Thursday, May 14, 2009

Film, Scans, Digital & DP1

One of the blogs I follow is "In My View" by Chris Eastwood.   Judging from the photos of himself which he publishes, one of Chris' many talents is to actually look younger as time passes...not sure how he does that.  Like me Chris shoots and scans film in many different sizes (including 120 folding cameras)  and uses digital camera (s) as well.  In a recent post he compared various scans of 35mm film to similar images shot digitally.  This caused me to look again at my previous conclusions of scanned (B&W) film and to adjust my projected pixel count of film downward.

I took some scans of Acros B&W film on my Epson V700 scanner.  I had thought I would do some 1mm square scans but it proved too difficult. I was able to make some 5mm x 5mm scans (well 4.96 x 5.03 but close enough).  I scanned at 3200, 4800 & 6400 DPI.  I clearly saw a difference between 3200 and 4800.  Between 4800 and 6400 the differences weren't as easy to see.  I determined that the 6400 scan had a few areas which were better than the 4800.  I'm  not sure what this means as far as actual resolution...4900?...5200??...6300???  Oh well.

The results interpolated onto a full frame of 35mm film are still quite impressive.  At 4800 I estimate slightly more than 30 megapixels, at 6400 it's almost 55 megapixels.  Either way it's a bunch.  Less than I first thought but still a bunch o pixels.

Now.  What does this mean?  I'm not sure but I think it means that film is still viable for me. Film has grain.  Digital, if there's enough light is quite grain and no noise.  (although interestingly there are a lot of grain simulation software titles enjoying brisk sales). Film is in most cases still scanned with a digital chip...much like the chip in a digital camera. Film images are post processed with the same software as digital images and printed exactly the same way...but still...there's something about a film image which I enjoy.  I think what my test does for me is to ensure me that I am getting my fair share of pixels.  That's something.  Or perhaps I'm a Luddite. 

A little over a year ago I was on the verge of selling the last of my film gear. My thought was to buy one of the "Next" wave of digital cameras (like the Nikon D3), then I bought the DP1.  The images I get from this little digital camera are quite startling.  The feeling of these images is remarkably film like.  I think it's the foveon fact I'm sure of it.  As a result I am less than satisfied with my other digital images.  Adding a larger chip, or many more pixels would do nothing at all for me, just make me unsatisfied with a bigger image.  I am however enjoying a renewed sense of satisfaction with my film images.

The DP1's range is a LOT like negative film, not too bad in the shadows and absolutely wonderful in the brightest areas.  Digital does better in the shadows but where digital handles brightness by falling off a cliff, film is much more graceful.  The DP1 while perhaps not as smooth as film still goes a lot farther without displaying the phony colors we've become accustomed to with the bright yellow circle around the sun at sunrise and sunset.

Doing a digital comparison of various camera's capabilities is to me very confusing.  Adding the extra confusion element of film vs digital makes it worse.  Pixels must be "Peeped", uprezed or downrezed...perhaps side to side rezed is better???  It's fun for a while though so many of us do it or read with interest the results of others.

Film has grain, or grain like elements.  These become increasingly noticed as scans are larger.  This makes the film images look less sharp, less clean, less usable.  Digital images have software manufactured picture elements.  Digital cameras actually have no pixels at all (well most of them don't) but rather have a bunch of sites sensitive to greys.  The rest is done with increasingly sophisticated software.  The same types of software are used to upsize images...essentially making it up as they go...making something out of nothing.  The results though are great, and getting better.  Causes me to wonder though if cameras have a future at all in digital "Photography."

Perhaps my enjoyment of film is a lot like eating sushi or Chinese food with chopsticks vs a fork.  I know in my mind that chopsticks don't make the food taste better but...!


1 comment:

obakesan said...

gosh ... my name mentioned ... Perhaps Warhol was right! Anyway, Charles likes his DP1 (and I might too if I committed the money there instead of elsewhere) as he's getting 'film like' characteristics from it. I kind of like my ancient Coolpix 5000 for the same reasons. Looks great at 8x10 prints when photographing with RAW and confining yourself to 100ISO. I really like cameras to be compact these days so big mamoths like a 1Ds or such (with their attendant big lenses) don't appeal to me for "walk around" or travel cameras. I was laughing at one fellow in India on my holiday recently who had an Indian fellow following with a backpack full of lenses.

I guess that as Charles likes his DP1 he too likes compact cameras that make good images.

I've been finding that there is an interesting 'observation' or 'trend' emerging, it goes like this:

lenses around 35mm to 100mm focal lengths are simple and cheap to make. They seem to perform optically well and be inexpensive. Now as the size of your sensor (what you expose be it film or sensor) goes up the effect of that focal range changes.

For example a FD 50mm lens (cheap as chips) is a mild telephoto on my G1 but a normal lens on a 35mm camera. A 90mm lens is a telephoto on my 35mm camera but a wide angle on my 4x5.

To get a wide view on my G1 (which is a 4/3rds sensor) means I need a 10mm lens or shorter (I don't find a 28mm angle of view quite wide enough) which is an expensive and exotic optic for such a thing. Yet my Fujinon 90mm is a cheap optic (especially used).

So I'm now inclined to consider that as I photograph more wide I want a larger capture area and as I photograph more towards normal or telephoto that small sensors like APS-C or 4/3rds is a good compromise in size.

a 21mm lens is a nice width (in 35mm) and an OM1 and that lens will set you back only a little. You can then use that same lens on a camera such as the G1 and get a fine 'standard lens' as a bonus.

If you don't have camera diarrhea then scanning the few images you get with that camera will be fine. You'll also get images which will rival what you can get with a 5D at all but the largest enlargements for a fraction of the price. If that's not enough, go grab a Fuji GSW690 and get even better!

So I feel that there is still room for film and digital as the are filling different niches both "horizontally" and "vertically"

Naturally if you are a pro shooter with no bottom to your budget the none of this applies, go grab a 1Ds III or a 3DX Nikon or even a new Blad system with a 49mpix back.