Subject: DSLRs or Slide Film or Colour Negative Film? ;o)

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Sharp Shooter, Jun 20, 2005.

  1. What's the real difference between slide film and negative film? And,
    to logically expand the discussion a little further, are there any
    tangible advantages to shooting digital rather than either of the film

    We can easily reach a conclusion at the very beginning! Despite the
    fact that the fruitless but understandable Slide Vs Neg Vs Digital
    Sensor debate occasionally raises its head in photo forums, there is in
    truth no definitive answer that will convince everybody. It's a
    matter of choice with advantages and disadvantages built into all three

    Various terms are used to describe the inherent properties of film. The
    curious amateur photographer will read about exposure latitude, dynamic
    range, tonal range and even scenic range. To simplify this diversity
    you only need to understand that slide film and negative film respond
    differently to the tonal values in the scene you intend to record. Or,
    to put it another way, the range of illumination in the scene, all the
    way from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights, will be
    handled differently depending on the choice of film. A film's ability
    to capture shadow and highlight detail is known as its dynamic range.
    Confusingly, slide film has less tonal range than colour negative film
    but more dynamic range. Colour negative film's propensity to hold
    very good tonal values accounts for its much wider exposure latitude.

    Colour negative film has lower contrast properties than slide film and
    will cope very well with highlight and shadow detail, perhaps up to
    five stops of light: three overexposed and two underexposed. In real
    world amateur photography this means that properly exposed fine-grained
    colour negative film will capture very good shadow detail while also
    retaining subtle tonal gradations in the brighter areas of the scene
    - clouds, for example, or sunlit Caucasian skin tones. So, because
    negative film copes so well with highlights, before you take your shots
    you should try to make sure you've captured as much detail in the
    shadows as possible. Colour negative film, with its fine gradations of
    tone, is ideal for scanning because there's a lot of useful
    information across the range to work with.

    However, when compared to slide film, colour negative film's wide
    exposure latitude usually means the recorded image has less sharpness,
    contrast and saturation - it clearly has less bite! More than that,
    the orange mask built into negative film can present unique problems
    with consumer scanners offsetting its effects with varying degrees of
    success. As a result, getting the best colour balance may occasionally
    take a little effort. In the final analysis, however, scanning
    techniques and image-editing software can inject punch and zest into
    colour negative images and this in turn means more vibrant, appealing

    Positive (slide) film has more lively contrast and vivid colour than
    negative film. It also exhibits smoother tonal blends and remarkably
    fine grain. It's unfortunate then that it struggles to hold detail in
    the highlights, and very dark shadows can be rendered almost black. In
    practice it's all too easy to lose significant highlight tones with
    slide film, so before exposure it's best to give preference to
    brighter parts of the scene, or compensate for the wide range of
    brightness by using graduated filters. The slide photographer can also
    use common image-editing techniques that impressively expand the
    exposure latitude of any scene by combining two or more scanned images.

    Digital sensors share slide film's highlight problems but will get
    more from the shadows. Shadow retention will be particularly good if
    the exposure is routinely pushed just short of blown and unprocessed
    data is captured rather than JPEG. If this isn't possible and the
    subject being photographed allows for it, two or more images can be
    used to substantially expand the range, as mentioned above. Sensor
    pixels, or light receptors, wrestle with bright light because their
    response to it is not gradual. Instead they peak quite quickly, totally
    losing highlight data. Digital camera manufacturers are working on this
    problem but the application of their technological advances has been
    less than ideal. It's certainly an irritating problem that makes some
    digital exposures quite tricky, like shooting slide film, and it's
    likely to be an integral part of DSLR technology for quite some time to

    Regardless of how you capture an image, it's worth remembering that
    tonal information will always be lost in the print. Various techniques
    can be used to expand the information in an image, whether it's on
    film or created in a digital camera. The result should be a print with
    shadow and highlight detail that better reflects the original
    manipulated image. An image that has not been manipulated will produce
    a print with less apparent dynamic range. This underscores how
    important it is to familiarise yourself with image-editing software and
    so make proper use of the digital darkroom. A hi-res JPEG image
    converted to a lossless format for editing has more latitude than you
    might expect and unprocessed data straight from the camera (RAW) will
    allow you even more control when necessary.

    For DSLR/SLR Amateurs & Novices
    Sharp Shooter, Jun 20, 2005
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  2. Sharp Shooter

    Gordon Moat Guest

    The film base is clear, or nearly clear on slide films.
    Don't forget to mention colour rendering.
    Except on scanners biased towards scanning transparency films. The clear
    film base helps here.
    With practice.


    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
    Gordon Moat, Jun 21, 2005
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  3. Hello Gordon

    Thanks for the comments, and I do agree, and I hope you're right about
    2008 because I was hoping to go DSLR full-time in a couple of years
    from now.

    I have amateurs in mind here, in particular, in as much as they can get
    a bit confused by the information overload. To make matters worse I've
    come across a fair bit of misinformation on the Web especially on
    forums and newsgroups, and that just muddies the waters.

    The above, in context and with images, is here:


    Sharp Shooter, Jun 21, 2005
  4. Sharp Shooter

    Gordon Moat Guest

    I have heard that year often enough from industry people to think that is
    a reality. Mostly this is the year when we will see some manufacturers
    with no new film SLRs. I also hear it as the date of full frame 24 mm by
    36 mm at reasonable prices. Gartner Group seem to also push this as a date
    for the industry, though they are mostly biased towards analysing data for
    Consider that over-enthusiasm in some cases, and a lack of comparable gear
    in others. If we checked under a microscope, we might find lots of
    information on film, but then how do we get that to print. A great example
    of this was the introduction of the Nikon D1 in 1999. Several well
    respected writers proclaimed it better than 35 mm film at the time, and
    even a year or two later. What we need to understand is that in 1999
    scanners were expensive, and high end scanning services were not cost
    effective for more casual photographers. The affordable scanners five
    years ago were not that great, so the Nikon D1 was indeed easier to get
    good results. The bias of viewing on a computer monitor also meant that an
    image from a Nikon D1 could look better on a monitor than an image from
    scanned film. Taken in another context, the Kodak DCS cameras five years
    ago were more than twice the cost of a Nikon D1, so I think the enthusiasm
    of that time was genuine, but not due to some great technical superiority
    over existing media.

    Scanners have continued to improve, but so have direct digital SLRs. The
    funny thing is that the usual best of comparison with film and direct
    digital is done with a drum scanner that is no longer made, the Heidelberg
    Tango, which is nearly five years old. The other problem is people trying
    to show comparisons on the internet, since those are only valid for
    comparing on computer monitors. It is not practical nor affordable to
    compare prints, though if what we want from our photography is prints,
    then it is the only truly relevant and valid comparison.

    Printing brings up other issues, and even the best techniques with the
    best of films might only be slightly better in resolution than direct
    digital. So when it is more difficult to get really good results from
    film, or one must rely too much on good labs (outside services, etc.),
    then direct digital and home printing start to look like better choices.
    Convenience will often beat any technical arguments.
    Thought I wrote quite a bit, but that is one lengthy article. Almost
    information overload, especially if geared towards amateurs. I don't
    really agree with you about negative film, but then I do commercial
    photography. There is a scanning and editing advantage to transparency
    films that is an advantage, even if the skills needed to get the results
    is tougher. Most professionals still using film use mostly transparency
    films, and rarely colour negative films.


    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
    <> Articles on the Latest in
    Imaging 2005.
    Gordon Moat, Jun 21, 2005
  5. I'm certainly taking what you have to say on board.

    I've been to your site: "...question what you think you know, and
    discover how technology can help you." I very much like that! As an
    advanced amateur, getting to the digital facts as best I can without
    blowing valuable brain cells, and seeing how those facts can help me
    produce more pleasing prints, is my goal .

    "..we might find lots of information on film, but then how do we get
    that to print?" Yes, here's the crux of it indeed.

    I agree with you that the web page article is tough going. The DSLR
    connection for SLR-based dedicated amateurs leads to a series of
    related issues that has to be dealt with eventually for better prints -
    I have in mind general image-editing, working in layers, merging
    techniques, highlight retention with sensors, expanding the digital
    image's dynamic range to better suit the print, and the options that
    are available for those with lots of film strips/slides who also want
    to continue shooting both colour and black and white film.

    The stuff I have on there exclusively about colour negative film is
    really a more technical aside (footnote) to inject a little balance. I
    believe CNF has a lot more going for it than many realise. As "print
    film" it has suffered the stigma of being associated with life's less
    important prints*, but has lots of potential now with the steady
    advances in 35mm scanning technology for the home user. CNF images that
    have been carefully - lovingly! - scanned and manipulated can deliver
    very impressive prints in a different class from a decade ago. IMO to
    still call it "print film" is something of a disservice.

    * "If you want to take family pictures and get prints, well, negative
    film is the way to go. But for artistic colour work, slide film is
    irreplacable" (from a 1998 forum post).

    Thanks for your knowledgeable input, Gordon - I appreciate it!

    Sharp Shooter, Jun 21, 2005
  6. Sharp Shooter

    Gordon Moat Guest

    Glad to be of help. Feel free to quote from me, or post links to my
    articles. Best of luck in the future.
    Gordon Moat, Jun 22, 2005
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