past; Delta 400 turns out nearly grain-free, and looks great. A one-stop push to 800 still looks great; just add another 1min30sec. I think it’d safely go another stop and still look good; being a large negative and all. Based on this, I assumed it’d be the same case with the TMAX.
Except it wasn’t even close. The first test roll went into the soup for 6min and came out rather faint and slightly clouded; it could have been the developer or the fixer, or both. Except that the same batch of chemistry – fresh developer, fixer only used for about four rolls of 135 – had happily processed a roll of Delta 100 from the GR1v, which came out looking great when developed to spec. (6min at 26C in 1+4, if you’re curious; the negatives are slightly dense, but I find they scan better that way.) That ruled out the fixer, though I added some fresh stuff from the bottle to refresh the chemistry a little just in case; I think it would have been about 1+6 at this point, instead of the usual 1+9. It went back into the fixer just in case. No change in cloudiness after ten minutes, so I gave up and focused on the developer.
Successive rolls went in for longer and longer times, and with increasingly concentrated chemistry – the last roll was souped in 1+2.5 for 20 minutes – equivalent to something like a six stop push – and there was no appreciable increase in density. In fact, the negatives still looked the same: cloudy and faint. I tested the fixer, too – somehow, it appeared to be exhausted after three rolls despite the increase in concentration (!). A test strip of fresh Delta 100 took nearly ten minutes to go clear – normally, two is sufficient. It would seem that however the film had been stored, the chemistry had degraded it to the point that had become effectively unusable, and not only that, reacting with the processing chemistry in a bad way. The negatives have that hazy, semi-opaque kind of look that you get when processing C41 in B&W chemistry (there, it’s due to the self-masking effect of the emulsion) – except you can’t wash it away. Furthermore, it seemed the emulsion was simply no longer very sensitive to light. Further tests showed that whilst you could get it to react above about EV 8 or 9, there’d be almost no responsiveness below this.
And for comparison, what’d I’d consider to be a very good Delta 100 negative. There’s almost no visible grain in this one, even at a 2000dpi (equivalent) scan. Just pure sharp detail and beautiful tonal gradation.
There are a few things to take away from this story: firstly, run a test roll before shooting anything critical. Secondly, it appears possible to have some variation even within the same batch. Thirdly, if you are shooting anything critical, use fresh film. Interestingly, I tried a fresh roll of TMAX 100 recently; it developed fine with very rich blacks/ quarter tones, but with a few odd quirks – firstly, fixing time was about three times as long as Delta or Acros; the negatives had a very pronounced bluish-purple tinge because of the base dye layer, but that mostly disappeared upon drying. The film also feels much thicker than the other two, and consequently has a pronounced curl that makes it quite tricky to load into the spools. To top things off – that rich emulsion appears to be VERY delicate and easily scratched by even the slightest contact with anything abrasive – my wood desk, for instance – handle with extreme care. I like the shadow tones and lack of grain, but not the fragility in handling. All in all, I think I’m going to be sticking to fresh Acros or Delta from now on! MT
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