25 January, 2015

Film vs Digital, Part 2

Brisbane Art Gallery [click to enlarge]

I wrote about Film vs Digital back in September of 2013. Because I'm returning to the topic, I've renamed the earlier post as "Part 1."

Last time I didn't get into much detail. But, I keep seeing articles and posts extolling the benefits of film, and these don't ring many bells for me. I'm not going to say that those others are wrong; but I will talk about my own experience and views. And, this time I have also mentioned the benefits of mirrorless.

I admit that my experience in the wet darkroom wasn't extensive. But, for making prints it was all that I had, and it was all that I could afford. That meant that for making prints, it was a black-and-white exercise only.

A few of the general benefits of digital:

  • Digital gives me the ability to check focus and exposure, and check for unexpected elements like blinks.
  • Digital, generally, has autofocus, where film, generally, does not.
  • I don't need to carry around film, and I don't need to carry around different kinds of film (colour, b&w, fine grain, hi-speed, colour slide, colour print, etc).
  • This also means that I can quickly "switch" from black and white to colour without having to have two cameras.
  • Digital allows me to use ISO settings undreamed of with film.
  • I don't need to change film every 36 shots.
  • The continuous drive features of digital leaves even the best motor drives of film cameras in the dust.
  • Digital gives me fast and automated bracketing.
  • With digital I can experiment to my heart's content for free.
  • Many digital cameras and/or lenses have stabilisation.
  • A few digital cameras have completely silent shutters; but with some other tradeoffs.
  • Digital also usually give me video capability — better video than most dedicated, amateur camcorders.

Mirrorless (digital) benefits:

  • Mirrorless gives me histograms and settings that I can see in the viewfinder;
  • in many cases makes for smaller and lighter cameras and lenses (although, my A7II is both larger and heavier than my earlier OM2-S).
  • provides me with focus peaking and zebras; 
  • gives me access to a broad range of lenses made for other mounts; and
  • eliminates front and back focusing of lenses on SLRs (and DSLRs), and eliminates focus errors and the parallax issues of rangefinders.

Digital benefits specific to Black and White:

  • With digital I skip developing film. This gives me immediate access to my images if I need it.
  • Digital black and white gives me the resolution to do outstanding landscape work; only bested by large frame (larger than 4x5) film cameras.
  • With stitching in post, I can blow the doors off even large-frame film resolution. (And stitching in post is easier than carrying around a large-frame camera and tripod — although I still need a tripod.) 
  • Exposing to the Right (ETR) and High Dynamic Range imaging (HDR) afford me exposure ranges wider than film and more flexible than zone exposure systems.
  • Because digital cameras capture in colour, I can adjust the black and white responses without a collection of filters.

Digital benefits specific to Colour:

  • I can proof my pictures for colour first in the camera and then in post.
  • I have greater exposure latitude with digital than with colour film.
  • I have more control over colour in post than I ever had with labs.
  • I can print with a digital workflow much more inexpensively (although film users can scan their negatives to get the benefits of digital printing).

Benefits of Film:

  • As film is usually 35mm, the format has inherent depth of field advantages over the usually smaller (APS-C and M4/3) digital formats.
  • Using film slows the photographer down. (If you think that's a benefit, then it's a benefit.)
  • Highlights "roll off" more slowly with many kinds of black and white film.
  • Many ultra-wide lenses perform better with film, providing both better resolution at the edges and avoiding the corner color casts and the vignetting to which digital (and particularly mirrorless) is prone.
  • Each film has a "look," and if you like those particular looks, then using those films is a benefit. (Some films, of course, are no longer made.)
  • With increasing ISOs, the increasing a grain of film is more attractive than the increasing noise of digital (particularly in color).
  • As there are very few innovations in film cameras, there are few pressures to buy newer gear.
  • And, therefore, high quality film cameras are much less expensive.

If I've missed any essential points, please leave a comment. But, I'm pretty sure I'm going to stick with digital.

23 January, 2015

Soft proofing black-and-white for matte paper

Indooroopilly Bridge, Brisbane Queensland [click to enlarge]

I love Lightroom and I love the soft proofing feature — for colour.

Unfortunately, the colour printer profiles when used for soft proofing black-and-white images for matte paper aren't much help. For example, when I switch on the soft proofing using a printer profile for Epson's Hot Press Natural, Lightroom hobbles the contrast to the point that it appears like there's a milky cast over the image.

I get it: Matte papers don't have the contrast and the Dmax of semi-gloss and gloss papers. But if the idea is that I can adjust my image for Hot Press Natural (a matte paper) to replicate the look on the screen or on Canson Baryta Photographique (a semi-gloss paper) — that isn't going to happen. And if I print the image with no/few changes, the contrast won't be anything like what the soft proof predicts.

With black and white images there aren't going to be any "out of gamut" alarm bells ringing. And, regarding rendering intent, "relative" is the easy choice as it best preserves the luminance information. (I can't see any difference between "relative" and "perceptual" anyway. I do, however, worry a bit that Eric Chan, Principal Scientist at Adobe, advises "perceptual" for his images going to Epson Advanced Black-and-White. On the other hand, Jeff Schewe, author of "The Digital Print," tends toward "relative.")

The solutions are simple:
  1. If I need more contrast than I can get out of matte paper, then I should print on something else; or 
  2. Leave well enough alone and live with the fact that soft proofing can't do everything. (I know how far I can press the contrast on HPN, and I know what the blacks will look like.)

12 January, 2015

Portraits — lightest or darkest

Sony 70-200mm - A light face with a darker background  [click to enlarge]

In most posed, natural light portraits 
I don't want any elements competing with the face for attention. I usually work to keep the face the lightest element in a dark environment, or the darkest element in a lighter scene. 

Once I know that the environment will be darker than the face of the subject, for example, then the clothes should also be darker. More skin in the frame can draw the focus away from the face, so I strongly advise against short-sleeved shirts, or shorts. Other distractions, such as patterns, logos, text or stripes should be similarly avoided. All this means knowing or scouting the locations and having prior discussions with the subjects about clothes.

This seems a simple recipe, but sometimes there are complications. For example, a light face may be accompanied by dark hair; and that hair appears to blend into the similarly dark background. In colour portraits the hair can, sometimes, be distinguished against a different background colour. That, however, is not so easy when working in black and white. I'm lucky with the silver hair in the picture above.

This is, of course, all about posed shoots. In "street portraits" it's a "come-as-you-are party." While I try to be aware of backgrounds, and I try to get a brief pose (at least ask them not to smile), I have to take the best of what I can get.

07 January, 2015

Light, Gesture & Color, by Jay Maisel

The cover of Jay Maisel's new book

If you've read much of this blog, then you know that I'm a big fan of Jay Maisel. Well, he has a new book out (see above) and I want to share my enthusiasm.

For less than the cost of a reasonably good-quality SD card, this book both taught and entertained me. There are over a hundred photos/topics in the book. And what was crystal clear to me right through the book, was that someone with both ability and experience was telling me things that I needed to know.

Have a look: The publisher will send you a free excerpt (in an 11mb PDF that arrives by email as a ZIP file attachment), and there's also an Amazon preview.


04 January, 2015

The E-Mount 85mm gap

Portrait with the Sony 85mm f/2.8 SAM (at f/2.8) [click to enlarge]

As you may have noticed, I'm disappointed by the absence of a fast, native, 85mm FE lens for the A7.

There is a fast Sony/Zeiss 85mm A-Mount, but it's way too expensive for someone waiting for a native E-Mount. If, however, you have an LA-EA4 adaptor (and I do), then there's a not-so-fast (but downright cheap) alternative: Sony's "Easy Choice," 85mm f/2.8 SAM.

The lens is plastic, with a plastic mount. By itself the lens is small and light; but with the adaptor, the combination is about what you would expect for an 85mm.

It's noisy in auto-focus mode, in part because the external ring actually turns. And, there's some extension of the lens during focus. But, for all that, it's surprisingly quick. Auto-focus is assisted, no doubt, by the phase-detection built into the adaptor. When the lens is set to manual focus, there's a bit of play in the ring.

BUT, it does a pretty nice job. It's sharp and dependable.

02 January, 2015

One year, one catalog

Visitors to New Year's Day lunch, Bardon, Queensland [click to enlarge]

The new year always starts with a bit of housekeeping. In Lightroom, for example, each of my Lightroom catalogs is based on the one calendar year. And, for convenience, I keep the images in a folder with the applicable catalog. Similarly, on import I have Lightroom backup the original images onto a separate hard drive, also based on the year of capture.

So, the first task of this new year was to backup the old 2014 catalog and images, and then to create a new catalog and folders for 2015.

For those of you not familiar with Adobe Lightroom, the photo editing program also acts as a database that keeps track of your photos and the actions that you take. That database information is kept in something called, "the catalog."

In Lightroom there are obvious advantages of access in maintaining one, ever growing, catalog. For me, however, the difficulties of backing up the catalog, the images and the previews militated against a single catalog.

But if not one catalog, what should the divisions be?

I considered bi-annual catalogs, but the simplicity of one-year, one catalog, was just too compelling. "By year," is just the way that I think of these things. The beauty of Lightroom, however, is that others can organise their images in whatever ways best suit them.

But I'm not obsessive about my arrangement: If I have a large project that spans more than one year, for example, I'll consider an ad hoc catalog just for that project — or, perhaps, combining two years into a single catalog.

Happy 2015.