Film, Lenses, Etc. Via eMail

For some reason I get more email comments/questions than I do direct blog comments/questions. I don't care nor do I mind. I try to respond as soon as I can. Just for kicks I thought I would publish a sample that I received and responded to yesterday. Thought at least a few of you would find my thoughts entertaining - unedited - without redaction. Of course typo's and all. You'll get the gist. The non-block quoted is my response.

On Jun 29, 2013, at 1:47 AM, Steve Verhoef

Greetings from Stratford Ontario,

I love the two ebooks I purchased on lighting. Now I find myself look at "pockets of light" instead of looking for a perfectly lit room.Steve

I am so glad that you enjoyed them - and even more glad you found some things useful. Consider it a jumping off point for a life long endeavor of studying and using light in your pictures. As with most things NOTHING beats practice. The nice thing is that you can be looking and studying light even without a camera everywhere all the time. Doing that even when you are not making pictures will make a world of difference when you actually are. Eventually you won't have to think about it with as much intensity when you are shooting. It will start to be come "built in".

Presently I am in the process of trying to develop a relationship with various film stocks. I'm wondering if buying a preset package might speed up the selection process. Truly what just over whelms me is the discovery of not shooting at the "box speed" of film.Steve

Presets…. Hmmm - none of them look anything like the real deal. Not even close. Consider them a completely different beast. No how no way. They don't look like the alleged film they "emulate" and they cannot. First and foremost they have a human involved in "post processing" before you ever see them in terms of density correction and color correction. If you happen to use a good lab it will be like having a color expert and printing expert work on your images before you ever see them… Consider the initial scan/color balance/density adjustment a print… Obviously a preset cannot do this. Then come the other factors that are countless ways that film - especially negative film works compared to digital capture which is somewhat related to your following questions and you have a situation where the bottom line… namely negative film with a prolab vs a digital capture of the same scene is just not going to look anywhere close to a "preset" = truth be told a digital RAW sent to a lab like RPL along with film shoot at the same time will look WAY MORE the same using their post processing services to "match" them then any preset.

I have done comparisons under very controlled circumstances and in some conditions I can match results pretty closely - under a lot of real world shooting conditions the results just cannot be matched. This has a lot to do with overall scene contrast. I have also tried to use presets against the real film that they supposedly emulate and even when I make dead neutral grays in the same controlled scene AND i adjust to the same mid tone density the preset looks NOTHING like the film… At best they are a caricature of some of the various properties of a specific film and usually they are way over the top.


I love kodak Ektar 100, by chance I discovered Ektar over exposed. Now I find myself leaving my D800 at home and shooting everything over exposed.Steve

It could take a decade to find the perfect film stocks for my tastes. Frankly I work in a factory and practice manual focus at breaks on a F3 wondering how to see over exposed combinations in my head. This concept of over exposing film makes the combinations endless.Steve

And I'm still looking for a Neopan 1600 replacement.

Okay this is going to be a bit hard to follow on the "exposure" thing so if I confuse you please ask for clarification. First off Ilford Delta 3200 shot at 1600 and developed a bit more than "recommended" will probably give you what Neopan was giving you. Also TRI-X 400 pushed two stops can be extremely similar to Neopan 1600 in a lot of developers.

On to exposure - this is actually much simpler than you are making it. There really are only three states of affairs with negative/print film to be discussed.

  1. Under-exposed. With most print films you do not want to be here. They look like shit. When you scan them they will probably look more like you are used to your digital only without the benefit of accurate color, no grain, etc. This is a NO GO zone for most films. Fuji films like 400H especially look like dog shit when they are under exposed. Now… different films are either harder or easier to under expose compared to the speed written on the side of the box. The new portra films are harder to under expose than the Fuji pro films.

  2. Good exposure everywhere across the tonal range of the scene. Meaning that there is no way to interpret the negative as the previous category. This is where the "over exposed" thing comes in. In most cases all the "over-exposed" shit that is thrown around really means setting your camera's ISO in such a way that is REALLY REALLY hard to put anything in category one most of the time no matter how or what you meter in the scene. If you take pictures outside or using window light etc. All cameras no matter how sophisticated the meters are from CW to matrix/multipoint have a tendency to "under expose" the shadows in most lighting conditions. Without going into why this happens imagine a typical scene let's same some grass on a sunny day with a tree casing a shadow so you have half the grass in shade and half the grass in the sun… Using "box" speed and just pointing your camera at the scene willy-nilly there is a good chance the grass in the shade will be REALLY REALLY dark or black… If however you set your camera at a lower ISO so it gives more exposure you will get open shadows - with film what you are doing is making sure that you have "good information" in all areas of the scene within the films range of capability (which is HUGE for negative films). With digital you really cannot do this because you will "lose" the bright parts. When people tell you they "over expose" or they "expose normally at box speed" etc honestly without seeing EXACTLY what they do while shooting you really have no idea what the hell they are talking about - two people saying two completely different things could actually end up with the same exposure - at the end of the day I would image that most people that "over expose" end up in this normal category 2 - they do whatever they have to to make sure that they have good data on the film negative no matter how they shoot… With negative film the easiest way to do this is set your ISO lower than the box tells you - depending on the film this is pretty easy and one stop lower will probably get the job done - Like Portra 400 - set to box speed it will probably get the job done. Set to 200 or "over-exposed" will also get the job done and you will end up with pictures that look about the same EXCEPT in circumstances where there is higher scene contrast and it would your metering technique/your camera is actually under exposing the shadows where you will have "better" shadows. Wanna be "safer" - set it at 200 and go to town. Films like Fuji 400H really need to be shot at 200 because they don't have the shadow speed that portra 400 does….

  3. Let's call this the actually really and truly over-exposed category. Call it WAY WAY overboard. To eliminate metering technique from the conversation let's use an hand held incident meter on a relatively low contrast scene. A good example would be to set that hand held meter at say 50 and shoot Fuji 400H at whatever that meter told you to use set at 50… that would be 3 stops of real over exposure… Some films (like fuji 400h) will start to show some interesting color characteristics that are subtly different than a more normal exposure. Some of the colors will go more saturated and some will go pastel. Things that are in the highlights will get really compressed and show lower contrast while you will have shit loads of contrast in the shadows and mid-tones. This is a very specific look and different films are easier or harder to get into that true over exposed category where you are pushing them out of their "strait line" response and putting a lot of the scene into the shoulder or extremes of the films ability to record detail. Some films look good this way - 400H does. Most of the time all all the blather on the internet is actually category 2 - insuring just about any shooting/metering technique is rendering the ENTIRE scene somewhere in the mid-response portion of a films capability. Depending on how YOU shoot this ISO number may be a little different than other peoples - believe it or not as long as you don't end up in category 1 all of the results will look about the same. It takes SHIT LOAD of over-exposure to end up in this category. Most people that do it use 400 or 800 film and shoot them at 100 and if using an in camera meter point/lock exposure on the absolute darkest part of the scene (Jose Villa would be one guy that does this).

Sorry for the long explanation… here's the bottom line - most people find that giving a stop more than box speed ensures that they end up in category 2. Most or all of the scene somewhere in the film's sweet spot without too much care. It boils down to a combination of how you meter and what ISO you set on your camera's meter (or hand held) along with the contrast of the scene. The reason that I said you were over complicating it is that for the most part just making sure you put "too much" exposure in compared to digital will put you in the #2 category where you want to be - how you do that is not important and tiny little nits of half a stop here and there are going to make NO DIFFERENCE in your results. It's not like you have a universe of different results, there is a good chance that shooting an average scene at "400" and at "200" using portra 400 will looke EXACTLY the same as long as neither of those shots fall into category 1 - part of the scene in a region of film response that is not optimal. Your choice of lab will be FAR bigger than that 1 stop difference.

With your camera (F3???) you have an 80% center weighted meter - this can be good or bad depending on how you use it. Let's say you set the camera at "box speed" of 400. If you make sure that the absolute darkest part of the scene covers that central metering area when you set your exposure every time you will be fine. Not only that but there's a good chance that your exposure will be about the same as a guy that "says" he over exposes 2 stops that has an FM with 60% center weighted metering and just points his camera at the overall scene. Understand??? Now having said that - if you are using the F3 you need to make sure that NO bright/light parts of the scene are in that center part of the meter circle when you set exposure or you will absolutely end up with category 1 - UNDER EXPOSED. This will look bad. Okay - I think the horse is dead - please do not hesitate to ask me any questions. I just want to make sure you don't get hung up on thinking some minor 1 stop difference is going to make your results way different (as long as you put the entire scene in the sweet spot - #2)

Notice that all this boils down to exactly OPPOSITE of the way you MUST shoot digital - specifically making sure you don't overexpose - this is what make shooting negative/print film super easy. Just expose liberally and you will end up with shit loads of information in the sweet spot of the film (which is very broad) and a good lab will do the rest… It also happens to be the way most real world lighting conditions present themselves - way way way too much contrast for digital without going through a lot of trouble reducing the contrast of the scene.

Lastly "flawed glass" used with film:

I once had shot a Nikon 105mm f1.8 with 3 rolls of Neopan 1600. Breath taking in every sense of the moment. I'm told chromatic aberration was bad on that lens… I can't see it in the shinny object shots. Is film or B&W film immune to chromatic aberration? I shot those 3 rolls of film at f1.8 and they look timeless while the wedding photographers post processing looks dated already.Steve

Obviously you cannot see "chromatic aberration" on black and white film… it may manifest itself as "less sharp" but all that is just noise. The ONLY lenses that had significant CA since the 50's were at the extremes of focal length - really long usually and sometimes wide. The 105/1.8 is NOT a lens that exhibits CA…

Let's talk for a moment at what all the intent armchair brick wall shooters are on about with this whole "CA" bullshit. What they are really talking about is purple fringing and to a lesser extent the corresponding green fringing which happens at the same time but is less visible. ALL WIDE APERTURE LENSES DO THIS. In fact the better the lens the more you may be able to see it. What this is is areas that are out of focus at EXTREMELY wide aperture and are closer to the camera (in front of the true focus point) will fringe purple on super high contrast black/white borders. The exact focus point will NOT show this. As a note things behind the focus point will fringe green but this shows up far far less and will be more diffuse… Honestly these idiots are usually shooting incorrectly and want some technical fix… The reason that they point to GREAT lenses like the 105/1.8 is the plane of focus is crazy thin and the lens is crazy sharp - when combined with a propensity of people to shoot things that look like shit (black/white edges) with paper thin DOF with super sharp glass this happens - idiots. Things like dark tree branches against white sky - WTF? Backlit dark hair etc.

Now the full story - film doesn't show this as much for two reasons. It's almost impossible to get that black/white on film hence it doesn't happen. Second for one reason or another the micro lenses on digital sensors seem to exaggerate this effect that starts at the point where it happens with slightly OOF areas in the scene that happen to be black/white and then get magnified or something on digital sensors with micro lenses. There is a really good chance that lenses they THINK don't do this may actually be worse lenses because they do not produce the sharpness to do it or more likely they are comparing it to a brand new lens that has software compensations that remove this effect in whatever post processing they are doing (including in-camera) where the older lens isn't profiled or whatever - pure guesses on my part.

My solution to this issue is that I DO NOT SHOOT THINGS THAT LOOK LIKE SHIT ON PURPOSE. Specifically super high contrast black/white edges that are slightly OOF on digital with crazy sharp lenses at crazy wide apertures. Simple. This is not the lens - it's the shooter.

Hope that helps…


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