Fast film battle: Ilford Delta 3200 vs Kodak T-Max 3200

An evening walkabout in Innsbruck provided the perfect backdrop to try out two super fast films, Ilford’s Delta 3200 and Kodak’s T-Max 3200. Join me for a night time venture through the old streets of Innsbruck as we see who might win the fast film battle.

As with all my posts, this review is not intended to be scientific or extremely detailed about technical procedures regarding film development, grain structures and other topics. For that you have the vastness of the internet and a good place to start is here (where you will find out loads of mathematical equations regarding exposure and film types). But for the rest of us, let’s focus on the story and more importantly, the photographs.

I have shot Ilford’s Delta 3200 film before, it is available in both 35mm and 120mm roll film, which is very handy. Kodak re-released their T-Max 3200 film to big fanfare last year, with everyone swearing it was the return of all things film. Whilst I am not sure that is necessarily the case, I am always supportive or more film stocks coming back on the market, so I picked up a few rolls and waited until a good time to try out both in an informal comparison.

And what better place than Innsbruck in November. I arrived from Munich for a long weekend and had the evening to myself so decided to go for a walk. Surprisingly I made my way through both rolls in a little under 90 minutes, not bad for 2x36 photographs.

What is ‘fast film’?

The number 3200 refers to the ISO of the film, hence how sensitive the film is to light. The higher the number, the ‘faster’ the film. Also known as ‘fast’ film as it can freeze fast movement, e.g. sports. Simply speaking, this means your lens shutter does not need to stay open as long to capture sufficient light to make an image, resulting in little or no handshake. An alternative would be to use flash, which would create a completely different image.

ISO 400 is a typical everyday film rating, with ISO 100 being useful for bright sunny days and ISO 800 for indoor shots. There are many technicalities surrounding the ISO 3200 range when it comes to film, but for the purposes of this review I shot both at ISO 3200 and with the same camera. I cannot comment on specifics surrounding film development as I sent these to a professional lab.

I varied from a 35mm or 50mm lens depending on what I was shooting. All shots were taken handheld, which is a very good reason to use this film if you want to avoid using flash or carrying a tripod around.

What is usually present when shooting such high ISO film is film grain, and love it or hate it, some would argue black & white film photography is all about the grain. I personally do not mind film grain and in many instances it adds lots of personality to the shot. In other instances it really does not work at all and is very distracting. But enough on the technicalities, let’s have a look at each film with some sample shots.

About Ilford Delta 3200

lford's Delta 3200 Professional is a high-speed black and white negative film for producing prints using a traditional black and white process. The film exhibits a nominal sensitivity of ISO 3200/36°, making it ideal for use in difficult lighting conditions, indoor scenes, and for fast-moving subjects. Standard development in black and white chemistry yields an unobtrusive grain texture with rich tonality and the film also responds exceptionally well to under/over exposure and push/pull development.

Ultra-high speed EI 3200

Perfect for low light and action shots

Core-Shell crystal technology

35mm and 120 Roll Film available

About Kodak T-Max 3200

Kodak T-Max P3200 black & white negative Film ⁄ 3200TMZ is a multi-speed continuous-tone panchromatic black-and-white negative film that combines high to ultra-high film speeds with finer grain than that of other fast black-and-white films. It is especially useful for very fast action; for dimly lighted scenes where you can’t use flash; for subjects that require good depth of field combined with fast shutter speeds; and for handholding telephoto lenses for fast action or in dim light. It is an excellent choice for nighttime photography.

Panchromatic B&W Negative Film

ISO 3200/36° in Standard Process

Fine Grain, T-GRAIN Emulsion

High Sharpness and Edge Detail

Versatile Speed & Wide Exposure Latitude

Overall observations

Despite wanting to shoot these in very low light situations, I did have a few scenes with lots of light or even too much light in them. Shots with really high contrast (shop fronts, bright street lights) do not really work very well in my opinion (on either film) and can also cause flaring, depending on the lens used. I would like to try using these two films again in an indoor environment, for example a concert, or a pool hall.

The Ilford Delta film shows less contrast and considerably more grain, although I would say it produces images with a more of a timeless black & white feel to them. However, I can see why some would say the images can be a bit ‘flat’ and greyish.

On the other hand, the Kodak T-Max film is really very different, with very strong contrast and less overall grain, and a much sharper look to it. It also produces really dark blacks, which I personally like sometimes. The Kodak film is very similar to its slower T-Max 100 & 400 film variations, which are known for being extremely sharp. That being said, I can see why some people might prefer Ilford for its timeless look and increased grain.

These two films (Ilford & Kodak) are also very different in terms of their overall chemistry (more on film chemistry here). I think it is really a matter of preference as to which one you would pick, they are both very good in their own right. Ilford also has an advantage in that it offers both 35mm and 120mm varieties, whereas Kodak T-Max 3200 currently only exists in 35mm.

For strong contrast and less grain, go for Kodak T-Max, but if you like grain and want to aim for more of a timeless look then choose Ilford Delta. Either way, both would be good to keep in your bag should you be in the mood for some night time or indoor shooting. On reflection I would probably lean towards Kodak as I am a big fan of strong contrast black and white photography, but I can certainly appreciate grain, but for that I would probably opt for Ilford HP5+ (ISO 400) instead for daytime shots and keep Kodak for the evening.

And finally, a word of caution, these fast films should be inspected by hand at airport security, do not let them anywhere near those x-ray machines (more on flying with film here).

I hope you enjoyed this brief review of these fast films,

See you next time!