Simulating Kodak Tri-X Black & White Film

By Nick Bedford

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.


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VERSUS // Film Grain Simulation HP5+

Here is a straight forward comparison of the different aesthetics of film grain emulation using VSCO Film's Ilford HP5+ preset using Lightroom's grain simulation vs the grain in Google Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. We also provided an example of the full film and grain simulation created by DXO Film Pack 5. Below are a couple of examples to have a look at.

The image above was taken with a Leica M 240 sporting a Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5 lens. The colour image at the end is the original raw file with standard Lightroom settings. As you can see, the overall effect of the grain simulation between Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro is subtle at full size above, but if you look deeper, you can see just how much more accurate it is as a film grain simulation.

Lightroom tends to just add grain everywhere without trying to simulate how film actually works whereas Silver Efex Pro does. Not only that, Lightroom's "grain size" actually blurs the image depending on the setting! I've never understood this and frankly, the grain simulation in Lightroom leaves a lot to be desired, short of shooting actual film anyway.

Silver Efex Pro simulates the different levels of grain seen at different densities. Above you can see that most of the effect of the grain is in the mid-tones and tapers off in intensity as the image gets brighter and darker. It's not as noticeable at full size, but it keeps the image sharp while actually simulating film grain accurately.

What do you think? Write a comment below. Is the difference important? Does anyone care?

One might say, just shoot film if you want real grain!

Leica M9-P vs Fuji X100s vs Nikon D40

35mm Lens Shoot-Out Yeeeehhaaaaaa

Nikon D40 Kit-lens 18-55 f/5.6 / Fuji X100s f/5.6 / Leica M9-P/35mm f/5.6 Summocron / ALL ISO 400

"Why?!" You ask.

"Why not!" We say.

So I had about 5 minutes to kill before a job and had all 3 cameras in my bag; the Leica M9-P, Fujifilm X100s and the always charming Nikon D40. How could I not do a crazy comparison just for the hell of it. They all had 35mm equivalent lenses and I had some time to spare so away we go!

  • I quickly set all cameras to the following settings: raw format, ISO 400, f/5.6. I grabbed the nearest tree & a friend and fired one shot each. Unfortunately the framing and distance was a little off for each which is my mistake but this isn't meant to be a scientific test.
  • Next I imported the files into Lightroom 5.4 and saved the untouched files as they were rendered by default.
  • I then took them strait into Photoshop CC, and applied a custom Silver Efex Pro 2 preset.
  • Back in Lightroom, I adjusted the exposure, highlights and shadows slightly to get a basic match (VERY BNASIC) then saved the files.
  • In Photoscape I ran Auto Exposure, Auto Contrast and sharpening at 0.8 (for the portrait no sharpening) then saved and combined with originals to create the image above and below.

A very tech savvy comparison to say the least. I just wished to see what the simple differences with a quickly adjusted and filtered image would look like for each. I hadn't bothered doing crops or anything as the process was hardly ideal for the likes of DXO .... but then I changed my mind and did a crop section of each any way. 

A Detailed Crop

Above are the three raw and untouched images cropped as close as I could in Photoscape. 1. Nikon D40 2. Fuji X100s 3. Leica M9-P

The 3 final images above have been processed in Silver Efex Pro 2 using the Kodak Tri-X preset with no other adjustments, taken into Photoscape for Auto Exposure, Auto Contrast & 0.8 sharpening applied then saved at 72dpi as a JPEG. If you click on the images you can see them in full screen to get a better look at the detail. The same applies for the crops below.

Morgan also took 3 shots of James with each of the set ups we mentioned earlier. only change to the setup was using a 'Kodack TMax 400' preset in 'Silver Efex Pro 2' with no sharpening in 'Photoscape'.

Nikon D40 Kit Lens | Raw File - Processed File

Fukifilm X100s |  RAW File - Processed File

Leica M9-P  35mm Summicron | RAW File - Processed File

So there you go, a really quick look at three totally different cameras and their 35mm equivalent focal lengths / lenses. Totally unrelated really but I had them all with me and thought hell, why not. One thing I thought about while doing this test was how well the old Nikon D40 held up. Considering it has only 7 megapixels and relatively old sensor technology and, we used the kit lens. What a gem, so much so that I am actually going to do a portrait test with the Nikon DF and the Nikon D40 using the same lens a Nikkor 105mm f/1.8 so stay tuned.

Cheers again and just remember to take this review test thing with a grain of salt. It was done for fun and in no way is an accurate technical test of the cameras and their lenses against each other. However, it may get you thinking about the gear you use and the practical quality and abilities of so called "out of date" equipment. If all you'r doing is posting things to Facebook or Flickr, then as they say, "The best camera is the one you have with you."