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I have used Tri-X for a long time as my general-purpose 35mm film. I use it at 400, process in Rodinal (or a clone in fact) 1+25 and using the massive dev chart times (which agree with Kodak's), and print traditionally (so, in particular I'm generally not scanning the film at all). I print typically on 16x12, image size about 15x10. I use Rodinal because I'm used to it: I know what the negs are like and I don't have to worry about made-up dev going stale if I don't process any film for a while.

I'm pretty happy with the process. But I'm not happy about the cost: Tri-X has gone up, a lot, in the last few years and it's becoming a major expense. HP5 (by which I mean HP5 plus) is a good lot cheaper and is obviously a fine film. So I've tried a few rolls of it, also at 400, in Rodinal at 1+25 for the recommended time.

I'm printing from these films now and the results look mostly good so far. But it's evident under the grain focuser that the HP5 is significantly grainier (larger grain, more obvious grain) than Tri-X: it's probably grainy enough that the difference is noticeable at my normal print size & would be very noticeable in anything bigger. This is not catastrophic: obviously if I was unhappy with grain I would not be using fairly fast 35mm film, or in fact 35mm at all. But it does mean I can't just switch to HP5 without knowing that my prints will change, so it's not a simple decision.

(I'd like to use a single film because I can then get used to it.)

So the question is two things:

  1. is HP5 just grainier than Tri-X and I need to get used to it and decide knowing that?
  2. Rodinal is known for producing somewhat grainy negs: what other dev might I consider which is painless to use (I'd like not to have to do the whole add-time-when-the-dev-is-old thing and it needs good keeping qualities when made up (months)) which might be better?

As an additional question: are there any other films I might consider? I am looking at a couple of Foma films, but have not got as far as processing them yet, let alone printing. It would need to be ISO 400 and some good: I typically can't go back and take pictures again if the negs turn out to be rubbish. The film needs to be reliably available: I don't want to change every year.

  • I've souped Fomapan 400 in Ilfotec DD-X, and the grain is quite noticeable – I'm guessing it might be too much in Rodinal. Have you considered Kodak Xtol? Foma also makes a developer that people claim is a clone of Xtol, the Fomadon Excel. That's likely to be cheaper (depending on where you live). – Kahovius Apr 9 at 8:02
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I think I went through the same process. Both TriX and HP5+ are films with a strong, almost cult-like, following, and reputation of a major brand to back them up.

Foma is cheap (I am based in Czech, the country Foma is made in, so for me it is very cheap) - but it is prone to quality issues (mainly scratches) due to the fact it is still manufactured by hand. A risky bet.

Other ISO 400 films - the talk is positive about Bergger and Rollei - do not have the history and brand strength like Kodak or Ilford.

I ended up picking HP5+ due to a number of factors, chiefly because it costs less and loads into tank easier (less fingerprints) than TriX.

As for souping HP5+ I have settled on Rodinal in 1+50 dilution. The development times are acceptably longer than 1+25 (I do not have patience for stand development). In the stronger dilution (1+25) I found the grain too much, even when shooting 120 film. It is best reserved for special circumstances, to be used on purpose.

I have also found classical grain Ilford films (mainly FP4 though) to respond well to Pyro developers. Good option for static subjects, not so much for fast action - where HP5+ shines. It also responds well to pushing, just like TriX.

To sum it up: if you are looking for a reliable ASA 400 alternative to TriX the HP5+ is likely your best choice.

Consider other developers though, or at the very least go down in dilution from 1+25 to 1+50.

  • Thanks, it had not occurred to me that using Rodinal at 1+50 would result in smaller grain. I've also now got dry prints from HP5+ and I don't think the grain is really a problem in fact. – tfb Apr 10 at 11:41
  • @tfb you are welcome! For some reason grain and ISO 400 films go together, and it needs not be a real problem, especially in traditional printing (scanning is different, can't tell exactly why) - I recall coming across a guy on one of the photo forums, who had a signature line "Grain - it is supposed to be there." and I fully agreed with him :) – Jindra Lacko Apr 10 at 14:53
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Tri-X and HP5 are similar films and oftentimes compared. A consensus on which of the two is grainier however seems absent. This may be due to both films having a different grain structure.

I would advise you to play with developing times and dilutions to see what suits you. As you mention yourself, Rodinal is a developer keen for grain and you will see this in your negatives. If you find your HP5+ negs to be too grainy, consider Ilfotec as a substitute for finer grain.

Keep in mind that this all boils down to personal taste. I, for example, am a fan of Ilford's FP4+. It's great in contrast which suits my needs.

  • Thanks. I like FP4+ as well, but as I often use a yellow filter it ends up too slow for me. I probably do need to bite the bullet and try some other devs. – tfb Apr 10 at 11:46

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