Shooting Film - Sharpening and Other Rabbit Holes

2002_006_11_low_res.jpgHave had time to catch up on a heck of a lot of email this weekend, as some of you have figured out by my recent posts. Seems I might be doing film and some of you a disservice in the way I have been presenting some of my film scans according to an astute reader that has a passion for shooting film. I guess my thought was that everybody knows everything about scanning film and what that "should" look like vs what an analog print looks like, etc, etc. Well just to make sure I will clarify a couple of things.

First off, the main point of Mr. film advocate was that I was not giving the uninitiated - or for that matter the initiated a good indication of what the sharpness of a final output product should look like because all of my scanned images are presented unsharpened. Yep, he is right. When you scan film even at very high resolution with a good scanner you loose A LOT of sharpness and tonal information. To put that wrong right I will present a couple of images that should show what an output product "should" look like. Let me temper this with a couple of qualifications - my taste in "sharpness" happens to be about the same no matter what my capture medium and what I am going to present happens to be my taste and pretty much matches the sharpness impression that I get when I print the same negatives at the same sizes on real silver paper using a, believe it or not, enlarger. Your taste may vary - personally I think the overly edge sharpened world we live in at the moment is a visual noise assault but to each his own.

Let's start with the image at the top of the post - you may have seen this one in my Ilford HP5 developed in pyro post a while back. The image on screen has been sharpened to the same degree that it looks like on paper of about the same size, 7 inches square. How do I know this - I have a chemical print sitting right beside me. So what needs to happen from a sharpening perspective to make a 30" by 30" print at 300 ppi on an inkjet printer? I will try to illustrate with two screen shots. When you look at them you might be a little confused because they don't look like you expected them to. The first one is the actual pixels in Photoshop.

sharpen_full_size.jpg

A couple of things to note. The grain is not way out of whack with the rest of the image - it is natural. Sometimes this can be a real trick when trying to get the sharpness back into scanned film without exaggerating the crap out of the grain. If this is plaguing your film to digital efforts let me know and I will tell you some of my secrets. Pay special attention to the fabric and the fine vertical line pattern in the shear part of it - that is a crap load of detail that in my opinion is appropriately sharpened and will be visible in the print. In fact the the print will have the same sharpness impression that that little 7" bugger at the top has - just huge and believe it or not pretty darn smooth in the grain department as well. In fact it will have about the same qualities as a chemical print of the same size from this negative. How do I know - I have made both and compared them as a baseline for what my digital prints "should" look like. I will admit that there is a lot of room left for enhancing the sharpness further in the digital print, idiotically so even without introducing artifacts.

So that was what a medium format negative shot with decent equipment on 400 speed film should look like. That is actually a so so negative from a sharpness standpoint mostly due to the fact that I was working quickly and hand-holding the camera at a not so fast shutter speed. The reason it holds up well is that one that it is actually "not bad" and two the degree of magnification is not that much compared to say a DX or FX sized image. A similar image on TMAX-100 shot with a tripod will knock your socks off with the same exact treatment. Normal screen sized stuff and prints up to about a foot will be about the same.

I hope that clears things up a bit. Maybe I will do a brief post on sharpening.

RB

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