Wednesday, 7 April 2010

who framed film?

sure digital is now quite good, its perfect for snapshots and has been for years, but why are they killing film? People seem to want it ....

Film seems to have some benefits for people, as while digital is penetrating many markets totally, there remains a number of film users in other areas, some of them even converts from Digital.

Now I know well what the advantages of Digital are, but given all of that I still choose to use film. For some reason the market is either shooting itself in the foot or (apparently) pulling products which are in demand.

Clearly film is a delicate system, requiring proper handling of the negatives in particular. More and more minilabs seem to give me back scratched negatives, or ones with drying marks.

Scanners are disappearing, with Nikon discontinuing the LS-V and then the LS-5000 and perhaps soon the LS-9000 too ... despite there clearly being a market for them (given the complaints I read on back orders not being filled).

What the hell is going on? I thought this was a market economy? Are Nikon torpedoing their excellent range of scanners because they fear it will subtract from their DSLR sales (and they have almost cancelled their Camera range ... but mysteriously not quite).

Sure, a Digital SLR gives us 90% of what we can obtain from a good film scan ... in some ways it offers things film doesn't (HDRI comes to mind) but in other ways it lacks.

I find it interesting that for ages there have been claims trying to substantiate that Digital is better than film while to me now it seems that the ability to match what is in film has only recently been reached (even then only with respect to resolution) ... yet, back on the first shoot out on LL where a D60 was pitted against 6x7 120 film we could read this:
Then in mid-2002 I upgraded to the Canon EOS D60. This cameras clearly surpassed 35mm film quality in every respect and so I retired my film-based Canon EOS 1V.
what a joke ... thousands of readers who never had the chance of owning or using these cameras fell for this and I'm certain it helped the penetration of digital. Without access to the stuff they could only trust this reporting.

It was not until years later that when I owned the 10D myself that I could say clearly that this is not the case.

My G1 Panasonic (which is a 12 megapixel camera) clearly out performs my 10D (which is 6 Megapixels); and as shown below the G1 is nearly dead even with 35mm film on an LS-4000 scanner, so if the G1 betters the 10D how in hell does the 60D better 6x7 film?

Back some time ago I did this comparison between wide angle lenses on my G1 vs 35mm full frame. I was interested to compare bokeh and depth of field, I found that I liked the bokeh of the 21mm better than the 11mm.

35mm film with a 21mm lens overview image:

G1 with 11mm overview image

At that time I used negative film, and in looking around my scans I found something I didn't expect to find ... that the humble 35mm film had as much detail and resolution as the digital ... this is my comparison close up of the images

Even with the mushroom being closer to the camera on the digital image, the film still shows a more detailed rendering of it. Notice the yellow tinge to the edge of the mushroom? Yep ... channel blow outs. Still, looks OK (if you don't know what you're looking at and you're not very discerning).

Having tested my 10D and 20D against 35mm (but using a 2900dpi scanner) I had felt they were close enough to 35mm film to really not make 35mm worth my while using the film anymore. Had I seen this sort of result (obtained with 4000dpi) I would have remained using 35mm for a system camera and "better images" and kept using digital for compact camera snaps only.

Also, at that time I also took some slide film, and recently I sent that slide to a friend with a Hasselblad (Imacon) E-5 scanner. As I took it I realised my shadow was in the foreground, but here is the overview of that image.

and the detail (again at the same 50% zoom as above)

at 6000dpi the Imacon/Hasselblad reveals a little more detail than the 400dpi scans and easily keeps holding together. I am sure it is better than uprezzed images from the 12MP G1.

This is not a unique finding for me as over the years I have found I can get consistently good images from (*even 35mm) negative film, it has only been in recent times (like the since the full frame cameras like the 5D and the current crop of APS or 4/3 cameras) that I can actually match the quality I get from 35mm film (and certainly not 4x5).

For instance looking at this recent test comparing 35mm neg with my G1


you can see that in many ways they are quite neck and neck


The technology clearly exists and has existed for some time for us to be getting good quality images from our film (even and perhaps especially 35mm) but for some reason we get served up junk.

So its really hard to see that this film is as inferior to digital as the LL view on the D60 seems to have shown ... it gets harder to swallow when one considers that my G1 shows so much better than my 10D did and still pulls slightly behind even 35mm film ...

Another knife in the back of film ... I wonder if they paid him silver pieces?

Of course Digital gives us convenience!

but in some other ways, film also gives us convenience. I can keep a camera like an Olympus Trip 35 (which has no battery) in the car and have something always ready to take a picture ... try that with a digital (oh, the battery is dead).

In reality most casual photographers don't even pull the images off the media cards any faster than they'd drop their film at the shop.

So why not start the digital pathway from there? After film capture??

I know quite a many folk don't know the first thing about computers (and more who won't admit that but don't). If a low cost pathway existed to give film users digital images to use we'd all be winners.

Well I know that Noritsu makes a fine system which will give good 6MegaPixel images from 35mm film, right at development time.



which equals what I can get with a Nikon LS-IV @2900dpi, not bad for $5 extra when developing the roll ...

I know that Noritsu make scanners too ... they are hardly compact, but if they're specs are anything to go by (and compared to the above image they would seem to be) they're great stuff.

For instance their HS-1800 model:
  • USB 2.0 operation
  • makes 4492 x 6774 pixel images at the rate of 88 images per hour
  • even seems to handle 645 120 film (but at a lower image density for some reason. Its 4824 x 3533. Perhaps its scanning the width at a different height? If so it should be able to handle 6x9 even)

Perhaps it this was marketed better people might be buying it ... instead one reads of people hoarding old Nikon scanners (often drastically in need of service) as the scanner market vanishes.

There are other makers out there filling niche markets and indeed some minilabs have good systems on them standard ... if only there was some education and knowledge among the labs there would be no reason why film users could not access high quality images at low prices ...

but perhaps that's the problem ... everyone wants to charge more more more?

Film it seems is too cost effective for the low volume market.

There seems to be nothing between the Pacific Film (which strikes me as crap) and Epson flatbeds (which are ok, but ICE is barely functional and resolution is suitable for high quality 8x13 inch and acceptable quality to 20inch wide) and then the Imacon / Hassleblad (for those who are happy with that price) and Drum scanners (dissappearing breed too I notice).

Are labs even helping to kill off film?

I know that I can get better scans from my film at processing time, but its never pressed and I have consistently got rubbish from minilab owners. I'm sure it was a total fluke that I got my great experience from my first go with the Noritsu, I actually had to bargain with the operator to get them to drive their machine right.

Right now I'm about to go and pick up some film from the local developer. I asked for images on a CD ... but they could only give me a lousy 1024x768 ... what a joke.

No wonder people turn away from film.

If I didn't know better I would too

a post scriptum

Lens Bubbles comment got me thinking ... I would like to add that for me too 99% of the time digital is great. I've had A3 prints done from my Coolpix 5000 (which is 5 megapixels) and thought they were fine (heck I know they're fine). I don't really wish to be scanning (and hence I often argue that it would be good if the labs could actually do this properly). Its not that its film, its that it costs to be in the cycle of digital SLR upgrades and without spending thousands the body's are really not significantly better than the film systems were.

I guess that this article needs to be couched in the terms I was thinking of yesterday when I wrote about digital and its effects on the camera market.

As evidence of my belief in digital being 90% enough I'll make available this image taken with my Coolpix 5000 (in raw)

Click to download a full sized image.
Finland sunset 100ISO Coolpix 5000

print it out to A4 or A3 and I'm sure you'll agree that its good enough to hang up there on the wall


Noons said...

I've been ignoring for years now the film information in LL. Will never forget their claim that film was digital because "each grain was a pixel"... :D)

That site is just plain biased and ignorant on film matters, period.

It's obvious Hasselblad is not interested in producing an amateur priced scanner and Nikon doesn't give a hoot anymore unless it can help them flog digital gear.

If only someone could come up with a large sensor scanner - like the el-cheapo models in ebay but capable of at least 12MP with Ice- but with proper film strip advance, film flatness control and a focusing device... I'd buy it in a flash, if it had vuescan support!

Or if Noritsu made available their scanners and their scan software to those amateurs who might want a high quality scanning facility at home. Rather than only bundle it with their entire processors.

Lens Bubbles said...

For 99% of the people, digital is good enough. Good enough is what kills film. Most don't want to do the scanning, they just want to see the pictures after clicking the shutter. Minute details that they don't normally see is irrelavent to them. Sad really. I see a change in image quality in Canon cameras. The 7D/T2i is heading in the direction of high Res/Lower pixel quality.

Charles Maclauchlan said...

Interestingly enough with the release of kodak's Ektar film I find my local Costco store to be about all the lab I need. They develop the roll for $1.54...yup...a buck fifty four. They develop and give me a 6mp scan of each frame for about $5.00. I've spent the time getting to know the technicians and they do good work. Not sure what you have in Finland, or Australia though. Mail charges would probably be high.

Noons said...

Quite worse here. I can get 35mm-36 developed for 7 Pacific Pesos, with a scanned CD for another 8. In all, 15. Which is around 12 of yours.

One of the reasons why I do all my b&w at home and scanning as well: it works out a lot cheaper and I only scan what I think will come out good, to save time.

I'd still kill for a big sensor scanner capable of 12MP equivalent, with d-Ice and good focusing! That'd be a lot faster than the line-by-line scanning of the Nikons...

I'm getting more and more tempted to investigate the use of a slide duplicator and a dslr to "scan" faster!