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Monday, 06 September 2010


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Yep, seem to have got the same place.

It was the ability to do in colour what I could do (admittedly very badly) in the darkroom with monochrome that reinvigorated my love of photography. Also, have you seen what you get back nowadays when you drop a roll of 35mm at the 1 hour photo. Ihave some really nice prints from 10 years ago, but now they seem universally poor.


A couple of months ago I went to see to see the New Topographics exhibition at San Francisco’s SFMOMA. I’m a little too young to be directly influenced by its impact, but indirectly it is my sort of photography and politics. That said, my favourite images were the colour prints by Stephen Shore. Apparently, they are called “Chromogenic” prints, but make me think of what were called Cibachromes. These are, I understand, analog prints made from a film source- they are wonderful. However, not for the first time, as I continued around the museum’s collection I came across some “Ink-jet” prints that were appalling; soft in sharpness and flat in contrast. In this instance, they were appealing photographs of old dilapidated stores by the photographer William Christenberry, but the printing process apparently made them sub-standard. I find it hard to balance this with the continued analog/digital debate. Is this the best that can be achieved with digital printing? Can digital images be printed chromogenically to get the same result? Were these (and others) just bad examples?

You're just imitating what B&W film does, is all

That would not be a bad "all" given sensitive skin and Adox fixer.

And if digital b&w is aping b&w film, then colour digital is aping C41 film - probably something like Superia by default with e6-emulation from Raw an optional extra.


I love B&W prints. Digital B&W has been the answer to my dreams.

1) I shoot raw + B&W jpeg. The ability to see the B&W image in the field is wonderful for judging exposure and composition. For big prints I usually convert from raw to B&W jpg and I am always trying to improve my PP.

2) I hate wet darkroom work. For decades, I have had to find people who would make good prints at a reasonable price, a very difficult task. Now I make my own prints and they are generally better than what I would pay for prints from film. If I were a master printer like you and if I liked the darkroom I would probably shoot B&W film but still miss the immediate feedback from digital


It's funny, but I actually prefer digital black and white. As someone who used to carry around 77mm deep red, green, blue, and yellow filters and a pile of step-up rings to use with my HP5plus-loaded Pentax SLR, I value the ability to experiment with modifying color contrast in black and white in post. The printing process isn't as fun with digital, but I was always more results oriented than process oriented, and I prefer the flexibility I get with digital in that regard.

Maybe you could comment on the most affordable way to use B&W film? The main factor that prevents me from shooting more than a very modest amount each year is the relative price per frame. Buying bulk rolls and loading your own cassettes seems like the way to go, but you have actual, you know, experience, with this sort of thing. Is that the right track? (Also, I'm guessing you can't buy medium format in bulk?)


Dear Mike,

"...but it's an obfuscating argument to contend that digital sensors really "see" in black-and-white."

It's worse: it's entirely without point or possible import, because ALL photographic media, with one singular exception, "see" B&W.

The Lippmann Process actually saw a spectrum as a spectrum. Every single other method, silver or silicon, involves assembling a color image out of monochrome bits. Doesn't matter if they're side-by-side, as in an Autochrome or a Bayer array, in-camera seps/multi-chip cameras, or superimposed, as with integral tripack films and Foveon sensors. It's all monochrome, so far as the 'detector' is concerned.

So, indeed, it is the end-user (ahem) experience that defines the medium, not physically-inappropriate hair-splitting.

pax / Ctein

For me its not even B&W v. color, nor film v. digital; it's about who is in control of my pictures. I used to love shooting Tri-X and developing it in various darkrooms at my disposal. But now I have two kids, a full-time+ job, and a small house: there is no dark room in my present or future, and I hate just handing my film to someone else to get an envelope of prints (never mind finding someone capable of doing it well). A digital camera set to B&W LCD previews, Lightroom set to covert my RAW files to B&W as they are ingested, and a printer set up for quality B&W prints, gives me an all-B&W workflow that, while not the same as Tri-X, I find deeply satisfying because I'm in control from A to Z.

Mike said:

"In my view, black-and-white was already perfect..."

Hence your appraisal of digital B&W as inferior? But is it inherently inferior, or just different then film B&W? Can this be determined objectively?

I have read articles quoting people who have years of experience printing both film and digital B&W who unequivocally state that digital B&W now surpasses film B&W as far as final output.

The digital darkroom offers, it seems to me, vastly superior capabilities than the analog counterpart, because of the ability to manipulate image color information before conversion to gray scale, as well as the ability to dodge and burn selectively for highlights, shadows, and midtones. Add to this the capabilities of layer blending and the digital darkroom is capable of manipulating the quality of light affecting the final image in ways that the analog darkroom can not duplicate.

So, why is film B&W inherently superior? Printing? The articles I have read quote those with expertise in this area as stating that the new inks and papers have closed the gap, with Dmax values higher than silver gelatin, and stabilities now rated at 200 to 300 years. Is there validity to this view?

Well, yes, that's a very good point. I can see that. I didn't get interested in photography seriously until I could do the darkroom work, but that was really because then I could get it the way *I* wanted it. Previously I had to send prints back to the lab time and again (yes, they loved me I'm sure) just to get the cropping right, which is trivial when you do it yourself.


I would argue that digital never quite gets the skin tones right the way Kodak Portra does. There's a substance to human flesh that film gets just right.

Conversely, while there's nothing like a B&W silver-gelatin print, Nik Silver Efex Pro can do a pretty persuasive job of simulation. (I've never been able to get over the idea that I'm looking at "fake" film, but that's just me)

"But is it inherently inferior, or just different then film B&W? Can this be determined objectively? I have read articles quoting people who have years of experience printing both film and digital B&W who unequivocally state that digital B&W now surpasses film B&W as far as final output."

I tend to discount, if not ignore, such statements, owing to long experience of people who talk a good game but can't print worth beans, and (to a lesser degree) people who really have an eye for prints but dislike talking about it.

Suffice it to say a) I'm not an expert in digital B&W myself, and b) I've never been able to consistently satisfy myself with digital B&W work I was able to do myself (even though I have a few nice digital B&W prints). But that's not conclusive, and I remain open both to learning more and to modifying my opinion. It will take more than just talk to do the latter, however.


I could not agree more with everything you have said here. I primarily shoot large format B&W now but started with large format color. As you said, it was never entirely satisfying. About a year ago I realized that I tend to shoot digital when I shoot color but film for B&W.

While there's sometimes some snobbery in turning digital photos into B&W, there are definitely subjects that lend themselves better to B&W. Should I really carry both a digital camera and a film camera to places where both subjects might occur?

I have an idea for a way to do 'native' B&W in digital, but I don't have the skills to hardware mod a digital camera.


you are so much more an expert than me, with a long professional background in the industry, that I'm sure your view is very probably correct. However, I'm intrigued by your view that doing B&W in digital is "bullheaded" and would need a "wrestle". I would agree that digital sensors are optimised for colour, but it is certainly theoretically possible to design a sensor for B&W. Whether there's a market, or whether it would be cost effective are money doubts, not of the underlying science.

For the sake of argument, if there were a cost effective B&W sensor commercially available, what would be bull-headed or wrestling about using it?

And to atone in advance for my heresy, I'm off to develop the first roll of B&W I've shot in perhaps 4 years tonight, spurred into activity by the recent Leica Year posts and borrowing a Contax 645 with 80mm lens from a friend for the weekend. It's for sale, but too expensive for my money: nevertheless it felt good.... Mind you, I'm telling myself it's only a practice as my chemicals are probably well past their usefulness!

You write too eloquently Mike!

Since your "Secrets of the Leica" post I've been wasting time on Ebay, dreaming of a two lens Pentax MX outfit like my existing 5Dii/35mm/135mm setup.

Finally realised that, although I would love a small, simple manual focus camera and good manual focus lenses, I wouldn't give up the control and high speed ability of digital black and white to go back to film.

My 5Dii and the 5D before it have been set for black and white with an orange or yellow filter since I bought them.

I print large and stick the prints on the wall - I can see that, if you print small and hold the prints in your hand, fibre based selenium toned darkroom prints have a tactile quality of their own.

What I really want is a 5D sensor in an MX body.

"For the sake of argument, if there were a cost effective B&W sensor commercially available, what would be bull-headed or wrestling about using it?"

It would depend on how the results look, wouldn't it?

I would still love to have a dedicated B&W-only digital camera. From what I hear, there was a B&W version of the Leica M8 that made it pretty far along in the development process, but the bean counters under whichever CEO it was at the time put the kibosh on it. Doubtless they were right...from a business perspective; from a user perspective...well, the business perspective and the user perspective are sometimes at odds.


I must say that I am a big fan of the "Dynamic Black & White" mode on the Panasonic LX3.

It produces a highly contrasty look to the images, which I personally like, and also means that I don't have to fiddle around in Photoshop. I like the serendipity that the default settings give - much like using a prime lens means that you are not fiddling around for the "perfect" focal length, using default settings allows me to concentrate on taking the picture. The Dynamic Black & White mode provides an acceptable default.

It also me to explicitly take a photo as B&W, rather than deciding to remove the colour later. To me this is a big difference between B&W film and B&W digital - with film you know you are getting black and white only and this is a factor in the original composition, in digital it is often an afterthought resulting in a poorer final result.


"You write too eloquently Mike! Since your "Secrets of the Leica" post I've been wasting time on Ebay, dreaming of a two lens Pentax MX outfit like my existing 5Dii/35mm/135mm setup. Finally realised that, although I would love a small, simple manual focus camera and good manual focus lenses, I wouldn't give up the control and high speed ability of digital black and white to go back to film."

I do understand. Plus, there is the undoubted benefit of dedicating oneself just to one kind of camera body, even if you have two or three of them. It helps with intuitive camera handling, consistency of results, not having to make a choice of which camera to grab on the way out of the house...etc.


It is interesting to realize that I came to the same conclusions, without thinking it through as you have. When I want to shoot colour, I grab a digital; and when I plan on shooting b&w, I grab a film body.
I've never done my own colour, so that may reflect my intended end use: if I want a (b&w) print I was involved with, or a (colour) print to serve as a record or snapshot.
I've never really come to grips with PhotoShop, or other amounts of post processing - preferring to try to 'get it right in the camera.'
I'm very interested in reading what others have to say, to see if there is any correlation between preferences and experience. ie do experienced b&w workers prefer film more than experienced colour workers prefer film.

I agree that colour film had its limitations but a 10x8" transparency could (can) be a gorgeous thing.

Until very recently I completly agreed, but I've been using Silver Efex Pro for a couple of weeks, and that's given me results that I'm very much happier with than conversions done inside Lightroom.

I don't think the results are exactly the same as film, but conversions from M9 DNG files look sufficiently good that I no longer feel I have to have a film camera with me to shoot decent B&W.

Partly it's because it uses terminiology that I'm familiar with "make it look more like Tri-X", "add a red filter", but even when it's not aping film it still somehow looks better than a stright Lightroom B&W conversion.

I shoot digital and convert to black and white all the time. But...

I have to say there is something special about a straightforward black and white print, made from black and white film, in a darkroom on fiber based paper that, if done properly, just gets more respect from me than the digital equivalent. It isn't because it's easier, because setting up a quality black and white print system has proven quite elusive on my computer/printer. But there is something about the inherent fundamental simplicity - the elegance - of the film and darkroom paper system that moves me. That said, I still shoot a lot more digital that is converted to black and white. I think digital has opened up photography, including B&W, to a lot of people who did not have room for a darkroom and, from a technical standpoint, is capable of at least the same quality as film. And yet I keep going back. I have family and friends who think I'm schizophrenic or something. I think this post comes as close to stating the reasons I keep returning to film as anything I've ever read - thanks for giving me some insight into my own thoughts.

what you say is true also for the human eye, we have a RGB array similar to the bayer, we do not sample the full spectrum (like we do for the sound instead). And still, nobody would say that we do not see natively in color.

Is it not possible to marry the best of both worlds? A colo(u)r image from a reversal film being converted to B&W digitally (after scanning using a dedicated film scanner)?

Discuss (in the tradition of the exam papers of my youth).

I'm pretty sure I can make digital B&W pictures look as good as any of my old prints while I stare at them on the screen. The various tools in Lightroom and Photoshop make that possible.

I'm not so sure I can then get a print out the machine that quite looks and feels like a darkroom print on glossy fiber paper. But that's an issue of the surface and tactile quality of the paper, not necessarily the "image quality", whatever that means.

Ultimately I think all such discussion of "quality" are pretty worthless. There are no universally superior delivery systems for photographs. These days I imagine that people consume most of their photography on their cell phones (and before anyone snickers, I'd put up the iPhone 4 or iPad screens against any print media on a purely technical level). So the real question to consider before "what's the best way to print" might be whether you want to print at all.

For me the answer is that I print occasionally, mostly in color, and usually through the digital print service at Costco. Some day I might figure out whether I can find the digital equivalent of glossy fiber. I'm never going in the darkroom again though. Could never deal with the chemicals and I see no reason to try again.

How about a b&w sensor? output from that would clich the argument. Above was said b&w film proces is mature, color film proces isn't! Thus I take it that conversely digital color proces is more mature than b&w digital proces. A monochrome sensor will maybe open up a whole new way in b&w digital????

While I truly appreciate the control digital gives me over color I've often wondered (since sensors only 'see' B&W too) why some manufacturer doesn't offer a digital model sans Bayer array. Skip the red, green & blue filters and skip the in camera processing algorithms to interpolate color from the RAW data. Canon just announced a 120MP APS-H sensor. Imagine that in a dedicated B&W camera. Images that print 30"x40" at 300ppi without up-sizing. It'd be like a large format camera in an SLR body.

Mike, I think you just like silver prints better than digital prints. I've seen some gorgeous digital prints, and can't see how they could have been any better coming out of a darkroom. There are huge advantages to digital manipulation on a computer -- you can simply do things that you can't in a darkroom. The problem came in the transfer of the manipulated image to the paper, and those problems are rapidly disappearing. (I've been a member at Luminous Landscape for years, and it was funny to see Mike Reichmann announce the arrival of the Millennium, on an annual basis, as each new printer came out. Those announcements have slowed, as the printers have gotten so good that the improvements are tiny...even Ctein, who some might say is a fussy printer, seems happy enough with a printer that is a couple of generations back.)

Speaking of Ctein, I take exception to his comment here. Light isn't monochrome; it isn't anything. It's just a bunch of energy packets arriving with different frequencies. We put together machines to capture and interpret the energy packets the same way our eyes do. The sensor isn't the whole machine; the whole machine includes the color filters that exclude some frequencies and allow other through, and with processing. To say otherwise would be to argue that an automobile is complete without a brake, because the essence of an automobile is to move...



I'm not convinced that digital B&W is generally inferior to film and started a discussion aimed at identifying how digital B&W specifically differs from film. Although the thread did not get very far, there were the following tentative thoughts:

—While film characteristic curves and grain can be simulated by digital, it is "imperfections" (for want of a better or more precise word) in film images that create the luminescence of the best film photographs (referred to as "film glow" in the thread).

—Much is dependent on the nature and quality of ambient light: in flat light film and digital images often will look similar.

—Some digital B&W photographs can be indistinguishable from film.

—Wet (darkroom) prints can sometimes keep the luminescence that disappears in digital prints. This implies that there can be a major difference in the quality of prints from a hybrid process, film that is scanned and printed on an inkjet print, and film that is printed in the darkroom. The implication of this is that scanned film printed digitally may be closer in terms of to printing digital camera files than to wet darkroom prints.

Now, I hasten to state that I'm not trying to get a "film look" when doing digital B&W but process each file individually to get a look that I like for that image. However, that look can often end up looking like film because most of us tend to like the film look, which is not surprising giving how long film has been fine-tuned for different looks by film manufacturers.


I held to this same view for a long time. While that view hasn't been completely changed, I'm happy to say that it has been significantly modified.

When I chose not to build my fifth darkroom after another house move a couple of years back, I reluctantly took the digital leap...for capture and for print. After that, I became extremely motivated to produce satisfying b/w prints, and to begin printing color on my own for the first time.

It has been a steep learning curve, but well worth the effort. And technology (hardware and software on both the front and back end), as well as papers and inks (potentially using 7 shades of grey), keep improving and forcing me to continually learn. But, hey, that's what I did in my darkroom days.

Mike, I think your opinion could change as well over time; but, as you say, not before you see real results. However, you obviously won't see these results unless; (a) you personally become similarly motivated to invest the time and effort (and money); and/or (b) you see the digital results by folks whom you trust and whose work you admire. I don't hold much faith in (a) given your new darkroom efforts, and I don't know how much digital b/w you see from others.

Having said that, digital prints aren't the same as silver prints. If sameness is the goal, one is likely to be disappointed. But, I've seen some beautiful, but different, digital prints, and getting better all the time.

The bonus for me is that I never loved the darkroom; just the results it produced. So, while I'll always love a finely crafted silver print, I no longer miss having the darkroom. Different strokes.

Ctein: I'm curious to know what aspect of your observation about all digital sensors "seeing" (or we could say, "operating") in monochrome, could not be applied equally well to the chromatically filtered cells of our own retinas?

We can train our brains to pay conscious attention to seen colour or else, momentarily and for a specific purpose, we can train them to disregard it; in photography this is all handled mechanistically.

And even a colour sensitivity that is disregarded, continues to modulate the representation.

One reason for continuing to shoot 35mm color is that it allows you to employ a wider range of hardware. For instance one could use one of those Leicas that you were banging on about the other day. At the other end of the $pectrum, I'll occasionally use an old 1970s rangefinder if I'll be out and about in a place where a fancy DSLR might get beat up or lost.

In such a case you can still scan the slides or negs and have all the advantages of digital printing.

Outside of that, I could not possibly disagree with you less, as my still-refrigerated rolls of Velvia will attest.

I think you are right, but it could be argued that no one has tried to build a digital black and white camera without a Bayer array and with a chip that can decode the sensor signal. Taking a black and white sensor array, converting it to color, and then converting back to black and white is not the same thing, no more viable than printing Ektachrome on some kind of reversal black and white paper and expecting it to equal the result of using materials designed to the task.

I find for myself that sometimes, converting to B&W reveals what the light is doing, whereas the color image is just dominated by the color and the subtleties of the light get lost. But maybe I'm just not a very good color photographer.

And then, following on Curt's comment, there is the time issue: if you're taking the trouble to mix up a batch of photo chemistry, you're committing to being in the darkroom for a fair chunk of time. You can't easily walk away and come back later to finish up. With digital you can easily do exactly that; leave at any stage in the process, then come back to pick up where you left off. I can't quite imagine having the time to do darkroom work until I retire, which, at the current rate of return on my retirement account is gong to be...never. :)

On Tumblr, http://istillshootfilm.org is one of the most popular photography blogs and has thousands of followers. It's one of many on Tumblr that feature original film based photography and advocacy. Film is hip among the young 20 something crowd--color film especially so.

Along with a little youthful rebellion, part of this is certainly about the nostalgic love for all things analog that will likely always have its devotees. I sympathize with this viewpoint (and to a certain extent share it), though I can't rationalize it.

Beyond that though, I think it's also about the 'out of the box' experience of film relative to digital. For instance, not everyone wants the saturated colors you typically get with default digital files relative to a film like Porta NC. Certainly, with the right tools and expertise, you can sit in front of your PC and make those digital pictures look however you want them tol. Or... maybe you can just buy a certain film and call it good.

There's also a real and very justified concern that often gets lost in these debates about the permanence of digital files. Our ability to make them far outstrips our ability to manage and protect them. Yeah, film has its own challenges here but lets face it, fires are a lot less common than hard drive failures. Think it's hard to manage decades of your family's film photography? Just wait and see what it's like after 50 years of digital.

There are certainly workflows you can adopt to address these problems (see Peter Krogh's The DAM Book), but again they take time, knowledge, and money that most regular people would balk at; especially the non-professionals just shooting pictures of their kids and family vacations.

Technical and creative issues aside, when it comes to preserving memories, maybe shooting a few rolls of color film every now and then isn't such a crazy idea.

I'm forever amazed at the degree of control one can get with digital B&W, control one could only previously dream of. Then why does digital B&W sometimes leave me cold, why do I find a silver gelatin print that originated from a Holga often so much more emotive and satisfying?

Perhaps I'm just reacting to the same "over perfected" sterility practiced by the zoned out f64 film types now made easier via photoshop, or maybe it's something inherent to the digital medium itself. Perhaps it's something as simple as a touch of grain or the slightly increased shadow detail that film provides. I don't know, but I do care.

My heart is in the darkroom, with a fistful of Tri-X negs... Reality is that I have little time now for silver printing. 3-4 solid hours of printing time is the minimum for me. Shooting B&W film, then scanning the negs works well now, for me. I have a 6x6 negative of Stonehenge, shot in 2004 and would not make a good silver print, even with my 35+ years of serious silver printing experience. I finally scanned the neg into Photoshop. It took a couple of hours of work to get the image I wanted, but once it happened, it's now just a matter of loading paper into the Epson R2400. I've started letting go of the weird feeling of converting a digital camera file to B&W. I'm feeling better about the results. The inherent abstraction and simplification of B&W, fil or digital, helps me say what I want to say.

"That said, my favourite images were the colour prints by Stephen Shore."

If I'm not mistaken, Stephen Shore shot mostly 8x10 film for those photographs. That's a whole different ball-game and obviously makes for beautiful prints. But I can assure you that inkjet printing is capable of some stunning results when done properly.

Hmmm...I think for portraiture, Kodak Portra well exposed and processed eats digital for lunch, particularly with a large format camera. There's something different, couldn't put my finger on all of it, but the colors that it chooses to accentuate to me are more human than anything I've seen on digital.

Could I be fooled side by side? Definitely, but I've looked at enough portra to have an idea what it generally looks like, and enough color digital to know what it generally looks like, and I can say that in general I think portra is superior for portraits.

I agree with a japanese friend who recently said that black & white tell us more than colours.

Quite surprised that you refer to pictures with large format cameras and colour film as a fad (or is it just if you target art galleries).

I found colour digital to have some serious issues (horrible greens, atrocious colour transitions on the edges of clipped areas - I could go on) whereas colour film was a revelation - green separation with Velvia is extraordinary (and you can desaturate it you know). E100G's colour is incredibly accurate (try shooting bluebells with digital). Astia's portrait capabilities are legendary.

Using digital also forces you to use tiny ground glasses - whereas composing on a 4x5 or 8x10 screen allows wonderful control.

Obviously each to their own but as someone who started with Digital (and who is a long way from a Luddite) I love working with film and combined with a drum scanner and a lightjet printer, it will continue to be a reference medium for my landscape photography work.

For me, color photography became very enjoyable in the last decade because of the ability to scan film, adjust the images digitally, and print at home using inkjet printers. Cibachromes are prettier, but I never considered doing that at home. As an amateur, my main reasons for staying with a film/scan/Photoshop/inkjet hybrid workflow are:

1. I have thirty years' worth of slides and negatives in my archives, so I have already spent money on a good film scanner.

2. The latest (last?) color emulsions are very good, and I can still get satisfactory C41 and E6 processing where I live.

3. Medium format film equipment (which is more than good enough for me) has never been cheaper. I cannot afford digital cameras that produce comparable output.

I realize there are excellent reasons for using digital; they just do not apply to photography as a hobby for me. Professionally, I switched to digital in 1990. Until then, we were doing things like pre-exposing film in the darkroom to get some fog, so that the next two logs of exposure were recorded linearly. We overcame this narrow linear dynamic range by stacking multiple sheets of film in one exposure cassette (I'm talking X-ray film here) so that for a given intensity, one of the films in the film pack would be exposed in its linear range. When "electronic film" appeared with at least 10,000-fold linear dynamic range, going digital was the obvious thing to do.

"the fad style among photo art galleries right now is for large-format color film work"

Are you sure ? I thought that the trend was for large-format color *prints*. In the art world, I am not sure people care much whether the print was made using film or digital. Burtynsky and Misrach, for example, have used medium format digital recently, however for most artists medium format digital is too expensive, which leaves film as the only option to achieve the image quality necessary for large prints.

Yet someone whose opinion I think is firmly grounded in esthetic standards set by traditional b/w, who clearly knows what a fine b/w print looks like, of whom it’s safe to assume is a heck of a traditional b/w printer in his own right, wrote this about his recent experience making inkjet prints from Nikon D700 captures:

“But I'm impressed and gratified. I would say it's the first time I've gotten B&W quality out of a digital camera that doesn't make me mourn for Tri-X on Multicontrast Classic—tonally; grain and sharpness are much better with the digital prints. But that's been true before. It was the tonality that's been lacking, especially in the highlights. That's changed, finally, if my early trials with the D700 are a good indication. Overall the print quality I'm getting from the D700 seems to be very, very good.”

I wonder how you might reconcile today’s post with that other fellow’s?

I will add the following observation: I’m also a traditional b/w printer with a lot of experience (and really interested only in b/w). I’ve tried over the years to find a way to map that experience satisfyingly into the digital realm. I’ve made perhaps 1000 digital prints on three different printers, with skill varying from primitive in the beginning to now hardly expert but sufficient to get a good sense of what’s possible. I can say this: I have gotten results from scanned 6x9 negatives that seemed in their own way to be equally as interesting--in a different way--as a good silver-halide print from the same negative. Working with captures from a wide range of digital cameras, however, I cannot say the thing. That includes Leica M8/M9, Pentax K10D, Hasselblad with a PhaseOne P21, and finally and most recently a Panasonic GF1. For me, so far, I could not make a print from these cameras that was equally satisfying, and all those cameras (except the GF1) went back to where they came from. I’ve produced a few that seem quite good, typically with an amount of fussing I would never tolerate in the darkroom, and found my hopes rising. But then I would go back and look through some traditional prints and the bubble would burst and it was back to the darkroom.

But reading that bit about the D700 got me excited, especially considering the source. Has the ground finally been broken? Here was someone whose opinion I regard very highly saying so. Were we, after all, there? I really had my hopes up, was this far from pulling the trigger on a D700 order. Help me out here...

Ten years ago I would spend a whole weekend in the darkroom to produce ten prints. Now - behind the computer - I can easily do that in between the main course and desert in digital. The rest of the weekend I am now able to go out shooting. Therefore my digital B&W prints are ten times better than my film ones.

The fine art market still demands prints from negatives (or slides), be they colour or b/w. Aesthetics could play a role but my hunch is that the main thrust come from economics. The uniqueness of the film negative/slide provides a control of sorts against print multiplication. This is obviously more difficult to achieve in digital since the negative itself (ie the RAW file) has the potential to be multiplied ad infinitum.

I read recently in a french magazine an interview of S. Salgado about his current long term project "Genesis". This was started on a Pentax 645 camera with Tri-X 320 but concerns about dwindling paper inventories -he has loads of work prints done in the editing phase- and films being damaged by airport X-ray machines compelled him to continue the project with a digital camera (high end Canon). The description of the new digital workflow is quite fascinating. For example, in the shooting phase he turns off the back display of the camera in order to not be distracted. Also, parts of the viewfinder have been obscured, in order to match the 4.5x6 aspect ratio the project started with. Basically, it has all been organised so that his experience as a photographer remains as "analogue" as possible and he seems to be quite a happy camper about the new arrangements.

The funny bit of the story is that b/w film negatives are being created from the digital camera and then printed in a more traditional way -enlarger an so forth- for museums and collectors because that is what these people want, by his own candid admission.

Mike, I agree wholeheartedly. I have seen prints made by people who used to print b&w in the darkroom, and who now profess the superiority of digital b&w -- These are prints by real artists, who have work hung in museums. The digital prints I saw were hung right next to some prints made in the darkroom by Ray McSavaney. While it might not be fair to compare anyone's prints with Ray's (he just might be the best printer around), I can tell you that this other print was by a well-known and respected artist. The digital prints were not close. I am sure his darkroom prints would have been a lot closer, if not just as good as Ray's prints were.

The fact that you can do certain things like dodging and burning with more precision, or that you can make a b&w HDR image does not mean that digital is better. Just because you have a tool and use it does not make it inherently better. You have to need to use that tool to make it worthwhile. It has to allow you to do something that really makes a photo that has a "better" overall result. I have not seen that "better" yet.

What about the Large Format Photo Negative application on the HP Designjet Z3200ps Photo Printer? Take digital images and print a large negative for contact prints? Even on traditional photographic paper.

Another voice added to the chorus. The only time I pick up a digital camera now is when I want to shoot color. And since I seem to be seeing in black-and-white right now, the Olympus is what I use most often. All I can say is “thank dog for freestyle.”

I do have to say though, that I'm trying to improve my black-and-white inkjet printing chops. Quad Tone RIP has a lot of control, and there's certainly some interesting inks available for my venerable Epson 2200. I don't know if I will ever match the output of a really good wet darkroom printer, but I think I will have fun trying.

I agree that digital is better suited to doing colour as it offers much more flexibility and control over the output than film. However this flexibility can be distracting, and I find myself experimenting with different types of colour film in order to gain a better understanding of my own tastes in colour images. I find it easier to start from a reference point (ie. the "look" provided by a certain film) then modify it accordingly than to start with the blank slate that digital provides, and stumble my way through the darkness until I come up with something I'm happy with. I'm hoping that this process will lead me to a digital colour workflow that will allow me to produce output with a consistent style or look that I'm happy with.

As for black and white, I've yet to find an inkjet paper that gives prints with the same "certain something" that selenium toned fibre-based silver gelatin prints have. Having said that, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

If shooting colour film in this day and age is Quixotic, then optically printing colour is surely um... really Quixotic, and to that end I feel compelled to mount a charge on it's behalf.
I recently started printing in the colour darkroom and If digital colour offers convenience and interpretive control, the wonderfull thing I've discovered about colour optical printing is that the process often presents me with ways of interpreting my work that I would never have considered if I was working on the same image in photo shop-- sometimes a mistake turns into a beautiful mistake, and as in poetry, its often the process of fitting a vision to a form that makes it great. In my digital life I found myself striving for, bigger, bolder more intense prints that reach out and grab the viewer from across-- now in the darkroom I'm drawn to make smaller,more delicate images that draw the viewer in. I won't say that one is better than the other, but I will say that the colour darkroom has got me hooked, and I'm a better photographer and a better printer because of it.

I think your last sentence is on the money for all the comments here: "It's a question of choosing the best medium for B&W vs. color that's the real question."

That's going to be for each person to decide for themselves. I'm still astonished by the results achievable from a darkroom in B&W, so I'm agreeing with you here on the basis of my prints...

... but there are some photos that I have taken on a digital camera that I've converted into B&W -- which I have NO IDEA on how I'd do that with film (I suspect with a kit full of filters and printing technique!!). For flexibility, I suspect digital still wins.


I'm definitely with the film for B&W camp, but I've found that for me a fully analog workflow right through to the print isn't necessary. Much of the magic seems to be in the film, and that magic can be retained in a good inkjet print on the right paper from a good scan. So my "darkroom" can be nothing but a dark bag to get exposed film from from the camera or film holders into the tank for processing. The processing itself can take place in full light just about anywhere there's a supply of running water that can be temperature controlled.

The problematic part of that equation is "good scan." It doesn't have to be a drum scan. The best Epson flatbeds are capable of doing a remarkably good job, especially with medium or large format film. But it is a fiddly job, and film scanning options seem to be getting more and more scarce as time goes on.

I'm really a bit worried about this, because I love shooting and processing B&W film and then crossing over into the digital domain. (Unless you're going to be exhibiting physical prints made in a wet darkroom your images are going to end up going through the digital pipeline anyway.) But it seems as though that will get harder to do in the future unless some helpful manufacturer(s) somewhere decides to put their weight behind producing improved scanning hardware and software that's affordable and practical for the photo enthusiast working at home.

So yes, film for B&W, but let's not forget the hybrid workflow!

Dear Mike Jones,

No, what you saw were badly-made prints.

I have no problem making both technically and aesthetically superior digital color prints. If someone can't, it's because they are not a competent printer. Nothing more and nothing less.

Most photographers are lousy printers. Most always were. The difference is that in the old days you had to master a substantial skill set in craft before you could demonstrate how lousy you really were. Now anyone can simply buy a technologically superior printer for $500-$1000 and immediately demonstrate their lack of competence.

A while back I was showing some prints to an appreciative audience when one of them unthinkingly blurted out, "Wow, you must have a really good printer." I just smiled and said, "No, I AM a really good printer."

End of story, end of discussion. Really. Dead horse. Do not flog further.


Dear Gingerbaker,

I'm inclined to be with Mike on this one. I assert that the vast majority of people out there who claim that medium A is clearly in every way superior to medium B (regardless of what A and B are) are folks who never got very good at A.

In addition, you are conflating photography and printmaking, which is a very common error; I will bet you that the overwhelming majority of comments you've read about this are from people who are comparing film photography printed in a darkroom, with digital photography printed on a computer printer. Photography and printmaking are two separate things. One can make darkroom prints from digital files, as well as make digital prints from film.

Conflating the two leads to erroneous assertions. Up until the mid-1980s, even the pundits at Kodak, who should've known better, claimed both verbally and in print that color negative film was substantially inferior in both exposure range and color rendition to color slide film. This was demonstrably and factually wrong. In fact, color negative film had a longer exposure range than slide film by a substantial margin. The error arose from people looking at chromogenic prints from color negatives (which under the best of circumstances are pretty mediocre) versus slides. They were confusing the quality of the print with the quality of the film. After I pointed this out to them, such remarks quickly disappeared.


Dear Lars,

Maxmax will do monochrome conversions of a few models of digital cameras. It's not inexpensive; expect to pay about as much as you would for a new camera body.

Also, do not presume the results will automatically address Mike's concerns. Yes, a monochrome-converted digital camera will have fewer spatial frequency artifacts, lower noise, and better resolution. But photography is more than noise and line pairs. If it weren't, everybody who loves Tri-X would have immediately switched to TMAX 400, which is inarguably sharper, finer grained, and lower in noise.

Still, if you've a strong desire for a monochrome digital camera, you should check out what these folks can do.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

After 3 or 4 years of trying to convince myself that my digital black and white was as satisfying and meaningful as using film I have completed ,coincidentally, my first modest 'permanent' darkroom.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not returning to film because I never left it and I have now film cameras I only dreamt of 20 years ago. Digitally I use a superb black and white conversion programme that is a multi software plug-in and now stand-alone called 'BW Styler'. In fact I recommend you to try it as a demo, Mike, because it is based upon darkroom processes and film emulation and in my view is better and about 8 times cheaper than Nik software. I can get very satisfactory prints (that sell) and imitate some of the more complex/noxious processes I don't have the facility or time to achieve in the wet. And this is my point, after a few years I'm sort of feeling that my digital b&w is a bit of a cheat - this is totally illogical and I'm not wringing my hands over it - but it was kind of brought home when I saw a photographer exhibiting prints from his precious 'blad and extoling his (mediocre, in my eyes) prints that were digitally produced and obviously manipulated beyond anything possible in the darkroom. Yet the prints were being sold (at inflated prices) with the notion that they were more worthy because of the film link , whereas there was no darkroom craft on display. If the prints had been silver I would have had more respect for the craft put into them considering their film origins - hark, the howls of derision. But, that's my view after being a serious practitioner of both mediums, and it's why I shall be trying to sell darkroom prints at a higher price alongside my digital prints, because of the whole visualisation and hand craft of 'traditional work' that makes it more worth it. Sorry. Rant over. Going to the darkrom now...grumble..where's that wine..

"Most photographers are lousy printers. Most always were. The difference is that in the old days you had to master a substantial skill set in craft before you could demonstrate how lousy you really were. Now anyone can simply buy a technologically superior printer for $500-$1000 and immediately demonstrate their lack of competence."

This has to be the quote o' the day!



Mike, it was a challenge fulfilled for Porter, Misrach and co. So it is no different for us B&W practitioners using digital.
From my experience it is not the camera, digital or otherwise, that is the defining part of workflow but the conversion methodology and more so the printing.
Work carefully and over time the results will come. Not much different from most photography.
I have worked with both film and digital. I am not going back to film.

Thinking through these thought-provoking and informative comments, I confess an ignorance. Is there a high-quality way to make B&W "negatives" from digital captures, that could then be printed in the traditional enlarger / developer / fixer workflow? ( I'm asking in all innocence - please don't beat up on me too much if it appears I'm the only one in the world that doesn't know ). I remember a few times printing Harvard Graphics files from a small Canon Bubblejet onto transparencies in the early 90s when I was teaching gunnery to young soldiers and had an OHP in the classroom - perhaps an updated version exists?

I don't own an enlarger, but I do own a reasonably competent printer and a totally dark understair closet that I could possibly use to make contact prints of A4 "negatives". Just musing....

digital natives find themselves attracted to film because they need to feel something different from the emptiness modern times bring. i photoshop images for a living 8 hrs daily, during my days off i shoot film for balance, filling the void with something REAL.

I buy a film camera, lens, and film. Spend a pile of time and money installing a darkroom with a bunch of smelly chemicals in my basement. Spend months learning to print in said darkroom. This would not be bullheaded.

Using the computer, printer, and camera gear I already have would be bullheaded. I admit, I could do the black and white thing a lot better, and I want to learn, but I think I am going to be bullheaded about it.

having the kids move out and having built a new darkroom with black plastic after Ctein's posting, I have not even turned on my 3800.
The digital prints used to look great, but to me, the wet prints look like the image is IN the paper, the digital like they sit ON the paper. How many people really can make a monochrome print in silver and ink and put them side by side? Many these days have never seen a silver print. When I do that to me there is no comparison at all, I was horrified when I laid out some prints I made in the kitchen twenty years ago and could not match the glowing look of a quality silver print in digital, and I scan and print for a living. I tend to agree with you about colour but I do have some digital prints off velvia scans that I'm certain have a look not achievable with a sensor. I feel lucky to be able to do both, but I do like to do a hand craft that few now practice rather than try to keep up with everyone else on a computer. Here I'm talking about personal 'stuff', not commercial work.
I just noticed that the camera I used for most personal work this last year is a slightly worn classic black m6 with a 28mm ultron, am I being too influenced by your blog?

The solution for you is to get some D700 files and experiment for yourself, so you can see if you like what you can do with the camera. There are many ways to do this--rent a camera, download some files, ask to borrow some friends' files, or simply ask at a camera store if you can shoot a card around the store and in the parking lot (if you do this and then do buy a camera, the decent thing to do would be to buy it from the store).

It's really only by seeing for yourself that you can make up your mind.


"am I being too influenced by your blog?"

Is that even possible?



It also [forces?] me to explicitly take a photo as B&W, rather than deciding to remove the colour later. To me this is a big difference between B&W film and B&W digital - with film you know you are getting black and white only and this is a factor in the original composition, in digital it is often an afterthought resulting in a poorer final result.

This is an important point, highlighting the fact that good color and good B&W photography, whether film or digital, requires a different way of seeing and composing. Until very recently, for the last four years I was shooting digital B&W almost exclusively, under the spell of a book project that was in B&W. However, in the last two months, I started shooting color as well and found that, once I had visualized the photo in color, I simply couldn't process it into B&W that I liked — I had to process it as color.

So, now, that it's not a foregone conclusion that I'll be doing B&W, to make either a color or a B&W photograph that I like, I find I have to think and visualize in the respective mode. I find that there are few files that work well in either mode. But I do like the fact that digital gives me the flexibility to produce either color or B&W at any time, without changing film type or carrying two cameras — the same flexibility that digital gives for changing ISO without having to change film. Consequently, I'm not interested in giving up this flexibility in order to have a digital camera with a B&W only sensor.


Question: How does the Sigma DP1 or DP2 do as a B&W camera?
I'm thinking here of the Foveon sensor's lack of a Bayer array.

Someone sold me 10 boxes of 8x10 Velvia recently and I found that is an exceptional process with result I quite like. Not sure how to replace this with any digital. Yes, there are many developing failure and I even upgrade my jobo CPE2 to jobo CPA2 with 3005 expert drum to develop further the remaining stock. I guess it might be right that to do color, use digital. Still, for hobby and fun, I guess I keep the slide running for a while. Just like to see large format slide.

I downgrade from a M8 to an iphone and found that is good enough for snapshot. In the future, may get a sony EX5 or Pentax 645D later, depend on my saving in the next few years. Not dropping digital but there is no urgency over there. Kid is much larger (and they are starting to use Canon 5D2 to make movie to hand in assignment soon). Hence, I might stay in the inferior land of color slide 8x10 and 4x5 (when the 8x10 slide run out) for a while.

Haven't we had non-Bayer array sensors years from Foveon? Whether one believes that they are natively color or BW, the fact is that they do not share the design issues that people often raise as the Bayer array's shortcomings vis-a-vis black and white imaging.

I don't know the details of the Foveon's RAW encoding or the way Sigma's software interprets it, but BW converted through that workflow seems to me to have a different character from those converted from more typical sensors. To my eye, it is a more appealing and traditional look (especially if you're into grain!).

Those who call for a "monochrome", non-color-array sensor may want to look into whether Sigma is essentially offering what they seek. Other Sigma characteristics that may appeal to the same group are the lack of an anti-aliasing filter and user-removable IR filters (in the DSLR's).

Of course, shooting performance and ergonomics are another matter. [g]

I have a D700. I make black and white pictures with it. I don't think it looks "the same" as Tri-X (or even Plus-X for that matter). But I'm fairly happy with what it does. On the other hand, I enjoy black and white with my LX-3 and my iPhone 4 as well... so maybe I've become deluded. Here is an iPhone 4 shot


Windsor wrote: "...it could be argued that no one has tried to build a digital black and white camera without a Bayer array and with a chip that can decode the sensor signal." Not true, see review here. Of course, at $42,000, it's a bit out of reach for most of us.

Dear Roberto,

Nope, nuh uh. Any neurophysiologist or psychophysiologist would have your severed head mounted on a pipette, and properly so, if you talked about the eye seeing "color." They'll get even more upset if you talk about the eye having "red", "green" and "blue" receptor cells. The physically proper way to talk about the eye is that it contains four kinds of receptors: short-, medium-, and long-wavelength, low-sensitivity receptors that are medium-bandwidth and one broadband short-wavelength, high-sensitivity receptor. The brain processes the signals collected by those four receptors and creates a sensation of color from that.

This is not a pedantic distinction. The sensation that we would call a color, say "magenta," can be created any number of different ways with extremely different signals from those four receptors. Visible color simply does not map directly to the signal each receptor provides. we don't see red green and blue anymore than the digital camera does. Our brain (and Adobe Camera RAW) invent them.


Dear JC,

Aren't we really saying the same thing? Sure, "monochrome," "spectrum," and "color," are all names we apply as a psychological shorthand for a physical phenomenon. And as such, they do not constitute a physically precise discussion. But having had way too many of these discussions with people, I find it difficult enough just to get across to people the idea that our eyes don't see "color" and neither do silver nor silicon sensing materials. That's a big enough conceptual leap for most. Demanding precise physics accuracy on top of that is, in my experience, just asking too much of them.

Honestly, I think we are on pretty much the same, um, wavelength [g,d,&r] (ditto for you, richardplondon)

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

While traditional B&W prints (in silver or platinum) will never be matched by inkjet, for me the ideal path is shooting colour neg (specifically Ektar 100), scanning and converting to B&W in Photoshop then printing digitally. This gets around the dynamic range limitations of digital (without HDR shenanigans) and post-shot filtration is a tremendous creative control. I just love the grain of Ektar 100 (in 120) as well. Anyway, a less obvious path but I don't see myself settling for the limitations of the darkroom again.

"It also [forces?] me to explicitly take a photo as B&W, rather than deciding to remove the colour later. To me this is a big difference between B&W film and B&W digital - with film you know you are getting black and white only and this is a factor in the original composition, in digital it is often an afterthought resulting in a poorer final result. This is an important point, highlighting the fact that good color and good B&W photography, whether film or digital, requires a different way of seeing and composing."

It's this way for me too. If I'm shooting in color, I see in color. If I'm shooting B&W, I visualize B&W.


I think the justification for doing anything in black and white will get harder and harder with digital. That's not the fault of digital, but kind of an identity crisis of b/w overall, which has been going on for quite a while.

The fact that the cameras "only" produce color images natively will put the b/w philosophy to the test, a philosophy that really only seems to be borrowing from the past film age. I have not heard anything new why someone prefers b.w over color and none of it is visionary in any way.

I agree B&W printing from digital is a chore, mainly because no digital cameras have the gentle highlight rolloff of most B&W negative film - even if a D700 and D3 have enough DR to make a decent stab at it and may have even more shadow depth - the editing process especially for high key work is like walking a tonal tightrope.

Also, no LCD of my acquaintance can reproduce real blacks so the transformation to final print involves a lot of guesswork and finger crossing - even if I can now get something I find quite pleasing from a B9180 in the end.

However there is no way I am giving over one of my two bedrooms as a darkroom so like most folk living in apartments and lacking a basement I will have to persevere with the digital workflow. Maybe that's OK though. The result may not look the same as Tri-X but it still looks good.

I think one issue is that we are still trying to immitate instead of innovate. You can't really make digital colour look like film, we just got used to the digital "look". We are not there yet with B&W. Instead of trying to immitate Tri-X we should regard B&W digital printing as a new aesthetic and exploit it for what it can offer.

Drifting away from the topic of digital B&W ultimate quality, I took a digital color picture at Tent Rocks (here in New Mexico), pretty dramatic, a lovely shot. Then I converted it to B&W, running it through a computational red filter to darken the bright blue sky. The conversion also made a wonderful shot, except ... I found that I had to crop the photo differently.

There was a bright mass of rock in the lower right portion that worked well in the color version but was way too bright and distracting in the B&W one. I suppose I could have tried to fade it digitally, but I didn't see a natural-appearing way to do it, and the effect wouldn't have been what I wanted. So I cropped the right side more. I made prints with both crops and in color and B&W. The cropped version works well in B&W, the original one is better in color.

I learned a good lesson with this photo, and that was worth a lot to me, no matter whether the B&W print may perhaps have been "better" if made on film and printed on silver gelatin.

Do you guys ever come across a picture for the other kind of film (not the one you loaded)? Vexing! Or am I just undisciplined?

if there were a cost effective B&W sensor commercially available

THere is. They come on rolls or in sheets!

I find it interesting that many people here can't discuss digital B&W without referencing the look of a particular B&W film or how inkjet prints compare to gelatin silver prints.

For me, the appeal of digital B&W is precisely that it does not have to mimic the look of any particular film/developer combo and inkjet prints don't have to look like gelatin silver prints. With digital technology, I am free to create my own unique B&W look without having a degree in chemistry or factories in which to make my own film, paper, and chemicals.

In fact, I did not like photographing with B&W film or making gelatin silver prints. If digital technology hadn't made it possible for me to "roll my own," so to speak, then I doubt I would be photographing in B&W at all today, let alone almost exclusively, as has been the case for the past sixteen months.

I shoot film for possible exhibition shots and use digital for colour. I have not seen any digital b&w prints that I envy though I guess that they must exist somewhere.


Gary Haigh

Mitch: This is an important point, highlighting the fact that good color and good B&W photography, whether film or digital, requires a different way of seeing and composing.
Mike: If I'm shooting in color, I see in color. If I'm shooting B&W, I visualize B&W.

I think you both are talking about something that often happens with digital -- people convert to B&W regardless whether the photo looks good or not. Mike, you did show a photo that fared quite poorly in B&W when it would have been much better in colour, didn't you?

What I do is just look for a photo that I think would look good in B&W. Some come out excellent, some not so good. But it's me, not digital or film.

And let me add another recommendation for BW Styler. It's really a terrific plugin, done by the same company that produces Contrast Master that Ctein reviewed here.

The end result, the image and its properties, is obviously important. But to me, so is the way of getting there. I think I could be sufficiently happy with the digital result if someone also could point me in the direction of a tool, i.e. camera, that has the same tactile feeling of using a small mechanical manual focus camera made of mostly metal like for instance the Minolta XD11, Olympus OM or Pentax MX with their immediate shutter release and mostly metal cased optics. Still haven't seen or fondled anything like that in digital cameras (except for the M9 that I've never handled). Then I would probably switch permanently and fully.

"I would argue that digital never quite gets the skin tones right the way Kodak Portra does. There's a substance to human flesh that film gets just right. "

I couldn't agree more with David S.

Recently, I put the wraps on a promo shoot for a local theatre group. Shot both 400NC and a P45, both attached to a Mamiya RB67.

As good as MFDBs are, the resulting RAW files still required considerably more tweaking in post than the scanned film.

Especially in my early days of digital photography (Epson 850Z), I would sometimes convert to B&W because the color under mixed or weird light sources was hopeless. This was journalism/snapshots, not art; but trust me, while some of them aren't wonderful B&W, they're better than the color versions!

My entire history in photography can be summarized as the fight against grain. Thus, I love modern digital, B&W or color. I've always found grain to be an intrusive, damaging element in my photos, and it has always been the limiting factor on how big I could print and just how dark a room I could shoot in.

As someone who came of age photographically with the digital revolution, I have a different perspective, Mike. Once I started to move away from landscapes I began to find colour superfluous and quickly converted to B&W. I still shot digital colour, but I "saw" in B&W.

After 6 months or so of messing around (arduously working?) with Adobe ACR I got to the point where I knew what sliders to move, and in what order, to make the photo look like the B&W I saw in my mind. Being able to filter colours in or out is an important part of this process, and one I couldn't achieve with coloured filters on a lens because I'll use different filters, even with images taken a few minutes apart.

Now here is where our experiences make our point of view diverge: Because I never really got to shoot hundreds of rolls of B&W film, I don't have a preconceived idea of what my digital B&W files should look like. I am therefore free to make them look however it is *I* think they should look. Achieving this look will always involve shooting a "colour" digital sensor for me.

As a curious side note, when I've shown some of my prints to old-school shooters they very often asked me what film I was using. I was met with sceptically high eyebrows when I replied I shot digital. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

A lot of people have been saying how there has never been a real digital B&W camera, but Kodak used to sell one, the Kodak DCS 760m. Here's a review on Luminous Landscape from some years back -


Technology is maturing and reclaiming what we loved about traditional photography.

I now make REAL silver gelatin prints directly from my digital darkroom on my desk.Let me explain my new "wet" digital process. I process my digital files using Nik Silver Efex Pro software. This software ( a photoshop / lightroom plug-in) works just as I did in the darkroom and even accurately reproduces grain according to film type and processing variations. It however gives me much greater control and allows me to make decisions as I go, unlike film.

I then send the finished file to a company called Digital SIlver Imaging. They use a laser to expose good old fashion Ilford Galerie photo paper that is then wet processed (No negative involved). My finished photographic silver prints on real old fashion photo paper are better than anything I could do in the darkroom. I get real black & white photos and I don't have to spend hours in a damp smelly darkroom.

The best of both worlds!


"no LCD of my acquaintance can reproduce real blacks so the transformation to final print involves a lot of guesswork and finger crossing"

Any LCD can produce true black in a dark room. Dim the lights! :) It's the new eco-friendly 1,000,000,000:1 contrast ratio.



I am the other way round. I shoot large format colour film for my fine art, huge prints... and think it is the cheapest and easiest tool for that job. Then for Black and White I now shoot digital, and love the freedom that post processing gives me with the control of the tones of each colour. Now I can control every colour's tone via software. Where as in the past I had to choose a filter, and pick which colours I would darken and which ones I would lighten. Printing is another matter, and obviously asthetics are coming into play here.

Film for colour. Digital for Black and White. Well that is what works for me.

I have a Leica M6 and a Summicron Lens. I love the feeling I get when I am out on the street with this camera loaded with Tri-X; I feel a connection to those in the past who have inspired me and that feeling occasionally provokes a good photograph. That makes me happy and is one of the reasons I make pictures in the first place.

I have built a darkroom in the back of my loft in the ample washroom/laundry. I have a little radio in there and I listen to NPR or Bob Dylan on it under the orange glow of the safelight. I quietly look through the negatives I made that day (or five years ago) and sometimes my heart skips a beat when I see something special in the silver.

Sometimes I can make a print from one of those negatives that stands out above every other photograph. It's a print that I made myself, from my negative, that I can make again and again if I want to. I don't have to worry about the HDD that it's stored on becoming obsolete, or any of those things.

My photography is completely free of reliance on electronic technology of any kind - the way almost everything else in our lives is these days - and it feels better that my photography is independent of that. It is much more real and tangible to me. And it looks much better to me because of all that.

I started shooting color film in 2008 (coming from digital) since I realized the Reala scans I get straight from my lab have colors and tones that I couldn't dream of getting from my digital files, no matter how long I spend cooking them on photoshop. Nothing quixotic about that.

Phil, I'm glad you're happy with your photography. But you're describing a camera with LED metering indicators and (at least in some models) off-the-film flash metering as "completely free of reliance on electronic technology of any kind".

I'm much more pleased with Rod's approach next message down from Phil's; while I disagree with him (I like the colors from my digital camera better than scans from Reala; though Reala certainly scans well), he's expressing a straightforward personal preference between two color renditions. As he says, nothing quixotic about that. And the final proof of the pudding is the displayed image.

Mike: It seems the people at Phase One have heard you... they've just announced a digital back WITHOUT colour filters that shoots natively and only in B&W:



I have been shooting digital (color) for years, and recently needed to look at some slide scans (not my own work, so I don't even know what film they were). I knew that I couldn't expect any more detail than about 6 MP worth, so I was prepared for that. What shocked me was the limited dynamic range. I'm more than a little spoiled by my (11-stop) D3x, but you can walk into any Best Buy and buy a nice DSLR with 7-8 stops of DR from any of several manufacturers for under $600. These scans had between 4 and 5 stops - no highlights and no shadows either. I don't know how well operated the scanner was, and I'm sure a good operator could do better, but the scanner itself was the well-respected Super Coolscan 5000. No, it's not a drum scanner or even an Imacon, but it's as good or better than just about anything else. There was also dust contamination on the scans that made the dirtiest sensors look like hospital operating rooms.
This convinced me that digital is absolutely the way to go in color (with the possible exception of large-format). I don't have enough B+W experience to comment about what can be accomplished with a really nice silver-gelatin print on fiber paper, much less a platinum or palladium print. I know that I can beat RC prints and many fiber prints using a digital file (converted from a color original), but I'm not a good enough darkroom printer to comment on GOOD fiber prints or platinum/palladium prints.


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