Film latitude vs digital.

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by Grandpa Ron, Feb 13, 2019.

  1. Grandpa Ron

    Grandpa Ron No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    After I finish restoring my view camera, I needed an inexpensive way to check it out.

    I bought,
    • Some 4x5 Arista EDU 100 ASA film.
    • A bottle of mono developer.
    I have taken a number of photos and I am relearning light meter reading and such.

    To print the negatives I use the scanner portion of my HP Photosmart printer with an exterior light source. Then post process them with Gimp and have made a few decent B&W photo.

    I am please to say my 1910 camera does it part.

    However, the histograms of the negatives show very little tonal range latitude, this is also true with some older negatives I had prior to digital cameras. That said, the histograms of the digital photos I shoot on the monochrome setting have much more tonal latitude and require less post processing.

    So the question is, does film have less tonal range than digital or am I suffering the effects of the digital to film conversion?

    Here are a couple of my first 4x5 photo process as mentioned above.


     

    Attached Files:

  2. Ysarex

    Ysarex Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Your question requires a complex answer. Easy answer first: absolutely you are suffering the effects of the conversion. Solution: you need a better scanner.

    For academic reference: Film is a big data set and some films have much more tonal range than others. Color transparency film for example has limited tonal range. Color and B&W negative films are better and there's a moderate amount of variation there. You'll find at least a correlation between negative film tonal range and ISO speed with medium and higher speed films having more tonal range than slower films. SO, a medium to high speed color or B&W neg stock will compare favorably with a digital camera but the recent crop of modern sensor cameras if exposed at base ISO and raw files processed are going to edge out film and win that race.

    You've already encountered the big caveat: How are you processing the film to digital image? When we make this comparison and go to scan the film we add the scanner's capability into the equation and there's the common bottleneck for film. As a rule the total tonal range of the film takes a hit in the scan process.

    Joe
     
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  3. webestang64

    webestang64 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    The only way to truly bring all the detail and tonal range of a negative is to print it in the darkroom. Even the high end pro-scanner I use at work can't compete with a print in the darkroom.
     
  4. Ysarex

    Ysarex Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I try and convince myself to settle for a high bit depth scan most of the time. Couple points: I usually get a better result from a B&W neg by starting with a high bit depth color scan rather than a B&W scan -- depends on the scanner. Next point: You can always roll up your sleeves and scan a neg twice then combine the two scans in PS. Too much work. Here's an example:

    water_fall.jpg

    No way I could grab all that in a single scan so the first scan made sure I held enough shadow detail and the second scan was for the waterfall which totally blew out in the first scan.

    Joe
     
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  5. webestang64

    webestang64 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    That looks good Joe. Shows what you can accomplish with patience and time invested. But still turning film into a digital file is something I just don't get, of course most people don't have a darkroom or the skill to print.
     
  6. Ysarex

    Ysarex Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    It's all about being able to share photos. I could stop over and show a print to you, but how do I show photos to everyone else here?

    Joe

    P.S. There's another interesting reason for ultimately making the scan. Imagine the burning and dodging job on that image above. How many attempts are successful and actually what you want? Now make ten identical prints. Good luck. But if I can get an adequate scan and adjust the image the way I want it making 10 identical inkjet prints becomes something you can do while you get a cup of coffee. I know that opens up lots of other issues.....

    Joe
     
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  7. Strodav

    Strodav TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    I scan my old B&W and color negatives as well as slides and reflective prints on an old Epson V500 photo scanner. I set the resolution to 2400dpi at 8 bits to create 20+mb color tiff files. For some of my better work I go up to 4800dpi at 12 bits. One of the first things I do in LR is move the blacks and whites to the edge of the histogram so I have a full tonal range. Once I have established the top and bottom end, I can adjust the midtones to get the result I like (reassign the zones). I usually do this by manipulating the tone curve. At the end of the day, you will get good results if the original photo had a good balance of content in all 10 zones. If not, it will look flat.
     
  8. Tim Tucker 2

    Tim Tucker 2 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    No... It doesn't equate to your understanding of digital and it's wrong to try to think of it with the same logic.

    The histogram you see is from the digital file, it is how you've converted the densities in the negative to digital values. Three cases:

    1) An optimally exposed and developed negative has a Dmax of around 2.7. This is the useful difference in density that a negative can record. With an optimum exposure you have definite separation and values for the shadows, by optimising the development you can keep the highlights at the top end of the density range and again keep some separation in values.

    2) An under-exposed and overdeveloped negative, (push processed), has a Dmax of around 2.7. But the shadows are blocked because there was not enough exposure to cause a reaction in the film and therefore a separation of tones. The highlights are blown out because the over-development has caused them to reach maximum density.

    3) An under-exposed and under-developed negative may have a Dmax of 1.0. The shadows being under-exposed have failed to cause a reaction in the film and similarly the under-exposure and under development have failed to allow the highlights to reach any meaningful density in the film.

    Most modern flatbed scanners that can do film have a Dmax of around 4.0. The histogram of the scan in the scanning application relates to the density range in the negative against the recording range of the scanner. It does not relate to the DR of film against the DR of the original scene. The histogram of the file relates to how well you transferred the densities of the negative into the digital format, not the DR of film or the DR of the original scene.

    The trick to exposing film is to get the important parts of the scene to record as useful densities on the film, i.e. the ones in that useful Dmax of 2.7. Then when scanning the trick is to transfer those density values as near to the numerical values that represent near black and near white in a digital file as you can, (experience will teach you that setting absolute black and white points that correspond with the minimum and maximum densities on the negative is not always optimum).

    Now with the examples, 1) and 2) will both be easy to work with but 1) will show a greater recorded DR than 2) which will block the shadows and blow the highlights though both will show the same range of densities though 2) will *appear* more *contrasty*. Example 3) will be awful to work with and when scanned will show distinct lack of contrast and boosting it will show enhanced grain. It will quite possibly have recorded a greater range or DR in the original scene than either example 1) or 2) but that detail will be so lost in muddy mid-tones that it will neither print nor scan well.

    B&W film has the greatest latitude for film. But even when optimally exposed and developed it will be less than digital.

    But...


    So blinded are we by advertising and comparing stats/numbers and ever increasing capabilities that we simply do not question that a DR measured in a lab under strict lab conditions of 14.5 is better than one measured in the same lab of 14. "The camera is better and the numbers prove it."

    Is it better? Does it actually translate into better photos visually, how the image looks and not the camera specs?

    No, not really, not with film, detail in every pixel, every shadow does not produce the best images or is consistent with how film *looks*. With digital and digital editing it's possible to manipulate a file and produce an image that's convincing. But you still have to fit the range of tones into the output space, and this is the problem. The output range is fixed, finite. It doesn't matter how large the range of brightness of the scene is, your finished image will always have the same range. So if you record the infinite amount of detail in shadows and highlights then you have to compress the contrast to fit them all in the output space, that rather large range between the brightest highlight and the deepest shadow. With digital you can manipulate it perceptually, with film you can scan and digitally manipulate it in the same way but you end up with an image that has the same digital manipulation as a straight digital file, so why not just shoot digital if a digital result is what you want. The point is that it will no longer look like film, this is the dilemma of hybrid processing, not to subject your film images to the same process and criteria as your digital image otherwise they will look the same.

    I've posted enough of my images around this forum somewhere as to not need to post them again here, but I've never found that a modern scanner, (I currently use an EPSON V800), has ever failed to extract the maximum tones in a well exposed and developed negative. It's normally the not so well exposed and developed that I have problems with, the ones that have too little density, and that's my fault. ;);););) Resolution is a different matter and 2400dpi is about optimum for the V800 and produces really good A2 sized prints. This is the other advantage of the hybrid process, producing large prints. They still won't be quite as good as a proper wet print though. It's all very well being a purist but having the space to install an enlarger so it has the reach of A2 and being able to tray process really needs a dedicated darkroom. ;);););)

    I'm very pleased to hear it, I have a half plate from 1898-1901 that works but is a real pain to set up and use compared to the Linhof. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019 at 5:35 PM
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  9. webestang64

    webestang64 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I here ya, I have to scan my darkroom prints to show here and of course it kills me to loose detail/tonal range. And shooting a 4x5 copy negative and re-printing is time consuming. Plus you loose a bit with that as well.
     
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  10. Grandpa Ron

    Grandpa Ron No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    It s the old story of you have what you have and if you persistent enough you can gain some degree of success.

    I spent a lot of time trying to get my printer to match the black and white image on my monitor. Finally someone on this board mentioned it was almost impossible to duplicate the bright white of the back lit computer screen on to paper. Sure enough, whether it was my favorite photos from the books at the library or the Ansel Adams calendar I got for Christmas, when I held up to my monitor they were all some shade of off white.

    Next as I mentioned I adapted my scanner to scan negatives, the histograms show a much smaller range of black to white tones than a mono-chrome digital image. Holding some negatives to the monitor, it was obvious that the negative base material itself was not crystal clear and even the darkest areas were not 100% opaque. That was why I had to digitally manipulate the image.

    As suggest photographic paper prints are the horizon.
     
  11. Strodav

    Strodav TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    Just talking B&W prints for a moment, but its the same for color. "White" printing papers are all kinds of different colors, weights, thickness, textures and brightness levels. Many papers fluoresce, which is a way of making a paper look "whiter" so they look much different in sunlight than incandescent light. When you pick up a book, like Ansel Adams prints, someone chose the paper and, therefore, the look at the time of printing under controlled lighting conditions. If you pick a different paper, it will look different. change the lighting, they will look different. All papers made from trees yellow with time, so they are constantly getting warmer. When you convert pictures for printing you introduce a halftone. Look at a printed picture under a magnifying glass and you will see the little dots, which are not in the negative. The same with photo papers, i.e., canvas to metallic. Take the same negative, print them on different photo papers and they will look different. The moral of the story is nothing truly matches anything. The good news is most photography is about a pleasing artistic result or reasonably close matches, not about perfect matches. So work on it until you like it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2019 at 4:40 PM
  12. Grandpa Ron

    Grandpa Ron No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Strodav, I believe you said said it perfectly," The good news is most photography is about a pleasing artistic result or reasonably close matches, not about perfect matches. So work on it until you like it."

    While not two snowflakes are the same, each is a snowflake and pretty in its own way. I have honed my printing techniques and have even framed a number of 5x7 prints.
     

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