Saturday, February 4, 2012

Film vs Digital

Last week I went out to a 'viewpoint' (just a point on the highway) where you have a gorgeous view of the edge of Kananaskis and Mount Glasgow. I wanted to photograph there for the longest time and I was finally able to do it. So I dragged the two cameras out. Both the 5DmkII and the Mamiya RB67.

And this is what I came back with. This was how the 5DmkII recorded the scene and how I processed the file to my vision in black and white. A pretty good shot. Crisp, sharp, ... etc. Everything you could imagine from a top of the line digital camera.

Enter 'The Beast'. 

After I was 'done' shooting with the camera I know inside and out, I wanted to see how the film camera would register this. First of all, metering the light is a tricky thing if you have to do it all manual and without previewing what you did on the rear LCD. I hear you coming. "Can't you just transfer the settings from the 5D and call it a day". I could but that is not what I want to do. Digital camera's have made me lazy. And sure, Photoshop can correct a lot of stuff. All of these facts and some more are making me a lazy photographer. I have lost the art of measuring light, pre visualizing and being SURE of what I am doing, a long time ago. The more I shoot with this camera, the more I am earning respect for the old style masters.

This is what I did. I set the 5D on spot metering and I metered for the shadow areas (the foreground). I then placed these in zone 3 (-2 stops) and remeasured with that setting manually put into the 5D now on the highlights. Those highlights where +3.5. So I knew I had to do something to get away with this scene on film. So – like I did with the digital version of this photograph – I grabbed my 2 stop ND grad and placed it over the sky. Then I added a polarizer and a red filter to get as much separation between the sky and the clouds as possible (and because I am a drama queen). So with those 4 2/3 stops worth of 'darkening' (red filter holds 3 stops of light and the polarizer the remaining 1 2/3) I came to an even 1 sec at ƒ22 (where the digital was around 1/30 at ƒ22).

But here comes the fun part. In my previous post I told you about the bottle of Rodinal I found in the massive amount of gear Rochelle donate to me. The Rodinal was still made by Agfa in Germany so I knew it was the original 'soup'. Not the newer formula. The bottle was opened and was about 4/5 full. I asked Rochelle earlier this week how old this bottle could be and she said at least from '98 or older. So lets says it is close to 15 years old. Today I decided to test the acclaimed 'long shelf life' of this chemical out. I looked up the times for a 1+50 dilution. And for the Ilford Pan f Plus (50 asa) I used I had to develop the film for 11 minutes. Agitating the first 30 seconds and then 5 seconds every 30 seconds after that (2 inversions). I opened up the bottle and when I poured it out it was a deep red colour (almost like coughing sirup colour) so I knew it was still in pretty good shape.
But totally to my surprise the results where crazy awesome. Very fine grain (compared to the Ilfosol 3), great edge contrast and sharpness, really nice density. All in all my negs turned out amazing. Seeing them next to an Ilfosol 3 developped Pan f is day and night difference. So I know I have a very special bottle of classic Rodinal on my hands. Luckily you only need a wee bit of the stuff to start your developing process. The amount of detail in the dark tones sure does compare with the digital version. The only thing is, getting it to show on the scan is another tricky thing. I am sure that printing this image in the darkroom will show all of this subtle detail.

After letting the negs dry, I scanned them in and started my digital b&w processing work flow. Film reacts to that completely different. My workflow is basically pretty good for digital files. I still have to find a solution for the way that Photoshop accentuates grain in my film files with the same process. Everything will be solved when I have my darkroom up and running though. I'm pretty sure this will be one of the first images I will be printing.

OK so here is the film version of the same scene 10 minutes after the digital photograph.

And just as a comparison between the 5DmkII with the 24-105 @ 100mm and the RB with the 180mm lens I made this. The 180mm is a bit wider than the 105mm (blue line). 
I am on the lookout for a decently priced 250mm for the RB though.

One thing is for sure. I am having FUN again photographing on film and developing my stuff. I feel like I am in control. At least with the newly purchased Sekonic L-758DR I will be soon.