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Thread: Digital and B&W

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    Digital and B&W

    I have been searching (perhaps needlessly) for a route to achieve a TMax 100 film "look" via digital (primarily portrait work). It is not my desire to create a "war" of words on this subject - I simply am trying to find a solution (if it is even possible). I have liquidated all my LF film gear and am EXTREMELY happy and thrilled with color via my Sony a900/135/85 gear.

    BUT, I have yet to discover digital images that mimic the "classic" B&W "look" of film. All the images I have seen on this board (please, I do NOT mean to be mean spirited - I am just trying to find a solution) look like digital that is trying to "look" like film - but failing miserably.

    I am NOT a pro - I just love the "photography process" and the end result. You working professionals are the target group that I am looking to for a viable solution to film (if feasible).

    Perhaps I should just purchase a nice used Hasselblad film body and 80 & 110 lenses reserved strictly for B&W portrait work. However I always enjoyed working with a Fuji GX680III and 110/135 lenses.

    Am I mistaken in thinking that people under 30 years of age, do not KNOW what a what a great B&W film portrait actually "looks like? Perhaps nobody ( under 30) cares anymore.

    Again (professionals), I am not a pro just an amateur that is (perhaps) more critical/knowledgeable than your clients but NOT as knowledgeable as you.

    Thanks!

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    Super Duper
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    I doubt you will find many digital back owners under the age of 30
    I am not a painter, nor an artist. Therefore I can see straight, and that may be my undoing. - Alfred Stieglitz

    Website: http://www.timelessjewishart.com

  3. #3
    Shelby Lewis
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Hey Tex...

    I've never shot film, TBH, but I am over 30, lol. I agree with you though. I've not seen much B/W work in the digital realm that gives the essence of B/W film. There's plenty of beautiful stuff, for sure, but most of it has a "perfectness" and a lack of organic-ness that I see in B/W film. The highlight roll-off and sometimes lack of stark whiteness in the highlights is something that always stands out to me.

    Let me be clear... this isn't a question of "which is better" for me. I love both. I've seen a lot of digital B/W that is fantastic (Jim Collum's betterlight stuff comes to mind), but it is indeed different. I like both, but do wish there was a way I could get the look of B/W film more easily out of my digital stuff.

    I do find personally that I get closer to that "look" when I really dig into a file and dwell on it at length... including dodging and burning and "working over" the file as if I were in the darkroom making prints. I have some 16x20 headshots of my kids on the wall here at the house that, to me, look fairly close to black and white film in tonality. Remembering back to the processing of those file (from a canon rebel xti, lol), I can recall really being picky about the dodging and burning of the highlights, midtones, and shadows.

    Anyway... just some thoughts!

  4. #4
    Optechs Digital
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Hi Tex,

    This may be more than what you have in mind, but take a look at Jim Taskett's great product.

    http://www.bearimages.com/Bear_Image...hromatic+.html

    I thought you would at least be interested to know about it.

    Best,
    Paul

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    It is difficult to get film-like B&W from digital. You can get pretty close with careful processing, but not exact.

    I will go out on a limb and add that for whatever reason, TO MY EYES it seems that Dalsa sensors produce a better B&W conversion than just about anything else out there. The next best for me was M8 without the UVIR filter, then surprisingly conversions from my small sensor cameras! well caveat -- I did get a chance to demo one of Jim's monochrome P45's, and it is impressive for detail and smooth tonality.

    I think the big difference though is halation -- it's just really tough to replicate believably from digital, where film comes by it naturally...

    IMO the least expensive option is going to be any MF film camera and a decent 6x6 scanner. And yes, for portraiture, even I'd probably go Hasselblad for that given it's size, supply of used bits and current bargain prices.
    Jack
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    Senior Member JimCollum's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Quote Originally Posted by Shelby Lewis View Post
    Hey Tex...



    Let me be clear... this isn't a question of "which is better" for me. I love both. I've seen a lot of digital B/W that is fantastic (Jim Collum's betterlight stuff comes to mind), but it is indeed different. I like both, but do wish there was a way I could get the look of B/W film more easily out of my digital stuff.
    Thanks Shelby!
    i shoot a lot of Betterlight.. but i think most of my B/W work was done with the Leaf back (Dalsa sensor).. .the Betterlight tends to be color ... well... my highly desaturated excuse for color...








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    Senior Member emmawest72's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Hi,

    I was raised on film and have spent quite some time trying to get my digi files look like film ( i shot with a fuji s5pro so not even close to medium format digi...). I'm now getting acceptable results , mostly done through Aperture 3 with various methods, but I still find that there is something missing. Though I'm quite happy with the results it still takes quite some time but of course there is the convenience of digital.

    I'm still shooting a lot of film ( tri-x and neopan 400 ) and the results are always spot on. I scan the negs on an Epson v700 and normally just add a s-curve in PS as I tend to scan very flat in order to keep the maximum of details. Add a bit of unsharpen mask and maybe some dodge/burn ( as in the good old darkroom) and voila! You can have a look at my flickr gallery for examples - link under my signature. I have a faw sets which should speed up finding the film shots as well the digi.

    Have a look at Silverefex Pro plugin. It looks quite nice and integrates well with both lightroom and Aperture ( I don't have it but have tested it ).

    Cheers,
    William
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  8. #8
    Shelby Lewis
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    William... you are, indeed, getting really nice results with your processing. The tonality is pretty film-like!

    The more I look at various examples, the more I think some of the difference comes down to the quality of sharpness. We're all sharpness junkies! I've seen some VERY sharp b/w film prints in my time, but they don't (in general) have biting edges that I see in digital. They're more organic. Sharp? Yes. Detailed? Yes. Even scans of film that have then been processed through PS have a digital look to me after they've been treated "digitally" with USM and all.

    Neat discussion!

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    Senior Member emmawest72's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Shelby,

    Thanks.

    I usually put all the sharpening on "0" in Aperture when dealing with the BW conversions ( I would even go minus if I could :-)) as I think this minimizes the digi effect. My film scans only gets a small amount of sharpening which is just to bring back some detail lost in the scan. The sharpening tool can be very dangerous as it tends to render the files/scans " hyper real" when you go too heavy on the sliders.
    William
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    Senior Member emmawest72's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Here's an example of a S5pro /nikkor 50mm 1.8 file converted in Aperture 3 and a bit of PS.

    Hope this helps to show what is possible.

    William
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    Senior Member Graham Mitchell's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Quote Originally Posted by Tex View Post
    I have been searching (perhaps needlessly) for a route to achieve a TMax 100 film "look" via digital (primarily portrait work). It is not my desire to create a "war" of words on this subject - I simply am trying to find a solution (if it is even possible).
    It is possible, though not many people are doing it.

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    Member Seascape's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    While I enjoy doing B&W images with my M8, and the possibilities for doing IR photography on the M8 is very interesting, a basic Blad kit will give exceptional results for not a lot of money.

    It just seems that today with the devaluation of MF film gear, doing quality B&W work is more affordable than ever.

    You have to wonder if all this experimentation and the associated cost of equipment, to find the "digital formula" for film like B&W, is really worth the effort.

    I just love my 6x6 and 4x5 images.....classic prints done the traditional way

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    Re: Digital and B&W

    I try. I have mostly given up though. I will also say that paradoxically it seems a bit easier with small sensor cameras. I think it is the grain. Black and white does not look right without some small texture, even 4x5 black and white.
    Here is one from the GX100:

    This is the real thing:


    Real:


    digital on a 22mp Dalsa sensor:


    6x6 with the same camera (different lens though):


    I definitely think it is possible to get good digital black and white, but for me it is more difficult. I concentrate on color with digital, but I don't let the fact that I can't get it as film-like as possible stop me from a black and what conversion if that is what is best for the image.
    My photos are here: http://www.stuartrichardson.com and more recent work here: http://stuartrichardson.tumblr.com/ Please have a look at my book!
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    Senior Member JimCollum's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    I think sharpening is something that is easily (and over) done. I haven't seen a need for sharpening *any* image from a MF sensor, Leica M8/9 or Betterlight scanning back. Even the slightest and you start getting that digital edge look. My images from a DSLR do need some to compensate for the purposeful blurring that occurs at the sensor level. I've come from 30 plus years of film, so my preference is the not-razor-sharp. People raised on digital images alone may have a different aesthetic based on their experience with a purely digital workflow. One's not better than the other.. just different looks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shelby Lewis View Post
    William... you are, indeed, getting really nice results with your processing. The tonality is pretty film-like!

    The more I look at various examples, the more I think some of the difference comes down to the quality of sharpness. We're all sharpness junkies! I've seen some VERY sharp b/w film prints in my time, but they don't (in general) have biting edges that I see in digital. They're more organic. Sharp? Yes. Detailed? Yes. Even scans of film that have then been processed through PS have a digital look to me after they've been treated "digitally" with USM and all.

    Neat discussion!

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    Super Duper
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Hi Tex,

    First off, the results from the Sony A900 are a bit more difficult to achieve in B&W ... which is something I discussed when I first got into the Sony system. I think it has to do with the mid-tonal response skew of the A900 sensor that delivers that beautiful color rendering and separation right out of the camera that we A900 users all love so much ... but it is a bear getting great B&W from it compared to other cameras such as the Leica M8, or a digital back like the Leaf Aptus 75s that Jim Collum uses. BTW, I have great hopes that the newest MFD camera I just got will advance my digital B&W cause as it seems to have that look and feel ... but all that has yet to be determined.

    As a 40 year veteran of film use, including an elaborate B&W darkroom set-up with modified enlarger and all that, and eventually a top end film scanner (Imacon 949), I can say it is a somewhat fruitless task to fully mimic film's characteristics ... IMO, it comes down to a matter of random grain verses regimented pixels. For me at least it's a task I decided to abandon in favor of exploring digital B&W for its own characteristics. Make it an art of it's own, so to speak. It's a lot less frustrating

    That said, I also think it is very difficult to evaluate B&W digital on the internet. I've found that the whole imaging chain has to be evaluated from capture to print. Most people make the B&W decision after the image has been captured. I often wonder if one thought B&W while capturing how much different one may approach it.

    Love to hear any thoughts on that.

    The other aspect is printing ... right down to the paper. I've fooled many an expert eye when digitally printing on Crane's Museo Silver Rag ... which is so close to the Brilliant double weight silver print paper I favored in darkroom that it's scary.

    -Marc

    Film or digital?
    Last edited by fotografz; 22nd April 2010 at 00:40.

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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Many out there are concluding that Dalsa is more "film" looking (perhaps the "noise" associated with Dalsa) thus giving it a film look. Phase P45+ (Kodak) "looks" very digitally processed - too clean!

    I've shot 20yrs mainly on T-Max and Tri-X and I do miss that "silver" paper w/ film grain'ish" look as demo by "emmawest72"!

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Quote Originally Posted by rhsu View Post
    Many out there are concluding that Dalsa is more "film" looking (perhaps the "noise" associated with Dalsa) thus giving it a film look. Phase P45+ (Kodak) "looks" very digitally processed - too clean!
    I don't think it's noise per se, but rather a smoother transition of color off the Dalsa. It's frustratingly difficult to quantify. I can say that whatever it is, the Kodak does look a bit more "digital" on output -- and not that either of these traits is "bad" or "good," they're just different.
    Jack
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    Super Duper
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Flesher View Post
    I don't think it's noise per se, but rather a smoother transition of color off the Dalsa. It's frustratingly difficult to quantify. I can say that whatever it is, the Kodak does look a bit more "digital" on output -- and not that either of these traits is "bad" or "good," they're just different.
    Not even sure it's a Dalsa/Kodak thing either ... the newer Kodak 40 meg sensor seems to have that more filmic look compared to say a 39 meg single shot Hassey or Phase P45. I haven't seen anything first hand from the 50 sensor yet ... but people have commented on the smoother transition of color with that back also. I agree, it isn't a good/bad thing, just different.

    -Marc

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    I would like to call it more bite to the older Kodak sensors. For some reason although very very good those older sensors have more bite or crunch. Again like Jack and Marc hard to quantify and honestly takes a long time shooting these backs to see and feel some of these subtle traits in them. I'm much more happier with this P40+ back look wise than I was with the P30+ and that is a great back but I seem to have more DR and tonal range as well which leads to less bite. "Bite" is a hard word to describe in this context.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Quote Originally Posted by emmawest72 View Post

    Have a look at Silverefex Pro plugin. It looks quite nice and integrates well with both lightroom and Aperture ( I don't have it but have tested it ).

    Cheers,


    Tex,

    I do have SEfex Pro as a plugin for both LR and CS5 ( CS4 etc. - still 32 bit).

    It allows multiple emusion profiles with the ability to tone and duotone images. You can manipulate curves and grain/hardness and amount to achieve desired degree of effect.

    The following examples are from a variety of digital sources including Leica M8, Phase 20 back on H2, Nikon D3 and your present Sony A900.


    Old Tree:



    Enquiring Cows:



    Old Rail House Porch:



    Tired Rose:



    Rose Bush:



    This last is A900/ZA85 with TMAX 100 preset and curve adjustment in SEfex:



    All from Texas.


    Bob

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    Re: Digital and B&W

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Flesher View Post
    I don't think it's noise per se, but rather a smoother transition of color off the Dalsa. It's frustratingly difficult to quantify. I can say that whatever it is, the Kodak does look a bit more "digital" on output -- and not that either of these traits is "bad" or "good," they're just different.
    Yes... it is not noise as per se (clarification) and the attributes are certainly the distinction between the Kodak and Dalsa which has been carefully discussed elsewhere and in many other tech articles.

    Others used the word "soft" then that denote "unsharp" but certainly is it not unsharp.

    Because of my recent and extensive play with arTec w/ Sinar DB, the bw from the Dalsa is in line with many findings/discussions - film looking.

    Amazing how during film era, we all wanted "grainless" large prints. Then comes digital and we want to put "grain" back into the prints.

    "Grave for things we cannot have and take for granted that we have".

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    Re: Digital and B&W

    I was surprised to see Silver Effects Pro being mentioned so late in this thread. It is a wonderfully flexible and easy to use piece of software. The parameters which can be changed lead to tremendous control enabling the user to tweak to suit their tastes and needs. Saving these as a preset then drastically reduces the effort, adds consistency and makes for a speedy workflow.

    The interface and options it offer is so good that I have switched from using Exposure 2. Other users might disagree. I think both products are available as free limited time trials.

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: Digital and B&W

    I think digital B&W has come a very long way. Programs like SFX Pro and improvements in papers and inks have enabled some beautiful print qualities. However, I think there is a small but definite difference that will always remain between the old film/paper media and digital/ink jet media. That tiny difference, imperceptible to some, seems like a natural distinction resulting from the mechanics of the two approaches to image making.

    I have come to believe that if you really value the B&W film look then you don't have much choice but to shoot film and find your way to a darkroom somehow. Advanced digital techniques can resemble the film look, and even fool most people, but in the end the nuances can't be faked.

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    Re: Digital and B&W

    There seem to be several aspects of the BW digital:film discussion: there is the capture, mostly defined by the sensor, to get the right "essence" (yet to be defined), the processing technique, and finally the rendition in printing.

    For the capture - the sensor, the right light, and of course the lens are the main items. Getting digital to feel like it has the warmth of film is not just as simple as using the film lenses: the whole collection has to be recalibrated to work anew with the sensor (and internal processing of each camera). The M8 seems to fit in this nicely.

    Processing on the desktop is the easiest to manipulate - but is the manipulating to get the warmth of film as portrayed in print or on screen?

    Finally, the print - some of the finer processes (such as piezography) really do make for fine prints - not film, but still excellent and quite good. Alternatively, a friend has worked out some printing with glossy paper, HP printing, and a specific shooting technique to give a film-like look- it has lots of depth and richness, but this is not a softer look, but a harder one. Its film-like, but not how I would see film. So depending on which film look one is looking for, the printing techniques will vary also.

    IMHO, the look of film is found in the intermediate transitions - the highly controlled tonal shifts of the mid greys. So, the highlights can be let go, the digital will always capture the shadows well, but its the tones in the mid-range transitions that are of interest. These are hard to show on screen - but Jim Collum seems to have captured these well.

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