Tonality and negative size

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by philipp.leser, Jun 21, 2009.

  1. philipp.leser

    philipp.leser Member

    Messages:
    17
    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2008
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Hallo,

    I am wondering what the physical reasons are that a larger negative size yields a much imporved overall tonality of the negatives. Is it just a side effect of the fact that parts of my subject will be projected on a larger area of film, thus covering a larger amount of grain as compared to a smaller film size?

    Regards,
    Philipp
     
  2. fschifano

    fschifano Member

    Messages:
    3,216
    Joined:
    May 12, 2003
    Location:
    Valley Strea
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That's about it. The less magnification you need to do to get to a particular print size, the better it's going to look.
     
  3. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

    Messages:
    7,114
    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2005
    Location:
    In a darkroo
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Wirelessly posted (BlackBerry9000/4.6.0.167 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1 VendorID/102 UP.Link/6.3.0.0.0)

    Yup. You got it. More silver halides being exposed by less of your subject area. Less enlargment needed for a particular size, hence less grain evident in that print.
     
  4. philipp.leser

    philipp.leser Member

    Messages:
    17
    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2008
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Hi,

    Sorry if I was unclear in my question, but I'm interested in explaining the difference in tonality, i.e. the grey values present. Of course, if you print a small and a big negative on the same paper there will be less perceptible grain on the print coming from the bigger negative. That's a given.

    But what is a bit puzzling to me is, that if you enlarge two differently sized negatives on two sheets of paper that have the *same* size, the one coming from the larger negative will usually still look better. That is the effect I'm trying to explain.

    Regards,
    Philipp
     
  5. fschifano

    fschifano Member

    Messages:
    3,216
    Joined:
    May 12, 2003
    Location:
    Valley Strea
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    And that's exactly what we're saying. The appearance of grain is actually the space between the grains. Enlarge it less and those spaces become less apparent. As the spaces become less apparent the tonality becomes smoother. It's really quite simple. You're thinking about it too hard.
     
  6. Paul Sorensen

    Paul Sorensen Member

    Messages:
    1,897
    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2004
    Location:
    Saint Paul, MN
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I am not sure I am understanding your question. From this it sounds like you take two different negs of different sizes and make prints of the same size from them. That implies that with similar cropping the larger negative will involve much less magnification. If you are magnifying them the same, say using the same lens, same head height, just different sized negs of the same film, I see no reason for the tonality being different.

    So, less magnification = less apparent grain = smoother gradations between gray values.
     
  7. JPD

    JPD Member

    Messages:
    859
    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2007
    Location:
    Sweden
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    The overall tonality is generally the same on a 24x36 mm and a 4x5" negative, but there are more room for grain in the details on the larger negative (if you used a lens with the same angle). If an apple in the 24x36mm mm negative contains 1000 grains, and the same apple contains 10,000 grains in the larger negative, there will be more room for different tones on the latter.
     
  8. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,091
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Actually all being equal and a film like APX100 it's not just about film size.

    You can get superb tonality from 35 mm films, and as long as you don't over enlarge they can sit alongside images made on 120 & LF. Of course a larger format helps but eqyally 35mm is capable of superb tonality.

    Ian
     
  9. aldevo

    aldevo Member

    Messages:
    895
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2004
    Location:
    Cambridge, M
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I agree with everything said here, but I think something's been left out.

    There is a general consensus that 35mm film should not be developed to the same extent as larger formats. That's to say, that 35mm film is generally developer to a lower CI and printed using a higher VC filter or paper grade.

    I've read in numerous places (I think the "Film Developer's Cookbook" was one) that 35mm negatives are usually targeted for a Grade 3 while MF and LF negatives are targeted for a Grade 2.

    The reasoning is that a 35mm negative is simply too small to give useful highlight separation in an enlargement of any size. I think this is caused by excessive light scatter in the negative - but I could be wrong and I don't happen to have a source handy right now that explains it. Since there's nothing much to gain from extending the development and a price in sharpness and grain to be paid, it makes sense to be conservative in the development of a 35mm neg.

    And I've found that largely true. It's certainly possible to obtain fine grain and terrific apparent sharpness from a 35mm negative at sensible enlargements - but I have never seen what I would characterize as smooth, textured highlights. Pyro helps a little, diffusion heads help a little, long-toed papers can help a little - but the differences can be substantial in even an 8x10 print with both a 35mm and 6x7 negative.

    Given the susbstitution of greater paper contrast for less development of the negative and the limited highlight gradation available in the enlargement- I would also expect the gradation to be different for a 35mm negative.

    For the record, I think most of us fall into the trap of trying to print our 35mm negatives too large. I can't tell you how many obviously lousy 16x20 prints from 35mm I've seen at places like the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

    I stick to 8x10 and 5x7 and trust that if the photo is any good at all, the viewer is willing to get closer.
     
  10. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    17,978
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I think what you're asking about is the phenomenon of "local contrast." Try searching on this, and you'll find various attempts at explaining it, few entirely satisfying. A bigger negative just has more information and can convey more fine detail.
     
  11. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

    Messages:
    3,126
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2008
    Location:
    North Caroli
    Shooter:
    35mm
    It makes sense to me, in that the format is smaller, but the emulsion is about the same thickness. So in a larger format, the negative is approximately infinitely thin, whereas on a 35mm negative, the thickness of the emulsion might be more significant compared to the size of the image.

    Something to think about anyway
     
  12. keithwms

    keithwms Member

    Messages:
    6,070
    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2006
    Location:
    Charlottesvi
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    For me, the largest issue, by far, is the smoothness of the gradients that you can get when an image is cast across a larger section of film.

    To oversimplify things tremendously, consider film to be a checkerboard of squares that can only be pure white or pure black. In other words, consider the image formed on the film to be a 'bitmap'. You can quickly see that the density of squares per image will control how smooth the tone gradients are... how natural the image looks. If you have a density that is low, then you can get posterization, a.k.a. banding. In other words, tones can 'clump' and then the gradients don't look natural.

    Highlight and shadow transitions are generally smoother in the larger formats. N.b. I am not saying that white and black are any different in the different formats! No, the transitions are generally more detailed and smoother. Even if certain details blow out or go pure black, the transitions to those areas will be smoother. Even for very small (local) details, the gradients around those details will be smoother.

    P.S. on the subject of grain, I cooked up a very simple theory in a blog entry...
    http://www.apug.org/forums/blogs/keithwms/56-grain-tonality-format-size-all.html
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 22, 2009
  13. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,239
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Simply put - the larger the film area covering the same subject matter, you will get a smoother tonality with better local contrast from a larger negative. Unless you're after the utmost in technical quality, each camera has its advantage and disadvantage. Use a camera that suits your subject matter and how you shoot foremost. Worry about getting some really good and interesting images on film. The rest will follow with practice. Tonality from 35mm can be stunning. You just have to work at it to get your film just right for the paper you print on.

    The attached print is from 35mm Tmax 400 processed in Xtol. I don't need any smoother gradations and tonality shifts than that. But I usually don't print larger than 11x14 max; if you print much larger than that, of course the limits of the medium will make themselves reminded.

    For me a good medium format camera stands up well to 4x5 in print quality and I feel the 4x5 camera doesn't have much to offer that I can't already get in an 11x14 print.

    - Thomas

    - Thomas
     

    Attached Files:

  14. Andrew O'Neill

    Andrew O'Neill Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,203
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2004
    Location:
    Coquitlam, B
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Do you shoot 8x10?? I totally disagree with this statement. There is a HUGE difference.
     
  15. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,091
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Yes I do shoot 10x8 and of course there's a difference, but the differences may only really become appreciable and huge once you begin enlarging over about 10x12/11/14. Lets be clear only a small minority of 35mm images have sufficient quality, and I'm most certainly not talking about all 35mm images.

    I've seen many great images made from from 35mm negative with superb tonality, particularly with APX100, which is what this thread is about, and is why I made those comments. But of course using larger formats brings additional benefits such as finer resolution detail etc.

    Tonality isn't a function of negative size although it's far easier to achieve with larger formats, it's more about technique, after all poor technique with 10x8 will still give poor tonality, and tight process control can give superb tonality with 35mm & 120.

    Of course I could show you images to demonstrate this from a number of photographers.

    Ian
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 23, 2009
  16. aldevo

    aldevo Member

    Messages:
    895
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2004
    Location:
    Cambridge, M
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I mostly agree. But in my experience the difference in the smoothness of highlight gradation between 35mm and 120 is perceptible in an 8x10. Not obvious, mind you, but perceptible. And I have found this to be the case even for negatives that were properly exposed and developed. And, yes, I've taken the time to examine negatives produced by other, experienced photographers :wink:

    Tonality isn't a function of negative size, at least as far as sensitometry is concerned. But in my experience there's little point for me in extending development to achieve highlight separation in 35mm if the print will represent an enlargement of beyond 6x-8x (depending upon the film).

    I do most of my enlarging using a VCCE head and I have found the best balance of sharpness, grain, and gradation is achieved for me when I develop my 35mm negs a somewhat lower CI than I development my 120 negs. For the most part I do not enlarge beyond 7x-8x in 35mm.

    Others, naturally, do as they wish.
     
  17. aldevo

    aldevo Member

    Messages:
    895
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2004
    Location:
    Cambridge, M
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    There's a noticeable difference in an 8x10 between a contact print and even a (marginally) enlarged 4x5 negative.

    Introducing an enlarger into the print workflow causes some image degradation; it's unavoidable.
     
  18. aldevo

    aldevo Member

    Messages:
    895
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2004
    Location:
    Cambridge, M
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That's a fantastic photo, Thomas. Technically it's great, but the image itself is very compelling.

    I agree with you regarding 4x5 vs 120. At 11x14, I feel the difference is only *barely* perceptible (and only using viewing techniques that are not indicative of appreciating the photograph, itself) between the two and hardly worth fussing about.
     
  19. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,192
    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2005
    Location:
    Los Alamos,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    As the negative gets smaller, all the faults of the lens, the film, and the photographer become more evident. Local contrast is not as smoothly rendered as in a larger format; grain becomes distracting; lens resolution and abberation factors become more evident; camera shake becomes more obvious.
     
  20. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,239
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think this is all very true, and to highlight local contrast, which I think can be important for pleasing tonality. There are fewer grains of film handling the transition from one tone to another in a smaller format. You just cannot deny that fact and above 8x10 and maybe 11x14 enlargements this starts to become really evident, no matter how well the 35mm negative was exposed and processed. That local contrast adds impact to details.

    With that said, the difference is not large enough that I care. To me it destroys the joy of photography to analyze things like this too much, as I feel it gets in the way of creativity a little bit. I'd rather be smelling fixer... :smile:

     
  21. philipp.leser

    philipp.leser Member

    Messages:
    17
    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2008
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Thanks for your valuable insight, everyone! At least it seems like I'm not imagining things :smile: