5 Reasons to Shoot Film -- Popular Photograghy Article

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Summer Wind, Dec 27, 2006.

  1. Fair comment, but I don't think we particularised how close the
    emulation needed to be - as far as I can see, the current generation of
    digital sensors offer more accurate color rendition compared to film.
    Have you actually examined the huge number of samples of Macbeth
    targets imaged by digital cameras on dpreview, for example, and
    compared them to film renditions? Happy to be proven wrong, but links
    What digital, and what settings?
    I have found the digitals I have used to be pretty good with greens
    generally, although you can run out of gamut and of course the default
    settings on digitals are sometimes "one-hour-lab-6x4" emulations, if
    you get my drift.... Can you post the image/s or a crop thereof,
    including EXIF data?
    Well, you sorta defeated the argument... (O:
    What we are suggesting, I think, is that digital does the best job,
    unless you have a backpack full of different films and are willing to
    swap them in and out of camera. *I* would certainly argue that, and
    I'll leave Scott to make his own comments..
    mark.thomas.7, Jan 10, 2007
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  2. Summer Wind

    Lionel Guest

    Very true. Look at any colour TV in a bar or hotel for more
    retina-burning examples.
    <sarcasm> This /obviously/ couldn't have been due to any lack of
    digital RAW processing expertise on your part...</sarcasm>
    In my experience, I've found it much easier to colour & curve match
    digital photographs to the real scene, compared to film.

    High quality colour matching is is very difficult with *any*
    technology - film or digital. With film, you're mostly hoping that the
    emulsion chemists get it right, because the only other options you
    have are to use filters when shooting, or to scan your film &
    post-process it digitally. With digital, you can screw it up royally
    right in the camera, but - as long as you're shooting RAW, & have done
    your homework - you have a huge amount of scope for correcting your
    shot to match reality. (Or at least 'reality' as it is perceived by
    the photographer doing the corrections.)
    Lionel, Jan 10, 2007
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  3. Summer Wind

    Matthew Winn Guest

    It was a digital compact used in aperture priority mode, with no
    processing other than the lowest compression possible. I admit that
    a DSLR would probably have done better, but the assertion was that
    digital's more accurate reproduction of colours was one of the reasons
    it was so popular, and as most digital users are using compacts it's
    not unreasonable to comment on a compact's capabilities.
    No, I can't. Having a good image on film, I discarded the bad images.
    Perhaps :) The Provia was about as oversaturated as the digital.
    Portra captured the grass accurately but gave a grainier sky.
    Sometimes the only way to see exactly what something looked like
    is to go there.
    I don't think digital necessarily gives a better image, but it makes
    it _easier_ to get more accurate colours. With film you need to try
    out various films to see which one gives the results you want on the
    subjects you shoot under the lighting conditions you prefer. With
    digital you just set the appropriate balance in post-processing.

    The point I was trying to make is that the process of detecting light
    is similar in both digital and film, and in both cases it's radically
    different from the way colour is detected by the eye. Film and digital
    both rely on photons exciting electrons in silver halide and in a
    semiconductor respectively. Both methods of detection have a response
    curve across the spectrum that differs from that of the eye. Then
    there are filters to allow the detection of different colours, but
    once again those filters are limited and don't match the response of
    the eye.

    So why should anyone expect a digital sensor to be inherently more
    accurate than film? With _any_ method of colour photography there will
    always be some colours that look equally bright to the eye but are
    recorded differently.

    I think the main difference is that some films are deliberately
    designed _not_ to match the eye's response in order to bring out some
    aspects of the image. Thus you have some films that are particularly
    good for landscapes, some that are good for portraits, some that are
    fairly neutral, and so on. Digital cameras, on the other hand, have
    to be designed to approximate some sort of average. With no option to
    change the sensor as required, the only alternative would be to have
    distinct ranges of cameras for landscape, portrait, still life and
    architecture, and have the photographer choose which camera to buy
    based on the subjects they shoot the most. For obvious reasons that
    could never work.

    Film gives you the option of biasing your photographs towards certain
    colours but forces you to do it for several frames at a time (apart
    from sheet film). Digital lets you do the same thing on a frame by
    frame basis, but forces you to do it in post-processing after much of
    the chromatic information has been lost. (For this reason I think the
    argument that you can use digital to fake the effect of various films
    in post-processing is wrong. There's not enough information left.)
    Neither way is "better". They're just different approaches to the same
    problem necessitated by different styles of hardware.
    Matthew Winn, Jan 11, 2007
  4. Summer Wind

    Scott W Guest

    With film the photons to get to the last sensitive area, say read, they
    first have to go through the area sensitive to blue and green. This
    makes it much harder to have overlapping sensitivities since each layer
    is absorbing a portion of the spectrum and as such the lower layers
    don't see the full spectrum.

    If you look at the filers on a color CCD you will see a lot of overlap,
    looking at the Sensitivity curves for film you see very little overlap,
    in fact there seem to often be dead areas in the spectrum. The CCD
    filters are independent of each other and as such can be made to much
    better match the human eyes response. The closer the filters and match
    the tristimulus curves the closer of a match to the eye you are going
    to get and most CCD are far closer then film is.

    Scott W, Jan 11, 2007
  5. Summer Wind

    jeremy Guest

    Another "Film vs. Digital" argument, eh?
    jeremy, Jan 11, 2007
  6. I think we are largely in agreement, but there's a couple of issues..!

    Well, yes and no. Digital compacts have very widely varying default
    settings!, and of course, completely unlike film, you can (usually)
    play with things like contrast and saturation before you take the shot.
    There are many compacts that are deliberately setup to give results
    similar to your average one-hour print - ie contrasty and over
    saturated. If the compact is one where it has no saturation control,
    then I don't think it should be included in a comparison against film,
    where of course you *can* (less easily) choose your saturation - by
    choice of film. If it *is* one where you can adjust the saturation, I
    would be very surprised if, when using a sensible saturation/contrast
    setting, you got greens that were so far off. I've not seen this in
    any of the compacts I've used, but admittedly they were mostly not at
    the cheap end. The closest would be the occasional red problem in the
    early Sony's like the F707 (ok, not exactly a compact, but it's a good
    example!) and some of the lower end Canon's.
    Interesting - while Provia does do fairly vibrant greens, I wouldn't
    have thought they would be that far out. You weren't shooting anywhere
    near Chernobyl..? (O;
    I've never liked the Portra's for outdoor work. Portra VC bit me badly
    once under a lightly overcast sky - I'll never quite understand how the
    colors were so.. yeuch! (yes, tried different papers, nothing could
    save those images..!)
    Reality is never what it is cracked up to be, I reckon..

    Yes. And I would argue that if you averaged all the CCD and CMOS
    sensors colour accuracy, and did the same with all films, the
    CCD's/CMOS's would win...

    Agreed. Used to do the first, and now I much prefer the second.

    That I will agree with, but it is a slightly different issue - there
    are a huge number of 'problems' with the eye, countered by an enormous
    amount of incredibly clever brainwork that compensates. Did you know
    for example that your eye is only sharp in a very narrow tunnel a
    couple of degrees wide, and that the brain makes you 'believe' that the
    rest of your field of view is sharp, even though it isn't? (Here's my
    favorite party trick. Stop reading right now, and rivet your eyesight
    on this full stop. Can you read anything more than about five lines
    below this, *without* moving your eye so that it has seen (and your
    brain has recorded) it?)

    All you can do is try to get the best dynamic range (easily
    measurable), and the most accurate colour. Colour accuracy is less
    easy to measure, but still very accurate if you do it right - eg
    Imatest, CIELab - example here:

    Then, that potentially 100,000:1 contrast range scene gets displayed on
    a screen with maybe a 1000:1 range, or on paper at maybe 100:1, with
    varying colour gamut issues ands new colour response curves at every
    step. And your eye has to do what it can with the results.. It's a
    wonder we get as good results as we do!
    I could be the devil's advocate here and say that there is little
    on-going development of new and better films, and the three-ish(?)
    major manufacturers of sensors are all getting better and better at
    their craft, to the point where the results are becoming largely
    indistinguishable - see the Imatests for the major DSLRs if you need
    proof. It is very rare that color accuracy is listed as a problem with
    any of the newer digital cameras.
    But some digital cameras already have a 'Velvia' or 'chrome' mode.. It
    can be done in camera relatively easily, not to mention post-proc. My
    most-used camera has a 'chrome' button which I experimented with out of
    curiosity, and yep, dammit if it didn't look very Velvia-ish! However
    I would *much* prefer to tweak the image in post-proc. Given that to
    emulate most films you don't need huge 'twists' in the color/contrast
    responses, setting up profiles for different films should not be
    impossibly difficult. But I don't really see much demand for it -
    whether that is because we are happy with reality (that's me), or that
    we can do it in post-proc, I wouldn't hazard a guess. There will
    always be those who say 'that isn't even close to
    Velvia/Portra/NPS/Kodachrome, etc' - and depending on the skill of the
    person involved they may well be right!
    I disagree. The information contained in a decent RAW file (or even a
    JPG that is well exposed and not 'blocked' (in colors or brightness))
    generally will have enough headroom for the tweaks required to emulate
    a film - as I said, I'm happy to try to prove that, but there doesn't
    seem to be much interest from the likes of Al or jeremy. I can hear
    the crickets.. Maybe it's because I expect them to put in a bit of
    effort as well, eg to provide examples/descriptions of exactly what
    attributes they want to see..
    mark.thomas.7, Jan 12, 2007
  7. Summer Wind

    Matthew Winn Guest

    I find Portra difficult to scan. It comes out rather flat and needs
    quite a bit of contrast boosting in the midtones. I still haven't
    forgiven Kodak for scrapping Vericolor III, which was a dream for
    photographing people and which both printed beautifully and scanned
    beautifully (though they obviously weren't thinking about scanning
    when they designed it).

    There's a new version of the Portra range just out. Annoyingly, Kodak
    have announced it while still waiting for the old stock to be sold,
    meaning that shops will be full of the original Portra because
    everyone will be waiting for someone else to buy all the old stock
    so they can get the new one.

    It's not the headroom available for tweaking that's the problem. When
    an image is recorded (whether it's film or digital) the entire
    frequency range of the spectrum is reduced to just three numbers, and
    that means that fine differentiation of colours is no longer possible.

    To use an artificial example, suppose you have two objects, one that
    reflects yellow light and one that reflects both red and green light.
    Both will look yellow to the eye. If you view them through a filter
    that blocks green light, however, the difference becomes obvious: the
    former remains yellow but the latter appears red.

    If you photograph these objects, that distinction is lost. The yellow
    light affects the red and green sensitive parts of the camera at the
    same time and results in yellow in the final image. The red and green
    light also affects the red and green sensitive parts of the camera
    (but separately) and results in yellow in the final image.

    But, and this is the critical point, there's now no way to filter the
    image in the way that the original light was filtered. The spectral
    information has been shoehorned into three distinct values and the
    characteristics of the original subject have been lost.

    It's for this reason that I think it's useful to have different types
    of films available. To have the greatest amount of control over the
    image you need to work with the light that travels from the subject to
    the camera. This is also why emulating black and white photography by
    taking colour pictures and then desaturating them never gives quite
    the same result as using black and white film and filters in the first
    place. With film and filters you're manipulating an entire spectrum.
    With a desaturated colour image you're working with a crude three-
    point reconstruction of the spectrum.
    Matthew Winn, Jan 12, 2007
  8. Summer Wind

    Scott W Guest

    I would agree with this. I do note that the sensitivity curves of film
    seem to be missing the overlap areas that digital camera, and the eye,
    tend to have. I would think that you could put a filter in front of
    the lens that would block fairly narrow areas between the peaks of the
    RGB filters and tune the digital to respond much more like a given

    As an example it you go down to the street sign in the comparison here
    you will see that the digital camera pickup well on the light green to
    cyan street sign but in the film version it came out very much darker.
    A band stop filter between green and blue added to the 5D probably
    would have allowed the 5D to match the film capture much more closely.

    Now whether there would be a market from filters of this sort is
    another question, the filters would after all be messing up with the
    accuracy of the color capture after all. An analogy here is that a lot
    of people prefer the sound of tube amplifiers over solid state one,
    liking the bit distortion they get. It would be very easy to produce
    and solid state amplifier that put in the same distortion, but I bet it
    would not sell because the people that like tube amplifiers don't
    just like them for the sound but also like the idea of tube amps. In
    the same way people who "like the look of film" in general don't
    just like the look of film but also like the idea of film.

    Scott W, Jan 12, 2007
  9. Is my prize in the mail, yet??

    John McWilliams, Jan 12, 2007
  10. Summer Wind

    Matthew Winn Guest

    _Some_ films miss the overlap area. Some don't. The most accurate
    colour I've ever seen was from colour negative film and a matched
    colour paper in a wet darkroom.
    You seem to be starting from the assumption that accurate colour
    rendition is always a desirable objective, but the market suggests
    otherwise. Although there are some films that do give accurate colours
    an immense amount of research has gone into creating films that have a
    response that differs from that of the eye. The deep notch in Provia's
    sensitivity at around 490nm isn't an unavoidable defect in the film:
    it's not there in Astia or Velvia, which says to me that it's an
    intentional reduction in blue sensitivity at longer wavelengths. It's
    not that Fuji can't design a film with good sensitivity between green
    and blue, but that they've given the photographer the option of using
    a film that gives a sharper distinction between the colours if that is
    what the photographer wants. If accurate colour was the main objective
    then each manufacturer would produce a single colour film that gave
    the most accurate results. They don't. They produce films that give
    different results because that's what people want.

    Furthermore, if accurate colour is a desirable objective then why do
    so many consumer cameras have functions to boost saturation of some or
    all colours? Why do they have attempts at emulating certain films? Why
    do high street minilabs produce prints with enhanced colours and high
    contrast? Most people don't want accurate reproduction. They want
    their photographs to be better than nature can offer.

    Photography isn't about capturing a precise and accurate rendition of
    reality. It's about creating a beautiful image of the subject, and
    often that requires misrepresenting reality to bring out the most
    important parts of an image. One of the advantages of film is that it
    offers the photographer the ability to match the film to the subject.
    That digital forces the photographer to accept a single response curve
    is a (minor) defect in digital, and I don't buy your argument that
    this is what people desire any more than I'd buy a dedicated film
    user's argument that ISO3200 film is better than digital because
    people want the larger grain and reduced detail of high speed film.
    Matthew Winn, Jan 14, 2007
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