Some time ago I got myself a 30.5 meter roll of expired Kodak T-MAX 400. I wasn't out there trying to find it. As all things, it was a good deal found on Ebay. Whilst I would be very wary of buying bulk rolls of expired color negative or positive films, black and white film can usually take the odd expiry. A few years or 50 won't bring it down too much. When it starts to get into higher double digit "past expiry years" then you might need to start adjusting your exposure times. Before that you can often get away with sticking with box speed.
In case you're wondering what one can do with a 30.5 meter roll of film — you roll that into the usual film canisters yourself. To do that you need to get something called a Bulk Film Loader. And you need access to complete darkness. Be it in the form of a room or a dark bag. The benefit is a cheaper price-per-roll and more flexibility. For example you can make 12 shot rolls. Or 48 shot rolls although there is a practical limit of how much film you can cram into a normal 35mm film canister. The downsides include more effort, bigger chance of scratches and non-0 chance to ruin the whole 30.5 meter roll by exposing it to light.
My giga-roll expired in 2006. Not too long ago. To my children it seems like an ancient past where dinosaurs roamed the earth. To me and the film it's a near past. Not much further away than yesterday.
This was my first experience with T-MAX 400. It's not a film I would buy on a regular day. Tabular grain film, of which T-MAX is part of, does not interest me. I like normal grain.
Before I go into my thoughts about T-MAX 400 I have to tell you that you shouldn't use this information as a review. My roll is expired. Although it's not like raw meat which should be avoided a few days after expiry date, it will still deteriorate over time. Deterioration rate will depend on the film storage conditions. I stored it in the freezer but I have no idea how it was stored before the film reached my sweaty hands. Read this review as a review for this particular roll and not all Kodak T-MAX 400 rolls.
Thoughts On Film
First things first. It appears that my supa-roll of T-MAX 400 has let go of some of the sensitivity that was given to it by its creator — Kodak. Shooting at box speed ( EI / ISO 400 ) produces murky-ish results. Detail is lost in shadows and only the funky grain remains. For better results I've found that rating it at EI 200 works better. It might not need a full stop more light and two thirds could be enough but I don't like decimals. I have blown some highlights rating it a full stop lower but that seems like a better compromise than losing too much from the shadows. I don't need to see the tiniest hairs in the shadows but my T-MAX 400 likes to bring out the grain in the shadows which does not look too good.
Since I touched upon grain — I dislike the grain on this film. I'm also not the biggest fan of other T-grain-like films like Ilford Delta for example. T-grain looks more uniform and I can only describe it as "fuzz". Not sure why this word exactly but here you go. Normal grain looks chunkier and...well like grain. Like sand. T-grain looks more like noise to me. I could be insane. This could be all in my head but that's how it looks to me.
Maybe I notice it more because I like to push my film. Pushing the film will increase the noticeable grain. And my T-MAX doesn't appear to like being pushed much. Things get muddy real quick. Outside the expired nature of this film, the developer could also be at fault. I use Kodak HC-110 for pretty much everything. It could be that pushing T-MAX 400 with HC-100 doesn't work as well. A T-MAX developer or some other developer formulated more for pushing could produce better results.
As I'm already dumping on T-MAX 400, let's dump some more. It seems to love living in the fixer. I use Ilford Rapid Fixer and I can clear most films in the 2 - 3 minute range. It's more like 5 minutes for T-MAX 400 to completely rid the pinkish tint. The fixer exhausts faster as well but that could be my mind playing tricks on me.
It's not all bad. I like the contrast and "tonal response" that this film provides when well developed. It's much more to my liking than the box speed Ilford HP5 but not as good as Kodak Tri-X. It also dries flat which helps in scanning.
It may read as if I'm not the biggest fan of Kodak T-MAX 400. And that would be correct. For the most part. It's by no means terrible. I'm glad I got it and I'm glad I still have a few rolls in the freezer. But it's not a film that I would want to buy regularly. There are plenty of black and white films and a single person doesn't have to like all of them. I might get a fresh roll though just to see whether all my issues are because of the age. I have doubts that all issues are because of age though.