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Monday, 07 May 2018


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Not to mention the lighting! My wife and I watch a lot of old BW movies on the Turner Classic Movie channel (I think we've watched every Bette Davis movie by now....). So, now, on top all of the variables Mike has discussed above, we are of course adding the variable of the transfer of the original BW film to some form of video (presumably digital), the quality of the cable transmission, and the "accuracy" of our LCD TV. Ignoring that for now, what I notice the most is how well those old movie makers had the lighting dialed in. It's really gorgeous in many of those films. The lighting folks were really journeymen, that is obvious.

So....I will try the Eastman 5222 for chuckles, but, I gotta feeling that without the old MGM studio lighting crew and all of their Klieg lights and modifiers, I kind of doubt my subjects are going to look anything like Bette Davis.

Hear, hear!

“my opinion is that you could spend an awful lot of time investigating films, developers, and papers, and learning the craft, to get just the expressive tonality you prefer for your own work...”
Dreadful work; but how many of us are really making pictures as work anyway?

Nice article, but it's quite likely Tri-X and Ilford Pan F will outlive your X-T1.

Are those missing Part II's a bunch of latent images waiting to be developed?

Or you can just click the "classic B&W look" button in Instagram. HA HA HA HA HA!!! (Sorry, couldn't help it.)

Is not necessary print the negative and scan. You can use the scan as a the enlarger if you have a decent machine and software and include you have another stage to correct with software like C1, PS, LR and others if you want. And the reaction with filters (green, orange for example) is a lot more easy directly with film than with digital. In fact I can't arrive to the same effect with software and raw files. For BW images from digital I'm very pleased by Fuji and C1.

I just picked up a wonderful old Nikon F2 with the simple clean looking DE-1 Prism. It was sitting in my dealers showcase. They had installed new foam and gave it a CLA. This camera and I bonded immediately so I could not resist. My digitals will go on the shelf and I will devote myself to the F2, a 50mm lens and B&W film.

Though I am old enough to be an old film shooter I started shooting and developing B&W film about 15 years ago. When it comes to Tri-x many think of the classic, grainy look it is known for. Nothing could be further from the truth now. The new version is quite fine grained and would be suitable for 8x10 landscape work if exposed at ISO 160-200.

I will settle on one film to keep my work flow as simple as possible. Right now I am leaning towards Foma films as they do have that more classic look and are quite affordable as well. Having said that I do have a couple of rolls of TMAX TMZ 3200 on the way just for kicks.
The following shot is from my first outing with the F2 and Foma 100 stand developed in Tmax developer 1/32 for 45 minutes.


I find that I get the best scannable negatives by using D-23 for developing the films. I had used Tri-X film, but now use the Ilford HP5 plus, not because it's any better than Tri-X, but it's a lot cheaper. For me, it's the content of the photo that is more important than the tone of the print.

I'm with you as far as your preference for digital goes, so I'm not arguing.

But... support for/development of Silver Exfex Pro could, of course, be discontinued at some point in the future.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Just saying!

If one scan a B&W print with a straight line tone reproduction "curve", the outcome of the tonalities should come very close to the original, don't they?

[The original negative, reversed. But not the original print, because papers are not straight line. They have their own curve. --Mike]

Your recent articles on B & W has brought back some memories. When I served in Korea, I bought a Contax IIIA and shot Kodachrome. Then something got me really interested in B & W positives, I guess it was the graduated tonal range, and the detail. I even bought a Pen F and a half frame strip film projector to make story slides. But not enough time to pursue it any further. I still really appreciate a great positive slide.

OK, how's this for old-school?

Black and white photography began to die with the introduction of variable-contrast, resin-coated printing paper.

Variable contrast paper? Feh! Like a run-flat tire, it was bad at everything printing paper is supposed to do and good at the one thing it isn't.

Resin-coated? Fie! You're not printing on paper, you're printing on plastic. The paper had little to nothing to do with the tonality or texture of the print. Horrid, just horrid.

A black and white photographic chemical print should be printed on a piece of paper treated with a light-sensitive emulsion, soaked into the paper.

Which, is why I like printing digital black and white these days! The paper matters again. The only downside is that nothing quite reflects light like silver halite, embedded into fine, heavyweight paper.

But what the hell. "Brilliant" paper hasn't been made for decades, so carpe Hahnemühle bamboo!

I appreciate both the classic movie, and still B&W photography aesthetic- as different and lovely as they both can be.

I'm not arguing your complementary B&W film and paper symbiosis, I'm simply not familiar with the tech involved; but after years of darkroom printing, I must say that I am quite pleased with the results now possible with high quality B&W ink jet prints.

I think the "soot and chalk" look you so rightfully call out is more a combination of ignorance and laziness mostly on the part of digital only practitioners who regard B&W as a secondary, fall back default that does not require its own aesthetic- and the proper time and effort to develop and achieve it.

+1 for Eastman Double X 5222. I had almost given up shooting 35mm because I couldn't find a film that balanced speed, grain and tonal range as beautifully as Double X. It turns out, it is one of the films my father used to buy it in bulk for his high school photography class to shoot (probably why I love the look). For me, it looks great in classic D76 1:1 rated between ISO 200-400. I have pushed it to 1600 with decent results. Almost done with my first 100' bulk roll from the FPP. Thanks to Mike Raso at Film Photography Project for making films like this available. Their operation is first rate.

Ah, yes, the sensitometry of film.... I dutifully studied the Zone System, bought a combination reflection and transmission densitometer and experimented with various film/paper and developer combinations/dilutions/times/agitation methods etc., for many years. I don’t think I felt competent and could make a “decent” print until about 10 years into it but I loved working in a darkroom. The trick for me was getting the film’s slope (CI?) at the right contrast (for a particular subject/lighting) to match grade #2 paper. I wanted the shoulder of the slope just right to let the highlight detail roll off splendidly while keeping the toe intact and maintaining good shadow detail. I loved “full-bodied” images. Some of you will know of what I am speaking.

Recently, I was visiting a small town museum in Florida and luck had it that one of their exhibits was a display of historical and current photographs of the town. There were silver halide prints and inkjet digital prints and each was easy to identify. The silver prints were gorgeous with full tonal range and a look of “softness” while still sharply focused. They seemed to have more character, if I may. The digital prints were “hard,” contrasty, and maybe I could call them “perfect.”

Looking at those gorgeous silver halide prints made me pine for my old darkroom days, working quietly and slowly, dutifully going through each step, waiting for the print to appear in the developer. Finally, after a few minutes in the fixer, it was always a delight turning on the white light to get my first real glance at my photograph. Of course, that would be the first of many work prints as there was much more trial and error, burning and dodging between successive prints before one’s vision was finally realized.

For me, it was always about the entire photographic process, from seeing a subject of interest, to composing and deciding which lens, aperture and shutter speed was best, to processing my film and making a finished print, to mounting, matting, framing and finally proudly hanging my finished photograph. Start to finish is what scratched my photographic itch back then.

However wonderful those days seem now, I’ll take the digital camera, Lightroom and a good inkjet printer every time. In the hands of an artist, a digital black and white print can “almost” match a silver print. I just have to find the artist! Lol.

Thank you for writing this:

But with stills, the result online is that very often when you see B&W JPEGs from film, you're not seeing the film as it was intended to look and as it looked back in the "classic" days of film photography—you're seeing the film response curve only without the necessary paper response curve added.

I do think a lot of people who scan and/or talk about the film look do miss this completely. I still print B/W film and it's not the same as scanning. Not even close. That said I am now down to only Tri-X and Delta 3200 processed with D76 stock and printed on Ilford RC Pearl. If I have to do B/W digital I do only either use Fuji or the Ricoh GR.

Super XX, really? Wow, I thought this stock was gone long ago. During the waning minutes of the last ice age I briefly attended a photography school in California that required it's students to shoot 4x5 Super XX exclusively.
If you take the time to do your homework this stuff is pretty versatile. I think I may still have the D76/Super XX time/gamma chart I did back in the day.
I suppose the values would have to be adjusted to compensate for the natural tremors which accompany great age.
Too bad the motion picture industry doesn't use DuPont Velour Black paper, sigh...

Just a tiny bit ironic that you recommend, via Nik Silver Efex Pro, a software route that is itself in danger of extinction.

As an addendum to my prior comment: I do think that developing film at home than scanning is essentially pointless. You can get the same thing by farting around with the sliders in Lightroom or Photoshop or whatever. At that point it's all an "aesthetic" and whose to say what is right. But for sure, scanned film is not a film print on actual paper aesthetically. It does not look the same. I am fortunate enough to have a full professional darkroom available to me a the university where I work. I would not bother with film unless I was actually printing the negatives. I also prefer the developing, contact sheet, test print, final print, ect to sitting around and staring at a computer and futzing with sliders. My job requires me to look a a computer screen all day long. It's the last thing I want to do when I am off work. Oddly enough I find digital photography somewhat tedious. That's why I like Fuji cameras. I can usally just go with their Jpegs or the Raw files need little to no adjustments. However if I was a "professional" photographer who did wedding or food or whatever I would probably only shoot digital. It's just so much easier.

Funny how opinions can differ so widely!

RC papers were, in my opinion, an unmitigated disaster. Their single plus quality was that they required a more brief wash... The tones were closer to the harsh look you describe as somehow British. Which of itself, is surprising: it was the pushing of TriX, beloved of US photographers, that led to that empty look, and the popular fallacy that you can increase film speed by extending processing. You can't. All you do is overdevelop the highlights and push the mid tones into the wrong space; you have done nothing for the shadows at all, because what is not recorder on the film is just not there.

But then I disliked multigrade papers too, and in my case, the two were forced on me as a bundle because I found myself living permanently in another country and could no longer indulge in long washing times and graded WSG was not to be had.

Regarding the difference between originals on film and originals on digital: once you have scanned the film you are straight back in digital country with all the quirks as well as solutions that that represents. The problem isn't the final print - if you still want to make them - but with the jpegs that appear on the websites we all look at. From either original, they are limited in their capacity to please.

As for making prints as route to getting images online: why? Speed? Don't forget that copying can create more contrast and introduces all the possible user boobs that can happen too easily to the best of us outwith a pro copy studio setup. Better take the time and scan, if you have a reasonable scanner, that is.

But underlying all of this is the fact that prints are seen via reflected light and trannies and monitors not. Trying to make something look like another medium is a tough call!

A surprise to me was just how much better my own stuff looked on a little iPad compared with my LaCie monitor. Go figure!

I can't find the diddle and dabble sliders. Can you help me out?


Be careful in general when buying motion picture film repackaged for still cameras. (Note that this may not apply to B&W film.)

Back in the 80s I was buying positive slide film that was movie film repackaged into 35mm canisters -- I was a sucker for it because it was way cheaper than other color film I could find. (I can't remember the brand.)

All went well until I took a look at the slides ten years later. All the colors but magenta had completely faded away. And this was in the days before I could have scanned the slides to archive them.

The trouble is, it turns out, some movie projection film was made to be disposable after a short time, and never meant for anything remotely archival.

This may not apply to all repackaged films, and it's probably not applicable to B&W films, but -- let's be careful out there.

Scanning Black and White film taught me a lot of things, mainly frustration and heartbreak. Most scanners don't deal well with real B/W film, with the dye cloud XP-2 being a laudable alternative. You could get to a path that worked, but as you noted, things change. I do monochrome conversion on Fuji files and get what I was looking for easier than with scanned TMAX or most anything else. Now, scans of the prints...that works a treat.

But that's a lotta work that I'd rather spend doing something else, nowadays. I love my film cameras, but I'm less and less inclined to bother - less free time has made me far more enamored of the product than the process.

Mike, Just a couple thoughts:
1. The 'soot and chalk' black & white 'look' predated digital photography by several decades. When I was in high school photography (c.1972), that look was a favorite of students, amateurs, and even some professionals who always chanted the mantra of 'Deep Blacks'. And...Yes, their analog soot and chalk prints looked as awful then as the digital soot and chalk prints/files look now.
2. The Old Timey Hollywood Tonality came mainly from lighting.

Re “old-timey Hollywood movie tonality”: not only will you not get it simply by using a particular film, you also won’t get it in a print — movies are projected; the print is a transparency. That aside, and as Mike has noted elsewhere, there was a lot of craft in the lighting of those films.

Great Posting. Means I liked it. Not that I have any interest in B&W anymore.

Michael Kenna was famously indifferent to the kind of film he used. Here's an excerpt from an interview with Brooks Jensen:


BJ: So, you’ve essentially structured the practical and pragmatic part of your production process to make it interfere as little as possible with your creative life.

MK: Yes, exactly. I’ve also tried to do this with the technical side of photography. People ask me what lens do I use? I don’t even know, most times. They’ll ask what films I use? Well, it depends where I buy the film! If I’m in Japan I use Fuji because it happens to be readily available in Japan. If I’m in France I’ll buy Agfa, Ilford or Kodak. I find that when one has worked long enough, technical know-how becomes almost irrelevant. In photography, it’s not difficult to reach a technical level where you don’t need to think about the technique any more. I think there is far too much literature and far too much emphasis upon the techniques of photography. The make of camera and type of film we happen to use has little bearing on the results.

What is the digital equivalent of this recipe?
I'm kind of hooked on NIK silver efex pro, but I don't really know what it's doing. Isn't Hollywood tonality a matter of lighting?

Much to think about. Thanks.

Solid advice. Now if we can get someone to do the side-by-side? Say, Tri-X/D-76 on Ilford Gallery-whatever scanned accurately vs any RAW or DNG file converted to bw and processed to match (+fake grain?? :).

Sometimes images are worth a million technical terms.

Even with digital b/w, you run the risk of getting that camera that gives you the output you like, only for its shutter eventually to give out as they do. And then you're dragged kicking and screaming back to Square One as you find a new camera, as the one you had almost certainly isn't made anymore.

But you are right, given how films seem to be discontinued all the time, your risk of this is greater with film.

My way of proceeding is to view my digital prints under the controlled lighting of a Graphiclite PDV with Sidewalls. On the back of the unit I have some 8x10s... a traditional fiber base B&W from the 1970s, a Platinum Palladium, a Salt, a Cibachrome, and the best color digital print that I have produced so far (it keeps being updated). The prints overlap each other with the best one for making a comparison on top.

Well, I know one bit of how they make prints from the B&W movie negatives to show in theaters. It's called Eastman Fine-Grain Release Positive 5302 (or was in the mid 1980s). I used it in the darkroom to make many B&W projection slides from my B&W negatives. (High d-max, low fog, etc.; suitable for projection.) (It replaced the nitrate-based 1302 in 1950. If you're wondering why being a professional projectionist was exciting well past WWII.)

There weren't formal recommendations for "normal" B&W developers at the time, but even then I could find articles by people working with it and reporting their results. It worked pretty well. (I used a front-surface mirror rig, an enlarger with a longer lens, probably 135mm, and a camera body to transport the film and provide a dark-slide. Long exposures using the enlarger timer, but the shutter in the body would keep out light in between. I bracketed rather small steps, I think 4 or 6 of them.)

One shouldn't forget that copying a print is not the same thing as enlarging an original negative or, for that matter, using an original file.

Paper, if you look at it with a magnifying glass, has a really lousy resolution. When you re-photograph it you are photographing that lousy resolution.

The easiest way to check this out is (should you have any lying about) by looking at a set of contact strips from either 135 or 120 format film with a good magnifying glass, which reveals the paper failures relatively more obviously than looking at a larger print. Use the same glass on the negatives and you see detail information not visible on the contacts.

You can't expect to reproduce what ain't there. Second-hand is seldom better.

I would guess that The Film Photography Project might buy "ends" from motion picture uses -- partial reels, much less valuable to people who use them at 24 frames per second! Helps keep the cost down.

Yesterday I saw a nice documentary about the cross over between film and photography.
Le cinéma dans l'oeil de Magnum (2017), by Sophie Bassaler. Available on dvd. Here without subtitles in French:

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