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Author Topic: Scanned B&W vs. B&W Conversions  (Read 1108 times)
rgs
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« on: August 15, 2013, 02:49:03 PM »
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I have recently been scanning some of my old 4x5 B&W negs and toying with making digital prints of them. I have never liked digital B&W and have often said that it looks like color with the color removed. Too often it just seems to lack richness, depth and shadow detail. Now, after playing for a couple of days, I am much happier with what I am seeing from my scans than the typical B&W conversion of a color image file. The scanner was set for color rather than B&W which seems to make a big difference. If, in Lightroom, I use a color treatment it seems to work well but simply switching the treatment to B&W removes a good deal of depth from the image. Incidentally, I am really enjoying the level of local control Lightroom provides for these negs. So much easier and more precise than in the darkroom!

I think there must be almost a categorical difference between well scanned B&W negs and digital B&W conversions.

These are just initial observations with much still to learn, but I have seen enough promise to consider closing my wetlab and selling the equipment in favor of digital printing. I'm posting here because I hope many will relate their experiences and suggestions with regard to digital B&W. Your thoughts, opinions and comments are eagerly awaited.
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David Sutton
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« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2013, 12:56:04 AM »
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Hello Richard.
As always, do what makes you happy and it will probably work well.
Over the last few years I have taken up scanning 120 film for digital printing, in addition to my normal digital work.
My experience is that the scanning process opens up the highlights and shadows to give the files a more digital look. A little more so in colour than with B&W. This is fine with me unless I want to retain the "film look" when printing, in which case I apply custom curves in Photoshop to mimic the shadow/highlight roll-off response of the original film I used. For me that's usually Fuji Reala and Neopan 100.
Nowadays I almost never use B&W. I would rather use colour film and convert to B&W later, as with digital. It gives me much greater control over the underlying greyscale structure for each colour and allows me to easily adjust the contrast and brightness around the main subject in order to add depth to the image.
Then I will choose my blackpoint and whitepoint based on a 65 patch threshold test chart for the given paper/printer. There was an article on this recently here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/beyond_calibration_2.shtml
In Photoshop I can then place my important shadow detail at the appropriate density above my fist visible darks (based on the likely display lighting) so the shadows have depth and detail. Ditto for the highlights. 
I closed my darkroom in 1969, and looking at prints from that time, the blacks were rubbish compared to what can be done now. Much the same for prints by some the great photographic artists over the last 100 years. Yet their work was remarkable. While not comparing myself to them, I try to learn from what they did and often don't go for the deepest black I can produce. I think it more important to look at the notes I want to emphasise and look at their relationship to the high and low notes of the print.
The other thing that has been useful is sample packs from paper manufacturers. Over the last five years I've printed a standard image on every paper I've had easy access to. There is a large drawer full that has allowed me to pick the look I want to achieve. I use only three papers now, but if one proves hard to get there are substitutes in a folder at the top of the stack.
Just as an aside, for some critical work with film, I may go back to B&W for this reason. I can develop my own B&W in about half an hour, hang it up in the shower to dry, and the film comes out reasonably unmarked. I don't have or want the facility to develop colour film, and when I send it out for processing it almost always comes back with little bits of the emulsion missing, which have to be cloned back in Photoshop after scanning. There are "discussions" going on with the lab I use, but I haven't found anyone yet who can do better. My last exhibition using early cameras needed a solid month of repair work before printing. Bother.
David
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PhotoEcosse
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« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2013, 03:53:34 AM »
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I have never liked digital B&W and have often said that it looks like color with the color removed.

In which case, there is either something wrong with the digital image or something wrong with the mono conversion.

What is important is that, if shooting in digital with a view to mono, you MUST shoot in full colour Raw to give yourself the greatest scope for conversion and you must use a specialist mono conversion package such as SilverEfexPro2 to do the conversion.

I suspect that, if you have been disappointed with digital mono photographs, they have either been shot as mono Jpegs or have been "converted" by simply killing the saturation of a colour image. Neither can work satisfactorily.

If you cast you mind back to the days of film, our most common accessory when shooting mono was a set of colour filters - yellow to accentuate clouds by darkening the blues sky, orange or red for more dramatic sky effects, green to lighten grass and foliage in landscapes and for portraits of dark-skinned people, blue for portraits of fair-skinned subjects, etc., etc.

To produce digital mono images that match film photographs, we need all of the colour channel information from the Raw file in order to make the equivalent adjustments to those we made with filters in the olden days.
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« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2013, 07:40:21 AM »
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In which case, there is either something wrong with the digital image or something wrong with the mono conversion.

What is important is that, if shooting in digital with a view to mono, you MUST shoot in full colour Raw

Absolutes, like the ones stated here, are so silly.  One MUST shoot in full colour Raw?  What about the Leica M?  Or other similar, dedicated mono cameras?  Or the DIY conversions done by stripping the Bayer array off the sensor?

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you must use a specialist mono conversion package such as SilverEfexPro2 to do the conversion.

Flat out ridiculous.  There is no must about using any particular method for b&w conversion or any other digital image editing.  SEP is but one of many tools available.  It isn't a silver bullet.  It isn't a panacea.  Nik has done a very good job of marketing and it has a lot of loyal users, but loyalty shouldn't be mistaken for quality (I'm not saying SEP isn't a decent tool) or that it's the only tool up to the task.

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To produce digital mono images that match film photographs, we need all of the colour channel information from the Raw file in order to make the equivalent adjustments to those we made with filters in the olden days.

Once again, simply erroneous. 
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PeterAit
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« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2013, 08:26:17 AM »
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Isn't a B&W 4x5 negative "a color image with the color removed"? The removal just happened when the light hit the film rather than later in the process. Of course, the specific way colors are mapped to grays is specific to the film (loved that Tri-X!) and some extent the developer, so getting the *same* look with a fully digital process may be very difficult. SFX and other BW conversion software make an effort to replicate the "look" of certain films, but I think that's a marketing gimmick more than anything else. I have SFX but haven't used it in ages because the tools in LR and the Epson Advanced BW mode are so good.

The statement that you should shoot in full color RAW for the bet BW conversions is certainly true. It was quite obvious that this claim was not meant to encompass the Leica M or other such specialized situations. The more image information you have, the greater your flexibility in making the conversion. This doesn't mean that good BW conversions have never been made from color JPEGs, just that it's a more difficult process.

I know a couple of people who have original Adams, Strand, Weston, and Caponigro (the father) prints on display. When I visit, I always look at the prints as a lesson in humility and a reminder of how far I have to go.
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john beardsworth
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« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2013, 09:38:16 AM »
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What is important is that, if shooting in digital with a view to mono, you MUST shoot in full colour Raw to give yourself the greatest scope for conversion and
Yes
you must use a specialist mono conversion package such as SilverEfexPro2 to do the conversion.
No. Good though Silver Efex is, it's a luxury and not a necessity - you can do excellent B&W in Photoshop or Lightroom.
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2013, 09:38:40 AM »
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JUst a general comment. I have been exhibiting my large format B&W since 1972-coming up on 100 exhibits soon.  I started working on scanned film with digital prints some years ago. It took me a few years before I felt I could do digital prints up to the level of my traditional silver prints and be comfortable hanging them side by side. Then I got into digital capture (still doing LF film too). Again it took me maybe 2-3 years before I got the quality I wanted. But I daresay now I can do museum quality prints from any of theses methods that all look fantastic next to each other on a wall. It is possible with enough effort and skill.
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wolfnowl
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« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2013, 02:43:49 PM »
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I've always thought it ironic to tout an achromatic camera for dedicated B&W when ALL digital sensors are B&W until you put a Bayer matrix or equivalent over top of them.  From that point it's run through an ADC, software processing, linear demosaicing, etc. to get the image you're looking at.  Other than that some analog to digital controllers are 12-bit and some are 14-bit and there are SOME scanners that can reach 16-bit, to me a pixel is a pixel is a pixel.  Different lenses/sensors/software provide different results and different lenses/films/processing/scanners/software provide different results.  Once you've got your digital image, the source becomes somewhat irrelevant.  It's a digital file, 1s and 0s.  That's not to say an iPhone and an IQ280 will get you identical results of course and I agree it's a good idea to capture as much information as you can in order to have more latitude to work with later.  Different?  Certainly.  Better?  I'm not sure about that.  Lightroom or darkroom, it depends on what you start with and what your skills are.

My $0.02!

Mike.
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Redcrown
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« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2013, 12:45:38 AM »
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Don't remember where, don't remember when, but about 5+ years ago one of the B&W ink companies (probably Cone) put on a demo/contest at one of the major Photo conventions. The results were widely reported in the press and on websites.

The put about 20 B&W prints on display. Some were digital/inkjet images, some were film/darkroom images. All were top quality. They challenged the convention attendees to tell the difference, and hundreds took the challenge. They were restricted to viewing the prints at "normal" distance. No pixel peeping with a loupe.

The statistical results clearly showed that the average could not tell the difference. Right and wrong answers matched randon chance.

I have 6 prints along one wall of my home. All are 11x14, matted and framed under glass. Two of the 6 are awared winners from my old film darkroom. I often challenge visitors, mostly untrained non-photographers but a few good photogs. My results match the convention challenge.

You have to get on top of them with a loupe to see film grain vs. ink dots, and even then you have to have the experience to know what you're looking for.
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