After being inspired by Mat Marrash’s “One a Day X-Ray” results I knew that I wanted to try shooting 8×10 x-ray film. Once I grew comfortable with my rehabbed Eastman View Camera by shooting a known film like Kodak Tri-X, I finally loaded up a film holder with Fuji HR-T X-Ray film. The Fuji HR-T is a green-sensitive x-ray film that comes in boxes of 100 sheets for about $28 plus shipping, which gives you 100 sheets of 8×10 B&W film for about 30 cents a sheet. Mind blown…especially when you look at the price for a box of Tri-X or Ilford HP5+ in 8×10 (or even 4×5).
It’s also cheaper than shooting Kodak Tri-X in 120 format. A five pack of Tri-X 400 for my Hasselblad runs $25 – that’s 60 frames for $25 versus 100 sheets of 8×10 film for a couple bucks more. Seems crazy not to try it, right?
Well, there’s a catch (actually, a few, I’m afraid).
Catch #1: X-ray film has the emulsion on both sides rather than one like traditional film. And each side is VERY sensitive to scratches. This presents special challenges when developing.
Catch #2 X-ray film is also either green or blue-sensitive meaning it will render colors differently in B&W. You need to consider this when you shoot. Green-sensitive films like Fuji HR-T will make green leaves or green subjects lighter than we are used to seeing them in B&W.
Catch #3 X-Ray film also isn’t labeled with a specific ISO rating. Is it 400 ISO? 100? 25? It depends on the film, the subject, and your light conditions. I’m sticking in the ballpark of 80-100 ISO for the Fuji HR-T unless my future tests change my mind.
Seems like a lot of things to consider, especially when you are shooting 8×10. Carrying, setting up, and using a LF camera is already a lot of work and using x-ray film adds uncertainty and extra considerations. But at 30 cents a sheet, it’s crazy not to at least try it.
For my test shots, I photographed Leo Villareal’s “Buckyball” installation in Madison Square Park at dusk – lots of shadows, fading sky, and bright neon light.
Before I exposed and developed my first two sheets, I did copious online research. I found a 57-page thread on the Large Format Photography Forum that contained a wealth of information. I read every page and took notes. From their experience and expertise I gleaned the following:
*Fuji HR-T X-Ray film can be rated from 50 ISO to 200 ISO. I chose 80 ISO as a starting point.
*It either has fantastic reciprocity characteristics or really average characteristics that require some additional exposure during long exposures. I leaned towards the latter on the advice of one forum poster who had created a reciprocity chart for x-ray film.
*You can load and develop under a red safe light, although some people report fogging when using a red light.
*Be careful with your x-ray film! It’s easy to scratch. That means being careful when loading your film holders and being careful when developing it.
*Because of the increased possibility of scratches, many people choose to develop it a sheet at a time in a 1-gallon Ziploc bag. You fill a bag with developer and your film, pour out developer, pour in stop bath (or water), and then after pouring out your stop bath/water, pour in the fixer. Genius! And no scratches apparently.
*For the green-sensitive film, many people had success using Rodinal 1:100 as a developer. I chose to use that for ease of mixing, but people have used most common developers with good results.
Here are my first two test sheets, developed using two different methods.
Test Sheet A:
Larger Version on Flickr
Test Sheet B:
Larger Version on Flickr
For both of my test sheets I used Rodinal at a dilution of 1 part developer to 100 parts water.
For Test Sheet A I used the Ziploc bag method for developing. And you can see the results – Scratch City. The 8×10 negative barely fits in the 1-gallon size bag and there was some violence on the way into the bag. Others swear by this method and get scratch-free results. I did not, as you can see. I also used a red safe light to develop this negative. I zipped out to the hardware store and bought a red light bulb; it didn’t look like the safe lights that I remembered, but I had read that any red light will do. Alas, this was not the case. I put my red bulb behind the shower curtain and there was a very dim glow in the room. But the negative is totally fogged.
For Test Sheet B, I went back to the basics and developed it the way I’m comfortable – in a tray, with no reportedly-safe red light. I lined the bottom of the developer tray with smooth glass to cover the ribbed tray bottom (scratch potential). I developed it for 6 minutes and carefully flipped the negative over each 30 seconds. After stop bath (water in my case) I put in the fix for four minutes, agitating by flipping the negative over every 30 seconds. And most importantly I did all of this in total darkness. No fogging!
This was a fairly tricky exposure of dark trees, ground, still light sky at dusk, and very bright lights from Leo Villareal’s “Buckyball” installation. The Tri-X shot is noticeably sharper, but the x-ray film has its own charm – beyond its staggeringly cheap price tag.
If you want to see how x-ray film behaves for different subjects, definitely check out Mat’s “One-A-Day X-Ray” photoset.