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Black and White and all that...


Alan7140

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I have been on record in complaining that digital killed B&W as a truly viable monochrome end-product (unless created by extremely skilled practitioners, of course), with the interpolation of Bayer sensors and the algorithms written for "removal of colour" changing what was once a guttural, organic look that film gave to a B&W image replaced with a smoothed-out "plastic" looking image with the colour removed. the tonal response was now linear, as opposed to the "S" curve response of B&W (silver halide) film.

So on Saturday, with the winter sun shining and not a cloud in the sky, I tracked down a few static subjects filled with contrast and tonal gradations, packed my two Sigma Merrill Foveon cameras along with the Fuji X-T1 and my Mamiya RZ67 film camera, along with lenses for the Fuji and Mamiya that would roughly equal the AOV of the DP1 Merrill (19mm) and DP3 Merrill (50mm) with the intent of setting up a tripod and shooting the same scene with Foveon, X-Trans and T-Max in turn, just to verify that my satisfaction with the Fuji, as far as its monochrome rendition goes, wasn't just mere wishful thinking over the battle I had had in getting a B&W result that pleased me with all my previous Bayer sensor cameras. I also threw in the Sigma Merrill cameras to confirm that while they did to a degree reproduce the classic digital "plastic" look, the tonal gradation and acutance with which they did so comes as close to matching or even exceeding a print up to 20x24 from a 5x4 film negative.

As I no longer have a 5x4 camera I couldn't do a direct comparison, but I was keen to affirm that the little Merrills definitely surpassed the medium format Mamiya, which a mere decade ago was still up there with the Hasselblad, Pentax 6x7 and Rollei as the standard equipment for professional use.

As they say, the best laid plans...... well, don't necessarily follow suit with preconceived outcomes.

While the overall expectations were partially confirmed, it was the performance of the once-professional Mamiya RZ67 and the T-Max TMY (400 ISO) film I had loaded which gave me one heck of a jolt as to just how far digital from relatively tiny APS-C-sized sensors has come, and while I was hoping to prove that film still does B&W "better", I have to concede up-front that this is no longer true, and by a surprisingly huge margin at that. I still prefer the "look" of the non-linear tonal response, but that's where it begins and ends.

So my quest to find a good used Fuji GSW 690 film camera and start shooting hand-held location and street on film again died a swift and permanent death when the scans started coming off the scanner. I think I'll put the money to far better use in buying either another lens for the Fuji X-T1, or maybe even a new Sigma DP0 Quattro. Thank you all the greedy bastards on eBay who were asking way too much for a 25+ year old obsolete film camera with absolutely nothing other than a fixed lens with inbuilt mechanical shutter, a range-finder viewfinder, a place to put a roll of film, and a shutter button and a crank to expose and wind on the film. You just saved me hundreds of dollars. Much obliged.

For me, aside from maybe (very) occasional use of the RZ & RB67 cameras to consume the film I still have left in the freezer, B&W film is dead.

So, to the results:

I still think maybe that B&W film "looks" better, but IQ-wise the difference now is so great that no matter how good it "looks", you wouldn't intentionally use it instead of digital if you owned either a Fuji X-trans or a Sigma Foveon. The Sigma is still challenged with blowing out highlights and bedevilled absolutely awful software processing support, but the Fuji is none of that - the results are superb, the dynamic range more than adequate, and the equipment itself is a joy to use. I love holding and using that camera as much as I loved holding and using my Hasselblads over a decade ago.

All photos cropped to roughly the same dimensions, resized to 1600px high, so you'll have to "click up", and better still, hit the "Click here to view full size" button after clicking up, and save them to a folder on your desktop so you can flick through them to really appreciate the differences.

First image (shadow/highlight detail on a mainly monochrome subject) :

FHYFQSz.jpg

Mamiya RZ67, TMY (400 ISO) film, 50/4.5 lens, f/16:

YRwJFLB.jpg

Sigma DP1 Merrill 19/2.8 lens, f/11 @ 100 ISO

bwOmMst.jpg

Fuji X-T1, 10-24/4 lens @19mm, f/11, @ 200 ISO

3ch45Uy.jpg

Second image (shadow/highlight detail, colour differences, vegetation and image resolution):

88YRDGl.jpg

Mamiya RZ67, 50/4.5 lens, f/16 TMY

ky1ZRu3.jpg

Sigma DP1 Merrill, 19/2.8, f/11 @ 100 ISO

4gGMIC4.jpg

Fuji X-T1, 10-24/4 @ 19mm, f/11 @ 200 ISO

2yv5rAf.jpg

Third Image (separation of many different colour shades tonally, shadow/highlights, fine detail retention)

HEoqm3E.jpg

Mamiya RZ67, 180/4 lens, f/16 TMY

C1kCaFi.jpg

Sigma DP3 Merrill, 50/2.8 lens, f/11 100 ISO

Ps5nFCm.jpg

Fuji X-T1, Zeiss Touit 50/2.8M lens, f/11 @ 200 ISO

fcnXVC8.jpg

Method & conclusion:

I used the digital cameras at their native resolution - the Sigmas because increased ISO is purely and obviously an amplification of the signal which adds noise, and processing the top layer only of the three-stack sensor for cleanest results distorts the colour response to that of the full three-colour layers when converted to B&W as a whole. Likewise I used the Fuji at 200 ISO to completely kill any possibility of the DR function kicking in as it can at higher than 800 ISO to dramatically increase dynamic range. The object was to see if film really does still have that legendary DR advantage. (No, it doesn't! ;) )

I used T-Max 400 film as (1) I have the most of it left in stock ;),

and (2) I assumed that the huge area of the 6x7 format would enjoy an unfair advantage over the minuscule APS-C sensors if used with finer-grain T-Max 100. (Wrong again! :) )

As I have already indicated, even allowing for the fact that a scanned negative won't be as good as a directly printed one, fact is that this is the way most negatives will be put to use these days - scanned and an inkjet print - at least that most certainly is the way that my negatives would be put to use. I have absolutely no intention of resurrecting my wet darkroom for printing, even though it is still fully assembled and operational. I've done more than my time under the amber lights over several decades, so never again......

I reckon the Fuji overall blitzes the field here - combining just the right amount of "organic" look with the superb resolution of the Fujinon and Zeiss lenses. I will now stop lamenting the past and start actively pursuing B&W again without thinking that "this would be better done with film". The Sigma can't be faulted for finesse in resolution and smooth tonal transition, but it really is hobbled by the lack of software support and its propensity to blow highlights. The Mamiya - well, that's just an antique, obsolete, collectible curiosity now.

From this little exercise, I will now shut up forever about the superiority of film B&W.

It isn't. :thankyou:


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Thanks Alan - about to be promoted up the order. :) 

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Alan,

 

This is a great comparison .

 

I remember an image you shared of a couple that got married in a fancy looking building, it had the most exquisite detail, light was beautiful, tonality was pleasant , a superb example of  what a well done b&w film image can be

 

You have also mentioned multiple times the fact that converting digital to b&w is not just a matter of desaturation, but using curves to make the image pop, this is alo takes practice and some restrain, as a bad processing can be obvious.

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Regards,

Armando

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Thanks, Armando.

 

Processing is indeed important to get the best out of B&W, but unfortunately most B&W seems to be done these days by simply pushing the desaturation slider all the way over. I did these with that in mind - I should have mentioned that I converted to B&W using a common enough method - Nik SilverEffex 2, neutral default setting.

 

I could have tweaked them but decided from the point of comparison it was best to keep everything constant. So the digital files were initially processed with only exposure, highlight and shadow adjustments where necessary to achieve a full spread of tonal values (i.e. a histogram that went as close as possible to left and right edges).

 

As for that wedding shot you remarked on - that was shot on 5x4, but I can guarantee that had it been invented back then, the Sigma DP3 would easily have matched it for tonality and detail. In fact I'd go so far as to say that a 16x20" print would have been noticeable better from the Sigma than that 5x4 neg, although given the history of digital, there would be no way of reading that file today, however the neg is just as useful and retrievable now as it was back then. As an archiving material, film takes a lot of beating.

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It's a very interesting article and I'm glad you did it.  Sometimes we need to prove some things to ourselves before we actually believe it.

 

I for one am that kind of person.  I hate going on the word of other people, not because they may not be honest, but I want to be sure that I understand the nuances of the process.

See my content here:

http://www.visualohio.com | BESTLIGHTPHOTO BLOG | Flickr 

 

I shoot Nikon, Olympus, and Fujifilm

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Exactly, Andrew. I have been trading on my earlier experiences with D2x, D3 & D3s Nikons, along with the D7000 I bought in 2011 because at 3200 & 6400 ISO it provided files which converted into convincing B&W. However being confined to ISO that high brought with it hassles in many photographic situations; indeed, in bright sunshine photography for that end result was all but impossible save putting ND filters on the lens, which then led to other problems with seeing to focus properly.

 

I've always thought that the Fuji did B&W well, and indeed it was my confidence in the large-format B&W quality that the DP Merrills could produce which had me buy an entire studio flash outfit with soft boxes, stands and ancillaries just to get the best monochrome portrait results in the large-format style I used to do in my studio back in the 1980's, using a converted-to-5x4 half-plate studio camera. Suffice to say the Merrills have performed that task as expected.

 

This was quite an eye-opener as far as comparisons go, I have used the Mamiya many times on its own, but never alongside the Fuji or Sigma cameras like this (the RZ/RB outfit is plenty heavy enough without trying to carry other cameras as well!). I was always pleased with the results, always up to expectations, always clear and sharp. Until I saw these direct comparisons, that is. It almost pains me now to wonder how much better the shots taken then would have been had I used the Fuji or Sigma instead.

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We all feel the "should have, could have, would have" syndrome at some point.

 

Whenever I feel like that, I just remember how wonderful it is that we have machines at all that can capture these slices of our world at that point in time.

 

A sharp image might be better than a blurry image, but a blurry image is better than no image at all!  While I'm not saying that the older images were blurry, I am saying that having an image is great and means something, even if not as technically superior as the images we see today.

 

You posting this should be a big eye opener for a lot of people out there, and that is this:

Photography is a journey that once embarked upon is one that is not easily given up on and the learning never stops.

 

I for one am glad that experienced shooters like you share these kinds of things.

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See my content here:

http://www.visualohio.com | BESTLIGHTPHOTO BLOG | Flickr 

 

I shoot Nikon, Olympus, and Fujifilm

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Thanks, Andrew.

 

It is something I should have done a couple of years ago, but as I knew from the outset it would involve at least a full day of tedium in procedure, darkroom and collation, the lazy side of me kept putting it off.

 

However, as those who suffered through my months of reports in experimenting with ways to get the best out of processing Fuji X-Trans files at the time that such processing was a hit and miss affair that had already almost dealt a fatal blow to Fuji's viability in the professional field by Adobe's initial woeful interpretation, you might gather that had the perfectionist gene massaged repeatedly by my Teutonic parents as I was growing up to the point that while I still prefer initially to put things off, until I know for sure through hard evidence that something is as I think it is (or not), eventually I will seek to obtain that hard proof in whatever way necessary.

 

In this case I'm pleased that there was no ambiguity in the result, and that the procedure I devised worked with minimum fuss and with no need to repeat anything, which in itself was a win as far as I was concerned! :)

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Thank you for sharing your insights.

To manipulate the response curve of both my D70ies I used Nikon Capture 4.x which contained a Camera Control programme. Later Nikon charged 200 Euro ectra for camera control and I said. No. Thank you.

Now I bought Google Nik Collection and do the film look in Photoshop.

Regenerate green infrastructure. Let Biodiversity rule!

I blog at: http://klimafarm.com/

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Alan,

 

Thank you for this posting and your gift of "a full day of tedium in procedure, darkroom and collation".  You have just about won me over on the Fuji. I'm still enamored with the X100 as a tool, so much that I haven't had thoughts any more about using it to slay goliath. So many of my images are snapshots of family and the LR processing is a very significant underpinning of my work flow, so I've been very reluctant to commit to X-trans.

 

The rumor mill keeps holding hope for an upcoming major update of the Fuji sensor. That may be just what I need to make a system commitment, or possibly one of the "cast off X-T1's" with the rumored 35mm f/2 WR lens will be my entry.

 

I'm an experimentalist by profession and avocation. I know that there must have been a lot more thought put into this report than just showed up in the "full day of tedium". Thanks for that also.

 

Your efforts around the various sensor alternatives, including X-trans have fed my education in digital. 

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Best Regards,

Roger

X-Pro2 } 18-55mm | 35mm f/2 

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Processing is indeed important to get the best out of B&W, but unfortunately most B&W seems to be done these days by simply pushing the desaturation slider all the way over. I did these with that in mind - I should have mentioned that I converted to B&W using a common enough method - Nik SilverEffex 2, neutral default setting.

 

 

Alan, I've been reading the Nik website but I can't seem to get a handle on how the file type passes through the work flow. Can a X-trans file be converted to B&W using SilverEffex in an external edit step from within LR? Is it necessary to do a Xtrans RAW conversion in LR first then edit the resulting tiff/jpg in SilverEffex? As you can see, I'm a bit lost.

Best Regards,

Roger

X-Pro2 } 18-55mm | 35mm f/2 

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Alan, I've been reading the Nik website but I can't seem to get a handle on how the file type passes through the work flow. Can a X-trans file be converted to B&W using SilverEffex in an external edit step from within LR? Is it necessary to do a Xtrans RAW conversion in LR first then edit the resulting tiff/jpg in SilverEffex? As you can see, I'm a bit lost.

first you must do a proper RAW conversion.

Many XTrans users commit to PhotoNinja which is not easy to use but one gets used to it.

For me the NexGenFuji is not about the sensor. They have to come up with a VF as in Leica Q.

I am positive that this could make me sell my Nikon stuff and jump from X100T to a system...

Regenerate green infrastructure. Let Biodiversity rule!

I blog at: http://klimafarm.com/

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Thank you for sharing your insights.

To manipulate the response curve of both my D70ies I used Nikon Capture 4.x which contained a Camera Control programme. Later Nikon charged 200 Euro ectra for camera control and I said. No. Thank you.

Now I bought Google Nik Collection and do the film look in Photoshop.

 

Frank, the film response curve gives a very different look than does any digital filter that I've tried does to a digital file. I used SilverEffex2 for the B&W conversion simply because it is the name that most often pops up when people describe how they turned their image to B&W.

 

Perhaps the best way to actually mimic the tonal response of actual film is to use LightZone and modify the individual zone spreads rather than pulling a curve adjustment as is provided by most editors. The LightZone method gives you far greater control in spreading or contracting individual zones while controlling the effect this has on the other zones, It's hard to describe in words, but becomes clear when using LightZone - which is free, so there's no financial penalty in trying.

 

Digital "film" filters also try to add grain to the image for the effect of film - of course this is not valid as it is a noise overlay - film images are actually made up of the grain, so the look is different.

 

 

Alan, I've been reading the Nik website but I can't seem to get a handle on how the file type passes through the work flow. Can a X-trans file be converted to B&W using SilverEffex in an external edit step from within LR? Is it necessary to do a Xtrans RAW conversion in LR first then edit the resulting tiff/jpg in SilverEffex? As you can see, I'm a bit lost.

Roger, see my reply to Frank above regarding Nik.

 

To all:

 

What I have further done is to match as closely as possible the results from T-Max 400 (without the grain, of course) in tonal response - it became obvious then why a curve adjustment in Ps/LR/Whatever editor is insufficient on its own - there is also a colour response to take into account. Digital is linear, film is not - each shade of colour has its own response, and that seems to be where the main difference lies.

 

there really is only one program that specifically caters for this in adjustment terms - the venerable, free, but radically unfamiliar GUI LightZone.

 

Read the CAVEAT at the end of this response first, and if you still want to try this:

 

Download this dropbox preset zip file (and LightZone if you don't have it already): https://www.dropbox.com/s/r3cw2q3fp2bjv7k/Black%20%26%20White%3BT-Max%20400.zip?dl=0

 

If you haven't already, install LightZone then unzip the linked Zip file above and drag it into the following folder (Windows:) - C:\Users\{NAME}\Documents\LightZone\Templates.

If using a Mac, open LightZone, choose any image, hit the "Edit" button, then cmd+click on any of the preset names in the B&W preset menu,at left, and scroll to "Show in Finder" (or whatever command links you to the folder tree). That'll show you where to put the unzipped LZT file. Sorry, I don't have a Mac so can't be more specific.

If using Linux - well you probably can code the whole program and OS already if you've worked out how to use that geek OS, so I don't need to hold your hand.... ;)

 

Then close and open LZ again and the preset "T-Max 400" should appear in the B&W Presets menu in the Edit field.

 

Open your image in the LZ Editor;

go to the RIGHT panel, select the "Raw Tone Curve" menu bar;

click on the padlock to unlock, right-click (cmd+click) the bar again and click delete. This should leave you with only the open Raw Adjustments panel (and your image will look pretty terrible).

 

Mouse over to the B&W Presets menu in the LEFT panel and click on the T-Max 400 preset you have just installed.

Your image should turn B&W (and you'll have to trust me on this) should look very similar to something taken on B&W film, minus the grain.

The only adjustment that you should now have to make is the exposure slider in the Raw Adjustments panel, and then maybe fine-tune things in the editor of your choice. :) Add grain via the add-noise route if you want the effect to be a bit coarser, but of course the only way to exactly duplicate film is to use film, of course.... ;)

 

CAVEAT: I worked this out from a Fuji X-Trans raw file, so if it doesn't work with other (Bayer) cameras, let me know and I'll try to do a similar thing with a raw file from the camera of your choice - you may have to upload a raw to dropbox for me, though (I only have D7000, D2x, D3, D3s and D600 NEF files here).

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You most probably saved me several hundred EURO ill spent, Alan.

 

As everyone seems to be selling medium format here these days, I was hesitating between MF and digital. You closed the case. 

 

Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge.  

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No worries, Bruno, the results were a complete surprise to me as well.

 

I still think really big prints (mural-size) will always look better from negs because grain enlarges really well no matter how big one goes.

 

However once digital reaches the stage where the pixels start showing and have to be interpolated with more pixels it falls apart very quickly - the IQ gets shot to pieces to the point that it looks plain ugly.

 

So maybe there's still a spot for film, but really, it's only in the huge print realm. For anything up to and including A2 its is well ahead, and even A1 that I've printed looks incredibly decent once in a frame.

 

So that's the end of film for me, as I don't do mural B&W prints.

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