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The New Tri-X

May 18, 2010

The original TRI-X Profile.

Back in the late 1990’s I worked for the Eastman Kodak Company, otherwise known as The Great Yellow Father.

It was during this time period that the first real digital cameras landed and began to make their mark. Now these were far from being perfect machines, but they were good enough to actually run six columns in a newspaper or grace the pages of high-end catalogs.

I didn’t really sell these things, but I spent a lot of time speaking to photographers about these cameras and also teaching photographers how to use them. We all knew this was the future, or at least one version of the future.

At the same time that Kodak launched these babies they also launched their film profiles, meaning you could shoot your digital camera while using a profile for a film like TRI-X, Kodachrome, etc. The idea was that you could shoot digital and get the look of film.

Let me say this again, “You could shoot digital and get the look of film.”

Now this, at the time, struck me as rather odd. I mean here was the latest, greatest digital beast, capable of all things photographic, and yet we were programming it to look like a film that had been around for fifty years.

A few years later I quit Kodak, went back to being a photographer and lived through generation after generation of digital camera and software, and today I still find myself living through generation after generation of all things electronic, and yet I find what I love more than anything else is using that same old film that has been around for over fifty years.

So last year I did a traveling book tour with Jerry Courvoisier, a Santa Fe based Adobe Lightroom guru. Jerry knows more about this software than anyone I know, and in fact spends much of his time teaching 2-3 day intensive Lightroom workshops. If you are using this program, want to use this program, want to really learn this program, he is the guy you should be looking up. Now being a film shooter, Jerry busts my chops every chance he gets, and I try to do the same to him. We’re photographers, we’re guys, that’s just what we do. I know he secretly wants to shoot film.

So earlier today my phone rang with Jerry on the other end. It seems he was writing up a post about Adobe Lightroom 3, the latest version, and his method for using the software to mimic the holy and beloved TRI-X, and wanted to know if he could mention me before reducing me to digital fodder. I said “Heck yes,” cause I love reading about me, might even my favorite subject.

Now before I go any further I have to say something. When I first saw these profiles, as I mentioned above, I found this concept strange. But what I found even stranger was the number of these profile attempts that popped up over the past ten years. It seems that every year or so someone comes out with the final, be all, end all TRI-X simulation device. And when I mention profile, this was, and is, just one method of creating this look. Using a software like Lightroom is just another way of getting from point A to point B, and if you follow the link at the end of this post you will see that Jerry has gone far beyond a profile and actually provides a full working tutorial on this process.

In fact, this concept, converting digital files to the look of film is a HUGE part of digital photography conversations. Not only have I had this discussion twice this week, but with Adobe adding this ability to Lightroom 3, you know it was on the radar for some time.

My opinion? Good, I hope they finally nail it. I really do. Not only will I use it when I shoot digital, but if it make the masses happy, and allows them to realize their vision then more power to them.

But I have to say, I’m still really puzzled.

If there really is “No reason to ever use film again,”(When you hear this it is a sure sign the speaker is sponsored by technology company) then why are we still developing computer actions to simulate film? Why is every tragically hip wedding photographer developing, and then subsequently trying to sell, action set after action set that simulates film? Why are people scanning old Polaroid borders and slapping them on their 5D Mark II files? Why did that Impossible Project thingy happen and Polaroid return? Why do college students rebel when the schools threatens to close down the traditional darkroom? And this morning, an email in my inbox from a photographer who saw a TRI-X rebate on bad color digital images(redundant in many cases) while watching TV last night.

I think this little battle in the larger war of film vs digital can teach us all a lesson.

It doesn’t matter.

Regardless of your feelings, you should check out Jerry’s link because he can probably save you a lot of time and get your images looking like TRI-X in an efficient manner. And I’m lighting a candle for the Adobe Gods, hoping that this time around, digital TRI-X actually lives.

And for me, until they pry it from my cold, dead hands, I’ll be using the original.

Lightroom 3 TRI_X Tutorial from Jerry Courvoisier

17 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2010 6:03 pm

    If I want the film look I will shoot film!!! JUST SAY NO TO DIGITAL! It’s bad for you and the people you care about.

  2. May 18, 2010 6:21 pm

    You’ve more than sufficiently covered the tech look of film. I shoot both and for me the mental process is different. Can’t wait for Lightroom to have the “Think before you Shoot” preset or the think while you’re shooting preset.
    You could just tell me to think while you’re shooting digital or shoot less when shooting digital. But I can’t ignore the chocolate cake in the kitchen either. I’m just weak.
    Hey have any connections where I can score some tri-x?

    • May 18, 2010 7:30 pm

      Hmmm, chocolate cake. TRI-X, call Samy’s, Calumet or Freestyle.

  3. May 18, 2010 7:00 pm

    this whole thing with all these programs to make digital look like film….now there’s an app for your iphone to make it look like a Holga….everybody wants to be a badass but nobody wants to really fight, everybody wants to have sex, but the real thing is messy, so we have porno on the internet….I’ve just ordered some monster-powered magnets, I’ll be hitting all the coffee shops soon erasing hard-drive after hard-drive, all those lovely jpegs, where did they go?

    • May 18, 2010 7:25 pm

      that analogy is perfect, “everybody wants to be a badass, but nobody wants to fight.”

  4. May 19, 2010 5:16 am

    VIVA LA PELIQUILA!!! I start the day and end the day with this charge.

    Cold dead hands. Right Dan?

  5. joeandrews permalink
    May 19, 2010 4:19 pm

    awesome shot.. I have a roll of 400tx that I can’t seem to get developed anywhere.. imagine that?.. Huge fan of digital but something about film just does it for me, probably because you only get one chance with each exposure to get it right, maybe it’s the challenge.. None the less fantastic post here..!

  6. May 19, 2010 6:08 pm

    Nice post as usual, Daniel.
    As you know, in our little moving picture world we call’m LUTs. Rolls off the tongue, one syllable. I could burp it. Don’t even have to think! (maybe THATS the problem!)
    I’ve got a TB of Red camera at 4K that needs to go to ProRez, btw. Yea, I’ll get right on that.
    So many flavors, so little time…

    • May 19, 2010 6:15 pm


      We want it all and we want it now. The more I learn about “modern photography” the less I’m interested. The industry goes one way, I find myself pulling the parking brake and attempting a three point turn.

  7. May 19, 2010 8:14 pm

    Interesting and timely thread over on Lightstalkers about shooting film or “returning” to film…


    • May 19, 2010 8:47 pm

      Thanks David,

      Students last night were very relieved to hear that you can still shoot film today and be a viable photographer. So much hype regarding all the tech stuff that people start to think they HAVE to do it, and that they HAVE to conform to what the tech people are selling them.

  8. May 22, 2010 7:17 am

    Not for nothin Dan, but I would have bought 60 rolls at once.

  9. June 1, 2010 9:18 pm

    Odd. That’s what it is, working digital files to look like tri-x when it’s still out there, beautiful, simple and inexpensive as ever.

    It’d be like auto marketers touting the new Lexus sport coupe (or whatever) because “it can drive like a karmann ghia.”

    Although, actually, come to think of it, Tri-x drives better than a karmann ghia!

    Great post. I like hearing this topic discussed without flames!

    • June 2, 2010 5:43 pm

      Hey Jeff,

      None of this makes sense, but I think we have all been drinking the digital coolaid for the past ten plus years, and are now capable of coming up for air and looking at digital for what is it, just one option, not the be all end all.

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