« Sunday Support Group: Mike's 'Forward to Yesterday' Experiment, Update 1 | Main | Open Mike: People Don't Like Rangefinders »

Tuesday, 03 March 2020


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

As much as I favor the B&W tonal values of film, you can't (not saying you do) blame the 'errant' lack of tonal values and differences in the first example just on the fact that it's digital. Not only are there no detail revealing skin tones, the tonal values in the background and surrounding areas practically match the skin values...

The attitude (and consequent) result this photo seemingly reflects: I got a pretty subject, a way expensive camera and lens- game, set, match. Uhh... no! Respect your subject, respect your craft, respect the final product- Do the Work!

Why should digital B&W lack midtones? That seems to me to be a processing or esthetic choice, not an inherent property of digital imaging.

I'm sorry but I'm going to call this whole "bokeh" thing out as the emperor's new clothes. This critical consideration of bokeh is like attending a concert to carefully listen to the qualities of the venue's amplifier induced distortion instead of enjoying the music. Either the dog's nose is (perceived to be) in focus, or not; good, bad, or in different, it is still a photograph of a dog. IMHO.

In my experience reducing the contrast of a digital portrait in Lightroom can, but not always, increase midtowns in black and white.

Regarding the tonality - I think that the size of the negative can make quite a difference here too, even with the same film and processing. There was a long discussion of this several years ago on Rangefinderforum (at https://www.rangefinderforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=49857&highlight=tonality).

...The second example...the film is one that's actually not known for good tonality...

TMAX 100 is actually known for excellent tonality in portraiture. Developing it in HC-110, however, is not. TMAX 100 is also not known for good acutance. Good acutance is not generally a good thing for portraiture. :-)

I think the frequently flat b/w digital tonality you cite relates, at least to some degree, to the fact that today's high megapixel, high dynamic range, cameras typically yield flat out of camera files. Users simply don't understand some post processing basics, notably use of the tone (contrast) curve. It's relatively easy to adjust in most any good software, and a simple curve adjustment can yield myriad possible renderings, including the ability to more closely mimic film renderings such as that in your second link. It's amazing how much flexibility digital processing affords, yet how little many people seem to use or understand. Film, while much harder and less flexible to use, ironically made it easier to produce dynamic results due to inherent contrast curve characteristics.

Mike, I think you would do well to experiment with digital b/w printing. It's more about having a good eye and good judgment (as with any aspect of photography), which you already possess; the tools are hardly limiting. And that includes the many fine printer and paper options available today. You might start with some Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique.

Is the first photo really an example of "fashionable digital B&W tonality"? Or just a poorly processed image? Even a rank amateur like me can make it look a lot more film-like: https://www.smugmug.com/gallery/n-CCZft6/i-czz3dtB/A

I really don't understand your comment about the tonality here. Don't you think the high key exposure of the first photo made it lose the middle greys whereas a little low key exposure of the second photo brought the middle tones more visible? I am attaching a digital group photo to make the point....you will see a distinct lack of middle tones on my youngest granddaughter's face (foreground) but quite a good rendition of grey tones on my wife's face which is underexposed. Help me out here, please. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/mvnkeywro1ts2w8/AADXSVzQzBJraqrR3EZ5e7R_a?dl=0

I had a home darkroom for years (B&W and colour slide) and my feeling looking at your examples is that that it's nothing to do with inherent differences between film and digital. It's a matter of choice. As long as you shoot raw and as long as you expose to avoid clipping the high lights, you will have a file with nigh on infinite potential for tonal adjustment. It's a matter of applying curves appropriately and local dodging and burning where needed. The same as the darkroom, just easier. If people aren't doing it right, it is legitimate to ask why that is, but it comes down to skill and judgement, not film vs digital.

Hello Mike!

The second image has all the charm of a MF, square ratio, 80mm-lens portrait (not easy to achieve with smaller format systems, though not impossible either), and you're right it has a filmic quality to it (other than what's suggested by the MF/square approach). But I would surmise that any decent practitioner of digital post-processing can achieve a similar feel if they want.

May I beg to disagree on your definition of the first image as a typical digital look. You talk about "range of tones, the lack of grays, the overall balance between the predominant light tones and the predominant dark tones, the way the highlights tend to wash to sameness": nope, that's not digital per se, it's a clearly overexposed shot and the fact that this was not corrected is at best a choice or at worst lack of care and experience in processing. Why don't we call it, quite simply, a failed image by most standards (well, by mine, though I recognize that opinions may vary).

Keep coming with these juxtaposition posts! They provide our photobrains with a useful workout... :)

Huh. As a film shooter (more of a hybrid these days actually) I could easily take the first one with film* and the second with digital. Just sayin' - with modern postprocess techniques everything is possible and easily achievable.

*except I would not, don't really like it. But you know what I mean.

I have a magazine type book in which David Bailey gives a series of lessons on photography... I think from about 1980.
He notes specifically that "women like the over-exposed, no skin-tone look".
(Quotes to distance me from Bailey's philosophical presumption about all women).

I recently shot a series at a dance performance choreographed by a friend... and somehow, given the lighting (two rows of ceiling led's) and the plain white walls, I ended up with a similar look. The choreographer loved it, and used my photos on her flyers and on social media and etc etc. So there are places where it works: the dancers (men and women) were cyphers, they were not meant to have individualising features like realistic skin.

The second photo is obviously more interesting as a portrait... but that's a question of the role of the photo.

Sometimes I like to put together photos that I accidentally took one by one. For example: https://www.flickr.com/photos/daltonista/5554855847/in/dateposted-public/

[Very poignant! I like that a lot. --Mike]

The first example looks overexposed to me with blown highlights and a compressed tonal range. As you mentioned, there are certainly aesthetic or artistic reasons one might choose to do this. But, I would like to propose an alternative explanation. There are now several generations of people who took up photography during the digital era and have never shot film nor worked in a darkroom. Unlike you, Mike, who came to digital with a deep experience of film and wet printing, these folks did not grow up looking at silver based prints and they did not learn about manipulating contrast through choice of film, developer, development techniques, and printing techniques (different contrast papers, dodging and burning, RC vs fiber, etc.). They did not come to photography with the same visual vocabulary as you or me including grayscale tonality. With your background you looked at the available digital tools (PS, Silver Efex, etc..) and asked yourself "How can I achieve digitally what I did in the darkroom?" The digital generation has no such background, requirement, or (perhaps) burden? Food for thought…

Thanks for the mini instructional. I find it fairly difficult to get a good black and white look with digital cameras, but the Fuji's seem to shoot a little less "raw" and that helps. My Olympus camera in comparison wants to bunch up the midtones close to highlights in an effort to give the impression of high dynamic range, and I spend a lot of time trying to unbunch everything. It often fails.

Not too difficult to process example 1 ("fashionable digital") to look like example 2 ("typical film tonality").

Pretty hard to do it the other way.

I like the Tri-X simulations made by https://exposure.software/

The overly bright background in the first shot is stealing attention from the pretty subject. 2nd shot just has a more natural feel.

all of my black and white photos were made on 120 or 35mm film. Now that all my negatives and prints are now part of a newly started, "Pacific Northwest Photographers Archive", at the Univ. of Washington, I'm reduced to making family snapshots with a simple digital camera.

I really enjoy these comparisons. Sometimes even when we "know" something we (I) need to actually see it, sometimes more than once.

I've owned a host of Leica M rangefinder cameras over the years, all film cameras, I have never owned a digital Leica M, I know people who have them and they are really nice.

My first introduction to Leica cameras was when I first started my newspaper career in the mid-1970s. A fellow who had a picture framing shop next to the newspaper office loaned me his two Leica M4's along with a 35mm Summilux and a 90mm Tele-Elemarit. I was hooked I tell ya! I was young and didn't have the money to afford a Leica at the time. Then I moved to Brampton Ontario where I was employed at my first daily newspaper job. I was making a bit more money, so took I the plunge into Leica. I bought an M4-2 and an M4-P with three lenses ( 21-35-90mm). I jumped right and used the equipment full time for my newspaper work, I still ended up using my Nikon as I needed something longer than 90mm. It was challenging, to say the least, after about 3 months I went back to full Nikon SLR gear, it was quite a bit to pack around the two Leicas plus lenses and a third Nikon camera with two telephoto lenses.

So I sold the two Leica camera bodies, but wait I wasn't finished yet with the Leica! I bought an M2 and an M3, they were quite cheap back then in the $200 to $300 range. I used those for my personal work on my time off. By the mid 80's I was back in my home province of British Columbia, and the Leica M2 and M3 along with lenses were sold so I could get into large format. Then one day about 9 years ago I saw this beautiful old Leica III from 1936 in a camera shop in Victoria, I bought that and used it for about 7 years or so, it was a lovely camera.

At the beginning of the post here I mentioned that I had my first introduction to Leica cameras back in the mid-1970s when a fellow loaned me his two M4's? Well a year or so ago I met up with him and he still owned them and he wanted me to have them, so I got an incredible deal. I truly appreciate that it's nice to have the very same Leica cameras and lenses that I first tried 43 or so years ago.

I found I really did like RF for reportage sort of work, and started with Leica in my newspaper days. Also they were good travel cameras but for "less secure" destinations I also had a Leica CL, which is a sort of crummy camera, but small, cheaper and not as crummy as a CLE (sorry, I hate the meter on those)

So like many journalist photographers I had Nikons and Leicas. And as films improved the superior lenses became more and more apparent.

But of course that was before good AF and electronic viewfinders.

I don't do enough reportage to justify a digital Leica, and travel photos are not enough to make me tempted.

And even the optical advantages of Leica lenses seem less important on digital.

And the two Leicas you show above, which are the ones that I have, are really great choices. Beautiful and the right tools, at least in my view. I will not be getting rid of either. Even though I have not used them in years.

I also have a nice 200+ sq/ft darkroom with multiple enlargers and contact printers and.... Not using it and never really have used it for the sort of B&W I hope you do. But I hope to some time.

A dozen years or so ago I visited with Kenneth Snelson, and he still has a perfectly set up darkroom for working with 16" x 12' film and printing, unused for 20 years at that time. It was in Manhattan so it's a quite expensive space. But it's nice to think he could just pull out the old giant camera and be ready to process and print, heck the his rolls of AZO paper are still good and irreplaceable. He probably will not, but he could.

I recognize both those looks, yeah. Though I get both in film and both in digital.

And then there are preferences. The second is a bit darker than I mostly like for portraits, and it seems a bit too contrasty maybe.

The first is just overexposed :-). Dial back a bit, then do a curves adjustment based on important facial points. And probably vignette or just mask and reduce the background, it's distracting.

Opinions R Us!

If market prices are a measure, I think people also like the Contax G1/G2. A lot.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007