An Amateur Photo Blog, Featuring Various Pictures Of The Best Dog Ever, Plus Other Stuff.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Slide film, baybee!

The above (click the picture to embiggen) is Fuji Sensia 100, shot with a Nikon N80 35mm through the basic 28-80 3.5-5.6 G "kit lens". As Ken Rockwell likes to point out, that lens is vastly better than it has any right to be. The image was scanned at 6400 dpi on an Epson V700, yielding dimensions of 8864 x 5788 or about 51.3 Megapixels. The temptation here is taunt all the poor suckers that think they have an adequate camera with the Canon 1Ds Mk2 and it's measly 21 Megapixels, but the reality is that they're probably getting somewhat better detail, even if they're not exactly getting the same level of color. All Megapixels are NOT created equal. The Epson had autocorrect, unsharp mask, and digital ICE turned on. Autocorrect did not shift color, but did slightly brighten, which is good, as it indicates that the N80 is very slightly underexposing. As I will touch on further down, this is critical with slide film.

Some notes on slide film, from my own experience.

It's expensive! 36 exposures costs almost as much as a roll of 220, (purchase plus developing cost is almost $20 a roll for both) which yields 30 exposures from my Fuji GA645. This means that I'm getting vastly more bang for my buck from 220, which has at least 2.5 times the area of 35mm, as exposed by the Fuji GA645.

To say that slide film is picky about exposure is to understate the problem by several orders of magnitude. If you're unsure about your lighting, don't use slide film! Indoors without good lighting is a recipe for mediocrity at best. I've tried it, and even on the N80 I'm plagued with a properly lit subject surrounded by wild underexposure, when using the popup flash. I will be purchasing an SB28 at some point and trying a roll of Provia 400 with bounce flash (no fill, darn it), but I'm not really holding my breath that this will be the solution. I may even try my Bowers grip and auxilary optically triggered flash in conjunction with the popup flash to see what I get.

It's worth the money, if I'm doing a certain type of photography. Grain is finer and colors are worlds away better than negatives. What you see above is the type of photography where slide film shines. Outdoors, massive amounts of light, and colorful subjects. The other area I've seen it look good is studio photography. With a tripod and some proper lighting, slide film in the studio still puts a hurting on digital.

There's very little dynamic range. If you notice, the highlights aren't blown, but the shadows are blocked out pretty hard. No, I don't use ND filters, although I probably should, to get the highlights down closer to the shadows. Given that limited dynamic range, it is critical that your camera not overexpose. Like digital, slide film simply clips off when overexposed. Negative film still has quite a bit more shoulder, but then, if you were happy with negative film color you wouldn't be shooting slide fim. The N80 has the best meter I've ever seen, and pretty much nailed it. I have to turn the exposure compensation up on my GA645, as it routinely underexposes. This is fine for slide film, but it blahs out my negative exposures.

Finally, the whole megapixel bit. It's nonsense. 35 mm negative film, properly exposed and scanned, gives a perfectly acceptable 20x30 for consumer use. Would I try to sell such a print professionally? Probably not. Would I hang my own work in my own house at that size? You bet. And slide film is better. It has a tighter grain, thus better detail, and far better color rendering.

To mention Ken Rockwell again, he says he's printed 3 megapixel images at 12 x 18 with good results. This is certainly plausible, but I don't think he understands why. Let me explain.

When you take your digital images to a 1 Hour Photo lab for printing, the images are re-sized somewhere in the process. Usually this occurs at the kiosk order point. This is done there for two reasons: 1) images with more resolution than required are downsized to lower bandwidth and storage demands in the lab, and 2) images with less resolution than optimal are upsized to increase customer satisfaction. Upsizing won't work miracles, but it will make that 3 megapixel image that really shouldn't be printed bigger than 5x7 or 8x10 look acceptable at larger sizes.

To sum up, buy an N80, some slide film and an Epson V700. You won't be disappointed.
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