I do wonder why I keep coming back to film. Apart from feeding the XPan, where I don’t have a choice, it really doesn’t make much logical sense. It may make emotional sense, which is probably more important in a creative context, but to what degree that emotion is nostalgia is debatable. Up until 2003 I shot exclusively film, apart from photography intended for multimedia and illustration work, which I was a lot more interested in that straight photography up until around the turn of the century. I carried on dabbling a little with Medium Format film for a while, but found it too cumbersome to fit in with my very limited photography time.
There is of course a debate which precedes “Film v. Digital”, and that is “Positive (aka Slide) v. Negative” (not to mention “Glass Plate v. Wax Cylinder” or “Vinyl v. Polyester”). I was firmly in the Positive camp, and indeed when I talk about “coming back to film” I actually mean experimenting with negative film. I’ve used Kodak Portra 400 in the XPan, and under a certain type of light, essentially strong Mediterranean sunlight, it works pretty well. Indeed, it is quite difficult to distinguish from my favourite slide film, Kodak E100G, although the E100G is a little denser. I also find Portra gives a slight reddish hue in mid tones, but that could well be down to scanning. And there lies the main issue with negative film: there are a million interpretations of the negative, and they’re all largely subjective. With positive film, you have a reference - the developed slide itself. There is a certain amount of leeway for altering the look of a positive scan - more so than many give it credit for - but essentially, if you got your exposure right, the main objective of scanning slide film is to get as near a match to the transparency itself on a light table, although nothing quite matches that look.
With all that in mind, I nevertheless took my newly acquired Olympus OM4Ti, loaded with Portra 400, to my reference pre-alpine glacial valley, along with my Olympus EM-5 as benchmark. The results are, well, interesting. Being impatient, I had the film processed at a 1-hour photo lab, which was perhaps not ideal. I also had them do some auto-scan JPGs for me as an index. I then scanned a few frames using Silverfast 8.5 and the Opticfilm 120. Next, I spent a rainy Sunday tuning a film profile for Portra 400. This is actually a thankless task, as it all depends on exposure, lighting, and intent, and getting one fits-all profile just isn’t going to happen. Silverfast’s new Portra 400 NegaFix profile is a good starting point, but my guess is that it assumes nominal exposure, and I’ve followed the current Portra gurus and dialled in +2 stops. Fiddling around with film profiles is far too much like hard work, but I eventually got something I liked. Although once I’d loaded the processed scans into Photoshop, I found them to be too warm in the midtones. Seems most serious Porta users contract out their scanning, but that’s not much to my taste.
The other thing is that my 35mm photography skills are obviously very, very rusty. Being used to Micro Four Thirds focal lengths and depth of fields meant that I got the focus point and aperture completely wrong on the OM4’s 35mm lens. Still, what I’m really interested in here is the colour and to discover if thee is actually any benefit in 35mm negative film. Here is the evidence for the defence:
And here, roughly processed with CaptureOne’s Film Curve tuned for Olympus E-P5, is the evidence for the prosecution:
I guess that if you look just at the general scene rendition, there’s not that much in it. But the film images took more than a few hours and quite a lot of money to get to that point. The digital image took a few seconds and is essentially free.
So why bother with film at all? Good question. At 35mm I’m not sure there’s any point at all, at least for landscape, but at larger film sizes (including 24 x 65mm) the story is a little different. Film cameras are fun to use, of that I am in no doubt. But digital cameras can be ok too. And getting the final result out of film is another matter altogether.
I’m not quite done yet. Film deserves a better chance, with more careful technique and optimisations with filters and stuff. And for some reason, the digital advantage seems lesser in urban settings. Also, the positive v. negative debate remains. Perhaps I should treat the OM4 to one of my few remaining rolls of E100G, or more sensibly, a roll of Provia 100F. And on the other hand, there are clearly scenarios where Portra 400, or perhaps Fuji 400H, makes the XPan a far more flexible tool. But ultimately, what I miss about film is seeing transparencies on a light table. There’s no better way to edit a shoot, in my opinion, and you lose that with negative.
Lasersoft Imaging recently announced the release of Silverfast 8.5 at CeBit, and shortly after it became available for download. This is the most significant update since the complete rewrite which gave us version 8, and it has some interesting sounding enhancements. The first is a much enhanced Job Manager, and the second is the new “HDRi RAW” file format. I’ve been playing around a little with v8.5 Ai Studio, and v8.5 HDR Studio, and here are some very quick, and not terribly deeply researched first impressions.
In the past some new Silverfast features could perhaps be described as over-hyped, or poorly conceived, and on top of that were charged for. But I’m pleased to say that this time around, there seem little grounds for skepticism. First of all, it’s a free upgrade, and secondly, the new features are well designed, well integrated, and genuinely useful.
The Job Manager has gained a great time saving feature inspired by applications such as Aperture or Lightroom: the ability to copy and paste adjustments from one frame to one or more others. In Silverfast it’s called “Extract & Apply”. In Aperture, “Lift & Stamp” - whatever the name, this is really welcome and is especially useful when working on large batches of files in HDR Studio.
Apart from this feature, the Job Manager, which is at the core of Silverfast’s workflow, has had a thorough refresh, and is much nicer to work with now.
The new file format, HDRi RAW, as far as I can tell retains image adjustment settings with the “HDR” file, so that they can be retained between sessions. This is great, but so far I have to confess to being a little confused, as I thought that Silverfast HDR Studio already managed that. Possibly not, maybe it was only the case for saved Job Manager sessions. Anyway, it works, and there is also a right-click method to reset to default within the VLT thumbnail browser.
Also, the VLT itself seems to have had some behind the scenes attention, as it feels significantly faster and responsive. Overall the application appears to have received speed and stability enhancements.
There is another new feature, the forthcoming iOS job monitor app. This seems to be more into the quirky end of Silverfast’s range of features, but I guess it might be entertaining!
In conclusion, this is one of the most comprehensive and well thought out revisions I’ve seen Silverfast receive for quite a while. It’s a good indication of the ongoing commitment of Lasersoft to their customers.
One last thing, though. The original CeBit Press Release also mentioned the re-launch, with software and hardware enhancements, of the Plustek OpticFilm 120. I haven’t seen any follow-up to that…
Well, following my recent despairing musings, I’ve taken words of advice to heart, and decided that the best way to gain some redress from my creative slump is to BUY CAMERAS! Yay! So, rather than embark on some dull as ditchwater Photo-A-Day endeavour like everybody else, I’m going to be totally original and buy and rave about a new camera every week! Nobody has ever thought of that! (er, are you quite sure about that ? - author’s alter ego). By the time I’ve worked out what button to press to active Sweet Puppy Darling Cheesecake Party Light Selfie Mode (no, really, Panasonic *do* have that, I saw it on DPReview), I’ll be using the video mode (whatever the hell that is) to show the unboxing of the next one! And my blog will instantly become as cool as 35MMC! (author’s little voice - in your dreams, and after some extreme outsourced graphic design makeover, matey)
So, drum rolls and whatever, here’s the first in a long, long series (promise), a brand new (almost), totally up to date FULL FRAME DSLR (Dented-SLR): the truly stunning Olympus OM4Ti.
I’ve wanted one of these since, like, forever (I’ve seen cool people use “like, forever” on Facebook, so whatever). But it used to cost about $2000, which was a little on the ascendant side, given that it doesn’t even have Exposure Priority. Or indeed video. Then again since I only ever use Aperture Priority, that’s not a problem. And it cost CHF 89.-, which is slightly more US$ than this time last week (and let’s not even mention €), but still rather a lot less than $2K.
And OMG is it gorgeous. I can’t stop fondling it. The view through the finder makes me babble incoherently (nothing new there), and feathers would kill for its lightness of touch. It makes my Digital Wonderbox E-P5 look a little tragic, really. The handling is just perfect, the multispot mode that I remember Canon copying on the T90, and which I used a lot until it gave me a hernia, is excellent, although overkill for negative film, and the Hilight / Shadow buttons are fantastic for when you can’t remember how exposure compensation works. So, I ran two rolls of slightly expired Ektar 100 through it - I hate Ektar 100, actually, but it’s all I had to hand - and rushed off to the only 1-Hour photo lab left this side of the Alps… and it was bloody closed. So no slightly delayed chimping for me.
…two days later…
Well, getting two rolls of Ektar processed and scanned automatically to CD on a Fuji Frontier 1000 cost me about half the cost of the camera, which gives one pause for thought, but the results are promising. Apart from the shots where I forgot that image stabilisation was invented about 20 years later, and allowing that it is, after all, Ektar, they look pretty good to me. When I get time I’ll do my own scans. I have two Zuiko lenses, a rather crotchety 50mm f/1.4, and a very smooth 85mm f/2.0. Both work far better on the OM4Ti than on digital bodies.
So, these are all basic vanilla lab scans, no tweaking.
Film’s not dead. It’s just resting.
Right, that’s enough of that camera. Bored. Attention span exceeded. Next, please!
In film circles, Kodak Portra 400 is a very popular choice. Actually there’s not all that many alternatives left these days, but even if there were, I suspect Portra 400 would still have a considerable following. Based on the name, I always assumed that the film was designed for portraiture, and as I’m not really into that, I never really tried it. I think I used a few rolls of Portra 800 many years ago to shoot a flamenco show, and that’s about it. But it also has developed a following in landscape circles, where it seems to be the anti-Velvia option.
As a negative film, Portra lends itself very much to broad daylight photography, unlike most slide film, given soft, luminous, pastel tones. I’ve read advice to overexpose it, so I did so, using it in my Xpan with +1 stop exposure compensation. The fun thing about this film is that it seems almost impossible to burn the highlights. On the other hand, the shadow density is a bit weak.
One drawback of negative film is that it can be very trick to scan. However in this case, using the Silverfasrt Portra “NegaFix” profile worked pretty well straight out of the box. As you can in a previous post, the overall colour compared to an E100G slide film shot is pretty close.
Here are a few examples, shot in and around Dorgali and Oristana in wonderful Sardinia:
This was possibly the first time I’ve really set out to mimic a style. It seemed to work out quite well. However, as enjoyable as it was, it’s not really me. I’d just better remember to reset the exposure compensation on the XPan before I go back to slide film!
Continuing the report on my trials with Kodak Provia 400 in Sardinia, I’ve now got the heavyweight stuff processed, i.e the rolls that went through the XPan. Interestingly, without really planning it, I have two shots taken a few minutes apart of the same scene, one on the last frame of a roll of E100G that was in the camera, and one on Portra 400. Both were taken handheld, so the framing is a little different. And the light changed slightly, it was a little sunnier for the top image.
Both were scanned on the Opticfilm 120, using Silverfast. For the Portra, I used the 400NC Negafix profile. Both images are straight scans, no further processing. Can you tell which is which? (Try just looking at the colour, there are a few other giveaways for the more astute viewer…)