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Photography Question 

Negative vs. Slide Film

Here is something that has confused me for some time. Is it true that most of the time, books and websites are working under the impression the information they are giving is for slide film? I know alot of books say in some spots stuff like "for negative film..." then say something. Does that mean its not as good to use negative film? Do the same rules of photographing snow, landscapes, indoors, different lighting, etc apply to both types? How do the settings on cameras (I have a Nikon)for sports, landscapes, portraits, AUTO and such all change if you are using negatives vs. slide and which should I use?

I dont know if I am explaining my question in simple enough terms or not but I think most of you should get the idea.


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1/28/2004 6:27:22 AM


BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  Good question.

There are many issues with print film. But, it is a very good medium. The problem with it is that you cannot really evaluate your exposure, etc. The reason is that the lab makes "corrections".

Also, the latitude on negative film is far higher; meaning that it is more forgiving. So, you can make small mistakes and it will not matter much.

Slide film is less forgiving and therefore your exposures must be precise. Also, the great thign about slide film, besides the fact that is is easy to store, is that what you see is what you get.

You can actually evaluate your exposures on slides because the lab doesn't mess with them. They are the negative.

A case in point, when I very first got into photography, I did some test shots. I shot the same thing under the same conditions and just changed the setting on my camera. I wrote down what I had done, so I could evaluate later.

When I got the prints back, the pictures all looked virtually the same, with just a slight amount of variation. This was because the lab was correcting everything for me. In most cases, from a labs point of view, and a customers point of view, this is good. But, for a photographer trying to evaluate their exposures, this is very bad.

The only way to learn about this is to go try it. I know people say that, but it is true. Shoot something with negative film, then shoot with slide film. See if you can tell a difference.

I used to shoot all slide. The colors of Fuji are amazing. But, now I shoot all negative film because of my current work.


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1/28/2004 12:05:23 PM

doug Nelson   Exposure to light causes buildup of density in the highlights of negative film. It's OK to err a little on the side of overexposure. You'll have your detail in the shadows.
With positive (slide) film, exposure builds density in the shadows. Blow that, and the image is very easily ruined. I do it all the time still. With slides, though, by careful exposure readings and bracketing (varying the amount of light that strikes the film with several shots of the same scene) getting it really right is a delight. The slide is your archival copy.

The mess that photofinishers can make of print film drives a lot of folks out of photography. It's a shame, because the detail was there in the negative all along; it just didn't print out.
Try some slide film, maybe Provia 100. When you can get decent exposures with any consistency, you've learned exposure with that camera and that metering method.

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1/28/2004 12:56:20 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  One thing about what you say about books is that when it came to magazines, books, and anything published, everything was usually shot slides. When it came to recreating an image and it looked like you could almost touch the page and feel the texture, it was slide film. Then when print film started taking on some major improvements, more of it was being used, mostly in newspapers though.
But nowadays, with negative scanners, digital cameras, high level drum scanners, you can have print,slide or digital used.
But true, slide film is more sensitive to exposure settings. For print film you'll see exposure changes in the negatives, just that you can print it so it comes out okay.

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1/28/2004 4:14:13 PM

Tony    Thanks to all three of you. You have all answered my question in different ways. Here is sort of a response question. Since you all seem to say that the lab or photo center corrects for incorrect exposures and such, now I wonder if I use a filter to make the picture have an overall orange tone, when the lab does the picture, do they or can they UNDO the look I was going for by changing it???

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1/28/2004 6:33:39 PM


BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  They will try.

Usually, all you have to do is tell them you used a filter, and tell them what you used, and then they will not correct for that.

One time, I shot an entire roll using a sepia toned filter, they color corrected the whole thing...I was so mad.


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1/28/2004 7:49:42 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Also the machine they use will automatically try to correct it. Who ever is printing could not do anything to it and it will still not come back the way you want it.
If it's somebody who knows what to look for and what they're doing, they should be able to tell by the negative that something is different.

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1/28/2004 11:31:43 PM

Jordan    I'm about to begin experimenting with slide film. I want to use it mainly for its better picture quality, but also to improve my exposure. I'd want prints made though. My question is, once you've processed the film and chosen the ones you like, how easy is it to have it printed and can the great quality still be kept using direct slide to paper printing? How much would you say the printing will cost per picture and where can this be done? Anyone know of Ritz doing this type of printing? Thank you in advance for your responses

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1/29/2004 4:14:51 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  That's the thing. Slides done for publishing and stuff you see in a magazine never go into print form. They can be printed but few places where you just take a slide into a say I'd like 2 5x7's do that.
And a place like Ritz, they might still do an inter-negative. I haven't gotten a print from a slide in a while, so better call or go in and ask how they do it.
So if you're planning on doing slides because you think you'll get better prints, better make sure you have a place that does it first. Because, while looking at slides you get all the detail and colors that look like you can walk right into the picture, when it comes to getting a print, you may be at the same place if you go ahead and do print film. And in some cases, you may be better off.

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1/29/2004 5:51:28 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002

Many film scanners can scan both negatives and slides. I am using Nikon CoolScan IV ED (I bought it 2 years ago at $900, now it's less than half the price). I can say the scan images closely match the image on slides with just the basic level adjustment in photoshop element (came with the scanner). For printing, I use a Canon printer. Cost is about 50 cents for a 4x6 print.

There are also photo processing stores that will scan and print the slide for you. I tried one in the same building where I work and it cost about $2.00 for a 4x6 print from slide. If you already own a PC, consider the scanner/printer option if you have lots of slide to print.

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1/29/2004 7:19:44 PM

doug Nelson   There are several scanners out there in the $600 range. The first that comes to mind is the Nikon Coolscan V. 4000 ppi should be enough for most of us. Minolta and Canon have equivalent products in this competitive field. I wouldn't try to scan slides with a flatbed scanner, even an Epson, but some folks who write in here say it works.

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1/30/2004 1:14:44 AM

Jordan    Thank you everyone for your response to my query. I found it most helpful. But, I would like to ask some follow up questions. I really can't afford a scanner now or a projector. Would there really be a benefit for me to use slide film if all you can look at are the little slithers of film, especially when you consider showing others the photos? Do the direct slide to photo paper prints often satisfy what the "slide quality" should be? If so, any approximate price? Thank you all once again in advance.

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1/30/2004 5:46:25 PM

doug Nelson   Slides right out of the box should go into plastic pocket pages. I show these to friends to look at, then use a $5 battery-powered viewer for a few that interest them. Projecting slides exposes them to dust.

Before you see your way clear to buy a scanner, why not take the VERY best of your slides and have them scanned and put on CD? An amateur in your area might be able to do this. $4 each might be a reasonable price, but having 25 done would buy you a printer.

Since you already have a computer, you might consider $79 for Adobe Elements 2, and a $100 Epson inkjet printer. Prints from scans of your slides will be better than all but custom prints from a master darkroom tech. A Cibachrome 8 x 10 I had done was $15, several years ago.

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2/4/2004 6:16:59 AM

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