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12-12-2011, 04:19 AM   #1
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How to get best digital performance from 35mm film

Hi everyone,

I love shooting with my Pentax SV, and I am wondering how much one can get out of 35mm film in terms of resolution. Since there was nothing superior to the Fuji Superia in stock, I shot my first few rolls of film with Fuji Superia 200. Colours are nice if perhaps a little oversaturated and resolution is often surprisingly good, but the 19MP scans produced by the lab (using a Fuji SP-3000, which seems to be an expensive scanner) do show quite significant colour noise/grain, especially in the shadow areas. Often, details seem to be there, but have a kind of patchy quality which I hope you can see in the example. On the whole, I am happier reducing the image resolution to about 5-6MP.

I can live with this, but I wonder: How much have you been able to get out of 35mm film? Is the primary limitation in my case the consumer film Fuji Superia 200, and will my recently bought Ektar 100 improve the usable resolution (hopefully not at the cost of colour...)? Or are 19MP only realistic with medium format?

Here's an example (taken with Pentax SV, Super-Takumar 55/1.8, Superia 200):

Original image (with approximate crop rectangle):



Crop (19MP, 100%):



100% Crop, 5MP version:


Thanks in advance!

Best regards,
Martin

12-12-2011, 04:42 AM   #2
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The rule of the thumb was that 11X14 was the largest you can print more or less depending on your skill as a printer, the type of film used and the lenses/camera technique. That grain you are seeing is a combination of the film dye clouds and the sensor in the scanner. Personally I consider 6Mp to be the best resolution you can get from 35mm colour negative films, if you scan any higher than that all you get is more grain and less information. Transparency films are capable of being scanned at around 8~10mp resolution, and low ISO B&W films can be scanned even higher than that.
12-12-2011, 04:58 AM   #3
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Hi Martin, as you already figured out, typical 35mm film resolution is around 6-8 MP. I am sure you can push it higher by using better film, perfect exposure and fresh chemicals, but for everyday photography thatís a good approximation.

My Minolta Dimage IV scanner generates 13 MP scans and I can definitely see grain and artifacts from Kodachrome 64 slides. It helps though to manually focus on the slide and tweak the parameters before scanning.

Try another lab and see what results youíll get back. Also do they generate JPG or TIF files? Obviously you want to get an uncompressed format preferably in 16-bit per primary.

Good luck,

Demetri
12-12-2011, 05:35 AM   #4
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Depending on equipment, film, technique and scene, I can usually make 20" X 30" prints with 35mm scanned on my Coolscan 5000/9000.

I agree with Demetri that Kodachrome 64 is special. Here is an example of a full res 4000dpi scan of it albeit grossly compressed down to about 1.5Meg file. Enlarge and you can see that the odometer shows 00227. Even though the 7 didn't go all the way up yet, it is easy to see the difference between it and the number 2.



Link to full res version -> http://www.fototime.com/79478F7795872CC/orig.jpg

12-12-2011, 05:45 AM   #5
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Sorry but it seems I never shot any Superia 200 so I don't have one of those to share. Here is a grab shot using Fuji Reala. You can read the word "Lucky" on her glasses.



Link to full res version -> http://www.fototime.com/28B4032CA3AA071/orig.jpg
12-12-2011, 06:04 AM   #6
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Kodak Ektar is my favorite ISO 100 C41 film.



Link to full res version -> http://www.fototime.com/EEA4F124C726025/orig.jpg
12-12-2011, 06:08 AM   #7
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If one frame isn't good enough, you can stitch four frames of Kodak Ektar. Just like digis . . .



The full res is huge so I had to resize way down. Fully automatic stitch job using the free Microsoft ICE application.
Link to larger version -> http://www.fototime.com/AF9F7B335AA39A5/orig.jpg
12-12-2011, 06:44 AM   #8
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Thank you very much for all your great answers!

@LesDMess: Thanks for providing the excellent full resolution shots. It seems to me that in terms of absolute resolution, they are not markedly different from my scans (which also offer some astonishing detail like the writing on the glasses sometimes) but they are miles better in terms of grain! I'm looking forward to trying Ektar.
@demp10: Looks like my lab may not be ideal. I get JPEGs, though I'll ask whether they can provide something more suitable for post processing.

I am wondering now, thanks to your answers, how much of the noise I am seeing is due to the film itself and how much is due to the scanner's sensor. I read somewhere that Minilabs (and this scanner is part of a Fuji Minilab) tend to be optimised for speed, not quality, and thus can be quite noisy. Also, they have a tendency to oversharpen, apparently.

Is there an easy way to distinguish film dye grain from scanner noise? Here, for instance, is a particularly noisy crop (100%, full 19MP):

Would you say this noise is mainly due to the film or to the scanner, or is there no way of telling?

Thank you very much!

Best regards,
Martin

12-12-2011, 06:49 AM   #9
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It does take work to find the combination of film, processing and scanning that give the results you want. The Fuji consumer films are handy, and tolerate multiple light sources well. I use them frequently for testing camera repairs. Ektar gives more pop and contrast with fine grain. It's nice for low-contrast lighting. I've largely switched over to Portra 160 for critical use, and am still evaluating scanning by OC Camera (CA) and Precision camera (TX) to decide which to use.
I do scan some myself, and can get better results than 1-hr shops - but results from "pro" labs are another level.
The limitations of film depend on your criteria. Kodak used to display wall sized (18 ft+) murals from Kodachrome 25, and we thought they were great. Now we are so used digital smoothness that visible grain bothers us.
Erwin Puts shows a comparison between a Leica M9 18MP sensor and a slow, high resolution B&W film with the same lens in a film body. The film clearly out-resolves the 18MP sensor.
12-12-2011, 05:50 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by LesDMess Quote
Depending on equipment, film, technique and scene, I can usually make 20" X 30" prints with 35mm scanned on my Coolscan 5000/9000.

I agree with Demetri that Kodachrome 64 is special. Here is an example of a full res 4000dpi scan of it albeit grossly compressed down to about 1.5Meg file. Enlarge and you can see that the odometer shows 00227. Even though the 7 didn't go all the way up yet, it is easy to see the difference between it and the number 2.



Link to full res version -> http://www.fototime.com/79478F7795872CC/orig.jpg
Yep I have a print of a Kodachrome 64 slide that is 24” x 36”. The difference back when I got this done (1976) was that the labs used to do inter-negatives of the 35mm slides and print from that. (The inter-negatives where slightly larger than a MF 6x7.)

Phil
12-12-2011, 06:41 PM   #11
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Martin, It seems we skipped one main consideration and that is how you are evaluating these - on-screen or print? Personally, I have evaluated 20" X 30" prints on various media and I can tell you that even with super glossy paper - highest resolving media, you will need a loupe on paper to possibly see blemish obvious when grossly magnifying on-screen.

As for your observation about over processing, it looks like over sharpening and possibly even jpeg compression artifacting. Underexposed areas being "leveled" may also exhibit more noise.

But I can't emphasize enough that you have to evaluate for the intended use - print or screen.

I have recently shot a few of the new Kodak formulations too - Kodak Portra 160 and Kodak Portra 400. Very good super wide latitude color films with more then acceptable grain even for very large prints. Very large expanses of blue sky really amplifies any perceived grain so I picked these two scenes in particular. Needless to say I can't seem to travel anywhere without my Takumar fisheye!



Link to full res version -> http://www.fototime.com/F5B749941344EA4/orig.jpg



Link to full res version -> http://www.fototime.com/0C47DFA07C701DB/orig.jpg

BTW, these are all straight up neutral scans with all color controls off with no pre or post adjustment of any kind. Only post processing used is crop, orientation and copyright. No levels or sharpening with massive compression!
12-12-2011, 11:54 PM - 1 Like   #12
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Best performance from a 35mm negative is topic with a long history that predates digital by several decades. The highest resolution films (e.g. Kodak Technical Pan...RIP) are/were capable of out-resolving the best lenses and could support prints to 16"x20" or even a bit larger. Much depends on viewing distance, equipment, and technique. I have 11"x14" optical prints made from Panatomic-X negatives that will stand up to close examination with a loupe.

How that translates to megapixels is another question entirely, particularly if you are talking about using high resolution digital printing as the output medium. The rule of thumb I have used is a working print resolution of 300 dpi. A 10 megapixel image from my K10D can be printed to 8.6"x12.9" as a straight print. Moving up to 15 megapixel will give you about 12"x18".

A full frame scan of a 35mm negative will yield a scan 5669x3780 pixels at 4000 dpi (my Nikon 5000 ED) and should be good for 12.6"x18.9", a figure that is about the same as what one could expect for a good optical print from the same negative or a 15 megapixel digital capture. So far, so good.

Strangely enough, though, the results are not 100% comparable. All pixels are not created equal and a scan is not strictly equivalent to optical projection from the same negative or slide. What I always tell people is that a digitized image from film is a reasonable rendering and a good option for presentation on its own strengths. Ditto for optical enlargement with wet processing.

I personally prefer a traditional print, but practical considerations weigh heavy and to be honest, I have not made a wet print since I got my digital equipment.

So...back to the OPs question...How to get the best digital performance from 35mm film?
  • Good lenses
  • Good technique
  • Good film
  • Pro lab for processing (not expensive...truly!)
  • Best scanning you can afford
  • Best printing you can afford (if you want prints)
  • Best technique for the two items above
For the last three items, the drug store or other mini-lab will not do. Even their high-resolution scans are a far cry from the real thing. I used to have my processing and scans done at Costco. It was inexpensive, but I finally figured out that the scans were junk and were filled with artifact. At that point, I bit the bullet and bought the Nikon. To put it bluntly...
There is no comparison...
Repeat 20x and there is still inadequate emphasis. The detail and tonal range that can be extracted with a quality scanner rivals what can be done in a traditional optical darkroom. Truly. If you want Figital Nirvana, you pretty much have to do your own scans on equipment that is up to the job. That means a real world resolution of 2400 dpi at minimum (Epson V700/750, for example). Moving up to a Nikon or Minolta DiMage is better with recent offerings from Plustek and Pacific Image filling out the middle ground. (Check out the Pacific Image as a good option for 120.) There are also expensive options from Hasselblad.

If I get a chance, I can provide some real world 100% crops of Kodachrome, Ektar 100, Panatomix-X, and T-Max 100 that can give an idea of what can be done. Right now, it is time for bed.


Steve
12-14-2011, 03:19 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
...you pretty much have to do your own scans on equipment that is up to the job. That means a real world resolution of 2400 dpi at minimum (Epson V700/750, for example)...Steve
Can I jump in with a dumb question? "Real world resolution"? Does this just mean setting your scanner at 2400 dpi, or something more?
I am also using Superia as the OP did, & have the Epson V700. Am currently scanning a batch of pix for a stock agency; they say that an initial scan of 12x18 at 400 dpi for extra information, then downsized to their required size of 10x15 at 300 dpi, is ok. They want the final image as a TIF or a PSD. Results are coming out about 38MB apiece. (The original scans are 98MB.)
I'm not sure if this contributes to the discussion much or not... But, for what it's worth, yes, the scans are kinda grainy at high magnification. I've tried "noise reduction" in PS Elements & it doesn't appear to make any difference. So I guess it's the film. I have had prints done from a lab which develops the film, then scans it, & prints from their scan, & they are terrible. So yes, I guess you have to do your own if you want to control the result.
12-14-2011, 04:45 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Alliecat Quote
I've tried "noise reduction" in PS Elements & it doesn't appear to make any difference. So I guess it's the film.
That's odd? I don't have Elements but here is an example of a scan of Fuji Superia 1600 scanned on a Coolscan 9000. I then applied grain reduction using Neat Image plugin on half of it so you can see the effect.



Link to full res -> http://www.fototime.com/96DFC2A35FE7DA6/orig.jpg

BTW, I am compressing these full res and making sure you can at least view at 100% without encountering jpeg artifacting which looks like grain except their blockish. Hopefully I'm striking a good balance.
12-14-2011, 05:07 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Alliecat Quote
"Real world resolution"? Does this just mean setting your scanner at 2400 dpi, or something more?
It means that many (almost all?) manufacturers grossly overstate scanner resolution. My Epson V700 cannot resolve more than about 2400 dpi regardless of setting, care, or technique.


Steve
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