Converting Color vs. BW film

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by robovet, Jan 4, 2005.

  1. robovet

    robovet Member

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    If one were to shoot color negative film, and do a high quality scan into photoshop, could a BW conversion and digital darkroom manipulation come close to shooting BW film in the first place ?

    Thanks for any replys--

    marc (new Bessa R3a/leica m7 owner)

    Marc Laxineta, D.V.M.
    951-378-1134
    Equine Veterinarian
    Sports Photography
    www.robovet.net
     
  2. bobfowler

    bobfowler Subscriber

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    Not unless your computer uses Rodinal...
     
  3. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    Marc,

    In some areas it can be somewhat equivalent, such as conversion to monochrome through use of digital "filters" to simulate having used glass colored filters at the time of exposure. You obviously can't closely simulate special spectral response films like B&W infra-red from standard color film. You might be able to simulate certain film/developer combinations in terms of contrast and tonality, but I expect that would be a lot of work, especially given that there is probably not a pair of color/B&W films with exactly matched spectral response curves. Two areas where I think you'd be unable to convincingly emulate real B&W film and processing would be grain characteristics, since you're working with dye clouds instead of silver grains, and unless you have a lab that's willing to push/pull C41 film for you, you won't have the contrast controls available through developing your own B&W. The form of your final output will probably also partially determine whether you'd be happy with scanned color as a B&W substitute. There are a lot of people who have gone to shooting color only, and convert to B&W to have the extra control over tonality through conversion from color through digital "filters". It's up to you whether the results fit your needs.

    I do scan both B&W and color films, and have converted a number of color photos to B&W, but I don't use Photoshop (I use Picture Window and The GIMP), so I could easily be unaware of some special plug-ins that attempt things like grain simulation or overlaying spectral sensitivity curves.

    In short, yes, you can do good B&W from scanned color. Whether or not it comes close to what any given person wants from their B&W in the first place is a matter of personal taste and preference. I love the look of slow 35mm films in Rodinal at high dilutions. I don't know how to get that look (a combination of acutance, grain, and tonal scale) digitally from scanned C41 dye clouds. Perhaps someone else does. I'd suggest shooting and comparing the results to see what works for you. I do both depending on what result I want.

    I really like my R3A. Hope you're enjoying yours as much as I am mine.

    Lee

    (bob fowler came in and posted the Rodinal comment while I was typing. He's more succinct than I.) :wink:
     
  4. robovet

    robovet Member

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    Lee,

    Thank you for your enlightening reply. I just don't have the time to add wet darkroom skills to my lifestyle. I will find a good custom lab and make a comparison as you suggest. I like the feel of the Leica however the R3a produces great images.

    Thanks again,

    marc

    Marc Laxineta, D.V.M.
    951-378-1134
    Equine Veterinarian
    Sports Photography
    www.robovet.net
     
  5. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Marc. Welcome to APUG.

    It is well worth learning to develop your own bw film.

    A few months ago, after joining APUG, I decided to take the plunge into developing. One trip to Jessops for a film developing guide pamphlet, a bottle of Rodinal, a bottle of stop bath and a bottle of fixer, a trip to the hardware store for three plastic measuring jugs, and a winning bid on Ebay for a paterson tank, film tongue extractor, thermometer, changing bag and squeegee, then a visit to the chemist for a small (needless) syringe, scissors from the kitchen drawer and a cheap stopwatch and I was set. I also plan to set up an enlarger as soon as possible, not by building a darkroom but by using it at night in my bathroom (it has only one window and will be easy to totally black out). But for now I have to make do with negative scans.

    It takes, on average, half an hour to develop a roll of film at the kitchen sink. Then another hour to two hours for the film to hang and dry during which you can do whatever else you wish to do.

    I have been photographing for over thirty years and I thought I enjoyed photography. Now I develop my own film that enjoyment is magnified a thousand fold. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing those developed negs as you remove them from the spiral! I now feel I have a much greater understanding of photography than I had when I let a lab do my processing.

    Andy.

    As an aside, if you are a heavy Photoshop user, please be aware that in APUG's galleries negative scans are pretty much the upper limit of tolerance for digitally manipulated images. The preference is for scanned wet processed prints.
     
  6. eagleowl

    eagleowl Member

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    You can also do a bw wet print from a colour neg.
    I've done 3 as a trial,and it works better than you think-pity I forgot to dust the negs first!
     
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  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    It really isn't hard to process your own B&W film, and all you need is a changing bag, daylight tank, a few bottles for chemicals, measuring graduate, and a thermometer to get started. Do you process your own X-rays in your practice? It's not that different, and you probably have some of the necessary supplies on hand, if you do!

    While I've seen good results from digital color converted to B&W by using channel mixer in PS, and some film plugins that apply spectral sensitivity and density curves from traditional films to color images, they are never quite the same in texture or tonality as images produced on real film. If your goal is to produce digital prints with a B&W film look, and you're shooting film anyway, then it's easiest to start with B&W film (like they do in the movie industry, even though most film nowadays goes through many levels of digital manipulation, duping, etc. before reaching the final print).
     
  8. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    'If your goal is to produce digital prints with a B&W film look, and you're shooting film anyway, then it's easiest to start with B&W film (like they do in the movie industry, ...'

    Unless they/we start with colour neg and print it onto B&W without a digital intermediate. The Coens' "The Man Who Wasn't There" is a well-known example of a B&W movie shot on colour neg, with the conversion being done non-digitally. It looks quite good*.

    Later comment: I don't mean this to be a contradiction of what David says as a general rule, just a note to say that colour to B&W can produce good results, and we do it in the movies ('industry' or not).

    Best,
    Helen

    *I'm English, so 'quite good' may require translation.
     
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  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    Fair enough!
     
  10. titrisol

    titrisol Member

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    photoshop can produce similar results to BW film for certain purposes....
    You can even add graininess to a photo. There's a couple of tutorials in gimpguru.org about that.

    While the main purpose of APUG is AnalogPhotography as a whole, you are shooting color film, and then trying to digitally convert it into BW. So does it become a digital photo?
    Or just another expression of an analog picture?
     
  11. m_liddell

    m_liddell Member

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    The main problem with scanning negs is enlarged grain, if you are shooting 120 it won't be too much of a problem compared to 35mm though. Scanning them as a slide seems to help with this a little.

    I have had good results from scanned slide film (provia 100f) and then converting to b&w using the carr b&w conversion action I got off the net (the channel mixer never gave me results I liked). Slide film seems to scan much much better than neg, it's a shame since slide has less lattiude than neg film.

    As for scanning b&w film, from my experiance despite what people tell you, just forget it. The tonality is horrible and the grain is huge and only gets more ugly the more work you do on the image. My next try will be acros dev'ed in a pyro developer to try and keep the grain under control, but I think it's a lost cause. Some peaple claim to do this successfully though so you could try it.
     
  12. kwmullet

    kwmullet Member

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    [probably some opinion here, but I regard it as fact. :wink: ]

    A well-exposed black and white negative that lives up to the full potential of a particular film and developer will have a greater dynamic range than virtually anything you can print it on, including silver gelatin or alternate processes. Much of the skill in b&w printing comes in making an expressive representation of the huge range contained in a good negative within the somewhat shorter range of whatever you choose to make your print. Much of the appeal of fine black and white work is in the huge dynamic range and subtle tonality it has compared to color negative or digital capture. Once you introduce a digital step (IMO, at least) you significantly chop down the dynamic range and reduce the available tonal steps you can produce.

    If you can't do your own processing or printing yet, you might just try using a chromogenic b&w film like Ilford XP2 or Kodak Portra B&W, BW400CN or even their consumer "Black and White" film and getting it processed at your local minilab and getting machine prints. When you want a better print, then you can go to a local pro lab and get a handmade fully analog print of the frame(s) you like.

    There's folks here who have a lot more experience with chromogenic B&W films than I, so they can probably advise you on how to choose one far better than I can. One issue, for instance, is if the base is orange or not. Clear base chromogenics are easier to print in a conventional b&w printroom, but orange base chromogenics work better with automated minilabs.

    With regard to the time issue, I think an expressive print/printout of a negative/image would end up taking about the same amount of time in both a digital and a wet darkroom, both involve learning fairly specialized tasks, and I don't think one is any more difficult than the other.

    I just deleted the rest of this message 'cause I could see it going down the road of comparing digital and analog, and the very very last thing I want to do is to dig another conceptual time/space sinkhole of an Analog v. Digital thread on apug. If there was an enhancement to the site that would zap anyone who started or encouraged yet another such thread here with an electrical shock, I'd be all in favor of it, actually.

    -KwM-
     
  13. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    'Once you introduce a digital step (IMO, at least) you significantly chop down the dynamic range and reduce the available tonal steps you can produce.'

    One of the reasons that I prefer digital intermediates (ie intermediate between film origination and wet print) is that it is easy to get every last bit of shadow and highlight detail from the negative, whether it be colour or monochrome, dye or silver image. Unfortunately, I suspect that APUG is not the place to discuss this.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  14. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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  15. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    Oops, sorry. Quite right. I was being sloppy. I think that I meant that '...this thread in the main body of APUG was not the place to discuss...'. I don't have a problem, but I find the attitude of others, closer to the heart of APUG than I am, difficult to comprehend and thus difficult to accomodate.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  16. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    John Paul Caponigro has a short but informative article on doing color to B&W conversions with (the oft abused and misused) Photoshop in Dec. 2004 Outdoor Photographer. Not my favorite mag by any means (in fact the first issue I've ever purchased), but this article is worth reading. I don't use PS, but the techniques can be coverted for use with, or approximated in Picture Window and The GIMP, both of which I do use. (In a very restrained and tasteful fashion, of course.)

    Lee (abuser of parenthetical remarks)