I haven’t had a great deal of free time available lately. As a result my picture-taking/film-developing/negative-scanning activities have been limited. Needless to say, as a result I have not had much fodder for my highly tuned blogging machine…
Regardless, I have been mulling a few things over of late. In particular I have been pondering the issues of resolution and grain. Thus far my Caffenol C efforts have yielded too little of the first and too much of the second.
Don’t get me wrong – I like the pictures I’ve gotten thus far. But when I’m being hyper-critical of my work, those are the two complaints I have – not enough resolution and prominent grain.
For example, here is a slight enlargement of one of my pics:
While I really like this picture – with any enlargement beyond about 5×7 it just looks wretched. The leaves on the tree look rather indistinct and the middle gray tones are really grainy. Looking closely at other Caffenol C images on Flickr, it appears that this is not too different from the results others have obtained.
Just for reference, I broke from the Caffenol C experiment and developed a roll of my Ilford FP4+ in Rodinal. It ended up being a minor disaster, and only one image from two rolls of film worked out. Here it is:
On close inspection, I have to say that the Rodinal image looks better on both scores – resolution and grain, but not VASTLY better.
This puzzled and disappointed me. I had been led to understand (primarily by Ken Rockwell’s site) that scanning 35mm film was significantly better than digital. I am proving that this is NOT the case. I have made direct comparisons between images I have taken with both 35mm and my Nikon D5100. The D5100 wins handily – at least as far as the resolution and grain.
While mulling this over, I ran across an interesting bunch of articles written by a guy named Roger N. Clark comparing scanned film to digital cameras. They are a bit dated but the information is still valid. I read several other articles which came to similar conclusions.
The bottom line is that current DSLR’s are at least as good as 35mm film, and chances are that the digital images will LOOK sharper than film. 16-20 megapixels are required to capture the information in a 35mm negative. Your average Nikon or Canon is in that neighborhood.
With medium format (6×6, 6×4.5, etc.) is where you will likely be ahead of the game, or at least on par with current digital cameras. Estimates say that a 6x6cm negative holds about 30-50 megapixels worth of information. A shade ahead of current higher-end DSLR sensors.
Large format is a different story. 4×5 negatives fall somewhere above 200 megapixels.
Now we’re talking!
So the punch lines here are:
1) Ken Rockwell is full of crap. At least as far as the blanket statement that scanned 35mm is better than digital image quality. While this may have been true eight to ten years ago when the best digital cameras offered a whopping six megapixels. Nowadays – not so much.
2) 35mm film is kind of waste of time – but not completely. There are certainly ways of obtaining better quality images than I have been getting, but in most circumstances digital will still look better. On the other hand, film has a charm all its own. Image quality is not the only reason to shoot film. If nothing else, I’m sorting out my process and figuring out how to get acceptable (if not ideal) results.
3) I should just get over it, embrace the imperfection of film and love the awesome analog look. I’m reminded of what my seventeen-year-old daughter said as I was busily trying to digitally fix some blemishes that sullied one of her negatives. She said “I’m ok with spots and scratches, isn’t that the point of shooting film anyway?” Hmmm… Darn kids…
4) I need to finish my 4×5 camera. Then I can put the resolution/grain issues to bed. With negatives that big, I should be way ahead of the game. However, 5×7 or 8×10 is sounding more and more reasonable all the time. But I need to take baby steps here, and my view camera is almost done.
I would love to have some discussion on this topic, if you have insights to offer. Comment away!