Film diaries: revisiting slide film

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On the light table. Iphone grab.

It’s been a long, long time since I last shot slide film. 2006, to be exact; I stopped for two reasons: one, I was shooting (and developing) through about a third of my pay every month in film; secondly, scanning was beginning to take up all of my spare waking hours. And even then, I was never that happy with the results. But then, every so often – and I was a much, much worse photographer back then (not that I’m that good now, mind you) – you’d get one slide back that was so immersive, so detailed, so crisp that it was like peering into a little world of its own. And then you’d feel the itch to do it all over again. Sometimes this would happen a few times per roll, and then you were well and truly done for.

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During my last trip to Amsterdam and Prague for the European workshop tour, I found an increasing number of frames I a) wanted to shoot in color, and b) wanted to shoot with medium format. Stupidly, I left my digital back at home; rather than pick up a very cheap second hand Phase One P20+ I saw in a store, I instead succumbed to a different and much cheaper form of temptation and bought a brick of Provia 100F. That, in itself, resulted in two very pleasant surprises: firstly, that it was still reasonably easy to get in Europe, and in 120 size for the Hasselblad; secondly, it wasn’t as expensive as I remember it to be. Duly loaded, I went out and recalibrated my eyes to see in color.

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You’re probably wondering why I didn’t try it sooner after picking up film again at the end of last year. Part of the reason is because 120 slide film is not easily obtainable in Kuala Lumpur, and then there’s the stickier issue of developing. Those of you living in the US or Europe still have decent pro labs in most of the major cities; if not, you can always mail it out. We don’t – international parcels get x-rayed, and that’s a disaster for film. Few remaining local labs can handle E6 processing; and even then, I found out it’s only on a few specific days of the week, because the demand is simply not there anymore. DIY developing is an option if you have access to the chemical and one of those Jobo developers that can maintain the necessarily very precise temperatures for you. There are a lot of steps, and temperature is very critical to obtaining accurate color. One simply does not have the latitude or control that is afforded with B&W film.

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There’s another more pragmatic reason: all of the available E6 is now daylight balanced, which means it’s going to give you blue casts in the shade, and yellow casts indoors. The film is also pretty slow; though Provia 400 exists, it’s grainy and lacks the ‘bite’ of the slower emulsions. On top of that – digital makes it so much easier to get accurate color under all ambient lighting conditions. It’s actually difficult to make an argument for shooting slides. Or is it?

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I am reasonably pleased with the developing. I say reasonably, because although four out of five rolls were flawless, there was a lot of dust requiring a second washing before scanning, and the fifth roll had an odd artefact along the edges of four frames – it looked as though something partially masked the film from the effects of one chemical, resulting in darkening and color shifts. Not good. No point in complaining because there’s nothing that can be done about it anyway. Certainly the negatives were not in as good condition as when I process them myself, but that’s always the risk of sending your film out: nobody is going to care as much about your pictures as you do.

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I’ll be honest, though: putting the slides on the light table and flicking the lamps on was a revelation. I was prepared to be impressed, given the depth and three-dimensionality of 35mm slides; but 6×6 really took things to another level. With a magnifier – a Hasselblad’s standard waist level finder with its pop-up magnifier is perfect for this, by the way – they felt immersive. It was like the difference between peering into the scene, as opposed to looking at a photograph of it. I’d forgotten slide’s ability to preserve the punchy saturation in addition to smooth highlight rolloffs; not to mention the sheer resolving power.

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Perhaps now is a good time to say something about the popular myths and legends about slide film. Firstly, exposure is critical. Not as critical as it used to be, but you have to be within a stop. Once highlights are gone, they’re gone; but fortunately the transition is still not as abrupt as digital, and you can have some fairly pleasing results even with intentional overexposure. The other good news is that dynamic range is much greater than I remember it to be; closer to 8-9 good stops than 5-6. Contrast is fairly high, but the rolloff in both shadows and highlights is smooth and not as abrupt as you might expect. I’d say it’s pretty close to the final contrast (or slightly greater) I’d want in a print; unlike B&W film where you have to deliberately hunt out very specific high contrast situations to maximize punch. It’s quite possible that both of these properties have something to do with a change in the emulsion; I’d only shot the non-F versions of Velvia and Provia previously.

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The tricky part was the digitization process. I ‘scan’ my film with a D800E, AFS 60/2.8 Micro, an SB900 for light, and a custom jig to keep the camera and film planes perpendicular, aligned, film tensioned and fed. The Hasselblad’s 6×6 squares result in 23MP files from the D800E’s sensor after trimming the borders; ample resolution for pretty much all applications, and at this level, you see almost zero grain and close to pixel-level sharpness. Is there more resolution here? Probably, but I’m not sure how much more. Perhaps 30-36MP of equivalence or so.

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The challenge comes when trying to correct the color: short of shooting a color chart under a wide range of color temperatures and developing conversion profiles for each one, it’s going to be tough to exactly replicate. I admit after many attempts, I still wasn’t fully happy with the output; it’s definitely pleasing, but not at all accurate. And unlike B&W film, whose tonal signature can be significantly manipulated by the photographer during the development and printing (or digitisation) process, that of slide film is pretty much baked in, and a property of the film. It’s almost like shooting JPEG in a way: either you like the output, or you don’t.

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Despite all of the challenges, the experience frankly blew me away – enough that I’d do it again, providing I could find the film. I imagine it’s the photographic equivalent of being on crack; an old-school high, very bad for you, antisocial, and highly addictive. I’m not sure I’d go the whole hog and buy a developing machine, because I don’t think I’d shoot slides often enough. But I’d certainly recommend the experience to anybody who still has a film camera – and the larger the format, the better. It almost makes me want to try an 8×10″… MT

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Comments

  1. Hi, Ming Thein, thank you for your wonderful blog. Just to drop you a note to say that we share your love for the reversal film, so much so that when we couldn’t get 4×5 reversal film processed in Singapore, we started our own processing facility – http://www.analogfilmlab.com. We started with two sets of Phototherm Sidekicks, and we have recently bought a brand new Tecnolab Dip-n-Dunk. As photographers ourselves, we treat the quality of processing very seriously, and we are probably one of the few labs in the region that still rigorously test our processing with control strips to make sure they are within tolerances. So, if you are ever in Singapore, please drop by and pay us a visit! And of course, if you would like to continue shooting reversal film, and need a reliable lab – we will be happy to help! Drop us an email or visit our Facebook page to get in touch! – http://www.facebook.com/analogfilmlab

  2. I used to love slide film. This article made me very nostalgic. I’d forgotten how the shadows look with Provia 100f. There’s nothing like examining a well exposed back-lit slide. They’re almost 3D. I miss it almost enough to break out my Elan 7. You have the right idea, though: shooting medium format slide film would be mind blowing. Gazing at the huge slide on a light table would be amazing! Thanks for bringing back the memories. Thanks for not trying to ‘fix’ the colour cast in the shadows in photoshop.

    Possibly my greatest photography regret is that I never shot a roll of Agfa Scala 200. I discovered it only after it was discontinued and I couldn’t find any in my area.

  3. ” A word is worth a thousand pictures.”
    Tom Liles

    I hope Tom has a sense of humor!

  4. Wow…very nice photographs of slide film…
    I love the contrasty of that film…unfortunately there is no lab that can process it in my country, Indonesia, because almost all people here choose not to use film anymore. The nearest lab is in Singapore. Hope I can import the E-6 processing kit and learn to process slide film by myself :-)

  5. Ming, you said a while back that you were planning on producing some units of your “scanning” jig, and I’m still patiently waiting. any updates on that front?

    • I’m one person attempting to get a piece of precision equipment made at a price that people aren’t going to scream at and an R&D cost I can afford. It has to make sense both from an engineering standpoint and a business one. Honestly, it’s a much bigger challenge than I expected. I’m not going to release it until I’m happy with the final product, and that doesn’t look like it’s anytime soon.

  6. Pulling slide film…

    A million years ago (late 1970s I think) , I messed up a roll of kodachrome (overexposed). At that time there was a unique lab in NYC. They specialized in kodachrome and would do pushes and pulls. I saved that roll, but what I did not anticipate was that with the best direct prints of the time (Cibachrome), the pulled film printed much better.

    Just a thought, but I wonder whether a 1 stop pull on provia would create a transparency that was more amenable to scanning and printing.

    • I’d imagine the pull would probably block up your shadows completely; it’s pretty tough to hold everything as it is with a proper exposure – not because it exceeds the dynamic range of the digital copy device, but because the DMAX is so high.

      • More exposure and less development (pull) brings out shadows. Not as much as with negative film however, and it does lower the D-Max, but with scanning and editing, it should be easy to bring that back. Just a thought from my very few experiences with pulled transparency film. WIsh I had the time to experiment more, but with e-6 labs few and far between, you really have to live in a major city to play with it.

  7. Fred Mueller says:

    Just to echo all the light table and projected slide comments …

    Nothing else like it – even 35mm IMO. They look like jewels.

    I have a Coolscan 5000, but so much is lost in scanning.

    Slides are for me, therefore, just a private matter.

  8. Great read, Ming. It reminds me of my first and primary love. You talk about slides being expensive but they were always the cheaper way and instead of looking at crappy proof sheets you had the transparencies on the light board and it was mind-blowing when it was good. As you say, “immersive.” I remember that shooting Velvia for a decade or so, you only had about 1/3 of a stop tolerance. And that was the instructive thing about shooting slides. You couldn’t fudge the results. You either nailed it or you blew it. That kind of harsh feedback helped us to learn proper exposure techniques. You’re making me want to go buy an M7 (there, I’ve said it) so I can shoot a few rolls of slides and see these differences in dynamic range that you’re talking about. If that really holds up and I shoot Leica lenses, it may be the closest I get to shooting medium format. Thanks again for a great article, Ming. Always appreciated and thought provoking.

  9. Back in the 80s and 90s any photographer worth his salt would use Transparency film otherwise known as slide or E6 film for colour work. Transparencies cut out the printing stage to view the photos as it was already a positive image instead of a negative so you got what you actually captured already on the film. You were not at the mercy of the high-street printers.
    However this meant that you always had to be spot-on with your exposure and to overcome this problem, bracketing was de rigeur. If you take 3 shots with one each a stop either side of what you or your camera’s meter deemed correct exposure, then the thought was that at least one would be actually “correct”. It was insurance in the days of no instant reviews and limited access to post-processing
    But if you bracketed like this, a 36 exposure roll of film only gives you 13 usable shots. Doing this you could easily get through 10 rolls in day’s shooting. Obviously, the cost of film adds up very quickly. If you decided later that you wanted some prints of your slides, the prints – called cibachromes – were also hideously expensive.
    With the advent of computers, it became possible to scan your slides and do some post-processing in Photoshop. But DIY scanning technology was also expensive with less than stellar result. Commercial scanning was the best option but also expensive. Plus, the computers were also expensive as was a copy of Photoshop.
    Even now, digitizing a slide to an acceptable quality is a very difficult thing to do well in your own home. Unless you are set up for it, it is not a casual thing that can be done easily either. Ming is obviously set up for it and as I can see from his photos in this article, gets very decent results. Without knowing how he does it, I can guess that it involves a specialist rig of some sort and a digital camera.
    I think by know, readers who are still with me can guess the point I’m trying to make. Digital for a great deal of us who had no choice but to use film is a God-send.
    The technology we have nowadays easily overcomes the cons of using slide film. Why go back to doing something that is more time consuming, costly, inconvenient and hit and miss – without any obvious benefits?
    A D800, 5D3, OLY EM1 with good glass …….in the right hands – these have the necessary quality to produce photos with the vibrancy, sharpness and tonal attributes every bit as good slide film. In the wrong hands, slide film cannot improve any deficiencies of the user.
    It seems that for the digital generation there is a perception that slide film is better than digital p perhaps due to some imagined old world charm – even some mystique about it. But to some of us old timers – we know the reality.
    By all means try it for the experience but dont do it thinking it will improve your photos.

    • I’ve long said that digital is much better than ANY film for colour work, slide or otherwise. Not for B&W. And I certainly don’t shoot film unless I want something very specific from the film that digital cannot do; composition and subject matter has nothing to do with equipment or medium.

    • I can’t speak for color reversal, and I can’t present anything I’ve shot myself to underline the following point, but C-41 color negative film, correctly exposed, correctly processed, has more accurate color to my eye. Reds are an obvious one to point out, blues we know about (UV pollution in digital blues) and funnily enough, greens look more lifelike (vibrant and saturated without being gaudy) in film, to me. There’s definitely a romantic urge, a feeling of wanting film to be better — and let me declare here, I shoot digital and love digital and I’m the guy who thinks the t-shirt should read “buy film & megapixels” — but, honestly, I don’t think it’s that. Film is more color accurate, on the absolute scale, than digital is. Just me and my eyes?

      • Nope. Digital is more accurate if processed properly – it’s to do with white balance and native colour temp of film. ‘Pleasing’ and ‘accurate to memory’ are not the same as ‘accurate to reality’.

        • Mmm. Well the shadows in a daylight balanced film will be blue—but aren’t shadows actually blue? (It’s light reflected from the sky alone, which is blue). I am finding I actually see the blue in shadows now I’m a photographer; this is on very sunny days.

          I suppose this all boils down to what the absolute metric is—what defines what “true colors” are. And so what we should refer to when talking about this. Not knowing that off the cuff, I would posit that whatever it is it has to be human-centric to have any use in the context of photography; so in lieu of knowing what the standard is, I’d defer to our eyes and brain as that standard: as we see the scene as the arbiter… which is paradoxically a very slippy but at the same time robust standard. And on that, expertly done C-41 colors look more like the real thing, to me, at least. I’m ready to be the only one.

          I’m not sold that any digital capture, on any digital camera, can get a red as good as a correctly exposed correctly processed (developed, etc) C41 can. Blues are up in the air [ba-dang ting]. I think I could well be wrong there and agree this is starting to get into “pleasing” and “accurate to memory” territory. But still—the blue of the sky from Kodak Ektar, say, looks more like sky-blue to my eye than that of a digital capture. I am very ready to defer to you on that though, MT, as, if anyone has put the hours in on sky blues and knows about it, it’s you. For some reason greens always look wrong on digital, to me. And it’s surprising because if Bayer cameras should do anything good, it should be greens. They look like “old green” instead of “alive green,” as they do on film.

          Maybe it’s my background as a Chemical Engineer, I probably have a bias; I do have more trust in the molecules in chemical dyes to kick out the right wavelength photons, than an A/D plus demosiac to allocate them.

          Anyway, what am I on about—I’m only into film for the pleasing and the “same as my imagination and memory render it” subjective quality.

          I’ll be able to speak more about color accuracy once my wife buys me a Coolpix A for my birthday \冏/

          • The perceptual difference is very different from the absolute one; our brains are fantastic processing machines.

            True colour: from a commercial photographer’s standpoint, it’s when the colour of the image on a calibrated output medium matches the product. End of story. Everything else – well, that’s subjective. And there’s no ‘true colour.

            I know what you mean about the greens: I’ve nailed the blues, but the greens still elude me. I find them too yellow and too bright; they don’t look alive at all, just like they’ve been in a heatwave.

            Good luck with your wife, by the way…

            • True color:

              from a commercial photographer’s standpoint, it’s when the colour of the image on a calibrated output medium matches the product. End of story.

              Exactly, right? Since the photographs are intended for human viewing the metric *has* to be human-centric—color accuracy is about output media matching the real thing, as seen.
              I think there are two absolute measures: absolute in the rigorous scientific sense; absolute in the tricky human sense—the way I see red is the way I see red, it can be no other. That’s absolute, it’s just not objective. I’ve heard about “everyone sees the same red slightly different,” but that seems like an unscientific, untestable (using the scientific method) proposition to me: by definition the objects of the experiments (people) are not objects, but subjects, and the results are not reproducible in the same way water boiling at 100oC at sea level and standard atmospheric pressure is reproducible, i.e., scientific. There is no identical Tom on which to do a control, etc. It seems a dubious thing to present, nevermind present as fact. Could just as easily say everyone sees the same red. Ultimately, this way of framing it leads nowhere.

              To further my investigation into and knowledge of color, it is of burning importance that I conduct an in depth case study using a neat little instrument called the CoolpixA. I’ll be submitting a research proposal to my wife sometime in June :)

              Perha

              • I have no idea how that “Perha” got there!

              • I thought you were done with cameras for the year? ;)

                I’m sure you can probably find a cheap second hand one though.

                • I am. I’m not being serious, though if my wife asked me what I’d want for my bday, I’d say “CoolpixA.” And she’d do a facepalm.

                  They’re coming down, but still surprisingly expensive here: new and used. I can only think it’s all perceptual and not actual value now, as it seems clear the GR won that battle and there are other very competitive options, not the same but similar, on shelves now.

                  But in all seriousness, no, I genuinely don’t feel any motivation for going out and getting a camera I’m interested in, off my own bat; as I’m interested but only passively. I’m more interested actively in using the FIRE that I’ve got (D3, A7, F2, F5, SQ, R-D1s, DMC-L1) and upgrading and improving my computing and scanning support for them. But, yeah, hey! if someone offered me one, a CoolpixA, by all means :)

                  If you weren’t footing the bill, and it was in the realistic reach of the gift giver, what’d you ask for MT? Doesn’t have to be cameras!

          • Hi Tom, when I was choosing different films, it was for their response palette. Outright accuracy was a separate idea, though with post process editing (Photoshop) it was possible to shift film responses towards “reality”. Nothing wrong with completely accurate colours, though images are not always about absolutes, nor are they strictly recording everything. B/W films are not accurate to our vision, yet we still like them. ;)

            I’ve been looking at the Nikon Coolpix A too, though I think the price levels are still too high. Being on a budget helps with patience. ;)

            • Great minds think alike!

              CoolpixA is really nice, but curiously expensive. If it were 600 USD new, so we could scoop them up for 400 USD used, the World would feel like a bit fairer of a place. It’s still 850 USD+ new here; and used ones, for some reason, are typically in the 700 USD region. They are really nice, but not that nice. I haven’t seen anyone buying them, using them, you name it. They’re not even on display in the big chains anymore—if you ask they’ll dig one from under a counter or out from a back room… The GR still has quite prominent shelf real estate. But the price stays where it is. Nikon are a conservative company, and that’s one of the reasons I like them a lot, but I think they need a reality check on this one.

              My budget for cameras this year is 0! So I’m ready to be quite patient :)

              • It’s interesting that the used ones are still holding value if there’s no demand. How do we explain that?

                • Coolaid. For a related effect see Leica

                  Used M8 = 250,000 JPY
                  Not the 8.2; not mint condition; battered, half dead, practically useless to anyone, Leica M8s… cost more than a decent used D800E (which has the best 35mm sensor in the world). Coolaid. It’s the only explanation.

      • I’m no expert but from my understanding, C-41 film differs in characteristics from brand to brand, type to type, speed to speed – even batch to batch. Also how old the film was and how it was kept had an effect on the colour. Agfa, Kodak and Fuji used different chemical formulas to produce different results. I cant recall exactly what each brand was known for but I think it went like this; Fuji was known for very saturated colours, Kodak had warm tones and Agfa very neutral.
        The added dimension of printing adds another layer of image manipulation to the process. Different printing papers also have their own characteristics. I’m sure there is more – such as the chemicals used ….perhaps even the enlarger.

        • As we just spoke about with Foveons though, Jonno, it’s no different in digital. Nikon is the closest to neutral in my short, incomplete and amateur experience. But even Nikon’s EXPEED processing isn’t correct (accurate); it can’t be, just on first principles the CIE 1931 color gamut is miles bigger than any digital camera’s A/D converter can put numbers to. I bet it also dwarfs C41 gamuts, so ultimately, it does come down to perceptual rendition—and it seems to me that well exposed and well processed C41 is perceptually more accurate to a scene as seen with my eyes, than a digital capture is. Not 100% all the time, every time. Just when it goes right.
          (That’s a bit circular, but what the hey)

          I saw a photograph, a portrait, taken by a pro photog on Kodak Portra 400, it was of a model outside in regular daylight. I wasn’t there for the shoot, so who knows, but the tones, of course her skin in particular, was so bitingly accurate [c.f., the database of what people's skin and things look like under various lighting conditions that's stored in all of our heads] — and pleasing because of it; not just pleasing — I resolved then and there to shoot film and be able to do that, someday. Ming helped me further on with recommending an F2. And, three film cameras deep now, I’m still searching today for that amazing color that I know is possible, if I were only expert enough. I will get there. I know because, like a Terminator robot, I absolutely will not stop until this mission is complete.

          I won’t try and fight my corner too much on this one though. I’m out of my depth for one, and for two—I’m savvy to how notoriously unreliable at cold rationality my rational side is: once something is in my good books, my unconscious constantly tinkers away at snazzy legitimate sounding rhetoric to justify the choice. Only human!
          (Though I try to be more terminator like)

          • Don’t you find it ironic though that perfect colour reproduction on film requires extensive knowledge of digital manipulation?

            • And a general appreciation of color models and color mixing. Since getting into inverting color negs, I’ve had to ground myself in the basics, real real basic stuff, like a simple trichromatic color wheel. I printed a simple RGB schematic (the simple trichromatic plan a little down the page at “color model”) and pinned it to the wall directly in my line of vision behind the computer on which I edit photos. And it’s probably my most used tool. A piece of paper on the wall. Yes, you can kill cyan by adding red; but I’d never thought of weakening blue+green, instead, etc. Color neg makes this is an issue, and the simple color wheel helps me think about it. I’d never messed with individual R G B curves before color C41, and now I have to, and now I can white balance a photo by bending R G B curves alone. I can change saturation (which I never really understood until seeing how to achieve it with a curve); I can change hue, but that’s a tricky one and I feel Adobe saves the best controls for that, in Lr, for the HSL palette—it’s tough trying to change an orange hue, for example, with just R G B curves—especially at the criminally tiny channel graph size Lr give us in its curves palette.

              But yeah, totally, I’d be lost without digital experience and post processing software skills—mostly honed through using digital cameras. But to turn it back again, greatly improved by C41 (by necessity). That’s why I think “buy film & megapixels” is the ticket: our PP gets a mile better by having to deal with the demands of both.

        • That sounds about right, though colour neg doesn’t have anywhere near the latitude of tonal control as B&W neg does.

  10. i love these results – very crispy and sharp, fantastic colors and contrasts ! thank you

  11. Thanks for sharing Ming! I have to agree that there’s something special about slide film despite of – indeed because of – the challenges of shooting it, perversely! As you say, seeing the developed film on a lightbox is wonderful… as yet I’ve only done so with 35mm but have some 120 in the Hasselblad ready to go, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results!

  12. Pentaxforums posted an article about a new film duplicator rig for dslrs. I was curious if it is similar to the rig used to produce these images. I’m getting tired of fighting my flatbed scanner.

    http://www.pentaxforums.com/news/pentax-film-duplicator-overview.html

    • No, it isn’t. It’s more complex but appears to be more flexible, though there are also no options for handling roll film – that was the breakthrough that made DSLR scanning viable for me.

  13. Great set Ming. Have never used slide film but tempted to load some in my wife’s old Canon eos 50 and shoot some flora and fauna. I imagine the colour and texture would lend itself well to these types of subjects.

  14. I love color slides. I have 30 year old Kodachrome slides that are good as new today. These days I still shoot Velvia 50, Provia 100F and the now discontinued Provia 400X (I bought a bunch more and threw it in the freezer – I like using the 400 slide film indoors with flash)

    I’ve had good luck with slide film on the Nikon F6 (with its very accurate metering) and also with a Leica M3 using just a Voightlander VC Meter II. The exposure can be a little off and still provide pleasing results.

    People are amazed that I shoot film (“You shoot film??!!”) and even more amazed I shoot slides (“You shoot SLIDE film??!!”). “That’s right, digital boy!”

    Guess old habits die hard. It was the thing to do back in the day. Cheaper, and viewing the results with a projector was often spectacular.

    Gonna keep shooting slide film until they stop making it. We are lucky to have a few labs in the US to develop and scan E6 relatively cheaply.

    • The F6 has the best metering I’ve ever seen. You’d think with the digitals you’d have better results and no clipping, but no. Surprisingly the VCII is also excellent despite being difficult to aim and not having any idea of it’s cone of sensitivity…I use one as a backup with the Hasselblads and the 4×5 for very tricky lighting conditions.

  15. We spend so much time comparing the latest and greatest digital cameras. But my first reaction, every time when seeing good film shots like these, is: if there was a digi camera that did this, I’d get it without sparing a thought.

  16. Taildraggin says:

    Headed to Barcelona on Friday for a week; bringing only the SWC with two A12s, one with TriX, other with E100G. (I’ll shoot mostly B&W, but I like having the second magazine and some color, if nec.)

    Find a Hasselblad PCP-80 for supreme “Ooof!” factor. Buy a pipe, a smart hat, make up a pitcher of Tom Collins and invite the neighbors over.

    There are a few boxes of 4×5 E100G left in the freezer. Scan files are ~300mb.@ 2400.

  17. david mantripp says:

    Gorgeous shots by the way. They perfectly demonstrate that the move to digital has not been without some losses. Frankly I think the E6 look suits your colour work more than digital. It has a subtlety about it that encourages the eye to linger. It may be pure placebo and/or wishful thinking, but I find that the Foveon look (when it’s firing on all cylinders) is not that far off E6

    • Interesting. I personally prefer digital for color, both from the workflow and the output. Foveon – has always looked a bit too thin and ‘watercolorish’ to me.

      • To me foveon is like kodachrome 64. You need good light and a little under exposure to make the colours sing. I have been experimenting recently with high ISOs and ISO800 up to ISO3200, the images are very film-like. The grain is there for those who like a little grain. And used properly is not unpleasant. With higher ISOs there is colour blotching – usually magenta – so its not good for portraiture unless you are a dab hand at photoshop. It’s b&w where foveon comes into its own. For b&w foveon is really digital film. The SPP software does a great job of allowing you to tweak the tones and contrast until your shot looks like an Ansel Adams.
        Ming, i note that you are a little adverse to foveon as i am an avid reader of yours and can read between the lines. For colour foveon may not be your thing and i can understand that. But for b&w – its much better than bayer systems. Spend some time with it and you’ll see what i mean.

        • I already have, and agree that for mono work it’s great – for colour, not so much. Especially if you require accuracy for product work.

        • Hi Jonno, I’m an ex-Foveonista — still quite in love with the sensors — but ended up letting go both of my DPMs: something I genuinely thought I’d never do. It had nothing to do with image quality—as I say, I’m still smitten by the Foveon and will think of it always; it was SPP. I persevered for 12 months, but it just pushed me over the edge.
          Like many other users, the Sigma wasn’t the only camera I owned and so, inevitably, life with bayer cameras and Adobe software become a touch point and comparison. Ultimately it forced me into one of those “what am I doing here?” moments. A crisis, if you like. I’d tried and tried and tried. But needing three hours just to organize and edit a batch of 40 or so photos (one battery’s worth :) ) and process the ten or so ones I liked most, that just got to me in the end. It was demoralizing. With my Adobe complaint cameras, that’s ten minutes, done and dusted. SPP beat me down to the point I didn’t reach for the cameras anymore, not because I didn’t like or didn’t want to use them—because of the HELL of SPP waiting for me afterward. I gave the free trial of Iridient a go, and it was mezzo-mezzo, just about better than SPP, but this is just skirting around the issue: I’ve paid a lot of money for computers and software and the cameras themselves—I just want to organize and have all my photographs in the same place under the same software and be able to post process consistently across them. It’s not much to ask as a user. At least, I feel that way.

          I’m not sure the upcoming Quattro will be for me, but I’m hoping it can prompt yet more interest in the company and their cameras — like car owners and Alfa Romeos, I don’t think anyone could call themselves a bona fide photo enthusiast if they haven’t lived with the agony and the ecstasy of a Foveon; and it’s a more democratic camera than Leicas, etc.: if you’re affluent enough to be into cameras in some semi-serious way, cost is no barrier to entry on the Foveons — most of all I’m hoping the Quattro will prompt, be the catalyst for, some support from Adobe. I don’t really care which side is holding things up there—but the ultimate responsibility for it rests with Sigma. Just beggars belief how backward they are being about this. They missed the boat for doing some serious sales volume with the DPMs because they didn’t sort the Adobe support out; if they were to do it in time for the Quattro, it seems plain to me they could boost their user base (their sales) by about 20% (on what it is now). Which salesman in the world wouldn’t want to do that? Yet something stops them. Pride? Sloth? Immunity to common sense? Who knows. Until they sort it I won’t be going back—and I suspect people in it for a living like Ming won’t even consider it until then. Sad story. Such a waste.

          The reason I could finally let go of my DPMs, and live with it: film.

          Yes, developing and wrestling with DIY inversion and scanning — even stuff that fiddly and annoying — is still an order of magnitude easier on my nerves than SPP. And what’s more, why reach for “filmic” when you can just shoot film.

          I’m off to get another roll of Provia for the F2 and spend my lunchtime on color reversal goodness and not McDonalds badness. OK, maybe some McDonalds after the Provia goodness. Nothing like having your transparency and eating a cheeseburger too :)

          • Workflow becomes increasingly important the more quantity you have to deal with – the Sigma output was excellent, but frustrating to deal with speed-wise. 40 images in three hours? I can develop, scan and convert half a dozen rolls of 120 in less time than that.

          • Hi Tom. It is very interesting and fun to hear your anecdotes on these comment pages – i look forward to them. Regarding workflow, here is my take; if you compare Foveon with slide film there is no comparison. One has the benefit of being digital and the advantages that comes with it. While the other is analog with all the hassle that comes with that genre.

            Foveon (digital) gives you a usable and editable photo as soon as you can load it onto a computer. Granted – it can take a bit of time to load everything on screen if you have a lot of photos due to the enormous file sizes. And admittedly, I do get a bit peeved having to download a full resolution file everytime I’ve spotted a decent shot from the previews in order to zoom into it for a closer view or to edit it. But it is as good as instantaneous.

            Anyhow, if you have been careful with your shooting and have the exposure right, there shouldnt be too much more PP to do on the files other than saving them as a Jpegs or TIFFs. Once done you can do whatever you want with the editable files. If you really cant stand SPP, then easy – batch convert the files into Jpegs or TIFFs while you are having a coffee and then use another program, such as Photoshop to do your editing on.

            SPP may not be the best software there it, and it is buggy as hell, but you really are not obliged to use it once you have converted the RAWs. By the way the light fill tool is exceptionally good so it not all bad.

            On the other hand, with slides (analog), in order to get to the stage where you are ready to do any computer editing, you have to physically process the film and then digitise it. Unless you’re like Ming with your own darkroom, E6 processing can take a week or more from a commercial lab. Then you need to view the slides on a lightbox with a loupe to check for sharpness. When you’ve chosen your best shots, you have to scan them – another hassle unless you have a special rig like Ming.

            Have you ever tried scanning slides? Not easy – especially if you happen to have any bits of dust on it. To scan just one slide properly – using a flat-bed photoscanner in my case – can take the best part of half an hour if you include cleaning it and setting it up and then do the scanning itself. If the first time wasnt successful then you have to do it again. Even when done “properly”, the results are not the same as a native digital file. Of course you can get them drum-scanned commercially but at what cost? Get my drift?

            Dont get me wrong – I am in no way a Foveon freak. I own many many cameras both analog and digital. I could just as easily be called a Nikon or Canon freak. I take photos purely for fun, creativity and intrigue – not to be a fanboy of any system.

            But I think the Sigma Merrils, though flawed in many ways, are unique cameras that cannot and probably should not be compared with Bayer systems. They are the closest thing to using film without actually using film. They can’t compare with Bayer systems on some fronts – speed of use, DR, high ISO, etc, but they have their own merits – sharpness, microcontrast, unique colour etc. If you buy a Toyota Prius, you dont expect it to perform like a Ferrari. I am not trying to stand up for Sigma but I do think that they do come under a lot of unfair criticism. They have to accepted for what they are and problems worked around. Then the rewards (fantastic images) will come.

            I will keep my DPMs for sure. Maybe even add a DP3M now that the price has dropped. I am so glad that they exist – they add another intriguing facet to this wonderful passion of ours. Vive la difference!

            Back to slides – would nice to indulge for a different experience if i have not tried them before. If I wasn’t so old (40s) and used slides so extensively in their heyday of the eighties and nineties, I would be tempted to experiment with it now – at least once anyway. But now – no thanks to the time, cost and inconvenience involved. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

            • Hello again Jonno!

              Yeah, that was pretty much my SPP workflow: 1) put X3Fs on computer, 2) open up batch in SPP, 3) I kept my thumbnails small enough that I’d get four columns on my 13″ MBA with SPP more or less filling the screen [this was also to stop SPP falling over, which it does quite easily with bigger thumbnails; we also can't have too many RAWs in the folder it is previewing or it will die, I know you know this Jonno!]; so thumbnails were set to be previewed pretty small, but I shot so many photos with my Sigmas — over 10,000 in the year I owned them, for a rank amateur I think that was pretty good going and you see from the number how much I liked the cameras — but I got so good at gauging badduns from the tiny previews, I could kill obvious dreck straight up then and there, 4) then I would double click the first image in the batch, go to edit mode for screen sized previews, and kill more of them from there, using the badly disguised file navigation arrows to cycle through the images one by one from the edit view—this was the next annoying part about SPP [because they didn't code it to use enough CPU threads] you can’t freely go back and forth between images to quickly make your mind up on keep/chuck, not even talking about editing yet, just preview jumping between images: as even though it’s only 5-10sec to close out one and open another, and maybe another 4 sec to go back again, that’s still nigh on half a minute gone for an operation that I do in about *a second* in Lr. And even with a modest batch number of X3Fs, like 40, that gets trying: all I want to do is kill off the dross before taking my time and enjoying the editing, but SPP just chews time up lumbering between previews, and it’s not as though it’s even having to render the 100% data either! As I say, if I’d never used Lr or Ps and Camera Raw, I doubt I’d have had this stress. Next 5) left with the photos I felt were going to be edit worthy (not in SPP!), I’d correct basic tones and WB and sharpening in SPP, as this is the X3F RAW data and if you want to pull clipped highlights back in, do it there, or never, if we want to correct overall WB without penalty, do it there — and by the by, it is INSANE that there isn’t a Kelvin slider on the WB palette, so there is no real way to temp and tint consistent across images, I just don’t think they were thinking about moderately serious to professional users when they wrote this program — and, I found this one very necessary, if we want to kill the default sharpening that SPP thinks it’s a good idea to call “0,” do it there in SPP –> some people say -0.7, I put it all the way to -2 and felt that was the correct answer; I’m absolutely with you on the X3F Fill Light tool, Jonno, that was a gem, overdone it made yucky HDR looking photos, but I found up to +0.5 or 0.6 was useable and very useful, and could be quite subtly and tastefully done if we offset with the exposure slider (-0.3 to -0.4). So, highlights taken care of, file un-over-sharpened, WB’d and it’s ready for 6) save as 16 Bit TIFF. And 7) NOW THE REAL WORK BEGINS. Yet another editor (Lr/Ps), yet more time spent. I didn’t mind it for a long while, but as I shot more and more photographs, SPP became such a bottle neck and labor to me, it began to deter me from going out with the DPMs. Not the camera’s fault in any way.
              I am poised and ready to go back *the day* they announce Lr or Ps support of X3Fs, no matter how shoddy that support is (it’ll get better)—seriously, I have a thousand dollars sitting in a savings account for a DP2M and DP3M (never owned the 3) the day that happens. The DP1M was the first camera I bought to kick my hobby off January 2013, and while I have an emotional connection to them, something about the lens was different—I found the DP2M data way more saturated and juicy and good. Less optical aberration too; my 1M had some pretty funky mustache distortion. I don’t think I had a dud, because I loaned a different 1M for a week and found the same characteristics. Especially for tones in shadow, quite washed out and flat especially if it’s something with a fair bit of red in it, like skin. On a side note about WA, I would LOVE a CoolpixA for the 28mm FOV fixed mirrorless compact option, but I’ve promised not to buy another camera for this entire calendar year, and Eric Hanson would kill me if I lost to my weakness :) That doesn’t rule out my beautiful wife buying me a CoolpixA (silver) for my Birthday though :o 8|
              Where were we? Yes, SPP, you notice I never used the “full res” preview in my work flow—again, SPP code is so inefficient with this straight forward editing environment task (plus, I mean, why can’t it do this from the get-go? Japanese software makers, like Japanese webpage designers just come from planet “Duh!” out there in deepest deep space—they have the least common sense EVER. A symptom of a wider problem with Japanese design, well known in mobile handsets: Japanese “Galapagos Phones,” so called because they just stubbornly live on a different branch of the evolutionary tree, supported by an insulted domestic market that only knows what it knows. There’s good and bad in being different, usually good, but in the case of interface and design, ignoring how people actually use things, it’s all BAD BAD BAD) I found I was quicker just correcting keystone variables and converting everything to TIFFs and doing pixel level checks for shaky images on the TIFFs in Lr, a software coded to be used by homo sapiens. That way was miles better than trying to do it in SPP. All those seconds really add up, and since I can only do PP on my work machine — before or after work — time is at a premium for me and I want to expedite anything I can expedite, to leave me more of a window to bungle about with tones in Lr/Ps. Which I thoroughly enjoy doing (though usually after an hour of buggering about, I go back to the simple edits I made first time around!).

              Totally with you though, Jonno, I too found the best bet with X3F Foveons was do what you can in camera, to save pulava later. For example WB. Even though religiously shooting RAW I’d take care to set WB as accurately as I could to keep everything as in the envelope as possible since there is no method to be consistent with color balance in SPP. Beware the grey point sampler there. As an illustration, here’s a fun experiment for you, to show how frustratingly stupid SPP can be in connection with WB. Get a photo you know has a decent 18% grey, mid grey, reference tone in it, load it up in SPP. From the edit view, select a WB preset from the WB options, e.g., “daylight” now sample your reference grey with the WB sample tool to tailor the balance. take a screen shot; save a version, whatever. Now go back to the WB options and change to “shade” or something, click on your reference grey again, take a screen shot or save a version. Do the same for another couple of WB presets. Now go open up the screen shots or saved samples. They are all differently color balanced even though you referenced the same mid grey. To be fair, even Lr is slightly different when you do this test; but not as wildly different as the files you are looking at if you did that test. They are scarily far apart in SPP. That’s why AWB is scary on the DPMs if you are doing more than one shot of the same thing in shifting light. You see why this is a worry because it introduces doubt and uncertainty… I often want to sync a white balance or tonal edits or introduce some consistent post processing control over a set of images, which SPP doesn’t let me do because it was designed by egg-heads who shoot one picture at a time and can’t imagine anything else. Confronted with requests like I’d make, instead of listening to the customer they’d reason and insist and say things like “well, it’s just a bit of work if you want to do that, there’s nothing stopping you… do this, this, this, that, then this, that, this, then do that. Look, it’s the same end.” Precisely the words of people who shoot one picture at a time. And have no interest in considering anything else. I can sympathize, really I can; Sigma is a small small player in this game, and from their tech guys’ point of view, they probably feel jaded that they get criticized or demands are made of them at all after putting in so much effort to code SPP and lay it on for free no less! But they need to cure themselves of that, a kind of silly egotism. Take a leaf out of Ricoh’s book—Sigma’s was totally self-inflicted hardship which can go away in an instant if they adopted the DNG format, for instance. Or just gave Adobe the secret to the sauce and let it be someone else’s problem, but someone who happens to be a specialist in the field and thinks of nothing else all day. It’s just childish Japanese conservatism and backwardness. And I love the Japanese with all my heart. I’ve lived here for over a decade and speak the language and have an inkling on the culture. But they are often very childish and conservative and backwards; because they are also so futuristic and ambitious and mature. But software interface maestros they ain’t—and hence your excellent advice about getting it as right as you can at capture. SPP is barrier between me and what I want to do with my data. Not the gateway it should be. (In my opinion it shouldn’t even be there to begin with.)

              Certainly have tried scanning slides, Jonno. And color negs, and even 6×6 polariods (Fujiroids). I too struggled and strained with a flatbed — the Epson GT-X970; known as the V750 outside of Japan — which certainly wasn’t as promising as advertised. Ming egged me on to try and scan myself using a DSLR (my D3) and that’s where I’m at now. Right now it’s feeling much easier on me than the flatbed was. I’m going through several versions of my set-up, but currently I have a couple sheets of white acrylic, a Nikon SB910, a printing enlarger film carrier, something to lay the acrylic and film holder on, with the flash held underneath, my D3 over the top—and in 30min I can do a roll of 135; in 10, I can do twelve 6×6 negs/pos from my Bronica SQ. I was using a mini lightbox up until last week, but became suspicious of the color temp of the light coming from it, plus it was too dim—I was down at 1/4 sec shutters which is too low for a D3 pointing directly down and some frames would show double imaging from camera shake. Not to mention illumination that dim isn’t enough keys above ambient so killing off stray ambient light and being in a darkened room were both necessary. But yeah, as it happens, it was a roll of color reversal (Velvia 100F) that made me give up the Epson—that was the first thing I tried camera-scanning and never looked back since.
              OK, I look back nearly every camera scan run, that’s how in the dark all this DIY stuff makes me feel. Having trouble reversing color negs in Lr and doubting my D3 scans, I even hauled the Epson out again to do a side by side: the D3 MURDERED it. From slide to color neg to monochrome, they come out better than the Epson—which I think is crap mostly thanks to “Epson Scan.” Those Japanese and their software again! To be fair, I downloaded a free trial of “Vuescan” as it had a great rep, and found that lackluster too: I finally made peace with the idea that the Epson GT-X970 (my work’s, not mine, luckily) was the problem, certainly part of it. They just can’t focus on the film plane right. The Epsons I mean, not my work. The holders are partly to blame, the height of the holders from the “dual lens” (and when “dual lens” with special coating is mentioned, that should be enough to send alarm bells going, i.e., why does it need two lenses and why do they need special coating? What was the problem, etc) and they don’t like doing linear scans too much [i.e., linear is not the default in "pro" mode; we need to go through a ton of rigamarole to just to get this basic output that anyone who has any interest in a scanner that does better than 2400 dpi -- the Epson barely manages it -- wants from the get go]. No, just rack up the D3 on a tripod, carrier on top of an impromptu light box, use a mirror to quickly get planarity. Feed the film into the carrier, click. Tailor exposure. Got it. Next. Next. Next. 36x 14Bit D3 RAWs in 30 minutes: about 10 to 15 minutes faster than the Epson at 3200dpi, with all the digital ICE and bells and whistles turned off, with them on I could probably go and read the bible end to end in the meantime. There but for the grace, Jonno :)

              Sigmas, like slide film, and all film, actually, are indeed unique though, and that’s precisely the reason I went for one in the very beginning, and continue to love them now. And why I was a little disappointed to read the new one, the Quattro, features what looks like a halfway house version of the Foveon—by the looks of it, the modifications are to please the high ISO bayers (pun intended). I dunno, I never really found high ISO an issue with my DPMs. How about you Jonno? First of all, what is anyone doing if they’ve bought a Foveon looking for “see in the dark” high ISOs? The architecture is intrinsically bad at low light (for color photographs, I stress). Even then though, I could get “I’m proud of that” quality color up to 400, “Mmm, not bad” up to 800. “Mmweelll…” upto 1600; monochromes were amazing all the way to 3200, at and after which the weird magenta and green blotches killed the acuity, but the digital grain itself was fine to me upto 6400. I remember when MT took a look at the DP3M, and many comments below the line expressed shock (horror?) at the high ISO sample he posted (the time honored shots of MT’s cassettes and CDs; shout out to Avril Lavigne), at how good it looked I mean. People were saying he’d PP’d them because they couldn’t believe Pepsi was better than, or at least might be as good as, Coke. I think the Merrills were unfairly maligned in that respect, though this isn’t to suggest I think they can do all the things it’s popularly said that they can’t. I tried my best to rebel against all that, and in the end found I had to bow my head to people who knew better and admit that these cameras are for daytime, with plenty of good light and a slower pace of photography. Base ISO and make that Foveon sing to its very best ability. And when we do that, the results are simply unmatched by anything except the 36MP Sony unit in the D800E/A7r, dare I say they outstrip even older MF CCD backs. For a $500 camera, APS-C sensor. That is bonkers. Unique, absolutely.
              But where I compare to bayer cameras, Jonno, is not in the camera, the sensor, or the data—I mean the post workflow. Bayers just kill Foveons here, hands down. Mike Tyson versus Danny Partridge. More disciplined and patient people, no doubt like yourself Jonno, can handle it; but I’m a spoilt little baby on things like this and want it all, and want it now, and throw my toys out the pram, literally!, if I don’t get my way. The DPMs not getting Adobe support just wasn’t my way, so rather than bellyache about it endlessly I practiced what I preached and got rid—to save you all having to batter me over the head with “well, if you think SPP is so bad and life is so much easier with Bayers, why don’t you just sell up and get a Bayer!?” A GeeDubbya preemptive strike. I sold both the DP1M and DP2M and got a Sony A7 with the 35mm FEZA. The Sony is great and has rewarded me greatly already, but, well, as I say, there is $1000 sitting in an account, waiting for the day I can triumphantly walk into the camera shop and buy a DP2M back, and a DP3M while I’m at it. They’ll probably only need half of that by the time Sigma get round to making Adobe support happen. Assuming they have the will to make it happen. I just gave up waiting. I live in hope though.

              (and now, I’m sure, you’re never looking forward to me again, Jonno! Sorry for the length—what can a man do but be who he is m(. .)m Cheers!)

              • Hi Tom. My poor old eyes. Getting through your comments on a phone screen whilst sitting on public transport on the way home from work was not easy;) but a good read none the less.
                i also used the epson v750 for “photo scanning”. What a great review – validating my own thoughts. Glad to know im in good company!
                Regarding high ISO on Sigma DPM here are my findings; if you can accept the grain up to ISO 3200 is useable – even colour but with limits. I find that at high ISO shots become dreamy and a little surreal but it is not altogether unpleasant. The effect is similar to ISO 400 pushed a couple of stops or ISO 1600 film. People used to actually purposely try to get grainy photos in the 80s and 90s believe it or not!
                However, the magenta blotching found from ISO 1600 is a serious problem for portraiture which unless you’re willing to spend time on PS removing it, limits the scope of the cameras to mono duty for this category.
                ISO 6400 is only for use if you’re really desperate or want to be creative.
                Do my findings ring true with you?

                • Jonno! A hearty pat on the back for suffering me on the mobile. Inordinate amount of typos, bad grammar (Ming egging me on to “scan myself”—images of me trying to cram my fat face into a V750, etc) unclosed italic tags and all. Well done. I’m tapping this one out on my mobile, and likewise on public transport, on my way home.

                  Wow. No, you sound a ton more able and savvy on the DPMs with high ISO, than I ever was. I kept my upper AutoISO bound at 640 and only really shot monochrome thereafter (shoot in color but convert to mono in SPP). Generally speaking.

                  I think Mark J is a big Foveon shooter so he might have some expertise to add to my wobbly experience.

                  The Foveons are pretty light hungry sensors in my opinion — so interesting to read you favor underexposures in some circumstances — if you can get the light, the higher ISOs are useable in my experience too; though I never got a successful 6400. That’s some going, Jonno. What I mean by “high ISO/enough light” is that, while these are low light situations it’s dim rather than dark, and there is enough light for a reasonably evenly lit frame (with the right shutter/aperture/yada yada): in those circumstances I found a higher ISO and brighter exposure and then taking it back in post, if necessary, was better than an underexposure and trying to push it a stop in post. The shadows just got too horrible. Foveon shadows prefer going the other way, darker. This is to say: I think Foveons are highlight biased. Though that isn’t a license to overexpose, either—like CCDs, I found Foveon clipping quite abrupt and digital. Though, yeah, about a stop and a third to two thirds recoverable highlights on them?
                  Most of my opportunity for photography is my lunch hour or my walk home. I don’t finish work until 20:30 or gone 21:00 most days so it’s pretty dark out, and the DPMs were terrible at that, for me—when there are bright point sources but a general paucity of light. There’s just nothing much you can do when it’s a DPM in your hand (given what we expect of this camera and know it can do). The shadow DR was never brilliant in my view, as I say, I think most of the DR was up in the highlights, so those night shots were always intentionally chiaroscuro and nearly always monochrome. The color reproduction in such circumstances was so faint, even shooting color the output often looked mono, or a few steps away from it.

                  The green/magenta blotching is an interesting one, and may actually be incorrect signal processing — fixable by software — rather than an untreatable physical problem. I found I could get that blotching at base ISO doing flash photos. Looking into why this should be happening (translation: thinking Christ! do I have a lemon!?) I came across some scholastic Foveon talk on a DPR Forum (cross ourselves three times and ten Hail Maries) about this exact phenomenon and it appeared to be incident light hitting the photon wells at very oblique angles and confusing the sensels, making them read out green or magenta when the wavelength of the photon was nothing of the sort and should have been filtered the correct way. That comes across like a physical problem, and while it is certainly a physical effect, it sounded like the angles at which this happens were very defined and could be accounted for in signal processing, i.e., cure the issue with software like they cured the Hubble telescope’s out of design envelope problems with software. I can’t remember all the clever cloggs’ words, but it seemed persuasive to me at the time… With respect to the high ISO version of the blotching though, the smudging effect those blotches introduced had always disappointed me—switching to mono doesn’t ameliorate the problem and I lost quite a few snaps I liked because of it.
                  If I were Sigma, I’d do an IBM with the Foveon—make it open source. It’s mostly anoraks that go in for them, and I think problems such as the ones we’re talking about, including getting a Bayer-centric digital developer software like Camera RAW to understand X3F data and how to deal with RAW that doesn’t need a demosiac, these could all be solved quite sharply by the awesome user group the Foveon sensor has. It wouldn’t be a bad idea from the sales point of view either: different sensor; different way of doing things, but inclusive –> strong foundations for community and with that, long term sales (think Harley Davidson—the brand’s strength, and all that money, flows from an independent image and the rock solid community the bikes have. Sigma could do their version of the photographic equivalent, if they really wanted to). Different sensor, different way of doing things: open source. “Better” isn’t actually what punters react to (with their wallets), “different” is. A zillion retail cases in point, but we could just use mirrorless cameras as a fitting example: the fastest growing camera segment today is “mirrorless.” Because it’s different. And different is easy to market successfully (though it’s not just as simple as that!). The D3300, is a fearsome machine and honestly I think just for the sensor alone is “better” than most cameras out there—but it’s not different, in fact it’s very “samey,” so who gives a ish about the D3300. The Fujifilm XT-1, however… the Sony A7, the Olympus E-M1, etc., these are all different cameras in the different category to DSLRs, and get all the attention. Well, I’m slipping into typical Tom digression, but you get it—different is powerful when you’ve got a product that is demonstrably it. Sigma have THE best hand in this game and they are losing it like naive tourists from Dakota visiting a mob run Vegas casino. I actually get angry that they are this clueless. I’d happily sort their camera division out—job one:

                  ADOBE X3F SUPPORT :)

                  Ok Jonno, I need to tap out here (har har). A pleasure speaking to you; here’s to the day we can be Foveon brothers again!

                  • Hi Tom. What i meant with ISO 6400 is that it is mostly unusable unless in cases of desperation or if you are purposely using the “effect” creatively. Under most circumstances it is to be avoided.
                    Thats good information about the blotches. If software can fix it then there is hope. Ive only found it at high ISOs though. And smearing hasn’t been a problem yet.
                    I did discover some very wierd hard shadows akin to being drawn on by black marker pen when taking pictures in very harsh lighting recently though. This threw me back abit.
                    In all honesty i have my good days and bad days with the foveon sensors. One day they are the dog’s b’lloks and another they leave me frustrated as hell. Perhaps one day ill be like you and say enough but not yet. There’s too much left to discover. Anyway thats quite enough about the sigma DPMs for one day. Cheers. Jonno

                    • Understood on the 6400 Jonno. And still, that’s good going. I never dared any higher than 2000.

                      Best of British to you with the Foveons Jonno—it seems to me, if you can live with SPP, as you can, then there’s nothing to make you say goodbye to the cameras. We all know they are temperamental, annoying, and worth it. It was grudgingly and with great regret I let mine go; and as said: I never really let go of them in my heart, as I’m already waiting for the day I can buy them back. Hopefully I’ll be a more capable photographer then and be able to use them more expertly: I never tried landscape or cityscape—the whole reason I bought one in the first place! (an unrealistic beginner!)

                      The last frame I ever took with a Merrill. Fittingly sad :(

                  • You’re missing the wonderful commute to work in the mornings. Get off a stop earlier or later and walk the difference :)

                    • You’re right. I did, early on, shoot the commute to work quite a bit, but my eye just got tired of the scenes I guess: once you’ve done the inside of train stations and salarymen waiting to board carriages, it’s diminishing returns all the way after that, plus looking at other Tokyo photographers—salarymen, trains, commuting is not exactly fresh and arresting material. I just got to feeling like it was too low a fruit and I should use my morning commute for reading or something useful.
                      This said. Getting off a stop early (or late!) and walking is a GREAT idea: something I hadn’t though of (I’m not saying I’m lazy enough for it to be unthinkable :) ) and the a.m. life of the streets, the mise en scene as the city gets the day started should yield some good stuff. I’m keeping that idea :P As we’d say in Japan, “Itadaki!”
                      (“I’m taking it”)

                      And now to work! 5minutes late :o

                    • The station bit would probably get old. But Tokyo is such a warren of streets that I’d imagine you could probably find a short detour every day…

              • The V750 wasn’t any good? Hmm, this is not encouraging…

                • You might do better with 4x5s because you’re just laying them straight on the flatbed. There’s no way that there are as many DPI as Epson says though—and the KILLER is that you need to scan at their red-faced lie high resolutions and then downsize to get real world DPI results. I found cropped D3 scans were out resolving V750 set to 3200dpi: that shouldn’t happen. Main problem—FOCUS

                  • Here’s a cool trick to set the focus on a flatbed if you have an adjustable focus film holder (like the Betterscanning ones): http://cjeastwd.blogspot.com/2013/04/tuning-focus-on-epson-perfection-scanner.html

                    Also, I now do the very fashionable, Ming-inspired wearing of my GR on my belt when I walk to lunch. :)

                    • Ka-POW!

                      (There’s a major cross-licensing chance for GLOCK and RICOH here—a GR holster made by Glock? Yes please!)

                    • I would imagine their holsters are outsourced? In any case, the Ricoh holster is pretty good – you can even take off the top leather flap to have a very fast slip-in; I’d prefer it to be a bit more secure, but it’s not bad.

                    • The GR holster is not at all fashionable. I’m not under any delusions. But it is very, very fast. :)

                  • I thought the focal plane on the V750 was controllable with their multiple lens system and all that…hmm, disappointing.

                    • Give it a go, see what you get.

                      No use for you with 4×5, but the Nikon SuperCoolscan 9000ED still rules the roost. Unless you want to go photomultiplier tube like the excellent blog Andre linked to. I think, considering your images MT, you might actually want to get into that, sometime.
                      (Trivia: as a former radiation instrument specialist, many counters and detectors used PMTs before energy compensated GMTs and solid-state detection technology became the best option. Know and love PMTs. Great technology and science in them; VERY fragile)

                      Gordon is probably the most well up on this—and, as I recall, after trying this that and the other, he settled for wet scans on a flatbed, no ANR glass or special holders or anything. If I knew how to clean films myself I might try that—but it means going back to the Epson again. Not a happy prospect (as there are only so many hours in the day). Since I only shoot 135 and 120, and only intend to from herein, the SuperCoolscan 9000ED is a very tempting option… And I have found one in Tokyo, in good condition, for 200,000JPY (which is pretty good for a 9000ED); but, then again, if I can perfect the camera scanning, I could get a used D800E body for the same. And have a camera into the bargain.
                      Best choice of action at the mo’ though, for me, is stick with the D3 and figure out how to up the quality of my scans, and BIG TICKET ITEM: sort my C41 color out. I bit the bullet and ordered a set of post-card sized prints of every frame in the last roll of 135 Ektar I shot, to use as color references (the lab has a proper Kodak Ektar develop and print machine). I was surprised to see, I am getting very, very close with a D3 and Lr to the colors in the prints. But still no cigar…

                    • I’m happy with the D800 process except for 4×5, but even that isn’t as painful as I thought it’d be. There are a lot fewer images to begin with :)

                    • So as Tom knows, I’ve been thinking about film scanners a bunch recently, and the CS9000 was high on my list until I started reading about it. It’s great scanner, but I’d be careful with them since there is basically no service for it — Nikon will try to fix them, but they are running out of parts, and there are stories of $2000 doorstops out there … For that money, I’d rather get a Plustek Opticfilm 120, which actually has higher resolution, is current, and is cheaper than used CS9000s, all of which are selling for at least 25% more than when they were new. The 120’s price also includes a full copy of Silverfast, which makes it a better value, and its film holders are said to be much better than the Nikon’s. People have added things like ANR glass panes and brass reinforcements to the film holders to improve the flatness of the film. CS9000 also requires a Firewire port, whereas the 120 has USB.

                      Anyway, having said all that, I’m glad Gordon said what he said above, because there are some (not many) examples of an Epson flatbed outperforming a Coolscan on 135 frames! For example: http://cjeastwd.blogspot.com/2009/03/nikon-iv-ed-vs-epson-flatbed.html He’s also tested the Dmax of the Nikon LS-4000 and the Epson 4990 with a step wedge, and the results are surprisingly bad for the Nikon, and pretty good for the Epson. So it would seem that, like many things photographic, the skill of the operator counts for a lot, and the Epson can yield very good results with sufficient effort.

                    • I think only the more expensive 10000XL and 11000XL offered a lens that could be focused. I may have a better quality control V750M that usual, though mine is focusing accurately. The method often used is to shim the holders to get better positioning. Interestingly, the included holders I got have height adjusters. Since I am only using the wet mount tray, I have not needed to use any height adjustments. As the car commercials state: your mileage may vary. ;)

              • Hi Tom, I had to do a bit of reading and check translation. There are a few models of the V750M and different film holders. I don’t use the supplied plastic support holders at all; I only use the wet mount glass tray. The height on the glass tray may be different than on the holders. I did know about issues with the Epson Scanner, though the important thing for me was to test it as soon as I got it. The other big difference is that I use SilverFast AI Studio with the V750M. Keep in mind that scanners are sensitive optical instruments. The Epson V750M is very light, especially compared to my old Heidelberg flatbed. Internal optics and components getting bumped out of position can be an issue on any scanner, though a light weight scanner may be more of a concern. Epson does pack their scanner quite well, so the first worry was minor of it getting off in transit. There are also lockdowns that need to be used, even if you are only moving it from one desk to another. I do question the quality control of Epson, though I’m not convinced that they are as horrible as some internet people make them out to be. Perhaps I got an exemplary version, though I can report that I have zero scanning problems, and focus is crisp on the wet mount tray.

                Basically, I think Epson Scan sucks. I’ve been using SilverFast for many years. I’ve also used VueScan, but I think you need to be an engineer to understand that software. I tutor wet mount flatbed scanning for some professional photographers still using film, so I’ve used and seen many different set-ups. The Canon 9900 was impressive, especially for a very low cost scanner. I’ve used nearly every Nikon too, and the 8000 or 9000 would be great, except that I need to scan 6×12 and 4×5. The Plustek was a consideration, and if the Epson was sh*t, then I would’ve sent it back and got the Plustek, again with SilverFast software. I still run a modified Canon CanoScan dedicated 35mm scanner on the odd times I need to scan an older slide, and that tops out at 4800 dpi scans.

                I would like to say that scanners are easy to use, or user friendly, but they are not. The Creo scanners I used in the past were easier for me to use, but the prices (even on used ones) are way out of budget for many photographers. The Imacon (Hasselblad) scanners are really nice, but even higher priced. The Dainippon Screen Cezanne, and those rare Fuji flatbed scanners, are really capable, though they require an old dedicated computer to run, and parts are tough to find.

                There is a scanning solution for film shooters, depending upon budget, though the middle ground is gone. The Epson and all software updates ran me around $1000 USD to get the way I wanted it to run, and that was with a big discount on initial purchase. Overall the solution Ming is working on may be far easier for most people to use. Those with deep pockets should look at Imacon/Hasselblad, or find a refurbished Creo iQSmart to run.

                • I had a Canon 9900; that was an absolute disaster. No amount of shimming would fix things; I suspect it was because focus was bumped out and inside the scanning bed.

                  • The Canon 9900 I helped set-up with wet scanning turned out to work best with the film on the glass. I suppose that is an indication of how far off the holders are in the kit. It’s worth mentioning that particular photographer returned two 9900 scanners before the third one actually worked nicely. I doubt I would’ve tried that many times. Maybe because he shoots Canon DSLRs he decided to keep going. Seemed to me that quality control was lacking.

                    • Sounds like calibration/ alignment isn’t very well done (if at all) out of the factory…

                    • I’ve heard that about the Canon 9000f. Many accounts of it on the Internet say that you should lay the negative right on the scanner’s glass.

                    • That would make sense since the thing is optimised to scan flat docs, and the neg trays hold them above the glass. The problem is that mine didn’t work well even with the negs on the glass…

                • Thanks for that Gordon, and hello again :)

                  So, as Andre knows, I had been chipping away with using the D3 to scan for the past few weeks, but one frame of Fuji 160NS, a real chiaroscuro photo, doggedly refusing to give it up to me in Lr, no matter how much tonal gymnastics I did, that was the last straw (and I’ve heard that C-41 color doesn’t like underexposure; but I’m not sure this was that). It just killed me. I walked to the company store cupboard and pulled out the battered Epson GT-X970 (V750, not sure if it’s an “M” or not as I’m not sure about the ex-Japan taxonomy). And set it up.
                  The following is a frame from a roll of Kodak SuperGold (of all things), from the first roll I put through it. All I did was tailor the R G B channels in EpsonScan so white and black points for each channel were flush (to the eye) with the respective ends of the histogram. I scanned it as a positive, everything else switched off, made a 16it TIFF and imported and did the switcheroo in Lr. Put the white and black points (now black and white points) back to 255 and 0 (there always seems to be a bit of open space either end), and bent the R G B curves the tiniest bit. Here it is. It’s a touch magenta-y, depending on your screen, but overall, the color balance from 0 to 255, that is about twenty times better than anything I’ve been able to do with D3 scanning, trying various things (like using color filters to bias the light shot through the neg to give me a helping hand when reversing the D3 raws in Lr; as the Lr WB tools have limits and I could never compensate enough for the orange color mask, leaving me stuck on blue-cyan photos or do some violent curve bending in R G B and get a ton of noise and yucky looking photos). I even tried various light sources (lightbox, flash, window on a sunny day, etc). So seeing the colors in that negative come out so well, and this was a snap taken at work, under fluorescent light (that magenta tinge is maybe me over compensating for the green just a tad); it was at the same time a very happy and very deflating result… But, results are all I’m after now — I’ve given up on convenience, ease of use, etc — so I’m going to bite the bullet and stick with the Epson and practice scanning much more. Up until now, I’d been operating on the naive hope that I could make the scanning bit as labor un-intensive as possible, and save all the heavy lifting and fiddly for stuff for afterward, in a piece of software I’m comfortable and familiar with: Lightroom.
                  Reading your comments in this thread, and those of others, and related material on the net, I’ve surrendered to the fact that if I want quality, I’ll have to put the time in at the scanning stage—elbow grease very definitely required. I was so averse to doing this, because unlike 90% of internet how-tos by grey-beards spending two hours to scan a picture of a rose, I’m not just scanning one frame—I want to do a whole roll. Rolls at a time. I want big pictures to look at, and every frame (that’s not clear plastic), because I’m no good at judging which frames I like from loupes or thumbnail previews. And while I’m getting better at visualizing what a color neg might look like as a positive, until I see the finished thing, I honestly have no real idea. I also just enjoy editing photos. So I wanted to have a scan of every frame on the roll, edit them up, practice in the process, then make my cut from worked up pictures.
                  I shoot a couple to a few rolls a week now, so I have a fair stock of scanning work waiting. And, you know Epson scan, but going over each and every frame, zooming, scan-framing up, doing levels, returning to full view, next frame, repeat; for 24 to 36 frames, for about 2 rolls of 135 per week and 1 of 120… that wasn’t an appealing idea to me, so I wanted to expedite and make the scan step as automated and as rote as possible, to leave me the time for editing and admiring myself and publishing on Flickr. But I just don’t think I can circumvent the labor necessary for getting a halfway acceptable color neg reversal. I’m resigned to treating each frame as above, scanning and then finishing in Lr. I’ll have to learn the art of scanning to refine my process in the first step, as I go. Though it might turn out that putting the work in before hand, before Lr, will mean there’s almost nothing then to do in Lightroom.
                  I’m scanning a roll from a disposable camera right now, and it’s taken me one hour to balance levels on each frame for the 24; now scanning with digital ICE on, so it’ll be another hour+ before I can get home. But I think I should be able to to Lr the scans very quickly (though this also means I’ve had to give up on the idea, the wish, of being able to treat color negs like digital RAW files — which in principle I should’ve been able to do since it *is* a digital RAW/TIFF file I’m working on…). So I’m kinda wishing I’d just gone home at 22:00 like everyone else, but I was so gee’ed up after that SuperGold roll, I had to continue playing with the scanner. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to get whites white, and shadows not some muddy red or indelible cyan, etc.
                  (The quality of the tones and colors above may not look great to you, but compared to what I’ve been through, they are looking like a million dollars to me at the moment)

                  My soft looking scans, at scanner output size, may be due to an out-of-kilter lens… that was good information to learn. Though I’m not too worried about that at moment—my first priority is successful and pleasing color rendition from the negs. But I wonder if Epson would look at the focus for me? Something to inquire with them about next week. As I say, it’s work’s scanner, that was lying unloved in the back of the storeroom: it is pretty battered (on the outside), so it’s readily imaginable that the lens may have been knocked off its mojo.
                  When new, this scanner should have come with Silverfast, but in typical fashion no-one knows where the software that it came with is. It didn’t even have the film holders, power pack or connections when I found it, and I’d arranged to get a set of new ones from Epson back when I commandeered it. I didn’t bother with the color calibration target or any of that. But if I’d known about the holders you have I should’ve asked about it back then. I can’t afford to go out and re-buy it Silverfast, so I’ll just have to persevere with EpsonScan: though to be fair, it is giving me slightly better than my D3 right now, without me having a clue about it or what most of the controls do. With a bit of familiarity, and putting the time into each individual frame, I think I could probably do better still. I did download a free-trial version of Vuescan, but this was back when I was in “no appetite for fiddling about in foreign software” mode, and the program just looked like a ton of work to me. EpsonScan might turn out to suit my needs and low standards for now. It’ll probably be a good thing to learn on and get frustrated with, so I know what I’ll want when I’m savvy and saved up enough to go get another scanner, or just another driver.

                  I’m actually trying this disposable roll using Epson’s inversion, i.e., scanning as “color negative” not as a transparency (as “positive”) like every one says you should. The previous image linked to and that first roll of SuperGold that I felt went well were all scanned as positives—but playing with one test frame from the disposable roll before starting the batch scan, I did a few runs with different settings, and it looks to me like having EpsonScan invert the negative (and I tailor the result before scanning-proper) returns better tones and detail. When I compare with a scan done in exactly the same way except scanned as a positive in EpsonScan and reversed in Lr, it looks less detailed and the colors aren’t quite as sharp (I’m sensing more and more that reversing in Lr is a really tone-destructive process, because files are always super-brittle ever after doing that, whether they’re from a D3 or the Epson). An Epson inverted TIFF is still a 16bit capture, so it seems to me if all I’m going to do in Lr is invert and tinker just a little, the inversion step is probably an empty gesture and I may as well have EpsonScan do it, and then all I need to do is the “tinker a little” step. We’ll see how it goes with this disposable roll…

                  Wow, this film stuff, though—cruel mistress!

                  • One last mention:

                    The other thing about the Epson—it BAKES negatives. That disposable roll just finished and they look like crispy bacon! :o :)

                    (I guess the fluid solution may help there too)

                    • When i have many C-41 frames to scan, I try to have either small prints, or get a larger contact index sheet of the images. Editing prior to scanning will save tons of time.

                    • I tried that with my last roll of Ektar (135) actually—just ordered a set of postcard sized prints with the developed film. I’d gotten so sick of D3 scanning and having no idea where the “truth” of the negative was in post (up in the air, but at least a print is something to work relative to). It costed 2,000 JPY to have every frame on the roll printed. But, for me right now, that was actually money really well spent. I got both the color reference I wanted; and just as you say, Gordon, it was a help for seeing which frames would be worth bothering with. I can’t continue having a set of postcard sized prints for every roll I shoot, but it’s certainly worth it from time to time for me (while I’m learning). I’ll have a look-see if they can do a contact sheet which sounds like a good idea too.

                      I can’t wait to get back to the office on Monday (where all my negatives and the scanner is). There are a few things I’d like to try on the scanner settings wise, and a roll of Fuji 100 I’d like to scan as it has some frames I can’t wait to show five or six people who stop by my Flickr page :)
                      (By the by, it’s just straight “Fuji 100,” not superia or anything halfway premium sounding; but I’m finding I quite like these consumer oriented emulsions: Kodak Supergold, after that shot of the A7 I managed, under fluorescents, is looking pretty user friendly to me, too).

                      Did you ever bother with dedicated color inversion plugins, Gordon? I’d been loath to admit, but also resigned to the idea, that I might need something like this for my color negatives—things were going so badly for me up until now, I was literally on the verge of getting my card out and just doing it. But having seen a little light at the end of tunnel with the renaissance of the Epson flatbed I’m back to thinking scanner + Tom (+ a bit of TLC at the scanner settings stage) is all that’s necessary. It sounded like you can get everything you want from Silverfast, without something like C-F colorneg/Colorperfect.

                    • Hi Tom. Working methods are almost like trade secrets. ;)

                      I’m not sure I would photograph C-41 negatives with a D3, though perhaps if I did a custom white balance, then stuck an 80A filter on the front of the lens, though there is still the inversion step. SilverFast is very good with C-41 films, though there are times I want more out of a scan. One thing I do is to make sure the scan is linear curve, then I set a point that should be neutral grey (if possible). That file then gets converted and “curved” in Photoshop. It helps to watch the Channels when doing that, though a bit more advanced. All this sounds time consuming, though the main idea is that you want to minimize your capture time. There should only be two or three steps once the file is in the editing software. Quite likely there are so many ways to do this, that you may find something on your own.

                      Don’t forget that C-41 is inverted, though there is an orange film base to deal with too. Neutralizing that film base should be done before your adjust colour balance. Technically that Flickr image looks fine, for now. Try not to put too much time into it, and think quick and repeatable as a goal.

                    • Hi again Gordon. I’m sure I’ve missed you, but just for posterity:

                      Understood. You guard those trade secrets ;)
                      I’m like Capt. Ahab on this so don’t mind me!

                      But can I jump on WB when camera scanning color negs –> on one of the numerous online “how to” tutorials about “how to neutralize the orange mask” that I read, and tried, the author recommended setting the camera to the tungsten white balance, or tuning it from there, and doing the scanning. I didn’t really engage my brain, and thought “oh yeah!” and did it. And opened my RAW files in Lr to find massively orange files, as always. It made no difference to the data whatsoever—because the data is, of course, RAW files and things like white balance and a colorspace, while not completely up in the air, are still, well, certainly not set in stone until we define and assign those parameters for the data. In my case I use Lr, and its default colorspace is ProPhotoRGB, and the WB is set in the usual way. Except in Lr the sliders, the WB controls, don’t go far enough to let us “neutralize” the color mask properly (though we can wrench individual R G B curves to get it there, but, as I’ve found, that requires pretty drastic bending and it’s as good as killing your data. Just doesn’t work). So, forgetting about fiddling with capture WB setting, I got into light filtering my light source — similar to your 80A filter suggestion — except on my scheme, I was biasing the light before it went through the color negative, and this might not have been a good idea. I just got to feeling like I was destroying information there, not creating the conditions for bringing it out. Funnily enough a single blue Fujifilm “LB” (lightbalancing) filter gave a bit better results than two Fujifilm “CC” (color correction) filters: a blue and a green to make cyan. (Incomplete supply meant I had to switch between Fujifilm filter product lines to get what I wanted.) I went for the composite cyan option as the single blue filter results were OK, but I kept getting trouble with the green channel in the resulting data. So I thought adding the green filter would push me over the line; instead it pushed me further away—I don’t mean magenta, I mean files were very brittle when editing, and blocky, and I just got one of those gut feelings that I was going in the wrong direction.
                      But after all this I finally figured why everyone talks about WB even though we are recording RAW files. It’s for the histogram, and therefore tailoring the camera-scan exposure, isn’t it. When I was camera scanning — I almost want to say “with no protection” there :) — when I was scanning negs “naked”: just color negative over light source style, as mentioned above, I quickly learned that WB was meaningless, but this also introduced the stress of knowing that what the histograms were telling me was as good as arbitrary. I could blow the red channel completely out, according to the camera’s histogram, but with the correct white balance in post, that was easily within range and under 255. So, there it struck me: setting WB so the preview you get in camera isn’t the orange/red looking color negative as you see it but a grey-blue looking thing, close to what it’d look like with the orange mask WB’ed out, that’s useful because it allows us to get close to what the optimal exposure settings are for capturing the maximum amount of data from that negative, binning as much as we can in the top two stops. Of course with a RAW capture, we have to fight for that same WB again in post, but the concept should hold water. I actually thought about WB’ing in camera to get a neutralized mask, and then not recording in RAW, but using the D3’s TIFF or even, gasp, its jpeg option. Then the WB would be burned in, and all we’d have to do is invert in the software of choice (and not all software has the correct maths for the kind of inversion operation we need). I never tried that test, but I’m sure it’d work. Though who knows about the quality. There are no free lunches, and WB’ing the camera as drastically as that is just biasing the camera’s sensor; it’s not suddenly more sensitive to particular wavelengths, out of nowhere (as if it never uses all that horsepower usually)—the sensor can’t change (and most sensors are optimized to daylight, I think) and all that’s happening is probably analog amplification of G and B, and perhaps a dampening of R. At any rate, I would confidently predict, the reversed capture TIFF would be pretty noisy indeed. I should do this test and find out though!
                      As an aside, I mentioned to Andre (as we have a two man moan-in going about our scanning blues :) ), I thought it’d be neat if camera makers offered an inverted RAW capture—uRAW. All the R data would be written as its reciprocal value into the G and B bins (for cyan), all the B data written, in reciprocal, into the R and G bins (for yellow) and all the G data, value in reciprocal again, written into the R and B bins (for magenta). This uRAW would be RAW data, qualitatively the same animal as the RAWs we all know and love, but ready inverted. With the right white balance, the colorneg captures should come out of camera pleasantly reversed, and should be nice malleable RAW data for us to play with, in the way we already know how. So for camera-scanners, uRAW would be a Godsend. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible with just firmware updating (we’re only changing values and where numbers go, not how they are captured); though that would be the mother of all firmware updates and a real coding and engineering task that no maker in their right mind would touch with a bargepole. Ricoh will probably have a go sometime soon :)

                      Completely with you on repeatable. But I’ve given up on “quick.” Trying to be quick sent me from the Epson (without messing with the driver; just switch every bell and whistle off, frame roughly with room to spare and scan 16bit TIFFs—I naively thought I could crop, color and level correct and do everything in Lr later. I know, I know…) from there to the D3, to a ton of camera-scan set-ups and a ton of small chips bits and bobs here and there for mini-lightobxes or filters or acrylic for flash diffusers or little boxes for flashes, and on and on; and now back to the Epson again. It wasn’t all wasted time, as the travails with the D3 and inverting in Lr has taught me a ton of post stuff I’d have never have known, or used. Most of all grounded me in the Lr tools and working to a histogram; generally building a base of experience to operate from. And build further from there, in turn. It’s all knowledge I can try on the Epson again now!
                      Neutralizing… A quick note on orange masks for anyone bumping into this conversation from the future; but I have to mention here it’s a tricky thing to neutralize and do well in software, as the orange mask is not linear—the density of the orange mask changes in exact accordance with the exposure of the film. This is at the local, micro level. The reason why is bound up in what the orange mask actually is: a chemical tool for improving color integrity (by preventing dyes from the color layers “cross talking” when they shouldn’t: when they do, the result is polluted colors), and — such an amazing feat this — a chemical tool that reacts perfectly in-step with the amount of exposure, i.e., the amount of color emulsion activity, locally. The map of orange mask’s density will match the exposure map perfectly, as it reacts to the dyes reacting. Like snowflakes, every mask map will be different (as we can’t take the same photo twice, i.e., every exposure is different). Now try and neutralize that with a one size fits all software trick! Many online “how to neutralize the orange mask” tutorials just treat the orange as a constant color across the image, a static property, when it most certainly isn’t. This said though, the simple “orange is a constant” correction seems pretty much 98% there to my eye (with additional fiddling). And 98% is enough for my taste, too.
                      Where I get into trouble, Gordon, is “repeatable”—I’m not there and struggling with it. I wasn’t ready for how the exposure on the film itself so radically affects color balance. Coming from digital, you kind of feel bulletproof in post because (within certain limits) we can just go at the tones, and the data is generally quite malleable and friendly and plays along. I can have two RAW files, say about two stops apart in exposure (factor of 4 times light difference) and get them looking quite similar in terms of color balance. Not the same, but perceptually close; when it goes well: “nearasdammit.” Whereas with color negs, I found the same frame, one stop, or less, difference, and that’s that—you’ve got two different color balanced photos, and no amount of fiddling can escape it. Fiddling isn’t the word, “wrestling” is. It’s like wrestling a snake—get the midtones from the two frames looking the same, and the shadows are different. Bend the shadow areas to be in tune, the midtones shift a bit and the lights are now way out. Fix the lights, midtones are now broken. Go back, start again. Fix lights, get midtones in the zone; shadows are completely f—ed. Like this. It was so frustrating. I sat and stared at my screen, stared down those R G B curves and figured: well, these were chemically burned in at time of capture, even at the same spot, with the same exposure, consequent frames and I can’t get them to balance the same! Why? The ambient light changed. The sun went behind a cloud, whatever—the light was different and the emulsion reacted differently… and the camera/scanner can’t invent tones that aren’t there. That’s why. Two different light regimes => two different color balances (though they may be close, etc). I dunno, you’ll probably hit me with some zinger about it being perfectly possible for different exposures on the emulsion to yield the same color balance, but it seems a tough, tough proposition to me.

                      So “repeatable” is like Mount Everest at the moment. The north face of the Eiger. But even though the winds buffet me, try to discourage and dislodge me, I’m clinging on. Squinting up at the peak. I won’t stop climbing until I’m up there. You’re right: hopefully I’ll learn a few tricks of my own on the way :)
                      (And they’ll go with me to the grave!)

                    • Tom, I think our correspondence on this spans something like 3 different sites (email, Flickr, and Ming’s comment section)! I’ll type this one in public in the hope that someone else will find this useful.

                      I was playing with my new copy stand and digitizing frames this weekend, and have found a few things. The C-41 reversal process I’m most comfortable with now is Cmd-I followed by setting the black point sample in Photoshop’s Curves adjustment to the unexposed part of the frame, and that gets me in the ballpark. Then I have to rely on my memory to move the rest of the colors by moving the high and low points of each individual RGB curve (usually green and blue) until the picture looks right. Compared to the Noritsu scan, it’s still a tiny bit blue, but it’s acceptable for me.

                      Then on the global curve, I bend the curve down a bit to approximate the density inversion — if you remember, you can’t just do inversion by inverting the slope of the curve, because density is logarithmic, so I bend it down to approximate the 1/x curve. It’s not ColorPerfect, but good enough for me.

                      To hold the negs down, I tape them emulsion side up (so the film designations all read in reverse) onto the fuzzy side of a piece of ANR glass (a scrap my local frame shop gave me, probably because of all the framing business I’ve done with them — thanks Ming!) and photograph the emulsion side. The ANR glass is below the film, and the smooth side of the film is what’s touching the ANR glass. Scotch Magic Tape works well. This is a bit of a pain because a 6×9 negative really likes to buckle and it’s hard to hold the whole thing down, and it’s really slow, but this gives me the sharpest results. I’m still messing around with exposure, but it is nice to have a wide-latitude sensor take the picture.

                      Stitching has somehow become a disaster as PS cannot properly stitch my images even with generous overlaps. I wonder how I ever got clean stitches when I was just winging it. Anyway, I’m just digitizing the 6x9s full-frame with the Sony 5N for now. It’s not bad, especially for web sharing. Since I have the negs, I can always scan them better in the future.

                      135 frames are much easier to deal with and I have the ES-1 along with a used Nikon scanner filmstrip holder coming this week, so hopefully my workflow for scanning 135 will improve — the last 3 B&W on my Flickr were done with the taped-to-ANR-glass method (including Converse Shoe #2). But the image quality of 135 is kind of awful, especially smooth tonality, compared to MF. I can only imagine what Ming’s LF looks like.

                      Every time I have a setback, I wistfully look at eBay and my B&H wishlist where there is a stash of film scanners (Pacific Image PrimeFilm XA and Plustek 120 for me), but I’m not giving in yet. A couple of Nikon CS9000EDs on eBay I’d been following just went for even more insane prices. One near me (the thing is a beast, and best not shipped) went for $3600! $3600!!!! This scanner was about $2000 new not too long ago, and typically sells for $2600, which is already mind-boggling. Add to that $300 for Silverfast AI, and $500 for the Nikon holder that takes ANR glass, and it is beyond insane.

                    • Hi Tom. Try this. Assuming you are using a light table, set D3 to Tungsten. Do a RAW capture. Import to LightRoom. Go immediately to the ToneCurve box. Take the left point, and raise that to the top of that box (your image should go completely white). Next take the right side point, which is at the top of the box, and pull that down to the bottom of the box. You image is now inverted cleanly, and you have a linear Curve. Since we know that film response is not linear, we need to adjust the curve. Under the ToneCurve box are a set of sliding controls for Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows. Adjust those to get an even range of colours, but not an accurate image. Your image may still look too light. Next go to the Eyedropper tool, and you will then select a Neutral region in your image. Pick something grey or metallic, or concrete. After that you can adjust to a more visually pleasing result.

                    • In time honored fashion, we’re pushing the limits of WordPress’s comments template. It feels good to be back here again :)

                      So, Andre + Tom’s C41 Symposium

                      Andre, thanks for that. The work flow sounds about the same as where I was with the D3 process. As you recommended me to do with the Epson, I shall recommend you to do with the camera set-up. Keep on with it and continue to explore if you feel like you’re on the right track. My ultimate conclusion was that camera scanning color C41 and inverting from that data flatters to deceive—you find you are always nearly there, but that final step to crisp inverted color never comes. The closest I ever was to good on this method (and I haven’t explored it fully, I admit), was just with the neg over the light source and capturing a RAW. No filters, nothing fancy. But even then, I think the contents of the negative’s frames decided it more than my capture method. Some negs work, many don’t.
                      I went through tens of different ways to invert in Lr: the hardest, but most reliable, of which was ignoring the preview image in the main window completely and just looking at the master histogram, top right, of the captured RAW negative file in Lr; and color balancing manually from that with R G and B curves, also doing a combo of parametric RGB curve bending and using the tools in the “Basic” palette (that’s the “exposure” tool, the “highlights” and “shadow” recovery/curve-end remap, and white and black points, etc; these tools in the basic palette are all subtly different — the code must be different — to doing the same operations with an RGB curve in “curves,” which we can technically attempt). I learnt that there are many nuances to color balancing, but in the grand scheme, when you match a same sized R hump to a G hump to a B hump, that composite hump (white), when you look at the inverted image, will be “color neutral.” Generally I aim for lining up bits of the histogram at the inverted highlight end (at this point that’s on the opposite side, the shadow end) that were obviously the same hump shape, to have balanced neutral highlights and lights, and I’d leave red and green(=yellow) jutting out at the inverted shadow end (the highlights on the un-inverted histogram we’re working on here) for blue shadows. That should be a base color balance (daylight, the film’s chemical bias) to fine tune after flipping the RGB curve. Sometimes, as you’re doing (and as I’m doing from EpsonScan now), moving the black and white points of each R G and B curve to be flush with the data was all that was needed (though in Lr that is really tough and we need to do it by eye, as, in the Curves palette, the channel histogram that Lr draws behind the tone line is not inverted, Lr only shows the as imported readout in Curves, it’s fixed—so you have to guestimate where the ends are. The confusing thing is that the Lr master histogram, top right, is of course flipped when we do the switcheroo: another reason why setting white and black point from Basic, looking at the master histogram, is better, more accurate, than in Curves). Sometimes it wasn’t as simple as lining up channel white and black points though—humps don’t line up, so curve bending to move humps without moving the white and black points was necessary. But the hardest skill was all the colors in-between — composites of R and G and B — which is just too many balls to juggle in one’s head using only R and G and B curves, and often the fine degree of movement is just impossible by hand in curves. For that I needed the HSL palette (and is it was post-inversion fine tuning, to continue to think in opposites); but the even bigger item, when working like this, was keeping an idea of what the actual photo was in my head as I went.
                      Say there were a ton of trees in the sunlit bright portion of the photograph—lining up the three color curves over that portion would result in bad color balance as there should be a standalone green and greeny and greeny-yellow hump (in a regular positive image) for that data which represents the trees. We’re dealing with a color negative, so what we’re looking for, at the pre-inversion stage, is a good couple of humps of blue and red (=magenta) to line up in the shadows area of the histogram, with a good bit of blue knocking around too. That’s going to invert to green and yellow in the lights, the sunshine, the trees. In this way, inverting color C41 is a very iterative process –> you need to invert to see the photograph and have a clue what it’s about. Because you need to know that to invert it properly. I used the history tool A LOT in Lr.
                      So why struggle with thinking in opposites and just looking at the histogram and not the preview, and trying to do it all before inverting?
                      (Well, I did learn to look at the preview, but this is a product of doing tons of inversions—I built experience, on the back of numerous defeats, and an idea of what I was looking for, in color negative form.)

                      Why—because the swticheroo as I call it, pulling the 0 pole to 255 and the 255 pole to 0, in Lr “Curves” (the only way to do it in Lr, Gordon; so I’ve been doing like that since day one) is not a tone neutral process—I’ve come to believe. When we think about it, it’s a pretty drastic re-map and I’ve come to feel like it’s doing something destructive to the data.
                      You are going to find this as you explore your workflow, Andre, but after you’ve flipped a data set like that, you don’t have much room for editing maneuver. Most things you do will introduce posterizing, blockiness and noise, like no-one’s business. Most of all you’ll experience a “brittle” quality to the inverted data, whereby after the swticheroo, you move a WB slider, say, just one or two option+arrow taps, and that will result in much larger changes in the image than you’d expected. “Woah?” territory. Finely graduated changes it isn’t.
                      (For everyone, for reference, with a regular digital RAW file, the difference in an image from moving a WB slider one option+arrow tap like that in Lr is so slight we generally move 100s of K at a time to make any discernible difference. The experience I’m explaining above is akin to adding a millimeter to something, and it jumps a meter on you instead.)

                      The switcheroo isn’t tone neutral in more ways than one—-I found, time and again, that having arranged the responses of R G and B as I wanted them on the pre-inversion histogram, then pulling 0 to 255 and 255 to 0 did not give the mirror image of that arrangement in Lightroom. Perfectly lined up channel histograms go out of sync. Shadow ends of the master histogram (the one at the top right, showing each of the R G B curves drawn over each other) are still working on “opposites,” i.e., see blue think yellow, see green think magenta, etc; but the lights end is somehow working 1:1 see red think red, see green think green. I know this sounds incredible; but that’s the way I kept finding it to be. I think Lr is designed to think for digital camera data and what users generally do, and want to do, with that. The switcheroo just completely wrong foots it, and all the tools.
                      You’re on a better footing by using Ps, and I’d stick with that, because Lr is very definitely designed for digital data from digital cameras, made with digital sensors. As I say, you can tell by the way the tools get seriously strange with C41 scan data. Some weird, weird stuff is happening—the reason I got to treating a pre-inversion negative for tones before flipping was the tools, good tools, in the “Basic” palette going haywire after flipping. They work as expected on captured RAW data, as is, i.e., pre-inversion—so that’s where I use them.
                      When I say “go haywire,” I’m not talking up is down, down is up type stuff. I hope we can see that kind of thing is not a conceptual difficulty to me. No, on that basis, the only tools that work, properly (oppositely), like that in Basic after the switcheroo are the white and black point set tools—-pull “whites” whiter to make the black point blacker; pull “blacks” blacker to stretch the highlight end of the inversion to 255 (yeah I know you can do that in the composite RGB curve in Curves—but considering how far away from the poles [how uncontrasty] RAW color negative data is, if you do it in Curves you have to pull the poles of the curve in quite far: giving you like a 60 to 70 degree line, real steep! Now trying doing a nuanced curve on that, either parametrically with the darks/shadows/lights/highlights sliders [and their locations almost one on top of other!] or by hand. It’s unworkable. If you use the white and black point set in Basic, when you look at the composite RGB in Curves, you see you have the full resolution of the graph to use now, and toning is way, way easier). The exposure tool, after the switcheroo doesn’t work right—say we did ETTR on the camera scan; after flipping we want to increase the exposure slider, yes, but Lr still calculates this as though we were actually increasing the exposure on a positive, because it has no idea what we are editing is really an inverted negative, and you’ll find that it doesn’t seem to darken and reallocate tones the same way it would if we did ETTR and then slid the exposure slider down on a pre-inverted capture. The normally excellent “highlights” and “shadow” recovery tools in Basic don’t work oppositely either—we would expect “shadow” to now be our highlight recovery tool, but it doesn’t work like that—just watch the histogram when you use it on an inverted negative capture, both ends of the histogram move, this is definitely not how the recovery tools work on regular data. And likewise with the “highlights” tool—though I’ve found it marginally more well behaved as an “opposite” tool.
                      There are a ton more examples, but it all gets detailed and fiddly and takes ages to explain, and not very well at that, so I’ll leave it there. and repeat my opinion that sticking to Ps is the way to go. You can sample for white, black and grey points and the quality of the tools available to you is much higher and I think you are giving yourself a much better chance for pleasing DIY inversions by using Photoshop. When you’ve figured it out, please tell me all the answers for free m(. .)m :)

                      On the 135, I can second your experience. I was incapable of consistently satisfying myself with D3 scans, not resolution—tones. Then I D3 scanned a roll of 120 and suddenly everything worked and was a pleasure. The size of the negative is obviously relevant. But what surprised me was, in my case, I’m capturing 6×6 negatives, on a 12Mpx camera, so a fair bit of cropping, and still the integrity of the tones was leagues ahead of the best of anything I did on the D3 for 135. This isn’t to say the D3 was an unmitigated disaster—I actually think I was getting close; but in the end, I think a regular scanner is the answer for C41 color.

                      So there it is. Where I’m at now:

                      C41 Monochrome:
                      Camera scan = OK
                      Scanner = good

                      E6:
                      Camera scan = good
                      Scanner = OK

                      C41 color:
                      Scanner = good
                      camera scan = depends on negative, generally sub-optimal

                      The climb continues!

    • These are great shots – period. Not because they were shot on film. You can get the same effect using digital if you’re skillful enough and know how to use your camera properly.

  18. Well at least we don’t need to faff around deciding what slide film to use any more. For now, it’s Velvia 100 or Provia 100F. And that’s it. And I don’t like either, especially Velvia. Oh, and of all things, Agfa Scala is back in production.

  19. Benjamin Brosdau says:

    I suppose we are lucky here in Germany then. 120 film is readily available in a lot of varieties as are labs for development. Cost is reasonable since I shoot way less images than digital and have a keeper rate close to 60%. I was also blown away at the depth of Provia under a magnifying glass, it’s really special. Right now I am in the process of assembling the pieces for a 6×6 slidefilm projector. I shoot on a Mamiya 645 , but they make slide holders with a metal masking to accommodate the different aspect ratio.
    I especially dig the blues in your photos, I do my archiving also on a D800 + 60mm AFS.
    Good to see slidefilm still going strong.

    Ben

  20. Ming, I’ve always wondered if you were ever going to get around to reviewing or giving your opinion on the VSCO film presets for lightroom? I think they warrant even a moment of your time and I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    • Sorry, I’m not interested in filters. There is no way they can accurately replicate film for so many reasons – firstly the sensors aren’t up to it, so you’ll have to shoot and process accordingly to account for top-end DR and tonal transitions; secondly, WB varies; thirdly, the look of film depends on how you treat the development – each film does not necessarily have a ‘characteristic look’ – especially not B&W.

      • Looks like you at least partially answered the question I just posted, but the problems with filters you describe seem to be problems with digital *generically speaking*. Now I have a bit of curiosity about sensor design (though I still wonder if it’s possible for improved filters to do better than those that have turned you off.) I had thought in the past that your chief objection to filters was the lack of creative control — and lack of individual creativity! — they implied.

        • There’s that problem, too…if you want the look of film, why not just shoot film?

          • Right. But philosophically if I could cause a sensor and software to behave in a convincingly “film accurate” way, including I suppose ways to manipulate the ‘development’ process as you noted above, then are there really creative control problems to using such a medium? It seems that to reject a good solution would be like saying there are creative control problems to use Acros film because other photographers use the same film. (I am ignoring the techincal problems, speaking as though those could be solved.)

            Of course why not use film, which is simply a pleasure as well? Excellent point of course. In a day of film product cancellations and depleted inventories, or supposing that sometimes I experienced supply limitations with film product or chemicals then under those conditions perhaps I would appreciate being able to capture/produce similar output (again I am ignoring whether such a thing could be techincally solved to a level of satisfaction.)

            • No, but then the reasoning is flawed. B&W film has a huge variation in output depending on how you develop and digitize/ print it. Color, less so. But you get more control from manipulating a direct digital capture in colour, so I don’t see the point of trying to make something into something it is not.

              If you want the look of film…use film.

              As for supply issues: stockpile. :)

  21. By the way, in my previous comment i forgot to compliment Ming on the photos. Its a nice set. Gorgeous colors and ambiance. I can imagine that these would look great on a lightbox!

  22. These photos are beautiful!! I love the texture and the details of each one. I experimented a bit with slide film a couple of years ago, using my F100, and I have to say the final output is a bit “romantic”? Somehow, I prefer the easy control of digital RAW files as oppose to slide films. And the cost of developing it is outrageous. It seems that here in New Zealand, there is only 1 lab that can develop slide film and it’s in the North Island….

  23. After saying that, would I shoot film again?, not really, its heyday is over, with today’s humans, quality and standards are lower at most societal levels, digital imaging is now perfectly suited for general consumption. I have no doubt in a few short years to come, it will surpass everything that slide film has managed so many years ago.
    I welcome the future with open arms and will be thankful that I will have shot with the best technology two millennia had to offer an image maker.

    • It probably will, and sooner rather than later. But to achieve the pinnacle will be no easier than it was in the film days; different knowledge but a similar degree of expertise required.

  24. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I loved velvia and kodachrome. I shot hundreds of rolls both of 135 and 120. The anticipation of reviewing the results on a lightbox was part of the magical photographic experience that got so many of us hooked in the first place.
    Its sad to hear ppl complaining about poor ISO performance if modern day digital cameras when all we had were ISO 25-100 for grainless images.
    But for me, its a case if been there and done that. I prefer the convenience, affordability and instant gratification of digital technology. I really don’t miss it at all…..and i was a real photo nutter who developed my own film, printed – the while nine yards.
    To me digital is a god-send. Film belongs to history because it has no advantage over digital apart from providing a different experience.

  25. Nice pictures. Although they are in the same style as your digital color stuff, the emotional quality of the colors is different, I feel.

  26. Agree with the amazing crispness of slide film positives. It’s a very unforgiving film in terms of exposure errors. Unfortunately, Kodak stopped slide film productions and thus very few labs now develop it.

  27. Unless one lived through the glory days of slide film, in particular, velvia, the implications and impact of its visual beauty is reduced to the level of academic and historical debate.
    You are are right in that colour accuracy ( how many people still spell colour as colour and not color) is not its strength, at that time, colour impact was the keyword, not colour accuracy.
    I once marveled at contax’s vacuum technology, that was the only instance in history where 35mm slide matched hasselblad 120 blow for blow.
    And slide film’s most glorious application is high end projection. From 120mm to 4×5 xenon water-cooled projection across hongkong harbour science museum. And today 25 years later, we only have video projection at what resolution? 5+ megapixels.
    And they said we progressed a lot after the 2nd millennia. Yes, we progressed in many things, just not in the arena of mega projections.
    And when im dead, it will just be another urban legend…

    • Larry Cloetta says:

      I was wondering if anyone was going to mention projection. Agreed from the outset that slide film is costlier and more trouble to deal with than digital, however………
      Many of the comments here justly noted the arresting look of color slides on a light table. I, for one, have never seen any digital color photo, any photo, on a monitor, any monitor, or digitally projected, by any digital projector, which had the same level of visual impact as a medium format, or larger, color slide on a light table. I wish I could match that level of impact digitally, somehow, but I can’t.

      Having been frustrated by that observation for years, I finally took the plunge and bought a Hasselblad medium format projector and a new screen about 6 months ago. Impractical, yes, foolish, probably, but it’s really like nothing else short of the light table.
      My 20 year old daughter, who has grown up watching “slideshows” on her computer, had no idea what a slide was, or where the word “slideshow” originated. I put together 80 Velvia and Provia medium format slides (most of which she had already seen scanned versions of) and projected those. To say she was stunned by what she was seeing is an understatement. It’s what you see on a light table, more or less, but dimensionally several feet on each side. OMG was her constant refrain, slide after slide, and this was for photos she had mostly already seen scanned versions of.

      Before everyone chimes in with the obvious, that it is too inconvenient, too expensive, too time intensive, too impractical, I get that. Completely. On the other hand, there is nothing else I can do, have ever done, photographically, which has the visual impact of medium format projection. People told me that for years, and now I understand what they were talking about. Is this a bridge too far, and faintly ridiculous, probably. Am I glad I’ve jumped in? Absolutely.

      Just something to consider.

      • Light table impact: not until recently; I find the iPad mini retina’s display to be very close indeed to looking at slides on a light table; it’s the pixel density and the limits of the naked eye.

        Most things that are worth doing are too inconvenient, too expensive, too effort intensive…ah well. You get out what you put in…

        There’s always large format projection :)

  28. There is just something about the colour from slide film which I don’t think digital can match. You describe it as a three dimensional quality which sums it up perfectly – digital never quite does that. I understand your problem getting the film and developing it – that is a pity. As usual your photographs are very nice and slide film just makes those colours look so gorgeous.

    • Thank you. However, I think the three dimensionality is not a consequence of the film, but the format size – you have a bit less depth of field for a given angle of view, which helps our subconscious to process spatial information.

      • I wouldn’t disagree but I think 35mm slides still have much of ‘that look’ of three dimensionality. My own totally subjective feeling is that slide film does blue much better than digital.

        • That’s probably because digital blues tend to be shifted/ ‘polluted’ by UV – or lack of it – to some degree; I think some amount of UV transmission is required to achieve that particular intense blue of a winter sky, or the light eggshell blue of a tropical one.

  29. Funny coincidence to read this. I’ve recently gone back to slides, having used Velvia 50 (pushed one stop) extensively from the late 80s, through my uni days, until the early 00s.

    Nowadays it’s Velvia 100 and 100F, which here in NL is easy to develop (at about 2,70€ a roll at the Kruidvat chain, takes a week approximately). Velvia 100F is bashed heavily online for having muted colours and generally being awful but I disagree. I find that it is equal to Velvia 100. Muted colours can easily be adjusted in post. Scanned on a CS9000 I have little trouble finding accurate colours (to my eyes, I should add) and I absolutely love the crispness and resolution of the photos; colour negs look “dusty” in comparison, even good emulsions like Portra.

    Speaking of highlights, I do agree that a little bit of intentionally blown highlights adds further bite to an image. It is interesting to run scans through Color Perfect’s TouchUp mode. One can usually pull quite a lot in the Black slider to brighten an image before any highlight clipping occurs. CP gives very good control of the process to intentionally blow highlights.

    • I found Velvia 100F to be just fine – though perhaps a bit too saturated. Agreed that colour neg looks ‘dusty’ – though I prefer to think of it as ‘pastel'; there are some subjects it works for, and some it doesn’t.

  30. Iskabibble says:

    Great to see another “issue” of the film diaries. Silde film is absolutely wonderful, especially in medium or larger format. The color and punch is just a joy to look at. Sadly, Fujifilm Provia 400X is discontinued. It is still out there, but not for much longer. I shot 400X pushed to ISO800 with fantastic results. I have a whole fridge full of 400X as I grabbed as many boxes as I could when Fujifilm gave notice that this, the very last ISO 400 speed slide film, was gone forever.

    • I believe you can still get it in Tokyo…at least I saw it in the coolers at Yodobashi…

      • Definitely still on shelves here. I bought a roll the other week; the Pro400 color neg that they also discontinued seems to be selling out faster. Anyway, if the sun’s out tomorrow, I’ll be shooting that roll (135). Shot a roll of Provia 100F in the F2 today. Intend to try Velvia 50, next time. And have a whole box worth of Provia (regular stuff) in 120 waiting for Spring.

        If I can get even close to what you got here MT, I will be a happy camper. I’m most impressed with the DR you’ve gotten, the shadows are amazing (i.e., we can see into them!). Your metering (your eye) is about as in the pocket as could be hoped for; it’s like you wrung every last drop of dynamic range from the film. Phase backs schmase backs!

      • Iskabibble says:
  31. I’ve been looking forward to this article for a while! There is an interesting quality to the highlights of the sildes, where the light has an almost milky appearance, and with the textures and colors you’re photographing, there is a kind of a painterly appearance to it, too. Beautiful work, and very inspiring!

    Shooting slide film is pretty expensive even in the US. You’re out at least $15 for a roll of 135 or 120 and development. The great thing is that if you have a good lab, you can get very fast turnaround. One of our local labs will turn a roll around in 3 hours if you get it to them before 3PM, no extra charge. They’ll also push E6 up to 4 stops, or pull 1 stop ($1/stop).

    I’ve also resigned to not shoot film in anything other than daylight, otherwise it’s digital, both for increased sensitivity and easy color correction, and even then shooting at night is not my favorite thing to do, especially if you live in a small town where the lights aren’t very bright. It’d probably be different in a major city like NYC, or even KL by the look of some of your pictures. But if photography is about light, then I prefer to shoot only when there’s plenty of it.

    Finally, since you seem to be on the slippery slope, have a look at this hobbyist’s website: http://4nalog.blogspot.com/ He’s a pretty good shot, and maintains his own PMT (Photo Multiplier Tube) drum scanner, a Scanmate 11000. That 11000 apparently refers to its real DPI rating, and PMTs are thought to be much superior to CCDs. Anyway, I just thought it was cool that he’s DIYing his own drum scans, and he has some really beautiful scans — it’s a nice break from the consumerist mode hobbyist photography seems to be in these days.

    • Four stops? I dread to think what the results look like; even B&W negs get ropy at that point.

      I’m fine with using the D800E to digitise…11000DPI is overkill. There isn’t more than about 2500-3000DPI in an outstandingly good negative anyway.

      • I use to be able to reliably do this with Kodak E200, though the change in push was not linear. It took a while to test it and get it to work well. The colours were not accurate on push, though very believable and quite nice. I used this to photograph jazz musicians on stage, because they didn’t like flash. Careful scanning and post processing meant grain was not intrusive. The affect was unique, and something the musicians really liked. Now we have nothing like that in E-6. I still have some Fuji Provia 400X in 120 in the fridge, which is (was) a good push film, but it’s now tough to find labs that will push more than 2 stops. Now I’m not entirely sure what I will do with my remaining Fuji 400X.

        Drum scanning is an odd thing, and the aperture has an effect on the scans beyond what DPI scanning limits suggest. In practice I found that 6000 dpi was a limit, though there were times when tonality would improve at 8000 dpi. On my wet mount flatbed scans I rarely go beyond 2400 dpi, because that seems to create the cleanest files. Sometimes I will use 4000dpi, though the scan speed slows down the workflow. If I need larger for giant print output, then I will interpolate.

        • Your scan results are similar to mine: you can scan at higher DPI, there’s a teeny bit more info, but a lot more grain; for a clean result with just a hint of grain to maintain the feel of the medium, 3000 is about the limit I think.

          • Interesting numbers on measured resolution in this Plustek post: http://plustekusa.blogspot.kr/2012/11/film-scanner-resolution-explained-what.html. They also quote numbers that say 3000 actual DPI is what you’d get from film, and flatbeds aren’t great but if you’re scanning large format film, it probably doesn’t matter too much.

            • Sounds about right. As for large format…surely scanning at much lower resolution would defeat the point? My preliminary 4×5 ‘scans’ with stitched D800E images are yielding a clean 120MP – I’m still not at the grain level yet. 3000dpi would be closer to 180MP.

              • I was thinking that for identical subject magnification (ie. subject fills the same relative area of the negative) and identical print size, a larger negative doesn’t need to be scanned at as high of a resolution.

                BTW, I was thinking about your film scanning rig recently, mostly due to my own frustrations with my own scanning, and I wonder if you’d consider a licensing model where you’d sell the how-to video and plans for the device, and then let users put it together themselves. I know that such a model has worked for some other people (http://www.linkwitzlab.com/LX521/Supplies.htm, and I actually built a pair of the original Orions), and maybe it might for you?

                Pros:
                – you don’t have to put up the production costs or carry any inventory
                – if users hand-build their own, they can make sure it is at the desired level of precision
                – lower entry cost for users (not counting the time to build it)
                – Like Linkwitz, some 3rd parties who know more about manufacturing might come along and offer kits based on your plans, so there might still be a ready-made solution.

                Cons:
                – support burden for you
                – might be difficult to build (parts, fabrication skills, etc.) but you probably don’t have a prototyping lab in your home, so how hard could it be? :)

                With a lot of Internet 3D printing places, maybe some of the tricky parts can even be custom made? I have no idea what kind of tolerances you need, so 3D printing may not work.

                BTW, rumors are that the Ricoh/Pentax film copier thing is well over USD$1000, but that’s not too surprising considering the low volume, and that it’s made to work with their 645D camera.

                • It depends upon the flatbed, scanning software, and the way the film is mounted. If you chuck the film into a holder, then the film is not flat. Wet mounting solves the flatness issue, though it also helps in capturing better tonality. There is a skill to scanning, and the default settings are rarely the best way to go about it.

                  I think even rephotographing with a DSLR could benefit from some sort of fluid mounting set-up. I’ve been using Lumina scanning oil for a while, though I’ve used most of the ones that have been on the market. The downside of flatbed fluid mounting is that it is not easy to get great results. One thing I do different is not using overlay vellum, because I think that hurts the capture capability.

                  The older method I used was Scan Once Output Many (SOOM) when I had the Heidelberg set-up. Even with better storage, now I mostly scan to output size, and as needed. I have some images scanned and ready to go, mostly for licensing, though usually I wait until I get a call and find out the output details. So while it is possible to get usable fast results at low settings, there are also optimum settings that depend upon the scanning methods and equipment.

                  • I tried wet-mounting with the DSLR between sheets of glass; very, very fiddly, and not that much better – perhaps 2-5%. Certainly not worth bothering with, in my opinion. Remember that the DSLR has a big advantage over the flatbed: DOF at f8 will cover a few mm, so perfect planarity isn’t as critical as with a flatbed.

                    • Two sheets of glass complicates the scanning process. I’ve found in testing a significant improvement with one sheet of glass. There is also anti-Newton glass, or testing with “museum” glass, though the results were barely better than with clear-sheet overlays. I also tried glass transparency mounts for 35mm, with and without oil, though there was little difference given the added complexity. If I am doing a strip of 35mm with several frames, then oil mounting speeds the workflow, though I feel the main benefit of the oil mounting is seen on larger film. Biggest improvement is in flatness, though it you have another way to accomplish that, it may not be worth the extra steps of oil mounting.

                      I wonder if you have tried slight alterations of focus, to see whether that changes the results? While DoF can cover the thickness of film, slight changes may show better results. I think you would see this with B/W films more than with colour emulsions.

                    • I abandoned wet mounting because it was a pain. Didn’t have too much of an issue with Newton rings so long as there was sufficient fluid; bubbles were more of a problem.

                      The camera is static and in live view/ MF, so yes, I do try variations in focus point – it allows me to pick optimal focus for each image.

                • You’re right re. fixed output sizes and larger negs, but that defeats the point somewhat of having much higher resolution to begin with. I’d prefer to scan it once, when the neg is pristine, clean, dust and scratch free, and capture as much information as possible, then never do it again. Part of the reason is because my darkroom print equivalent work (dodging and burning etc) is done digitally – I can’t repeat that consistently if I rescan later.

                  3D printing might be an interesting option, but the last time we looked into it, costs were far too high. Parts are specialised and relatively precise, so it’s not something you can buy and self-fabricate.

                  Ricoh scanner: aargh! $1000?! I think they just lowered the volume themselves.

  32. I love reading your thoughts and watching those beautifu images. Very soothing and enjoyable experience (thats a compliment, mind you) =)

    /Martin

  33. Those are great shots. Shooting in film is pretty amazing but … although e6 120 slides are fairly easily developed here in the UK it’s still so expensive. It’s easy to forget what digital has done: make is much more affordable to make pictures.

    Also, despite having a good postal service – about 8 films went missing in the post a couple of years ago. I sent them to the best and most able lab in the country – I wanted a good job, because I took some great photos – but there’s no accounting for a post office reorganisation and losing a parcel (which I have never experienced previously, and hopefully never will again).

  34. I love slide film…ever since my days of of design school I always chose slide film over anything else, as I really liked the punchiness of it. Be interested to hear your thoughts of the VSCO slide emulation pack?

  35. I have not shot a lot of film but when I got my Nikon FE the first film I tried was Velvia 50. I still remember looking at the results on a light table and how it blew me away. I was disappointed at how I cannot replicate (when scanning) how I see the pictures through the light table, I don’t think we can. I can only imagine now how much better the experience would be with MF or LF.

    • The difference is transmission vs reflection, and the fact that few scanners have sufficient DMax (density variation) to capture the full tonal range of the film. A DSLR copy is better, but not much.

  36. When I shot with film, I always shot color slides. It was a question of economy: I could get a roll of film processed a lot cheaper than making prints of every shot. I could make prints of the frames that were worthy of an enlargement. That came out to about 3 frames per 36 frame roll of 35mm Velvia 50 ISO (I’m hyper critical when editing my work). The good frames popped out on the slide viewer. The downside was the film had to be handled with great care. It couldn’t be exposed to too much heat or humidity – which is a daunting task in tropical settings. I kept it in sealable plastic freezer bags with silica gel to keep the humidity at bay, the temperature problem was different kettle of fish. Shooting color slide film was high maintenance except under perfect conditions – which don’t naturally exist outdoors. At the end of a shoot I still had to transport dozens of canisters of exposed film through the airports, another daunting task. I don’t miss film.

  37. Placing some 4×5 chromes on a light table is an amazing experience. I still have Kodak Readyload E100VS and Fuji Quickload Astia 100F in 4×5 sitting in the fridge. My main problem has been an injured left shoulder, though the other deterrent is a lack of local E-6 processing. Some day these things will get used again. I remember using a candy thermometer twist tied to the faucet in my mom’s kitchen, and getting 6 part chemicals to process my own E-6, though I doubt I would ever do that again.

    Shooting transparency films have brought about more criticism than any other method of photography I have done. The phrases often tossed around make on imagine that all images from transparency films would render like poorly printed multicolor T-shirts. Those of us who know different kept it as a guarded secret, though unfortunately most labs simply gave up on it.

    Oddly enough, most of my published images have come from transparency films. I rarely shoot them now, due to the delay from mailing film to a lab. Most of my work is now a mix of digital and negative films. I suppose I have made the transition, though if markets changed again, I would enjoy going back to transparency films.

    • Lack of film – let alone labs – is what’s stopping me. A bigger problem is that even if I was willing to mail the film off, is be extremely nervous about it getting lost – especially given how poor our postal services are…

  38. It’s a slippery slope, Ming, and I’m tempted to try some Velvia in my GX680 for my industrial photos. I visited your exhibition in KL a week ago, I’ll come back to that later, and had some coffee and an excellent cake at the café afterwards. While sitting there, I looked through a couple of books in the little library there. One that particularly caught my interest was “LIFE – The Classic Collection” with iconic photos from several decades of Life Magazine. The question I was left with was: Except for convenience, would any of these photos had more impact or artistic value if a digital camera had been used? I could find only one answer to that question: No.

    When I’m not working, I’m now mostly carrying the F6 or a Contax RX, 85mm lenses in both cases, and a Nokia 808 as digital backup. A Jobo processor will have to be included. There’s no way to avoid it :)

    • I don’t think the medium matters that much unless it impacts your ability to achieve your desired final output. When I can achieve the same tonality with digital B&W as with film, I’ll probably stop shooting anything smaller than large format (which still holds a huge resolution advantage over even the highest MF digital).

      Thanks for stopping by the exhibition – hope you enjoyed it! Also, that cafe has the best coffee I’ve found so far in KL…

  39. John Lockwood says:

    Indeed Ming, shooting transparency film is analogous to JPEG. Color negative is like RAW. Love the first image of the man in the alley, “Ancients”. Nice light. Wonder what the hybrid solution of a Fujifilm GSW690III would yield from your D800E, since the 6×9 is 3:2 ratio?

    • A little bit more than the Hassy, though honestly to shoot color I still prefer the control and precision of digital.

      • John Lockwood says:

        Was thinking more of the increased resolution and tones you’d get by matching the 6×9 format to your D800E, using your favorite B&W film Acros, I wonder which would resolve more? I have a roll of developed and sleeved Kodak Ektar 100 if you’d like to try it in your “scanning” rig.

  40. Thanks! Fantastic post. Knew you could do it! Still shooting the Hasselblad hand-held? You have nerves of steel, sir.

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