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Kodachrome

in Film , Friday, February 04, 2011

So, has all the fuss about Kodachrome’s final expiration date died down? Excellent, must be time for me to stick my oar in.

I used Kodachrome a lot in The Old Days™. I’ve got stacks of mouldy decaying K25 and K64 slides, shot using either a Canon FT, a Canon FTb, or an Olympus XA3. I used in the Antarctic, because it was what people who understood photography told me to use. I barely knew an exposure from an aperture ring in those days, and the idea that a lens could have a “speed” was totally baffling.  Not much has changed.

But anyway, thanks to the convergence of luck, sheer quantity, and the Shakespearean Monkey Principle, I got a couple of photos that I like.  Here’s two of them, chosen because - with a lot of hindsight - I think they have a certain quality of texture and colour which I’ve been trying to recapture ever since, and which may be credited to Kodachrome.

Damoy biscoe 1

The British Antarctic Survey ship, RRS John Biscoe, in Dorian Bay, December 1987

Curious adelies 1

A couple of Adelie penguins, off Coats Land, December 1991

Both of these slides have of course gone through a scanner and Photoshop, but have been manipulated to match the originals, or at least my interpretation thereof.

It was interesting to read about another photographer’s thoughts about Kodachrome over at my current favourite blog.  Although in general I’ve never been particularly interested in film emulation plug-ins (more about this later), I thought I might try the free demos of two of the most popular to see what they could do. So I downloaded Alien Skin Exposure and DxO Labs Film Pack and applied their respective K64 presets to a shot I took last week on the Plaine Morte glacier here in Switzerland.

K64 comparison

Comparison collage


Dunno about you but I’m sorta like “yeah, whatever” (<- see I can do teen talk too!). The most striking point in my view is that the two renderings are completely different. The Alien Skin version is pretty subtle, but DxO totally changes the white balance. Now, I didn’t apply these to an out of camera file, but to a version exported from Aperture and tuned to my liking. The fact that Alien Skin doesn’t alter it much might (huge stretch here) indicate that I’m subconciously applying a Kodachrome look anyway.

Anyway, neither of them interest me very much, but I will say that the Alien Skin offering seems at a quick glance to be far better. DxO’s user interface is really not very good, the installation is clunky, and it doesnt offer anything like the range of Alien Skin. Actually this ties in with my general feeling about DxO stuff.

Generally I’m a little bit skeptical about some of this film stock talk. The differences between various films (I’m talking slide film here) are often extremely subtle, especially in an outdoors, uncontrolled lighting environment, and in any case, once inserted into a digital workflow, they’re largely irrelevant.  On a lightbox I have a personal, and unconventional, liking for Fuji Velvia 100F, and I’ve used it a lot. But over the years my choice of film has generally been more influenced by ISO rating and the light levels I’m expecting to encounter than anything else.  These days I’ve fixed on using Ektachrome E100G, because it is very neutral, has a wide dynamic range (for slide film) and scans very well.

So yes, I can be nostalgic about Kodachrome too. But I’m not terribly interest in artifical emulations of it.

Posted in category "Film" on Friday, February 04, 2011 at 04:25 PM

Film vs. Digital

in Film , Monday, January 31, 2011

It’s funny that the old film vs. digital arguments seem to be coming around again, maybe prompted by the loss of Kodachrome and the fact that with it we’ve lost a major expressive tool.  The digital protagonists probably thought that they’d nailed film’s coffin shut, but it does seem to displaying some strong undead characteristics.

The interesting thing, based purely on random observation, is that the demographic of the film follower crowd seems to be split into two parts: the older, traditionalist group, and the much younger crowd, who are maybe looking for something more “authentic”.  For example, ex-Flickr community manager Heather Champ shoots exclusively with film.

I’ve got a foot in both camps. I shoot film in my XPan (the only film camera I’ve got now apart from an ailing Ricoh GR1) and the rest is digital. Both mediums have their advantages, and anybody’s preference is going to be dependent on a lot of subjective factors.  However, one characteristic of film, especially slide film, which I think is a big deal (as does Bob Boyer), is that the creativity happens up to the moment you press the shutter, and from then on you’re pretty much fixed. On the other hand, shooting RAW with digital - and honestly from my perspective I can see little point in not shooting RAW - from an exposure point of view essentially comes down to cramming as much information as you can onto the memory card and sorting it all out later.

And this might be the critical point: digital photography requires you to spend more and more time in front of the computer, and opens up far more options than are good for you (here’s some compelling evidence of just how tasteless things can get).  Of course these days slide film goes digital too, but there’s a very critical difference: when I scan slide film, I’m trying to get the most accurate representation I can of the film on the lightbox.  I’m not trying to fix the white balance, or recover highlights or shadows (forget that!). I’m just trying to coax every bit of subtlety of tone, contrast and sharpness I can, while preserving the colours. I already know what I want the image on the screen to look like, because I can just glance over at my lightbox to see it.

For me this is far less tedious than going through a bunch of RAW files and tweaking them - and never really feeling quite sure that I’m doing the “right thing” - for example, I almost always add about 50% definition in Aperture. Why 50% ? I don’t know, just seems that more is too greedy and less is leaving money on the table.

It can take for EVER to scan a couple of rolls of XPan film to 48-bit, 4800dpi “archive masters”, but somehow it’s a good place to be, and every now and again the results just captivate me in a way no digital image of mine ever has.

Posted in category "Film" on Monday, January 31, 2011 at 11:32 AM

I may be some time

in Film , Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Well, I’m off to Svalbard for a few weeks.  I spent ages agonising over what film to take… a totally archaic process, but after being prompted by Tim Parkin, I eventually decided to make a radical (for me) switch and go for Kodak Ektachrome 100G.  Along with a few rolls of Provia 100X for backup. 

films.jpg

All I need now is to find something to point the camera at!

Posted in category "Film" on Wednesday, August 04, 2010 at 01:03 PM

Scanning Ektar 100

in Film , Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Recently Lasersoft added support for Ektar 100 to their NegaFix tool for inverting negative scans. I’d been wanting to try out this film for a while now, and in fact I had a few rolls sitting ready. So I pulled my Ricoh GR-1v out of retirement and tried it out.

I scanned the film in the CanoScan 9000F, using SilverFast AI with SRDi dust and scratch removal activated, and just went for the default settings for Ektar 100.

tunnel.jpg

The shot was quite tricky with mixed lighting, but Silverfast pretty much nailed it. The scan is very close to the 1-hour photolab print. Certainly there’s plenty more that could be done, but I was more interested in where the baseline was. Having tried to scan various other negative films last year, I wasn’t expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The resolution of Ektar 100 is quite astonishing, and if I were to switch to negative film, this would be the one.  However, I’m going to stick with slide film.  It has its own drawbacks, but none of the interpretation issues of negative film, or indeed the lack of immediacy.

Posted in category "Film" on Tuesday, August 03, 2010 at 03:26 PM

A Scanning Workflow with Silverfast

in Film , Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently scanning film.  Strangely, I actually enjoy it. Somehow it gives me greater satisfaction that working with digital files, it feels like a more creative process. And although in the past I haven’t always been fully complimentary about Silverfast, the scanning software I use, I think it’s time to set the record straight. 

The worst thing I can say about Silverfast is that it is sometimes a bit eccentric, and in this I include the software and the company. But frankly a bit of eccentricity isn’t a bad thing at all in my book. Silverfast, the company, as represented through its vast web site and forum moderators, is significantly different from the bland corporate face we see more or less everywhere else these days. Silverfast the product may have some UI issues, but actually they’re not so bad, and finally who cares, when it works so well ? I could think of some other niche applications in the imaging world (hello ImagePrint, hi there ColorEyes) who have far, far worse User Interfaces … albeit often equally good people.

A while back I realized that I had quite a lot of folders on my various hard drives with the word “rescan” in their name. Right now I’m re-evaluating and rescanning my whole catalog of Iceland XPan slides, and although I’m coming up with different interpretations from those I made a few years back, they’re not always better - just different. So the idea of “baking in” corrections seems less attractive than scanning a master file and reprocessing it at leisure, never touching the raw scan data.

I’ve played around with this a bit in the past, using Silverfast Studio AI’s 48bit HDR Color output, and trying to process in Photoshop using a variety of techniques. Well, sometimes it worked, sometimes not so well, whatever I tried. I’m sure it CAN be done in Photoshop - well, almost sure - but I’m equally sure I’d need a level of expertise and fundamental understanding far better than mine, not to mention a lot of spare time.

The alternative, of course, is to use Silverfast HDR, which re-opens and reprocesses HDR scans. I have to admit I haven’t been all that polite about HDR in the past, partly on performance grounds, partly on cost. On the performance side, a bit of RTFM and working with the demo has worked wonders, not to mention the patient and detailed help from the Silverfast team on the user forum. I now fully appreciate how to set it up and how to make it work for me. Spending a few minutes learning how to use the Job Manager was also a bit of an eye opener…

On the cost grounds, I’ve complained that HDR and HDR Studio are little more than a “Re-open” dialog which could be added to Studio, Well, I’m wrong.  Actually, technically I suspect I’m close to right, but from a business perspective I’m wrong.  I guess there could be a case for an extra product in the range which can ONLY do 48 bit HDR Color scans, without all the SE or AI processing features, but I can imagine that would be difficult to justify, and probably would not end up much cheaper.

The basic point is that HDR Studio offers you the option of a more flexible workflow, but part of that flexibility is that you can still process at the scan stage in AI Studio if you wish, or need to. And however many scanners you have, you only need one copy of HDR Studio, which is an important point.

As for the cost… well it’s worth looking out for special offers on the Lasersoft web site.  I have a Canon 9000F flatbed scanner which I’m starting to use for proof sheets, and that came with Silverfast SE bundles.  Lasersoft advertise a 25% discount for upgrades, but, well, the current discounted upgrade price from SE to Archive Suite is worth buying the scanner for! It certainly works out rather more than 25%.

So, I now have what must be close to the ultimate workflow for scanning my XPan film:

1. Low resolution index scan using Silverfast AI Studio on the Canoscan into Expression Media

2. Selection of best frames in Expression Media / Silverfast VLT, and “raw” 48 Bit HDR scan on the Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro, with Scanhancer fitted, and multiexposure enabled.

3. Colour balance a batch in HDR Studio, trying different settings for GANE where needed

4. Batch process using Job Manager

5. Spotting, sharpening and further fine-tuning in Photoshop

A note on Multiexposure: I’ve had mixed results with Multiexposure in the past, in particular with mis-alignment, and I’ve tended to prefer to use 8x Multisampling. However, for whatever reason (software update, luck ?), I’m now having no problems at all with Multiexposure, and I use it in HDR scans as a matter of routine. At worst, it is as good as Multisampling, but usually a bit better in shadow regions, and it is one helluva lot faster. So from being a sceptic, I’m now a full convert. I suspect that it was released a touch too early, and as a result, got some bad press early on, which is a pity.

As the years go by it is becoming harder and harder to find reasonably-priced solutions for scanning film. And yet the signs that film is making a comeback of sorts, or at least that its decline has halted. Lasersoft are doing the community a great service by keeping a whole raft of dedicated film scanners long-since abandoned by their makers (Polaroid, Minolta, and now Nikon) fully usable with modern operating systems and hardware, and I, for one, am happy to support them as a licensed customer.

The only thing is, if they do actually manage to implement HDRi support for Minolta, then I’m going to have to start all over again!

xpan_ticino01_08.jpg

A local cow gives Silverfast HDR a big thumbs up!

 

Posted in category "Film" on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:09 AM

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