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Author Topic: comparing digitally simulated "grain" and real scanned film's silver crystals  (Read 7779 times)
gerafotografija
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« on: March 20, 2013, 12:50:16 AM »
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After using a film simulation plug-in for the last 6 months or so, I recently, and only semi-consciously, turned off the "add grain" setting.

Color adjustment and sharpening presets were still working great for me as a starting point for fine-tuning and achieving more consistent results, but synthetic film grain was no longer appealing to me.

When I realized I had done this, it bugged me a bit, since I have always liked the grainy film look for certain types of photos. To figure out whether this was a good idea or not, I thought an experiment was in order. So, here is a three-way comparison of relatively clean digital output, simulated grain using Alien Skin Exposure's Tri-X 50% grain setting, and real Tri-X Pan push processed for ISO 800.

I have to preface this with a disclaimer regarding the presumed aesthetic appeal of chunky silver crystals embedded in film or the equivalent digital noise. Neither one of these is ideal in terms of high quality photographic reproductions of light bouncing of objects. However, I would like to assume for the sake of this comparison that there are some situations where a grainy B&W film printed at reasonable sizes can achieve a pleasing effect.

Although my preferred subjects for this type of treatment are people in mixed light situations, I used a non-moving object with consistent lighting and surface features that resemble the texture of skin in order to control the conditions for the comparison.

The first picture is a 100% magnified screen grab of a black and white conversion of an image captured raw with a 45mm f/1.8 Olympus lens on the OMD EM5 at ISO 200, wide open with a shutter speed of 1/400. My favored conversion utilizes the Technical Pan film setting in Alien Skin Exposure, and in this case, the default cyan filter setting produced what seemed to me to be the best overall balance of light and dark across the frame. There is not much noise to see here since I used base ISO, but if you look closely there is some texture to the grays - especially in the bokeh areas. It get's more intense at higher ISO values, but it looks good, and in general this is something I like about the current OMD.

The second picture is the same image with the Tri-X "salt and pepper" grain setting at 50%. This is more than I would normally want to add, but as you will see in the next picture, it is almost too weak compared to the real thing. I also tried 100%, but it produced really bad digital looking fuzziness that had none of the character of the real thing.

The third picture is the "real thing". Nikon F3 with Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 and Tri-X Pan (TX400) push processed in Xtol to ISO 800, and scanned. I found platinum (warm) toning suited this image, so I used it consistently during processing for all versions.

Finally, as a frame of reference, the fourth image is a processed color version of the full-size image (no grain added).

I tried to keep the screen grabs big enough so that pixelation would not interfere with the visual impact of the grain.

To me, there is no doubt that film has an organic texture that the Photoshop plug-in doesn't quite match. OK, technically it is an inorganic texture, and when you pixel peep, the mosaic of crystals looks a little like the fractal patterns that people are complaining about getting from the Fuji X Trans sensor when converting images from raw, but at reasonable viewing distances it creates a good impression. Not unlike an impressionist painting, but probably far from the perfection followers of the f/64 group would require.

Since there were more frames to work with on this roll of film, I had some fun with it, and I'll try sharing a couple more shots later. The main issue with film is that it is pretty limiting compared to digital capture. There was not much I could do with the monochrome scans other than luminance level adjustments and a bit of toning. Sharpening did not really work well due to the grain, and there was no color conversion to work with in post-processing.

The best thing about film, to me at least, is that while it is more limiting, it does do what it does very well. If you want a contrasty monochrome image with really juicy grain, it doesn't get much better than this. It's still available, and as long as it matches your artistic intent, it is easy enough to incorporate into your workflow when needed.

Let me know what you think.
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artobest
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« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2013, 07:28:01 AM »
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Without wishing to undermine your thesis (with which I agree wholeheartedly), the Tri-X image appears to my eyes to have strange sharpening artefacts in the grain. It doesn't resemble real film grain to my eyes.
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JimAscher
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« Reply #2 on: March 20, 2013, 09:36:13 AM »
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Isn't the TrueGrain app available to reproduce real (not simulated) film grains?  http://grubbasoftware.com/
How does this fit into your needs and "picture"? 
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gerafotografija
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« Reply #3 on: March 20, 2013, 10:21:33 AM »
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The software suggestion looks good, it wasn't one of the ones I had looked at. Longer term, something like that is almost surely the direction I need to head in.

Honestly, it is hard to justify the cost of processing and scanning film. The exceptions could be if I needed large format without the upfront cost of digital MF systems, and possibly situations where a rugged camera with mostly mechanical operation would come in handy maybe long trips in remote areas without access to electrical power?

I need to double-check the original file for the mosaic-like artifact that was noted. I noticed this, but since I didn't have any other film scans to compare to, wasn't sure what to make of it. I didn't intentionally sharpen the real film pic, and since it was done at a local lab with a good reputation, I may check with them to see if there is any chance their software may have automatically sharpened the scan. I believe it was done on a Noritsu system, in case anyone here has info on the default settings for it.

Thanks for the responses. Hope it's ok to share my experiments on this forum. In this case, I was hoping it would be useful to others asking the same questions. I'll try to get the details on the sharpening issue posted soon.
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« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2013, 10:30:09 AM »
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The third picture is the "real thing". Nikon F3 with Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 and Tri-X Pan (TX400) push processed in Xtol to ISO 800, and scanned. I found platinum (warm) toning suited this image, so I used it consistently during processing for all versions.


I shot on Tri-X for many years and loved the texture it's grain could produce.
But if I had a shot look like this I'd be worried that I'd done something wrong, such as reticulating the film. Which is what this looks more like, than actual film grain.
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« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2013, 10:58:21 AM »
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This turning into a good learning experience. I was thinking I didn't like grainy film processing anymore, but now I need to ask what is "reticulating film" and how can I avoid it?
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« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2013, 04:25:40 PM »
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Reticulation occurs when the developing chemicals are not the same temperature as each other.
As a result the film can expand/contract and in doing so crack the emulsion.
Thus resulting in crazy paving images.
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« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2013, 05:05:32 PM »
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I am an active analog printer . Tri-X film grain is completely different . May I ask wich was the scanner used ?
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« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2013, 05:32:01 PM »
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They offer machine printing on a Noritsu system, and I noticed the original scanned file names started with "Norit" or something similar. I'll check on the details.
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Alan Klein
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« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2013, 09:53:48 PM »
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Without wishing to undermine your thesis (with which I agree wholeheartedly), the Tri-X image appears to my eyes to have strange sharpening artefacts in the grain. It doesn't resemble real film grain to my eyes.

I thought scanners really don't produce grain structure as they really are in the negative.  That may account for this.  COuld this have to do with the scanners resolution ability is not as high as the grain is small?
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gerafotografija
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« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2013, 11:30:06 PM »
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The scanner info says Noritsu Koki QSS-32_33 and when I look at the original file in Photoshop, rather than the one that was taken through Aperture and Photoshop processing steps and then exported again, it just looks pixelated at higher magnification rather than having either film grain or the weird pattern.

So, I have to agree with the previous comment. The resolution of the film scan was too low to show the actual grain, something must have happened in subsequent steps to add some very odd artifacts.
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« Reply #11 on: March 21, 2013, 10:24:01 AM »
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I thought scanners really don't produce grain structure as they really are in the negative.  That may account for this.  COuld this have to do with the scanners resolution ability is not as high as the grain is small?
For example my Imacon 949 scanner reproduce film grain in a very accurate way . Flatbed scanners are not capable to do this.
 
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« Reply #12 on: March 21, 2013, 11:11:09 AM »
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Hi everyone,

Thanks very much for these comments, it seems clear that I was working with relatively low resolution scans and that this invalidates the comparison I attempted.

Although this was a good exercise and learning experience for me, it probably did not provide much useful information for other readers of the site.

I'll go back to the drawing board, and see if it is worthwhile to attempt a follow up after finding a higher quality scanning service.
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« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2013, 09:43:42 AM »
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What do you think of  shooting  an evenly lit  monochrome target on various film types and then having high resolution scans made of those samples to create your own grain library? You'd then use it as a layer with varying opacity and use the darken, multiply, lighten, or screen modes.
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« Reply #14 on: March 25, 2013, 10:06:25 AM »
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What do you think of  shooting  an evenly lit  monochrome target on various film types and then having high resolution scans made of those samples to create your own grain library? You'd then use it as a layer with varying opacity and use the darken, multiply, lighten, or screen modes.

I believe that's already the basis of the TrueGrain application.
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« Reply #15 on: March 31, 2013, 01:35:19 AM »
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This thread got me interested, not so much as to whether film grain can be reproduced digitally (I think it can), but rather whether scanned images will accurately show film grain.  I looked through my archives and found an image of a waterfall I took with two different kinds of film (Fuji Neopan Acros 100 and Kodak Tri-X 400).  Below are two 100% crops from the scans of these images.  The images were taken on the same set-up with moving, re-focusing, etc.  The crops look a tad different because I had not fully processed the Tri-X image and it needs some straightening.

Fuji Across 100


Kodak Tri-X 400


Unless I'm sorely mistaken, what I'm seeing in these crops is film grain.  As you would expect, the Across is much finer than the Tri-X.  Both images were sharpened of course, however the Across image was actually sharpened a tad more when I re-viewed the data.  This is the film grain I'm seeing isn't it?

Both images were scanned on a Epson V700 flatbed scanner, at 2400ppi as I recall.

If you're interested, the Acros full image can be seen here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cothronphoto/6943533643/

John
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« Reply #16 on: March 31, 2013, 06:23:31 AM »
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This is a combination of film grain and scanner noise. And because of the scanner's low optical resolution it doesn't give you any idea of the differences between the two films grain structure. To be able to see the grain structure you need a high resolution film scanner. If I compare a scan made with my Epson 750 with a scan from my Imacon 949, the difference is hugh. In the Imacon scans I can see the grain structure, in the Epson scans I can't.
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« Reply #17 on: March 31, 2013, 07:24:13 AM »
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Unless I'm sorely mistaken, what I'm seeing in these crops is film grain.  As you would expect, the Across is much finer than the Tri-X.  Both images were sharpened of course, however the Across image was actually sharpened a tad more when I re-viewed the data.  This is the film grain I'm seeing isn't it?

Both images were scanned on a Epson V700 flatbed scanner, at 2400ppi as I recall.

Hi John,

No, you are not looking at grain. At best you are looking at a 2-dimensional shadow projection of a 3-dimensional aggregate of many grains that overlap. The aggregates are not uniform, that's why it looks grainy.

To resolve true grain, a much higher resolution (approx. 8000 PPI should do a much better job) scan is required, and preferably of a thin/mono-crystal layer emulsion. What you are looking at is influenced by grain-aliasing and the characteristics of a more or less diffuse light-source.

To really mimick the characteristics of film granularity, one is required to also consider that the graininess looks different in transparent versus opaque areas of the film, which will also look different and produces different (micro-)contrast depending on the type of lightsource (diffuse / parallel / collimated) with which the film is trans-illuminated. That effect is called the Callier effect.


Cheers,
Bart
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John Cothron
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« Reply #18 on: March 31, 2013, 08:33:03 AM »
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Hi John,

No, you are not looking at grain. At best you are looking at a 2-dimensional shadow projection of a 3-dimensional aggregate of many grains that overlap. The aggregates are not uniform, that's why it looks grainy.

Thank you, that certainly makes sense.  I know film scanners (at least the ones I'm aware of) read transmitted light through a transparency.  As a result, I would think all any of them can do is give you a 2-dimensional shadow of a grain, unless some the grains themselves are semi-transparent, correct?  For the sensor to see any of the 3 dimensional character, it would require a light source from both sides or more properly two light sources from the side being viewed.  Are there scanners that do that?

Quote
To resolve true grain, a much higher resolution (approx. 8000 PPI should do a much better job) scan is required, and preferably of a thin/mono-crystal layer emulsion. What you are looking at is influenced by grain-aliasing and the characteristics of a more or less diffuse light-source.

That's a much higher resolution than I can personally scan Smiley  Theoretically the v700 is capable of higher resolution scans, but my tests indicate I don't get any more detail above about 2400ppi.  I get a larger file, but no more detail.  I would be very interested in seeing a sample of such a scan however.  Another issue with scanners (dedicated film or flatbed) in my experience is proper focus.  I haven't used a very high end scanner, but I've never been able to achieve what I would consider a truly focused scan regardless of micro-adjusting the set-up.  The only thing I haven't tried is wet-mounting which I'm curious about as well.  I haven't read the aliasing link you provided, but I will.

Quote
To really mimick the characteristics of film granularity, one is required to also consider that the graininess looks different in transparent versus opaque areas of the film, which will also look different and produces different (micro-)contrast depending on the type of lightsource (diffuse / parallel / collimated) with which the film is trans-illuminated. That effect is called the Callier effect.


Cheers,
Bart

I work in the colorants industry (for plastics).  The issue you mention here is closely related to one we face in some circumstances, especially with regard to truly transparent polymers.  Our choice of color pigments (which are particulate in nature) or soluble dyes (which aren't) affect the transparency and/or the scattering ability of the product we design.  This really comes into play with products that enclose a light source...how much transparency does the product require, and how diffuse is the resulting light at that transparency.  Mutually exclusive issues in many regards.

Bart, thanks for the information you provided.  I'm considering taking the transparency I scanned above to the office and seeing what I can see under magnification now. Smiley

John
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« Reply #19 on: March 31, 2013, 04:04:08 PM »
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This thread got me interested, not so much as to whether film grain can be reproduced digitally (I think it can), but rather whether scanned images will accurately show film grain.  I looked through my archives and found an image of a waterfall I took with two different kinds of film (Fuji Neopan Acros 100 and Kodak Tri-X 400).  Below are two 100% crops from the scans of these images.  The images were taken on the same set-up with moving, re-focusing, etc.  The crops look a tad different because I had not fully processed the Tri-X image and it needs some straightening.

Fuji Across 100


Kodak Tri-X 400


Unless I'm sorely mistaken, what I'm seeing in these crops is film grain.  As you would expect, the Across is much finer than the Tri-X.  Both images were sharpened of course, however the Across image was actually sharpened a tad more when I re-viewed the data.  This is the film grain I'm seeing isn't it?

Both images were scanned on a Epson V700 flatbed scanner, at 2400ppi as I recall.

If you're interested, the Acros full image can be seen here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cothronphoto/6943533643/

John
You can't see real grain from  a V750 (or similar scanners) But you can see it(as i have mentioned before) from Hasselblad -Imacon scanners or even from a  Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED scanner. And you do not need to apply any sharpen .This is possible because of the excellent optical systems and sensors that use those scanners . Of course you can see the grain ,even better maybe , from  "real drum" scanners. To make an accurate comparison of the grain (digital vs analogue) one needs to compare digital prints from the scanned negative and analogue prints from that negative at high magnifications(40x50 cm for example).I am sorry for my possible mistakes in English. Smiley
« Last Edit: March 31, 2013, 04:06:22 PM by Idololab » Logged

George Marinos
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