Simulating Kodak Tri-X Black & White Film
* I have updated the grain processing. See update details below.
In the last six months, my approach to photography has changed a great deal, leading me to switch to film for most of my black and white work. The process of shooting film, from the tactility of the Leica M7 and Nikon FA cameras I use, to the developing and scanning process have given me a much deeper appreciation for the craft of being a photographer.
The issue I face after becoming so accustomed to the rich, grainy texture and tonal range of Kodak's much-beloved TRI-X 400 (400TX) film is that my work has become a sea of monochrome.
I've created some of my best black and white work this year alone, but my long-held desire to carry only a single camera has made it difficult to create both colour and black and white photographs at the same time.
Being able to shoot my digital Leica M Typ 240 and still achieve the feeling of Kodak Tri-X at same time as producing colour work is something I have been reaching for with a new effort to simulate, exactly, the look of 400TX. It has taken me a few months, but I think it's ready.
The photograph on the left is from my Leica M7 using Kodak film, the right is from a digital Leica M 240 photograph I took last year using a similar Voigtlander/Leica lens. Click to enlarge.
For the first time in my efforts, the prints look identical in nature, from tonal range to grain detail. This was the final test for my process, which is explained below.
- Adobe Lightroom CC with VSCO Film 01 preset pack (for the base 400TX profile).
- Adobe Photoshop CC
- Google Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 (free)
- "DIGITAL 400TX" Actions and Lightroom Presets
Process (after setting up software and actions)
This process describes the process for editing digital Leica raw files. You will have to use VSCO Film 01's Tri-X preset then apply VSCO 400TX Custom Tone preset for other brands. Your results may vary.
- Apply the DIGITAL TRI-X (Leica VSCO) preset in Lightroom.
- Using the your discretion and the histogram, ensure a bright enough image exposure. Monitor brightness and calibration is a must.
- Right click and Edit in Photoshop, ensuring 16-bit TIFF with Adobe RGB colour space is selected.
- In Photoshop, run the PROCESS 35mm action you imported from the link above.
- If you want a medium format look, using the PROCESS 645 action for more detail.
- Photoshop will run a complex series of processes including a Silver Efex Pro 2 grain pass.
- If Silver Efex Pro 2 does not run, ensure the plugin is installed and accessible from the Filter / Nik Collection menu.
- Save the image and return to Lightroom.
- If you wish to save space, press Save As TIFF but choose the ZIP compression.
How Does It Work?
It wasn't until I spent a good deal of time developing my own Tri-X in Rodinal acutance developer and scanning it with a high res DSLR (Nikon D810) that I began to understand just what the film looked like and handled different conditions, and how it should look when printed. The following images show the major parts of the action that produces the final result. Here is a rundown of the steps for the 35mm film process:
- Lightroom preset applies clean black and white tonal look with +15 Clarity for edge enhancement.
- "PREPARE" action resizes to 6 megapixels, blurring fine pixel detail then applying two unsharp masks to enhance edges more.
- "HALO" action copies the image and applies a haloing effect to the very brightest areas of the image, simulating film halation from bright light sources.
- "GRAIN" action applies the Silver Efex Pro 2 grain to the lower resolution image.
- "24MP UPRES" resizes the image to 24 megapixels and sharpens the grain detail for printing.
- "FINALISE" converts the image to 8-bit Grayscale to reduce file size.
* Updated 12th July 2017
Since publishing this post, I've gone back to work on the grain simulation step and it now simulates even more closely the "sandy grit" of real Kodak TRI-X 400 grain as it has appears after being developed in Rodinal, the one shot accutance developer commonly used. The DIGITAL 400TX Photoshop action file has been updated too.
I had the same essential portrait on both my digital Leica M and film M7 and tried to match as closely as I could to exposure and contrast I had put into the film scan.
Some Other Examples (All Leica M Typ 240)
Click each image to expand.