Saturday, 23 July 2011

digital vs neg: Australian light

Back in Finland I compared my m4/3 camera (Panasonic G1) to 35mm film and found that in situations of higher contrast that negative film captured the scene better and that in situations of lower contrast digital revealed more of the subtle textures.

As Australia has different light to Finland (perhaps more contrasty) I wanted to explore how well my findings held here. It was also an opportunity to compare fuji frontier scans with what I get from my Nikon LS-4000 as I have done previously with Noritsu systems.

As mentioned in a previous article, its amazing how well negative does in coping with contrasty light like this:

Good shadow details, great highlights.


I was impressed how well I could pull images out of RAW files from the GH1, with the right processing tools you can do outstandingly well compared to negative.

Noritsu machines scan better than what you get with Fuji Frontier

Getting a high quality scan out of a Frontier operator is like getting milk from a stone, and you just wouldn't buy a digital camera producing as few a megapixels nor as shitty a quality.


So, getting on with it, I made the comparison using my EF 24 f2.8 lens on the 35mm camera and the 14mm end of the 14-45mm Zoom on the GH1. I was expecting that the 14mm would equate to 28mm on the 35mm frame, but wondered how aspect ratio (width over height) would effect this.

I used Photomatix 4.x (which has a nice little batch processing mode) to process my RAW files to get that little bit more out of the file (for that little less effort). See my posts here and here about that.

As it turns out the 4000dpi scan of the 35mm frame using a 24mm lens produces pixel for pixel sizes which are quite close (but not 100% exact) to the 14mm lens on the 4/3 frame. The angle of view and amount of scene captured varied ... you can see that below where I've overlaid the frames as best I could.

So the 24mm (as expected) reveals a wider frame than does the 14mm on the 4/3. You may notice how well I've matched the colour and contrast between the two VERY DIFFERENT media.

This makes comparisons a bit tricky as at 100% views (pixel peeping) because magnification is different, just as 100% views of a more telephoto image will reveal more detail than a wider angle. Essentially the digital has a slight 'resolution' advantage in this. None the less...

So, lets take a look at a central portion of the image where there is some shadow detail and bright reflective objects in full sunlight.

Firstly, I see that seven though the 35mm image covers a wider capture than the 4/3 does the feature size of things on the scan is actually a little larger than on the 4/3, which is impressive. The dynamic range capture is pretty equal although the digital looks a little punchier which suggests it wouldn't quite be up to the wider range of highlights than the negative is.

Next I notice that there is greater details in the brickwork and lovely smooth texture in the wall of the building on the digital.

This smoothness of texture really shows itself on skies:

The smooth clear blue is perfect and the small clouds are almost lost on the negative. I guess this is where film folk liked Slide. But to me if you're going to swing with blocked up shadows and blown highlights that slide film brings (without a projector) then you just may as well use digital anyway.

The digital from RAW with this processing is impressive stuff and makes me really question where and why I'd use negative ... I'll need to test this again on a 5D and see how that goes. I've read they have less noise in the shadows than the 4/3 does, which would really assist with this sort of processing.

Lastly I thought I'd present a comparison with the out of camera JPG and the RAW processed in the manner I work with.

Look to the left over at the building and see how much better the contrast range is reproduced, check out the shadow details under the trees, and generally just how much punchier it looks. Sure you may not like the saturation, but that can be dialed down easily!

Lastly I'd like to present 2 images take looking into the light:



the sky blowouts are a little offputting on the digital as is the slightly garrish colour which no doubt came from handling highlight recovery of blown channels. Clearly some HDRI or plain old under exposure would help with on the digital, but then the shadows will either be ink or noisy.

So Negative still copes with the really harsh conditions better ... well in my view at least.


The Photomatix processing of RAW files (automated batch) is now giving me in full sunlight the sort of contrast handling that I once reached to negative for, meaning that I'm now more inclined than previously to reach for my 4/3 digital than I am for negatives. There remain some issues which digital needs to be handled with care.

Its not black and white is it :-)


Tim Parkin said...

Thought you'd like to see the neg after I apply my usual post process treatment (Imagenomic noiseware, Photokit sharpener and a little dust and scratches to get rid of some of the sharpening 'jitter')

Tim Parkin said...

I should probably add that I think the neg look has a certain 'three dimensionality' that I particularly like. The digital has a 'lime green' in the grass that I've found difficult to eradicate without affecting other parts of a picture. It's almost as if digital is over egging colour texture (see the trees in the background where they have a pinkiness to them, above the car park for example). It's probably personal taste but the film has just that much more veracity. Digital is doing very well though, especially for a small sensor camera.

Charles Maclauchlan said...

no. it's not B&W. Great side by side comparison. I still shoot quite a bit of film, color negative & BW, but have found that I am less and less inclined to spend the time at the scanner required to get the results I was searching for. Guess old age and laziness take a troll.

Your 4/3 camera is quite impressive. If I ever buy another digital camera I will consider that format.

obakesan said...


Thanks for going to the effort to run that over the file. Did you only run it over the segment that was the film bit or did you also include the component from digital in that image?

I should state that I like film a lot and just wish I could combine its qualities with the ease of digital.

To touch on what Charles has said, I truly wish I could get reliable commercial scans at reasonable prices. I am happy to pay for scans and know that there is gear out there like the Noritsu and the Frontier which can do a better job. Sadly the operators of it just mess up the process and give shite out.

Colour balance from negative is difficult and as you saw I got 3 different versions from JPG RAW and Neg scan. I guess that's one of the other attractions of slide. Under the right lighting you can get the right stuff.

Peraps I should profile my camera :-)

Charles, I'm also in the same boat and unwilling to invest the time required to get it right. Perhaps its more a reflection of the depth of interest I have in my photography over my engagement with being there (at the place) that I'm less willing to spend so much time doing that.

I think the 4/3 camera is a good reflection on that too. Perhaps its not as perfect a capture as other cameras may capture, but its lighter cheaper and easier to use and carry :-)

obakesan said...

PS Tim ... due to Home reno work I *still* don't have a functioning darkroom here in Australia, which leaves me to the mercy of "service providers"

I promise (myself) to take my 4x5 out with me on our next camping trip.

Colin Griffiths said...

I'm impressed by your analytical approach in the search for perfection! After having spent many hours over the last 20 or so years completing many similar experiments, more recently I've adopted a different frame of mind based around when is "good enough sufficiently good enough for my own needs" and I accept that you might require something different. The bottom line is that, whilst I've owned camera kit and used techniques that could arguably produce "better images", I think that I've reached the point where I don't believe that many of my m43 images would have been "better" if I'd used any other kit. So for example, you are right about your comment about the 5D, but my view is that just because with m43 you can't bring out more shadow detail here and there, it doesn't make m43 any less worthy a tool. I don't ever find myself wishing I'd used my 5D MkII instead of my first generation m43 for any of my images, rather that I'm glad that I had a camera in my hand at the time. I am seriously beginning to question why I own a brace of L lenses though I'm not ready to relinquish them ~ yet!

obakesan said...


thanks for your kind words. I think I agree even if not consciously as indeed I do not yet have a 5D nor have I made a serious attempt to er-buy any of the TS-E lenses I gave up on just 5 years ago. The G cameras are indeed so much of the image capture I'd want that I wonder if I would be bothered toting a 5D and stuff around on a trip.

Out of the back of the car I still assemble the 4x5 (on the odd occasion), but for packing work the micro 4/3 are seeming to do it for me. Combined with a bit of stitching and HDRI I seldom feel that even the 4x5 warrants the struggle.

So why is this here? Well part of my writing is to structure my thoughts to myself and the other is to provide the evidence I assemble as a basis for others to examine and see if it fits their observations. So it may be of help to others.

I was a bit stunned soon after getting my ultralight kit when packing in a few lenses (9-18 zoom, FD300 f4, FD50 f1.4 and of course the kit zoom) that my camera bag weighed heavy again.

Finally there is an issue with the 4/3 cameras which I find a niggling hassle, and that is the noise I seem to see in the files when doing tonemapping. I'll try to address that in a blog post soon (if anyone could be bothered reading that one ;-)

Colin Griffiths said...

Well, I for one would read it, I don't do any HDR but that doesn't mean that my mind is closed to new ideas either! I understand perfectly how that writing your blog helps you to rationalize your thoughts.