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Getting the best B&W rendering from digital.

Jack

Sr. Administrator
Staff member
I like the rendering of traditional B&W emulsions. I've tried a few canned C1 styles, a few different PS plug-ins like Nik Silver EFX, but none of them seem "good enough" to me to satisfy -- meaning to get truly to a traditional film rendering. End of day, I have ended up building my own C1 styles and prefer them to anything else I've tried, but they're still not really there. I can get to a pleasing B&W, but I have not successfully rendered the real "feel" of Tri-X in D76 or Acros in Microfine when printed on a #3 paper, or even scanned well and digitally printed. Grain is part of the issue, but not really the main one. For me it's getting the tone curve and whites exactly right -- it seems to be a paper chase with curves and color response that changes between the base digital image, and is definitely camera dependent. What are you using for B&W rendering in digital files, and do you think it truly replicates film?

Edit: And no offense to those that own them, but IMHO NONE of the dedicated mono cam files I've seen get there either. (A shooting buddy bought a Leica Mono to get there and end of day he was dissatisfied as well. He ended up giving up on digital mono, found a bunch of Ilford and Tri-X somewhere so bought an MP and set up a wet darkroom again. I am NOT willing to go that far, and remain hopeful I can ultimately get close enough with digital ;) )
 
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Godfrey

Well-known member
Honestly, I don't care about "replicating film look" at all. I care about whether my B&W photos look the way I want them to, which varies a bit depending upon subject, intent, and specific shooting situation. That "old Tri-X" look, the "Plus-X in Acufine" look, the "HP5 look" ... none of it makes any sense to me at all since very minor variations in developer strength, temperature, and agitation can change any of them in any way you want, once you know how to process B&W film consistently and to whatever 'look' you're comfortable with or want for a special effect.

I calibrate and profile my display to my usual standards (1.8 Gamma, 5600°K white point, 110 Cdm^2 brightness) and use my eyes in Lightroom (Classic now) along with a set of Develop module presets that I've worked up over the past 14 years to provide a starting point, and then I tweak from there until I see what I want on my display screen. Then I print to some chosen paper that I've calibrated and that works the way I expect. Sometimes I print 'test strips' with a range of exposures on a particular photo/paper combination so as to calibrate or fine tune a printing process. I pick the paper that I feel works best for a given type and treatment in rendering for a given photo.

Some of those Develop module presets for a starting point can look pretty pathological because, well, some of the ways my brain translates what I want from looking at a scene with my eyes to a B&W representation are not simple. And cameras, film or digital, rarely see exactly the way my brain sees when it comes to that translation. Their spectral sensitivities are not the same as my eye's or my brain's interpretation of a scene. My job as a photographer and a printer is to understand how my senses differ from the recording equipment, and to know how to punch the data around to match what I want. :)

I'd post a couple of B&W photos to this thread but realized that's a bit useless since you can't see how they look on a print from a display image on the computer/ipad/iphone screen... LOL!

G
 

dj may

Active member
I am not dissatisfied with my digital black and white results. I do more black and white work than color. It is difficult to understand what specifically causes your dissatisfaction.

I use a location in Zurich to test cameras. It is a courtyard of church that is more than 500 years old. There are deep shadows as well as bright daylight. I have done shots with 4x5 film, Leica M246 Monochrom, Leica M240, Leica S006 and Leica S3. The purpose was to compare the digital cameras to the 4x5 benchmark. I have made test prints as well. I have shown the test prints to other photographers, and except for the print surface of Ilford glossy fiber darkroom paper, the prints are equally good. The best of the bunch is Leica S3.

I do not try to create grain in digital; it is a different medium than film. Also, there is hardly any grain visible with 4x5 TMax 100.

I use Lightroom for procressing and do not use any film emulation presets. I also do not add sharpening, since I like the detail with subtle softness that one gets with film.
 

AlanS

Well-known member
I feel your pain Jack! I have all but given up trying to emulate film with digital cameras, I just accept that they are different and get on with it. If you do find a solution I would be very interested to hear it. Good luck (y)
 

dj may

Active member
As a follow-up, here is a screen shot of an image with the curve. You can see that I increase the midtones considerably and do lots of burning and dodging (like in the darkroom).
The screen shot is much more compressed than what I see on the monitor.
Lightroom_screen_capture.jpg
 

Jack

Sr. Administrator
Staff member
It is difficult to understand what specifically causes your dissatisfaction.
Tonal response -- getting a tonal response that truly emulates B&W; really looooong but never blowing out whites -- obviously due mostly to paper base color, but the way they seem to stretch forever without ever having hard edge where they hit paper white, unlike digital. (See the brightest cloud transitions in your image above, screen compression aside, then your foreground snow is only about zone 7 instead of 8 or 9, like your snow up on the ridge.)Then blacks that transition to deep relatively quickly but hold detail and never go muddy. (For example the dark cliff faces in the middle of the screenshot you posted seem to go to full black expanses without detail, seems to go from zone 3 to 0 with no 2 or 1? Perhaps screen compression that isn't in the print?) Midtones that are broad and speak to the colors they're relaying --greens are a good example-- wide range of subtones with greens on B&W film, yet much harder to render that same range of green with digital. Getting that deep yellow filter dark blue sky on film that didn't kill the rest of the tones in the image -- heavy yellow in digital does not render the sky as dark as the filter did, and while red does, it also seems to shrink a lot of other sub-tones that I don't remember the same filters doing with film. Hopefully this is more clear...
* @ DJ: Your image above is a lovely example -- and about as good as I think digital mono gets, so please don't take my comments above as criticisms -- they are not, they are good exemplars of what I am missing in my own digital conversions!

Honestly, I don't care about "replicating film look" at all. I care about whether my B&W photos look the way I want them to, which varies a bit depending upon subject, intent, and specific shooting situation.
and
I feel your pain Jack! I have all but given up trying to emulate film with digital cameras, I just accept that they are different and get on with it.
Good advice right here both of you I think -- thank you for the reality check! I will likely continue my quest, albeit with a different set of viewing glasses on ;)
 
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Jack

Sr. Administrator
Staff member
Some examples:

Scanned Tri-X from 20 years ago -- attention to length of tones even in screen digital version:


Nikon D800e conversion from ~6 years back -- digital length of tones much shorter, espcially in blacks:


Phase IQ180: Note I have some of the same issues in this image that I referenced in yours, though I spent a LOT of time editing to get the whites a little longer and the hold detail a little longer in the blacks. Still very little micro-tonality in the greens:


More pronoiunced issues, similar to your above image, also IQ 180:
 

Godfrey

Well-known member
Hmm. Well, I see others posting example B&W renderings. I guess there's no harm in adding some.

These four were all made this year, with three different cameras. Each of these cameras sees rather differently, I enjoy the game of figuring out how to get what *I* see out of them. :)


The Old House In the Trees - Santa Clara 2020
Hasselblad 907x + XCD 45mm f/4 P
ISO 100 @ f/5 @ 1/160



Cones and Fence - Santa Clara 2020
Light L16
ISO 100 @ f/15 @ 1/470 @ 128mm



Ghost - San Jose 2020
Panasonic GX9 + Olympus Body Cap Lens 15mm f/8
ISO 400 @ f/8 @ 1/800



Leaves - Santa Clara 2020
Hasselblad 907x + XCD 45mm f/4 P
ISO 1600 @ f/5.6 @ 1/100

Essentially, they all represent B&W renderings out of digital exposures that I like. Each has somewhat different aesthetic qualities... ;)

Enjoy!

G
 

Shashin

Well-known member
I guess I would like to see what you think film looks like and how that differs from the digital images you make. Film is obviously not linear, but its spectral response is different also. Have you tried changing curves in each color channel? And if you are also talking about the difference between silver and ink-jet prints, photographic papers also don't have a linear response, which is combined with the film response. But we all see different things is what is "film like." (And personally, I hate TriX, especially developed in D76!)

As far as the grain thing, have you tried shooting at high ISOs to add the grain?
 

Jack

Sr. Administrator
Staff member
@ Godfrey: L O V E "Leaves," it looks like a silver print onscreen -- exquisite mono capture, wonderful tonality and long in the greens!
 

pegelli

Well-known member
I'm with Godfrey on this. I've concluded that film can't emulate digital and digital can't emulate film. They can get close (and everybody has a different opinion how close is close enough) but they're principally different media, so I just try to make B&W images that please me. One day it works better than others, and that's both when shooting film as well as shooting digital. And even with film I don't do darkroom printing anymore, and scanning and further digital processing adds changes that don't fully emulate the wet darkroom either.

So if you want the film and wet darkroom look you're after then my idea is that using film and the wet darkroom is the only option.
 

Jack

Sr. Administrator
Staff member
I guess I would like to see what you think film looks like and how that differs from the digital images you make. Film is obviously not linear, but its spectral response is different also. Have you tried changing curves in each color channel? And if you are also talking about the difference between silver and ink-jet prints, photographic papers also don't have a linear response, which is combined with the film response. But we all see different things is what is "film like." (And personally, I hate TriX, especially developed in D76!)

As far as the grain thing, have you tried shooting at high ISOs to add the grain?
So yes, I have of course experimented long and hard with various curves, both individual RGB channel and luminance. I have found for me and working in C1, that a base RGB 5-point S curve that is shallow, mid-point down about Zone 4 so longer from mid to high, and shorter at the low end, combined with color filtration choices in the B&W panel generate a quite usable single "style" for conversion. This curve does pump Zone 5 values about ⅓ stop -- and most of the time that is agreeable, and of course easily reduced if the image calls for it. My landscape filter pack is basically medium bumps to R and Y, slightly reduced B and C, then neutral G and M. I will adjust the filtration per image as/if needed. Re grain, C1 actually has a respectable film grain tool which I do use sparingly -- FWIW their "Silver rich" and "Tabular" emulations are pretty believable, at least IMHO. The other thing I've found, at least for me, is adding more clarity than I would for color (with care on the structure slider) helps quite a bit, so that is also part of my base B&W style.

But that said and while I obtain pretty darn decent digital results, it just isn't quite the same. So yeah, I think I need to accept --and appreciate-- each for what they are...
 
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JoelM

Member
Speaking as a scientist, no matter how small you make the rectangles under the curve, you'll always leave information behind (As the limit approaches zero. That's why integrals are math's perfect answer.). Will your brain pick up on it, I don't know. It's often a feeling and not easily measurable. Kind of like vinyl records vs digital downloads. This is a question of what you prefer and it isn't obtainable via mono cameras and perhaps not available via digital scanning either. You can't help what you like, but I hope you find a set up that you enjoy.

I don't want to go the wet darkroom route either so I can accept the outcome of my mono camera. I'm actually pleasantly surprised.
Joel
 

Jack

Sr. Administrator
Staff member
Great replies folks. I am coming to the realization (albeit slowly) that it's best if I just accept that they're different and move forward creating the best I can with what I have -- rather than searching out a unicorn...
 

darr

Well-known member
Great replies folks. I am coming to the realization (albeit slowly) that it's best if I just accept that they're different and move forward creating the best I can with what I have -- rather than searching out a unicorn...

I hear you Jack.
They really are different IMHO.

Film has a softer edge to my eyes. Something in the mix that digital does not have. Maybe it starts with the light scattering through the film base.
Digital will cut my eyes if I let it. All good, just slightly different visual responses.

As much trouble as film can be, I choose to shoot b&w film and hand process it at the kitchen sink.
I enjoy film and digital printing, never cared much for darkroom duties.

A great time to wander in photography processes.

Best to you,
Darr
 

Robert Campbell

Active member
Comments to the effect that, "I can't get my digital images to look like analogue (film emulsion) ones" are common enough, expressing frustration.

I don't remember seeing, "I can't get my emulsion images to look like digital ones". No doubt someone will correct me, but still.
 

Tim

Active member
I have noticed this in BW portraits over the years, as you show here. Digital have a pastey flat look.

It seems to me that IF a scanned film image can render close to desired then the digital input of the scanner is able to pick up something that the D800 etc sensor does not natively.
So the issue lies with the response difference between film and a digital sensor. It seems the frequency sensitivity across the band is non linear in digital or at least somewhat different to film.

I can only suggest examining other sensors like Foveon. Maybe it needs individual colour channel tweaking from a stacked sensor to replicate ?

Some examples:

Scanned Tri-X from 20 years ago -- attention to length of tones even in screen digital version:


Nikon D800e conversion from ~6 years back -- digital length of tones much shorter, espcially in blacks:


Phase IQ180: Note I have some of the same issues in this image that I referenced in yours, though I spent a LOT of time editing to get the whites a little longer and the hold detail a little longer in the blacks. Still very little micro-tonality in the greens:


More pronoiunced issues, similar to your above image, also IQ 180:
 

Godfrey

Well-known member
I posted another group of B&W photos on Flickr, these made with the Panasonic GX9 and a Color Skopar 28mm f/3.5. For your enjoyment, and comments always appreciated...

 

tcdeveau

Well-known member
@ Godfrey: L O V E "Leaves," it looks like a silver print onscreen -- exquisite mono capture, wonderful tonality and long in the greens!
Hey Jack,
I know you said in another thread that you were less and less tempted with digital medium format, but since you commented on Godfrey's leaves and this is the home of the inferno after all, the 50mp 44x33mm Sony sensor (in the CFVII of Godfrey's 907x) I feel does great with B&W conversion and a used X1D or GFX50r won't break the bank. Fuji Acros simulation is also fun to play with in the Fuji cams (I've only used it with X cams though). Just saying' :cool:.

It's been a long time since I've played with black and white film, but my personal opinion is each format is what it is. I keep toying with the idea of getting back into film, but each time I think about it, the convenience of digital trumps the developing and scanning process. Some digital developing tools like Nik Silver Efex (if you don't already use it) are nice because they let you see areas of the photo by zone as you work on it (and makes it easy to apply color filters if working with a converted image). I love that IQ180 image of tunnel view btw!
-Todd
 

Tim

Active member
I wonder if bayer sensors with larger pixels render BW more closely to film ?
There is a thread on this site about Medium Format fat pixel backs, so the 22Mpixel Blad backs etc.
They seemed to still command a good price.

Cameras like the Sony A7s (I, II, III) and the Nikon DF at 12Mpixel might be worth examining their images to see if there is anything to see.

https://www.flickr.com/search/?q=nikon df portraits bw

Just a thought.
 
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