Nov 16, 2022

Why Kodak Tri-X Is The Best Street Photography Film

Kodak’s Tri-x, also known as 400TX, is one of the best 400 ISO black and white films on the market.

Hunter Scott
Hunter Scott
Why Kodak Tri-X Is The Best Street Photography Film

Street photography with Tri-X is always a blast. One of Kodak's most enduring and popular film stocks, it's a great choice for street photographers and photojournalists alike.

What Makes Kodak Tri-X A Good Film?

Kodak’s flagship black and white film, Tri-X (also known as 400TX) is an absolute staple film stock for many photographers. Introduced in the 40’s, it has survived longer than many other emulsions! Buy yours here!

Kodak Tri-X is loved by so many photographers for a range of reasons, but the main ones are:

  • It’s 400 ISO speed making it great for available light photography
  • The old-school grain structure, which is gritty but not intrusive
  • The ease of pushing and pulling the film in development

Tri-X is a particular favourite of the photojournalist crowd, as it’s both fast enough for snappy handheld shots, and has that classic press photography aesthetic. It’s contrasty, without losing detail in the shadows or highlights, meaning it’s also fairly forgiving depending on how you develop it!

street photography with tri-x hunter scott
Kodak Tri-X Shot at ISO 800

What’s The Difference Between Tri-X and T-Max?

It’s easy to confuse Kodak’s black and white lineup, as they’re similarly named! Kodak Tri-X has a classic grain structure, and is often considered a slightly less “technical” film, while T-Max has a tabular, or “T” grain structure. 

This means that T-Max is incredibly sharp, and can be a bit fiddly to process. In general, street photographers prefer Tri-X, while studio/fashion photographers will lean towards T-Max.

The films may have similar sounding names, but they give a very different look, so try them both out and see what you prefer!

street photography with tri-x hunter scott
Classic Grain in Kodak Tri-X

Kodak Tri-X vs Ilford HP5

Tri-X and HP5 are often compared, and it’s no surprise. They’re both 400 ISO black and white film stocks available in a range of formats. There are some differences, but ultimately, it comes down to preference

Depending on where you are in the world, cost may be a factor. In the UK, Ilford film is often more readily available and affordable than the Kodak equivalent for example.

Ilford HP5 tends to hold up a little better in push processing, while Tri-X has, in my opinion, a much more pleasing tonal range and grain structure. I shoot both films very regularly, and I tend to prefer the aesthetic I can achieve with Kodak Tri-X. Again, it’s very subjective, so make sure you try both film stocks out!

street photography with tri-x hunter scott
Kodak Tri-X shot at box speed

How To Use Kodak Tri-X For Street Photography

When you’re shooting street photography on film, there are a few key factors to think about.

Firstly, speed. Tri-X is a 400 ISO film, which is plenty fast for most of the year, but if you’re shooting in the European winter, or at dusk, you might want to consider rating the film at ISO 800 or even 1600 and then push processing it afterwards. It also allows an extra stop of aperture, which is handy for Zone Focussing.

Remember that you’re shooting black and white - contrasty black and white. Make sure you’re in the mindset to look for shadow, light, and texture. There’s no use in finding someone with a coat perfectly colour matched to the car behind them if they’re both grey! 

Kodak Tri-X has quite a nostalgic, old-school vibe to it, so I’ve found it works really well for quite dynamic, intimate scenes. I like to shoot it with a 28mm or 50mm lens, and I try to capture as much character and emotion as possible in the image. Tri-X is not a technical film, and it has lots of personality, so try to reflect that in the way you shoot it!

It also looks great with flash, especially if you’re lucky enough to possess a film camera that has High-Speed Sync or even rear shutter flash options. I especially like to use flash with Kodak Tri-X at dusk, so that I can get the background slightly motion blurred and freeze the subject with my little handheld speedlite. 

street photography with tri-x hunter scott

Push Processing Kodak Tri-X 

I almost always push-process my Tri-X to 800, but you can push it a stop or even two higher than that if you’re careful with your exposure. I mainly do it for the extra speed and flexibility to shoot indoors and on the tube.

Pushing Tri-X does create a bit more contrast and visible grain, but I’ve never found that it detracted from an image. My favourite thing about Tri-X is the grain, and I think it adds a heap of character to the image, especially when pushed to ISO 800. 

If you do decide to push your Tri-X, and you develop it yourself, I’ve found that Kodak HC110 dilution B works great, and Ilford DD-X is a good second option. I’d have my reservations about pushing Tri-X in a high-acutance developer like Rodinal, as it might get just a little too crunchy and high-contrast. 

street photography with tri-x hunter scott
Tri-X Pushed To ISO 1600

Should You Use Kodak Tri-X For Street Photography?

Absolutely! You should buy some here. As long as you’re in the mood to shoot black and white, I think that Tri-X is a spectacular choice for street photography. In fact, it’s often what I recommend to new film shooters, and to new street photographers. There’s something about the feeling and texture of the images it creates that immediately feels documentarian, journalistic, and real. If you have any questions about Tri-X, please reach out, I’d love to help! Feel free to DM me on Twitter, or Instagram. If you found that article useful, you might find some of my other film-focussed articles interesting too!