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09-11-2016, 07:39 AM   #1
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MF film: is there anything it can't do?

I'm starting to exhibit the typical warning signs of "analog obsession," but before I go too far down that path, I'm curious: if you take it as a given that you're giving away some DR over digital, are there any landscape applications that are hard to pull off even with a properly exposed slide/negative? What I'm most concerned with are really dark scenes--such as my "hollers" here in the Southern Appalachia's. From my initial recce on the Web, I see a lot of shots of that nature where the midtones seem blocked-up, but I have no way of knowing if that was operator error or, as is perhaps more likely, a limitation of the output and that the original has a lot more subtlety than can be conveyed at Web-sizes.


Any thoughts appreciated!

09-11-2016, 09:18 AM   #2
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the biggest limitation with any format is experience, all the others are minor.... are you sure your not mistaking analog obsession for curiosity and passion?

what you should worry about is gear acquisition syndrome
09-11-2016, 09:38 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by CreationBear Quote
if you take it as a given that you're giving away some DR over digital, are there any landscape applications that are hard to pull off even with a properly exposed slide/negative?
Well, you pretty much nailed the concern for color slide film and to a lesser extent with color negative film. Current generation digital will provide greater dynamic range, though with somewhat different behavior as the limits are approached. B&W on the other hand still has the tonality and dynamic range edge over digital. The hitch there is that attention must be given to exposure and processing.

Short list of things that are hard to pull off from an exposure point of view (all are a challenge regardless of which medium)
  • Detail at zone XI and above
  • Detail at zone I and II
  • Full detail in a scene spanning zones I through X
  • Color fidelity (digital often fails with saturated red and yellow, film with color temperature mismatch)
  • Subtle tone gradations (digital has trouble in the low value areas simply because the data are discrete, color film has problems due to the nature of the process)
  • Subtlety of tone in harsh light

Added (submitted accidentally before finished):
In the realm of very-difficult-bordering-on-impossible is doing composites with film. There is a time-honored tradition with that kind of work with sandwiched negatives, but getting similar or better results is so much easier with digital. Another area of difficulty is long time exposures. In this realm, film shines, despite loss of reciprocity (response to light is not linear as exposures lengthen). A half-hour night exposure presents no particular difficulty. With digital, the demons of noise are always making life miserable.

Steve

Last edited by stevebrot; 09-11-2016 at 09:49 AM.
09-11-2016, 09:56 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by CreationBear Quote
I see a lot of shots of that nature where the midtones seem blocked-up
Are you describing lack of tonality? Often this is artifact of processing or scanning. The camera or film may be capable of support 14 stops dynamic range, but one's monitor or printing system usually struggles to support 10. The issue is often compounded by doing edits in 8-bit JPEG or when moving from a broad color gamut to sRGB for the Web.


Steve

09-11-2016, 10:21 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ratcheteer Quote
what you should worry about is gear acquisition syndrome

Well said, Ratcheteer! That's the reason for my "look before leaping" process--with portraits, I do think there's really a quantum leap when you go from a DSLR to MF, but since I don't do many of those, it might be a case of a lot of money chasing modest improvements with other genres of photography.


Steve-- thanks so much for the detailed breakdown...I definitely think there's more than is coming through via the Web--I'll have to see more prints firsthand, I guess, before making a decision.
09-11-2016, 10:52 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by CreationBear Quote
I do think there's really a quantum leap when you go from a DSLR to MF,
I am curious. What do you mean by the initials "MF"? Medium format or manual focus?


Steve
09-11-2016, 11:08 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
Medium format

Sorry, squinting acronym: I've been really impressed by the 6x7 portraits I've run across. No doubt a lot of that is selection bias--not the first rodeo, probably, for most of 'togs--but it does look good. (It doesn't hurt that all the models seem at least two standard deviations hotter than those shot in other formats, either...)
09-11-2016, 11:27 AM   #8
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Zone XI? I thought Zone X was supposed to be the whitest white imaginable. How do you go up from there?

09-11-2016, 11:33 AM   #9
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At least as far as still subject matter is concerned, digital has a whole host of advantages within the computer processing realm, like focus stacking and HDR, which while possible to pull off with film also, would be considerably more tedious.

QuoteQuote:
Zone XI? I thought Zone X was supposed to be the whitest white imaginable. How do you go up from there?
But it goes to eleven!
09-11-2016, 11:47 AM - 1 Like   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by pathdoc Quote
Zone XI? I thought Zone X was supposed to be the whitest white imaginable. How do you go up from there?
Film goes to 11
09-11-2016, 12:11 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by CreationBear Quote
are there any landscape applications that are hard to pull off even with a properly exposed slide/negative?
Yes, this kind of extreme in lighting occurs at times in landscape work and can be difficult to compensate for. The use of print film helps but many times there is a need for an ND grad filter to bring the exposure into a realistic exposure range for the film to be able to handle. There is an increased use of Kodak Portra 160 for landscape use, mostly due to its ability to cover more stops than the traditional Velvia 50 which had been the gold standard for the past 25 years. If you are going to delve into MF film, I suggest starting with print film as mentioned above, then if you feel you need more saturation try Ektar 100. With scenes that don't have a lot of latitude, the slide films work well.

Last edited by desertscape; 09-11-2016 at 12:19 PM.
09-11-2016, 12:59 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by desertscape Quote
With scenes that don't have a lot of latitude, the slide films work well.
Thanks for the comments, guys...


Kolor-Pikker--you definitely have a point about the advantages of digital...I'd definitely miss using luminosity masks in my workflow, for instance.


Desertscape--I shot just enough Kodachrome 25 back in the day to make a lot of (expensive) mistakes, but if slide film can sort out the subtleties of a low-contrast scene, I might be brave enough to give it another go. FWIW, I'm also going to have to deal with the aperture issue you mention in some of your lens reviews--closing down to f/32 would make for some really long exposures under the canopy in this part of the world.
09-11-2016, 01:33 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by pathdoc Quote
Zone XI? I thought Zone X was supposed to be the whitest white imaginable. How do you go up from there?
As originally proposed, this was the case. That being said, it is obvious that Zone 0 is absolute, while the scale itself is open-ended from the standpoint of luminance. Ansel Adams used it in that sense. In practical terms, Zone X is the limit in terms of perception (most people can't tell the difference between Zones X and XI) and definitely in terms of display medium.

In practical use, the zones beyond X are useful for scene evaluation, determining exposure, and choice of development process. On of the best examples I have seen is a series of photos in Ansel Adams "The Negative" where he demonstrates use of pyrocatechin to extract detail from a subject (high intensity light bulb and reflector) with average luminance at Zone XIII. (I tried to find the photos online, but with no success.)


Steve
09-11-2016, 03:55 PM   #14
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Hereʻs my two cents:
MF negs excel in DR. Every cinematographer knows this and that is why motion pictures are still, for the most part, shooting film before digitizing for editing and distribution. Slides, however, are problematic and require a lot of bracketing, selective filtration, fill lighting, etc.

Where I have the digital sensor to excel is in high ISO applications. This becomes apparent from astronomy, astrophotographers, sports, and photojournalism.

So Iʻm in the field, I usually have two systems. A Pentax 645 with primes and a 100-400 ISO color neg (or B&W) and a FF DSLR for low or mediocre light situation. In both cases Iʻm shooting primes for speed, compactness, and IQ.
09-11-2016, 05:10 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Alex645 Quote
So Iʻm in the field, I usually have two systems

Thanks, Alex--I like how you roll. FWIW, I've thought about using a GR II as a light meter/bail-out-option, but even my hypothetical backpack is getting pretty heavy at this point.
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