BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Pam Maddox
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/7/2004
 

B&W Film Vs. Computer Conversion


Another beginner question: Is there a difference in quality between taking black and white film photos vs. taking color film photos and converting them via the computer to black and white?


To love this question, log in above
10/10/2004 1:04:05 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  If done right, they can look just as good.


To love this comment, log in above
10/10/2004 9:06:43 PM

 
Nicole Boenig-McGrade   I believe b&w film is a far better quality and gives much more tonal range and depth than any computer can!!! Digital still has a long way to go to catch up to professional film quality. And the archivability is another big question all digital users must ask themselves or we will see a whole generation out there with no family pictures to look back on!!!!!!!


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 12:29:27 AM

 
David King   Digital has taken some major leaps in the last year or so and, properly done, can match the dynamic range of B&W print paper. Ask any pro, in this battle, film has already lost. With the ability to use 44 megapixel backs in the field or to stitch nearly unlimited resolution images from smaller chips, even small 5-mp cameras can produce images that rival large format film in every criteria. Digital prints can be made to match the archival standards of other photographic media so that too is no longer an issue, at least of potential. The only remaining issue is a given photographer's preference for the "look and feel" of one media or another but that is subjective. Quantitative issues have gone away.

But that's not the real issue or question here anyway. B&W film claims to be panchromatic but is not truly sensitive equally to the entire spectrum. Different films have different chromatic sensitivities and spectral responses. The result is that the various films record densities of color subjects in different ways giving each film a unique "look." Printing directly from a color neg using Kodak's Panalure paper works well in the darkroom but the tonalities and contrasts are different than from an original B&W neg on B&W paper. in the computer, simply taking the color file scanned in color from film and dropping the chroma channels or even selecting one of them, does give a B&W (or, more properly, "grayscale") result but, again, it will not display the same tonal relationships as you would get shooting it with B&W film in the first place.

You can, if you understand the spectral issues, use the color channels in Photoshop(tm) to re-create the look of particular films but it is far easier, if that is precisely and specifically the look you want, to shoot on the appropriate B&W film in the first place.

B&W film is also generally of greater dynamic range, resolution, and accutance than Color Negative film so, again, the resulting prints will be different in a noticeable way.

Th basic rule remains unchanged: for the maximum end quality, capture the image on the media that will best result in the desired image characteristics. Anything else is a compromise... and most will look like it.

David


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 8:38:44 AM

 
Nicole Boenig-McGrade   David thank you for the information. How many of us can afford a 44 megapixel back or camera? My main concern is the long term archivability of digital images, especially if one shoots thousands and thousands of images each year. Discs can corrupt for no reason, yes, it is recommended to always have 2 discs (one as a backup), but technology changes so quickly, who's to say we'll be saving on discs in 5-10 years time? Or shooting digitally? Not everyone can afford to upgrade their equipment as quickly as technology changes - to be able to keep all their images in an 'up-to-date' format. I have many questions in this area. I'd appreciate any advice in this area.
The other reason I shoot film is because I don't have the time to fiddle around with Photoshop and much prefer being out there clicking away.
Kind regards,
Nicole


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 8:49:41 AM

 
David King   Nicole, I had just written a detailed answer for you and when I submitted it I was told it was too long but it dumped the message rather than allow me to edit it. I'm not sure I could ever re-create it... what a glitch in the system.

Rather than risk it again, if you'd like to explore some of the issues drop me a line directly and I'll try to answer them.

David


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 10:29:38 AM

 

BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  David,

I was with you all the way, but when you said "With the ability to use 44 megapixel backs in the field or to stitch nearly unlimited resolution images from smaller chips, even small 5-mp cameras can produce images that rival large format film in every criteria." I can't let that go. Fistly, it is true of 44MP backs. But, it is not true of 5MP cameras.

You can create great looking photos from a 5 MP camera that look fantastic using genuine fractuals or other software. But, you cannot say it's the same thing. A 5 MP camera does not rival a 4x5 film format camera by any stretch of the imagination.

It sounds like you know a great deal about photography. But, do you really mean what you said about that?

Jerry


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 12:04:11 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  there isn't a need to upgrade everytime something changes. that's just more of the same paranoia.
discs get old, they say they can rot over time. negatives get old, can dissentergrate over time, get scratched.
There isn't a fool proof way for anything.
If copying a new disc every half decade is something that's a big burden, keeping negatives in top shape for that person probably isn't much easier.
There's not going to be a go to be Friday, wake up Monday moment when a digital camera or disc is going to be unusable.


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 12:16:09 PM

 
Bill C. White   To me, there is a qualitative as well as quantitative difference in B&W photography that affects my decisions. First, qualitatively, there's nothing more exciting than seeing the fine detail in negatives, prints and/or scans of medium or large format film. The technical differences are irrelevant; film simply has more personal input and reward in it than manipulating digital files. Quantitatively, film is simply cheaper in terms of total cost in dollars investment. This is in tradeoff with "costs" in convenience of processing film and prints at home. However, and this relates to my qualitative point, is that film just *feels* more like a craft. This is just my personal, subjective reasons. PhotoShop can be just as rewarding digitally, but it doesn't feel as much a craft as physically working with film. You mileage my vary :)


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 12:56:40 PM

 
David King   Hi Jerry,

Yes I did mean it. However you have to read precisely what I said about the ability to stitch images together to create the 'nearly unlimited resolution'. I have several 12 and 15 frame 'mosaics' shot with a 5 megapixel camera that have fooled several of my staunchest large format colleagues into thinking I had actually shot them with at least 4x5 and maybe larger. The finished files were nearly 300 megapixels (about what you would expect from a 100 megapixel camera) and had to be severly reduced in order to print on a 13" printer. One incredibly ambitions photographer who is online, Mark Lyons, has created a 2-gigapixel file from 96 frames that created a photo shown at the latest PMA convention that was truly mind-blowing. No 8x10 camera in the world world have made that image look as good. I know, I shot with an 8x10 for years both commercially and for fine art images and I teach lighting and commercial photography now as well as digital photography. I've also successfully experimented with some re-scanning techniques that gave me a 500 megabyte file for a poster from a 5 megapixel camera original that was astonishing to look at. It was like looking at an enlargement made from a 2-1/4 camera. The key is in the math which, after all, is what digital files are all about.

Here was my personal bottom line to show I practice what I preach. Remember now that shooting for hire means I take home the difference between what I charge and what it costs. Anything I can do to cut costs (and time which equals money) without sacrificing quality (and thereby lowering revenue or competitiveness) is a good thing. Last year I sold my 4x5 view camera and 8x10 and have yet to miss either one. I've kept a 4x5 press type because I'm designing a digital back for it. I sold all of my 35mm gear, and have kept only the medium format cameras though they has sat gathering dust for almost 2 years.

I'm not saying that to convince anyone else to do the same thing -- I hope they don't. But for me it has freed me from inventory, sped up my turn-around, increased my aethetic options, cut my out-lab costs and I've not regretted a moment of it. I now only do film-based stuff as demos for students at the two colleges I teach for here in southern California or for a client who might, for some unknown reason, demand it. I do still believe that a solid grounding in film makes even better shooters when they migrate to digital since the paradigms are so overlapping so I do insist on teaching it as a foundation.

The technology took us all, even us early converts, by surprise. We used to think it would take 16 megapixels to match output from a 35mm, and given that early technology it was probably true. No more. I can match and slightly better it with 5 and a proper digital lens. The world is marching on...

David
-------------
www.ndavidking.com


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 1:10:30 PM

 
David King   Hi Nicole,

Since it came up again I'll try to answer about longevity and keep it more succinct. There are two sides: the printed image itself and the original media (film or file).

Print longevity was solved a couple of years ago with pigment inks that could give 100 year or more lifespans. The problem was that they were dull compared to dye-based inks which, with the correct paper/ink combinations were good for only about 25 years which is the same as that of a lab-produced 'C' print. (And poorly done ones might last a few weeks!) To be accepted as 'Archival' it needed about a 75 year life-expectancy for continual display and for aesthetic considerations needed to have the potential vibrancy of the dye-based image. The good news is that it turns out to be easier to make a long lasting dye than a vivid pigment and in the last year several printers offer the ink/media combinations that yield vivid 75 year prints. By doing as galleries, major collectors, and museums do and rotating displays back into archival storage, their life spans can be very long indeed.

For B&W images, quad-tone pigment inks give an astonishing dynamic range that is more like platinum than silver gelatin so that issue was also solved long ago in the "old days" of a few years ago. Thinking that film has a greater range than a digital print is misleading because one doesn't display film but a print. That print has a tiny fraction of the dynamic range of the original film which can capture a tiny range from nature. The important thing is that a digital print can display an equal or greater dynamic range, when properly done, as any fiber-based paper currently available int he world. Is film better in that regard? Yes, but it doesn't matter because you can't get that range onto the paper. If you could you wouldn't need the Zone System.

Color negative film is dye based and deteriorates on its own. Proper storage (cool, dry, dark, and free of acidic contaminants) will prolong it. but the same is true of CDs. The Library of Congress has done extensive research on the topic. Bottom line is, as Gregory suggested, a simple 5-6 year replacement coupled with good storage plan solves it all and has the advantage than you can clone the files with no degradation unlike film which suffers from generational loss when you copy it.

David
------------
www.ndavidking.com


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 1:31:01 PM

 

BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  David, you said you were in Southern Cal. I am too. Would you be willing to walk me through a work-flow overview? I'd just love to see how someone does it. Especially if you have anything in high volume, such as a wedding. The wedding business is my biggest profit machine, and high-volume work seems to not be so good for digital, at least from what I've been able to learn. However, I keep hearing about digital photographers who do it. The one's who do say that they spend more time on their computer, but they like the control and the freedom of creativity. I don't have the time to sit behind a computer and edit 800 images twice per week.

So, if you could walk me through your studio, or how you work, I'd offer something for your trouble. I'm not sticking my nose up at digital technology, I just haven't really seen an advantage. It's gotta save me either time or money, and preferrably both.

Thanks,
Jerry


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 1:49:40 PM

 
David King   Jerry,

We're probably getting way off topic here so rather than frustrate or worse, irritate members, give me a direct email. I'd be happy to chat with you.

I live in San Diego, by the way. I do know some completely digital photographers who do weddings. That's not my area of work or expertise but I can perhaps interface with them to answer your questions. Those that I've talked with all felt they had to make the switch or lose competitive standing. I know of (but do not personally know) a photographer here that plants a tech person with a WiFi computer in the center of a church and feeds images to him via two photogs with (I think I recall) D100s and WiFi transmitters. He can show up at the reception and start showing proofs on the spot. Whoa!

Drop me an email. I teach tonight but will get back to you ASAP.

David
-------------
www.ndavidking.com
david@ndavidking.com


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 2:30:06 PM

 
Nicole Boenig-McGrade   Gregory, I understand. But if in another 5 years time I have lets say another 10,000 discs, I certainly would not want to have to reburn all of them to maintain my system.
I also get different stories from different professionals in regards to archivability and quality, that I think there are still too many questions left unanswered.
I shoot in digital, 35mm and medium format. I used to shoot purely on ditial for about a year or so before I realised I was spending too much time on the computer generating the look I wanted that I could easily achieve with my film cameras and by communicating well with my lab.
I am not technically challenged by any means, but maybe there is something I'm missing in Photoshop that can reduce my time on the computer, which is also affecting my eyesight over the past year.

In the meantime I'm much happier to be out photographing families, children, weddings and creating art on film.

This thread is very interesting. Thanks everyone!!! :)


To love this comment, log in above
10/12/2004 6:58:28 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  10,000 discs could be 600,000 negative strips. and I rounded down. so if a person keeps everything, they'll have storage problems no matter what.
How much time is spent on a computer isn't a concrete knock or plus for film or digital. To me it's so relative to how you took the picture.
Even a one roll to 36 picture comparison to the time it would take for me to print the same amount isn't a concrete comparison for me because I wouldn't have to have everything printed necessarily. Getting a roll done is more a comparison to putting pictures in a file, then burning on a cd for me. Going a little extra would be titles and thumbnails, but I'd have my images to see just like pictures. But it's relative to what you do with it.
I know the convenience of putting multiple rolls in a drop box and coming back the next evening, but aren't places already set up to drop off a card and print from there?
The cost argument, well that's still not too much as far as I'm concerned because of computers already being so common. Yes if somebody didn't have a computer they would need one if they wanted a digital camera. But picking up baking as a hobby dosen't usually require somebody to go and a buy a refrigerator and oven first. They already have it, so maybe they just need some different kinds of pans.
Anybody who wants to factor in the computer cost needs to factor in the machine cost for the lab.
As far as digital and big blow ups that look like large format negatives, it's something that can already be done like the David King said. Not necessarily by the same technique that he's talking about. I've brought up before about a show by a guy who shoots for Time or Newsweek who had murals made from digital. He shot raw, had them blown up, and everyone thought it was med format. There was a book that was made as a collectors item about 8 months ago, not something you can buy in a store, that had full page picutres and the pages were six feet tall. Done by film and digital. Canon 35mm was the film camera, canon digital was the digital camera used. Noted for clean sharp images without large format film.
So there is more to digital prints than many people give credit for. Not that there's going to be a printer to make murals available soon at best buy, but really big murals made from med format aren't made at regular labs either.
I don't see anything as not being able to do something, to me it's more of adapting and doing what you want with it.


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 1:45:52 AM

 

BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  This is interesting. I wonder why you couldn't take your digital memory cards to a lab, have them color correct and burn CD's. Then you could use the CD's for uploading for on-line viewing, or for viewing and printing just the ones you want. Or, to give to your clients. Because, this is exactly what I do with film. Very interesting. I think I may have made a leap in my mind about digital work-flow.

Jerry Frazier
Photographer
Frazier Photography


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 6:49:43 AM

 
David King   Jerry, we discussed this off list but it might be good to add here. There are a growing number of labs catering to pros that are doing as you suggest for high end quality, replacing or complementing lab techs with computer techs. Pros learned long ago that money is made at the camera not at the enlarger. Besides, egos aside, trained people who print all day every day are generally better printers than photographers who print occasionally. It's the same on the computer. nothing has changed except the tool. Much hype for articles or workshops is made about it as if it is utterly unique and that is utter nonsense.

I would suggest a safety step however that is unavailable for film. If you have the capability of burning a CD with your computer, rather than give the lab your memory cards, you offload the files into the computer and burn them to CD for a lab and one for yourself as a safety backup. If you are shooting film and you want the best quality you can either have a so-called 'pro' CD made (at extra cost) or, have a normal one, then pick and chose the killer shots and have drum scans made of just those images. They are not cheap but they are significantly better than even good film scanners.

Greg is correct, there is no reason a top quality 6-meg SLR with a proper digital lens (not a film lens) cannot make enlarged images that rival medium format. And the newer 8-meg and more SLRs are even better. That is one reason my 6x6 and 6x7 bodies are gathering dust.

David


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 9:12:57 AM

 
Nicole Boenig-McGrade   When I shoot film (most the time) I always get the lab to scan a pro CD from each neg before choosing prints. Different pro labs scan with varying professional results, so as usual it pays to shop around.


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 9:35:30 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Make it a little more interesting, at least for me, and tell me what's a digital lens need to have that a film lens dosen't that expounds the digital potential better.
I know Olympus designs the lenses for the E1 as they say in their ads as designed for digital. Is this a chromatic abbreation thing that happens with the nikon/canon all lenses fit all cameras situation?
Would a digital lens that had a film camera mount put on it make a film shoot look even better than a film lens?


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 3:19:03 PM

 

BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  Well Gregory, now that you mention it, what is digital flash? I always hear digital shooters say that digital is exactly the same as film as far as exposure, etc. But, then they come out with digital lenses and digital flashes, and I wonder, what's going on???

Jerry Frazier
Photographer
Frazier Photography


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 3:27:06 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Elinchrom has digital flashes and power packs that I took it to mean the power levels, and everything is set and regulated digitally. You put in an exact number. Their older models have a slider you use to adjust power levels. Or like hot shoe flashes, instead of the 1/16 clik, 1/8th clik, 1/4 clik power adjustments.
And also a digital flash allows you to change the power by remote, either direct link or wireless if they make one. Good for having lights mounted to the ceiling in a studio.
And as far as digital lenses, my first thought was it was just made so that it directs all the light to a smaller sensor. I haven't heard anybody say what's unique about them.


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 4:00:53 PM

 
David King   Greg, two interesting questions. It may take two entries to cover them both. Re the digital lens, the problem is in two parts. First, film can accept light from any angle to hit the surface and travel through the medium. But photo sites on a chip sit in wells lower than the surface of the chip. That means that light needs to come at them as straight as possible. Secondly, the circles of confusion on even good film lenses can be larger than the physical size of the photo sites on large capacity chips so they cannot properly focus even if they were aimed correctly. The solution is to create lenses with higher resolution(meaning the circles of confusion are smaller) and with an extra set of lens elements that redirects the light downward, in effect, collimating it better for the sunken photo sites.

That is why in the first experiments it was so frustrating to take a great digital SLR with a great film lens left over from the film body and get images that were soft, often softer than a point and shoot. For example, my Nikon 5700 with its built in digital lens produces a sharper image than my D100 with a high end film lens. However if you put one of Nikon's DX series digital lenses on it the 5700 has no chance.

Let me tackle strobes in the next answer.

David


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 9:54:53 PM

 
David King   Greg, OK, about strobes. A major problem is not related to digital specifically so much as it is the electronic components in a lot of modern cameras including digital bodies. Just as computers with increased power have become more vulnerable to power changes, so the electronics in the cameras have become more sensitive. Each brand and model has its own inherent voltage and an ability to withstand limited spikes in current. A strobe works by putting a current called a "trigger voltage" into the PC connection and when that current is interupted the strobe fires. Nikon swears their cameras will handle 250 volts of trigger voltage which is flat amazing, especially since Canon is clear that the trigger voltage should never exceed 6 volts for their cameras. Others say they can handle 12 volts. The bottom line for safety however, in my opinion, is that voltages greater than 6 volts or even 12 volts for my Nikons risk frying the guts of an expensive camera. Several Nikon reps assure me I am paranoid about their cameras but having seen a camera wiped out I'm taking no chances.

The problem is that some small hand held strobes, especially older ones from the time when it did not matter for a mechanical camera so long as you didn't give the photographer a buzz, put out a lot more than even Nikon's alleged rating of 250 volts. Older Vivtar 283s for example put out that much. The 285s, especially newer ones run around 12 volts which is still more than Canon reps will say is absolutely safe. Many studio strobe power packs, especially older ones, put out 400 volts or more!

The solution is an approved/listed strobe/speedlight with safe voltage or using a buffering device such as Wein's "Safe Synch" adapter that reduces the strobes trigger voltage to 6 volts.

The use of remote triggers or even using the camera's little built-in strobe to fire a slave unit on other, more powerful instrument are all ways to avoid frying your camera. It's not that the extra power may take it out all at once (although a year ago I had a student instantly fry a Canon with a set of Norman studio strobes putting out what later measured at 120 volts) but the repeated hits on the system can weaken it until if finally cries "uncle" and gives up in a puff of smoke. There is a web site that lists trigger voltages for most of the common strobe units on the market.

I used to think the manufacturers recommended their own accessories just as a marketing ploy but it turns out there was a real reason though they didn't bother to explain it.

David


To love this comment, log in above
10/13/2004 10:13:33 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  ahh, I see.
So with the lenses, would a digital lens on a film camera, whether it can fit actually or hypothetically, make film images sharper? Or is it something that's not really a perceptable difference with film?


To love this comment, log in above
10/14/2004 12:05:33 AM

 
David King   Greg I have no idea if, tested on an optical bench and with extreme enlargements, a digital lens might have measurably greater resolution on film but I'd be really surprised if you could see it under nearly any normal situation. Our human eyes probably could not resolve it. We can only resolve about 1/200 of an inch. But the photo sites are incredibly tiny: think of putting over 5 million individual wells on a chip under an inch in diagonal measurement (for a 5-megapizel camera).

The problem is that while film has silver halides all through the thickness of the emulsion and can take any sized circle of confusion coming from any direction, the photo sites on a chip are tiny discrete areas laid out in a pattern. Each site only contains the data from 1/5,000,000th of the chip. Plus, when shooting in color, each site is filtered for a single primary color and then accumulated data is interpolated to populate the pixels with calculated RGB info. It is an amazing algorithm and for it to work well requires that the light striking it come straight at the wells in which the photo sites are located and the circles of confusion of the focussed areas can 'fit' inside the wells. anything else softens the image and starts to display some chromatic aberation as well. (Interestingly, professional video faced and solved this years ago...)

I've shot a film body with the DX lens and it was sharp but at an 11x14 enlargement from 35mm neg was not noticeably sharper than a good quality film lens. The other way around though yields a very noticeable difference. Bottom line: if you want to see what a digital SLR is really capable of, shoot with a digital lens. with film, just be sure it is a good lens.

Of course either has, as does any set of optics, a 'sweet spot' in the aperture range at which it achieves its maximum resolution (not to be confused with Depth of Field).

David


To love this comment, log in above
10/14/2004 8:42:50 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  It'd be cool to see a picture if canon digitaled one of their flourite lenses.
I already really like the sharpness of them with a digital camera.
But anyway, it's been real.


To love this comment, log in above
10/14/2004 2:56:02 PM

 
Pam Maddox
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/7/2004
  I asked this question, and was impressed with how much conversation it encouraged. I was also impressed with the vast amounts of knowledge. as a beginner & like to soak up as much info as possible. thank you for sharing! pam


To love this comment, log in above
10/16/2004 5:56:49 PM

 
David King   Pam, it sounds like we need for you to ask another question... Thanks for this one.

David


To love this comment, log in above
10/17/2004 10:30:43 AM

 
Log in to respond or ask your own question.