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06-06-2012, 08:25 AM   #1
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Exposure Difference - Digital vs Film

Hi everyone - The conventional wisdom -- from film photography -- is that you should increase exposure for light scenes and decrease exposure for dark scenes as the camera otherwise 'assumes' the photo should balance out to middle grey.

I was wondering if this is *not* necessarily the case for digital/raw. Specifically, when shooting a scene with a lot of whites, it is good to capture all the highlight details. Thus, wouldn't it be better -- unlike film -- to not over-expose but rather shoot for middle grey and then increase the exposure during processing in lightroom, photoshop, etc. This way, the sensor would less likely blow out the details.

The converse would be true for shooting dark scenes to capture the shadow detail.

As a bonus, I would find it more convenient to adjust exposure via software as it is nice to not have to fiddle as much with the camera when out shooting with family, friends and so forth ... a better to do this when have the time to sit at the computer.

I've never seen this discussed, so very curious the thoughts here...

06-06-2012, 08:31 AM   #2
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2 things.
First the meter does not meter for middle grey but for a darker tint of grey, when using 18% grey card you need to open up 1/2 stops.

Sensor is almost an linear device meaning that it capture more details (steps are smaller) the closer it is to clipping the highlights.
So you don't want to decrease the exposure because it would reduce the details and add noise, it's better to expose correctly or expose to the right when you want quality.

ETTR

Last edited by Anvh; 06-06-2012 at 08:41 AM.
06-06-2012, 09:03 AM   #3
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That makes sense ... if I'm understanding correctly, the extra exposure is similar to shooting at a lower ISO ... which is why there was less noise. Thanks for correcting me!
06-06-2012, 09:40 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by stills999 Quote
Hi everyone - The conventional wisdom -- from film photography -- is that you should increase exposure for light scenes and decrease exposure for dark scenes as the camera otherwise 'assumes' the photo should balance out to middle grey.
Slide film or negative?

Sensors act more like slide film. You expose for then highlights. Slide film, like sensors, cannot handle blow highlights.

For negative film (colour or b/w) you expose for the shadows. Negative film can handle blown highlights but go black in shadows. Sensors, especially if shooting RAW, can dig out shadow details much better than negative film.

Negative film has huge latitude and can easily handle 3-5 stops overexposure, but sensors and slide film have much more DR if exposed within 1/2 stop and get those shadows. Digital in particular gets shadow detail. Colour negative film is exemplary ins scenes with no shadows and excess light.

Digital camera matrix meters are much better than any film camera (save a Nikon F6).

06-06-2012, 09:40 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by stills999 Quote
if I'm understanding correctly, the extra exposure is similar to shooting at a lower ISO ... which is why there was less noise.
Nope that isn't the case.

Better explaination.
Expose Right
06-06-2012, 09:47 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by stills999 Quote
Hi everyone - The conventional wisdom -- from film photography -- is that you should increase exposure for light scenes and decrease exposure for dark scenes as the camera otherwise 'assumes' the photo should balance out to middle grey.

I was wondering if this is *not* necessarily the case for digital/raw. Specifically, when shooting a scene with a lot of whites, it is good to capture all the highlight details. Thus, wouldn't it be better -- unlike film -- to not over-expose but rather shoot for middle grey and then increase the exposure during processing in lightroom, photoshop, etc. This way, the sensor would less likely blow out the details.
The "conventional wisdom" with regard to film had nothing to do with blowing out details - it is just to make sure your image ends up looking like you expect. A meter will try to render everything middle-ish (indeed, usually less than 18%, more like 12-13%), so if your scene is lighter than average, you need to brighten the image beyond what the meter suggests in order to get to an image that *looks* brighter. Similarly, you will have to darken the image beyond what the meter suggests to make a dark scene render as truly dark. That remains equally true in digital as in film.

But the specifics of *how* you would want to brighten or darken the scene may differ between film and digital. With film, PP is enough of a pain that you generally want to set the actual exposure for how you want the scene to look, and if the scene clips, so be it, although film is less likely to actually "clip" in the same sense). With digital, it may indeed pay to be a bit more conservative with how much your adjust the actual exposure, in order to avoid clipping, and then finesse it in PP. But you do still want to get as close as you can - to the extent you can accomplish that by slowing the shutter or opening the aperture, as opposed to upping the ISO - as brightening the image in PP *is* like raising ISO as far as noise goes.
06-06-2012, 11:46 AM   #7
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I adjust so that the LCD shows just a bit of blown highlights, just a dot or two in the brightest spot. That means I have all the detail possible within the dynamic range available to me. But my priority is no noise. In PP you can bring things up to recover detail but you will introduce noise. Or you can take things down a bit if it is too bright with the potential for some lost detail. If it is just a few dots in an otherwise white cloud that is fine for me.

If your priority is no blown out spots at all then you need to meter a little differently.

As noted above on digital more information is captured in the lighter zones than in the darker ones so it is better to expose for that when possible.
06-06-2012, 12:20 PM   #8
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Good comments so far. Just a technicality (reasonable with today's cameras) is that the comments relate to measuring reflected light (as through the camera TTL meter) instead of direct or incident light from the source towards the subject. Quite a different process using a hand-held incident meter but should result in the same exposure.
---An observer from the age of non-metered cameras

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