I’ve been feeling stuck on a plateau in my creative work lately. With photography, my initial reaction to this always seems to be to buy an awesome new camera – as if that will solve the issue. This time, after a bit of internal and external discussion, I decided to try out a film that I’ve never used before.
I figured even with the cost being pretty significant ($10 for 36 frames of Velvia 100, plus $30 for E-6 developing and a high-res scan of each roll), it still beats the heck out of paying for the latest greatest full-frame digital camera, which will be out-of-date in a year or two, and probably unsupported by the manufacturer in a few more years.
The first roll is done, the two-shot gallery above has a couple representative samples for you to consider, and I think I learned a few interesting things from the results.
- Slide film has way less dynamic range than the latest digital sensors (or negative film).
- Velvia colors look awesome, but even they need work in post-processing if you don’t get the exposure absolutely perfect.
- Post-processing a well made film scan is in some ways more effective than with RAW files from digital cameras.
- Noise reduction and sharpening work great with Velvia scans (these are from Noritsu generated TIFF files). However, there is not much depth in the shadows and lost highlights are still lost highlights.
- A bit of adjustment makes it possible to match up the contrast and colors with the best digital files I’ve processed for printing (or web display).
- Overall, I can get a very nice full-frame character from analog film frames converted to digital files with no more hands-on work than with digital originals.
It just so happens that I used the same Leica M mount lens for these film shots that I did a while back on my digital camera using an adapter, so I can compare the results to some extent.
The examples below are from the same Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens mounted on an OM-D E-M5. The colors are not that far off from what I got with a Leica M7 mounting the same lens and loading Fujifilm Velvia 100 film.
I posted details about how I generated these pics previously. The most obvious features to my eyes are the depth of the blue and green hues with either analog or digital sensors, and the beautiful texture the out-of-focus areas pick up from this classic CZ lens’ drawing characteristics.
One more thing I tried was black & white conversion from the Velvia scans. A well-known limitation of Velvia is that its color mapping is not very friendly to skin tones.
So, converting to monochrome if you need to fit in a portrait before changing films seems like an important option. I do still miss my Kodachrome!
On the positive side, real film grain still looks better in monochrome photos than digitally synthesized grain. Although I prefer Tri-X scans or darkroom prints, the Velvia grain is nice. The biggest limitation is that you don’t get quite the glowing highlights and rich shadows that a good black & white film will produce if you expose it right.
As far as feasibility of using film on a regular basis goes, I think the biggest limitation is not being able to change film in the middle of a roll.
IQ is fine for the size prints I make, and there are still enough films available to change-up styles and get the results I need. Some companies are even specializing in expanding the range of films available. Here are a few links to new films that seem intriguing:
- Ferrania ScotchChrome color positive
- CINESTILL 800Tungsten Xpro C-41
- Impossible Project Silver Shade large format
Maybe if I had a Hasselblad with a few A12 backs to switch out, I would be even more happy not throwing money into a full-frame or MF digital body?