Blurry Kodachrome Photos in Magazine Shots

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by FilmOnly, Mar 20, 2012.

  1. FilmOnly

    FilmOnly Member

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    I subscribe to a periodical that notes the type of image that is presented, either film or digital. In a number of cases, this has made for an illuminating comparison. I have noted that almost invariably the film shots--all of which have been with Kodachrome--always look blurry in comparison to the digital shots. The Kodacrome, overall, looks blurry, and seems to lack shadow detail and resolution, too. Observing the dates, some images were taken as far back as the 70s and 80s, while others are fairly contemporary. Why do the Kodachrome images look rather poor in comparison to the digital shots? This question is not meant to bring about a film vs. digital debate. I am simply trying to "get to the bottom" of this matter. I notice that the digital shots look very similar to my shots, which are shot on 35mm film (either Kodak or Fuji pro film), and then scanned and printed at a pro lab.

    Thus, what is the issue here? Does Kodachome look less sharp and clear in magazine printing? Does the problem stem from some shortcoming in optical processing? Was the film itself an issue? I doubt it could be an issue with the photographer, as I have noted this blurry tendency in numerous shots, taken by different photographers. I welcome your comments and observations, as I am now thinking that perhaps the wonderful sharpness and resolution I see in my 35mm film/digitally printed shots is a mostly a result of the digital prinitng aspect.
     
  2. frobozz

    frobozz Subscriber

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    Isn't Kodachrome trickier to scan? For instance the normal IR dust-removal trick won't work because of the physical construction of the film? Or maybe they'd blur out any slide because they're scanning it with a crummy flatbed scanner, or taking a picture of it against a lightbox with their digital camera, or something. I've got some old Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides my grandfather shot 40 years ago and they're quite sharp!

    Duncan
     
  3. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Kodachrome was sharp enough that the copying and halftone printing in magazines is probably the cause of the problem you cited. A Kodachrome scanned on a flatbed scanner with a transparancy adaptor isn't going to look its best.
     
  4. FilmOnly

    FilmOnly Member

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    Indeed, this is an interesting issue, as I hear constant priase for Kodachrome. Thus, I am confused, as the magazine's print and graphic quality is quite good (again, with the exception of what I observe in the Kodachome shots). I now can always pick out a film shot before I read the photo credit.
     
  5. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    Any film image is going to be scanned for print reproduction. Kodachrome can be more difficult to scan. If the slides are old and have dust on them then any attempt to use PP software to remove the dust will also lower sharpness. The qualities of Kodachrome are well known by now. The images made with it and printed in National Geographic did not look unsharp. What you are noticing about the images which were supposed to have been taken on Kodachrome tells you more about the way the magazine printed them than about Kodachrome itself.

    The fastest Kodachrome sold had a speed of 200. I remember shooting Kodachrome II in the early 1970s. In some cases a tripod was needed. More hand held shots with slow film are taken at or near full aperture. This reduces depth of field and in most cases absolute sharpness. Today we have very high quality fast color films like Portra 400 and Portra 800. This wasn't always the case. The recently discontinued 100 speed Kodak Ektachrome slide films have very high image quality and are two stops faster than the Kodachrome 25 which was discontinued not so long ago. Apart from selective focus applications, very fast lenses like the Canon 85/1.2 and the 35/1.4 Nikkor were made to allow more use of slow and fine grained films. The very high ISO performance of the current crop of top DSLRs was not yet available.
     
  6. one90guy

    one90guy Subscriber

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    I have Kodachrome slides taken in 1968 and 1969 in Nam. Some of the slides have crud on them, but those with out still scan and the colors are great and sharpe. Yashica TL-Super was used on all but a few.

    David
     
  7. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    The trouble is in the reproduction, not the original source material. The Kodachrome 25 slides (some 40 years old) I occasionally project for the edification of my digitographer buddies never fail to amaze them with detail and color.

    Get some Kodachrome slides, and look at them yourself.
     
  8. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Member

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    In the 1980's many publishers made "Kodachrome" a mandatory film to shoot assignments on.
    Random House books was one of them. (this is a fact). It's sharp sharp as heck. You are looking a blurry images, and or bad reproduction.

    National Geographic was once upon a time shot almost exclusively on Kodachrome.
     
  9. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    NG also, at one time, had photography varying from very good to superlative. Now, I sometimes wonder if the photo ed.s have ever seen an excellent photo, some of the crap they publish.....
     
  10. railwayman3

    railwayman3 Member

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    It's really all down to the quality of the printing and the skill of the printers. You only have to look back at high quality work from the 1960's and 70's (thinking of what was done in Switzerland, etc.) to see the quality which was produced from Kodachrome and Agfacolor at that time. Or even some of the illustrated books produced in Germany from early Agfacolor.

    I guess that these skills have been lost now that everything is done on a computer screen.
     
  11. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    At one time National Geographic's Kodachrome lab (yes, they had their own dedicated lab) processed the highest volume of still photography Kodachrome film in the world.

    My question for the OP is - are there photographs in the publication that are shot on other slide films, and if so, how well are they reproduced?
     
  12. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Another question....

    Did the photographers in the example photos you saw use a tripod?

    In case the shots were from magazines with amateur contributors, at ASA 25, without a tripod, unless the photographer was very careful, the shots would be likely have some blur.
     
  13. Paul Goutiere

    Paul Goutiere Subscriber

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    Kodachrome has a "bas relief" effect on the emulsion surface.
    It is quite noticeable if you hold the slide at a obligue angle when viewing the emulsion surface.
    I use a Nikon CS9000 scanner and I have found focus to be a problem when using the dedicated slide tray.

    The problem seems to be solved by removing the slide from the it's holder and using Nikons FH869GR glass holder.
     
  14. FilmOnly

    FilmOnly Member

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    Excellent discussion here folks, thanks...

    In terms of the blurry quality I see, it does not appear to be an issue of focus (though perhaps that should not be ruled out), but a combination of sharpness, shadow detail, and overall resolution. The shortcomings in these three areas make for a print that looks blurry, especially in comparison to the various digital shots shown on the same page.

    With regard to a tripod, there is no indication as to whether a tripod was used. I use a tripod for about 80-85% of my shots, but I have gotten excellent results, ranging from "sharp" to "very sharp," when shooting hand-held. Of course, one has be be prudent in regard to shutter speed, aperture, and lighting conditions, but any good photographer should know this.

    I also note that the film shots in this periodical will also (though not in all cases) look dull and rather monotone--and this comes from one who despises overly saturated films. For my color shots, I prefer Portra 400 and Pro 400H, and I find "vivid" films to be rather neon-looking. I avoid these films.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 20, 2012
  15. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    There is no question that it is the reproduction that is lacking, I've noticed this in books and magazines.
    If you have never seen a good Kodachrome slide in person, by all means find some and get them projected. It will be a revelation, and keep in mind, it's just a tiny little 35mm frame. I also have several dozen rolls of 6x7 slides, on Kodachrome 64 PKR 120.:smile:
     
  16. thuggins

    thuggins Member

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    I have not worked with Kodachrome, but have scanned thousands of E-6 slides on various devices, as well as having them professionally scanned. I have never seen a single scan that comes close to the quality of the original. Invariably, the saturation, contrast and tonality of the image all suffer. While some of this can be compensated for, the best end result will always be poor facsimile.
     
  17. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Kodachrome has been said to be a difficult emulsion to scan well; something to do with the red channel. But if you want to see how good the quality of traditional scan reproduction is, you need only go back 20 to 40 years reading Time and National Geographic where thousands upon thousands of Kodachrome slides were shot around the world and scanned so beautifully as to hold everybody in a bewitched state. I know that's how I felt in the 70s and 80s, long before the faux purity and sharpness of digital landed.

    I have attempted to scan some of my Kodachrome slides from the 1980s but cannot get the hues right. I don't have this difficulty with Fuji/E6 slides.
     
  18. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I wonder if the Photomultiplier tubes and Quartz-Halogen illumination of the drum scanners vs a fluorescent bulb of the current genre had anything to do with it...
     
  19. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Maybe. It was photogravure or something in those days — traditional image-to-plate preparation, and the printed results were uniformly beautiful, showcasing the best photographers' work in possibly the best medium of that era.
     
  20. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Member

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    I always enjoyed looking that that layered look of a Kodachrome in reflected light.
    I suppose there is some truth to that being a problem with "scanners".
     
  21. macrorie

    macrorie Member

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    The nature photographer John Shaw used Kodachrome exclusively at one point in his career, and if you look at his books produced during that period the photographs are very sharp. He demanded high quality reproduction of the images in his books, for obvious reasons. Magazines will use a variety of scanning and printing processes, with variable results. Something else that often occurs in editorial situations is that art directors will demand using images that are sometimes extreme crops of photos, and they often will look terrible to someone who routinely is concerned with resolution and sharpness in images. But, I suspect your publication simply does not have a good Kodachrome scanning workflow established, which is a pity.

    By the way, I agree that the National Geographic magazines and books have been very powerful inspirations for generations of photographers, but if you pull them off the shelves and look at ones produced in the 1960s and 1970s, the photos often look really quite fuzzy, even though you know that the cameras, lenses and films of the time were perfectly capable of producing sharp images. It was the contemporary printing methods; the mass production, economical methods of those decades were simply not able to reach the "high definition" standards that are so common today, and people did not expect it.
     
  22. achromat

    achromat Member

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    I've scanned a lot of PKR for digital printing. The quality is extremely good. My work was scanned on high quality scanners (Creo IQ2). I would question the equipment used and the person running the scanner. The mag in question may have done non wet scans on cheap gear or the scanner operator may not have been up to the task. I expect 20+ MP quality from Kodachromes wet scanned.. they are very sharp.
     
  23. semi-ambivalent

    semi-ambivalent Subscriber

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    Not too long ago I told myself I wouldn't get a digital camera until I could get 25 MP on a 24x36 frame, because then I would have Kodachrome. Now I can (and maybe even the color quality too), but I just don't care; I'm wedded to film again.

    s-a
     
  24. Photo-gear

    Photo-gear Member

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    I think the problem is more related to scanner that was used for reproducing the Kodachromes.

    Here's an exemple of slides of the Library of Congress (most probably Kodachromes although it is not specified) taken in the late '30s.

    Sharp enough:
    http://extras.denverpost.com/archive/captured.asp
     
  25. achromat

    achromat Member

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    A friend of mine has the LoC conract to digitize their files. They have at least one Creo IQ2 doing some of the work. Kodak bought Creo from Sitex some time ago and I don't know the current status of Creo. The scanners are very expensive - $ 40-50K new. The quality is really good. I pay about $150 for a wet scan. This includes the OP often doing several runs until I'm happy. Well worth the money if bigger than 16 x 20 prints are the final product.

    A good wet scan on a high end epson is close in quality until you exceed 16 x 20. Once you see a big scan/print done from a Creo (or like machine) it will change many attitudes about the digital/film argument - and I live in the digital camera world at work. The D800 may be a game changer if some decent lenses are used - but it will never look like Kodachrome.