Color accuracy digital vs Film

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by doug_harl, Nov 29, 2011.

  1. Oh yeah, I'm going there.
    First of all, I have NEVER said that digital is "better" than film - ever. What I have been posting is the market forces and the economic (as in economist) egg head type of explanations of what's happening to the film market. A few of you seem to take it like I'm saying film is dead and it's because it's inferior to digital. Nope I just make observations - and get annoyed at myself when I'm incapable of making my point.
    Here it goes:
    I've taken shots of purple morning glories with film and digital. Digital fails. Those flowers show up as blue instead of purple - I've never shot a Sigma camera (fov..whatever) so keep that in mind.
    Anyway this is what the flower should look like
    Here's what my digital cameras see - Kodak and Canon S95 - see that? It's blue NOT the purple that it should be.
    I hope the images that I'm trying to use as an illustration pop out, by the way ....
    Those are websites that Google gave to me when I searched on "purple morning glories" and picked out what I observed when I shot film and digital. Did the posters of those shots alter them? I don't know, but it's the best example of what I have observed.
    You see, digital cameras and anything digital photographic has been optimized for skin tones - as well as film for that matter, but with the history of film, it has a better color accuracy than digital - at this time in Nov 2011.
    Film is better at dynamic range* and color accuracy.
    *I once had a Plustek 7200 and I shoot BW with a red and polarizing filters at the same time. When I scanned the images, it choked on the highlights - in my analog darkroom, I had to dodge and burn to make the image right on the paper. You can't do that with digital because the equipment doesn't capture the information I got blown highlights all over the place. Compensating lead to more blown highlights.
    Sometimes, a mixed workflow isn't good - no, I didn't save any of it.
    Am I saying one is better than the other? Nope.
    Until the photographer can capture exactly what he's seeing, then it's an imperfect medium.
    You want to capture exactly what you see? Take up painting.
  2. Well I shoot Film mostly and from time to time Digital. I find Film or Digital post processing and tweaking is needed. Color correction right out of a digital camera to me is just like a scanned negative. It needs help.
  3. Here's an another example: Beta vs VHS.
    The techies thought Beta was much better but the market chose VHS.
    That's what's happening now - people are choosing digital over film because of their needs, wants, desires, whatever ..
  4. Same with MP3 downloads vs audio cd.
    IOW, the race to the bottom for the fastest and cheapest. :(
  5. You see, digital cameras and anything digital photographic has been optimized for skin tones - as well as film for that matter, but with the history of film, it has a better color accuracy than digital - at this time in Nov 2011.
    This is not true, even if the morning glory example stands. (Have you tried RAW processing to get the purple you see? Shooting a white card for white balance on the scene?) Only the portrait films are fairly accurate, and then only under white light very close to the correct color balance. I'm not saying color films are terrible here, but from the viewpoint of accuracy they cannot match digital. You can get a correct Macbeth color chart with digital under a much wider range of lighting conditions, including lights that cause color film to just get weird.
    Then again, the unique color inaccuracy of some popular films is what gives them their look that some people like to get out of the can, or through film emulation plugins.
    Film is better at dynamic range* and color accuracy.
    Most films do not offer greater DR range than modern sensors. Some do. B&W film as a class does not necessarily, though incredible DR can be found with some emulsions (especially when hand processing for greater DR).
  6. Well good and bad there Bob. I spent 5 hours the other day cleaning up a 33 and 1/3rd and a few 78s converting them to digital. :)
  7. Mr. Taylor:
    No sir. I haven't tried raw. You see, I grew up shoot'in film - slides for that matter: I compose, get my exposure, and shoot. And what I get is what I get. And when shoot shoot digital, it's mostly JPG - sometimes RAW when I want to be a goof'n.
    The discipline I developed in shoot'n slides makes digital so much easier. Unfortunately. I seems to think that shoot'n digital is like shoot'n slides. It ain't. It's like shoot'n B&W and add'n color afterwards - the colors that they give ya, is just a suggest'n. Postshop rules!
    Just trying to make fun and light here guys - no offense to no one!
  8. LOL Well I never take offense.. I though seem to make others take offense. :)
  9. I'd like to also add in regards to some film brands and I won't mention Fuji but some brands are so heavy on the red - I mean really guys - that everything looks like cartoon characters.
    I was driving home from work one day (Yes, I do have a job) and I looked at the sky. I thought, "How retro the sky looks!" Yep "retro" sky. Why is that?
    Every sky I see in the media has over saturated colors. The sky looked retro because it looked like a Kodachrome (may she rest in peace.) sky - The natural sky looked retro - does anyone else find that weird?
    For crying out loud - I'm not saying that film has perfect colors- I'm saying it's more accurate in my opinion. Let's get someone to post scans of film accuracy .... who's that guy here who's always posting film's dynamic range shots? Do one for color accuracy!
    Man ... maybe for an easier time, I'll go to the Temple Mount and talk about the strengths and weaknesses about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It'll be easier than talking about film's and digital's strengths and weaknesses up here at
  10. Maybe it is because our brain and real life are so different that we when we process film we lean to the edge of what we want or think it looks like not how it is....
  11. Maybe it is because our brain and real life are so different that we when we process film we lean to the edge of what we want or think it looks like not how it is....​
    That's probably what's happening. We all look trough our own #[personal] filter and look at the World.
    What would be the number for a "rose" colored filter? It's not #2.
  12. LOL I think it used to be called Velvia #1. I shoot slide film in 120 and I have to say at times I will tweak it in color to make it give me a Kodachrome moment. The thing is Kodachrome was a neutral film when used properly projected on a screen. It became overblown when we started scanning it....
    Artist will be Artist and every person has some feeling of it in them...
  13. I went back and found that I had missed some slides, various films, when I did my massive digitalization some years ago, so I am currently in the process of doing some more scanning.
    This means that I am looking at a lot of slide (and some CN) film. Mostly Kodachrome, still my favorite if it were around, but everything that I ever tried out including such standards as Agfa and Fuji, to things like Perutz, Ansco, and whatever in the world 3M and Dynachrome were.
    I am forcefully reminded of several things, that were once common knowledge:
    No film or digital image process ever made records "true colors" in terms of what the human eye sees. As a scientist often concerned with things like recording soil colors accurately, this was always a matter of concern. Some films were better than others for some parts of the spectrum, but nothing was ever 100% accurate for all the spectrum. The same is true of digital, although I actually see more accurate colors there than were possible using chemicals and dyes. If purples are problems (and they are) for some technologies, then you can take your pick of what other color issues arise in the red or other parts of the spectrum with different films....
    Digital may be relatively archival, if there were only some way to keep the little zeroes and ones from getting garbled. On the other hand, dyes and pigments are inherently unstable, as the difference between my Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides that were processed by Kodak show when compared to the third-party developing my ex-wife got before I returned home shows all too clearly. Third-party stuff was just not done as carefully as Kodak did it.
    I could go on at even greater length, but the point is that imaging technology will always run up against some limitations, regardless of the medium. The eye itself is a very flawed piece of design, jury-rigged as it is out of leftover pieces of light sensitive nerve tissue.
  14. Could be why I shoot B&W for my life.... :)
  15. This morning glory is a well known problem subject. It has very high reflectance in the infrared, so film or digital with excess infrared sensitivity will get the color dead wrong. It's known as "anomalous reflection." See Kodak Publication E-73.
    Kodak Ektachrome Professional 100 (EPN) was especially formulated to have no excess sensitivity to infrared light in the red-sensitive layer. This made it a lot more expensive. It also made it a favorite of catalog photographers, because many fabrics are "bright" in IR. It stayed in the product line for at least a decade after the otherwise much better T-grain E-series Ektachromes were released.
    Kodak also recommends their Portra films for the same application. I'm sure they don't waste a single cent of product cost on avoiding this problem on their consumer C-41 films, where there's enormous competitive price pressure from Fuji.
    The same problem happens with digital cameras, many have excess IR sensitivity. Filtering properly is expensive, and has some technical challenges. The digital camera that got the most bad press over this was the Leica M8, but many many other digital cameras are equally hyper-sensitive to IR.
  16. John they have a IR filter built in.... That is most Digital cameras....
  17. Interesting choice of examples. The heavenly blue morning glory is a commonly cited example of a blue subject that was often reproduced as violet in many film products. I've never seen a reverse example like this.
    In any event, JDM is correct that no film or digital sensor ever "saw" colors the same way the human eye sees colors (with one exception described below). There are several common color sensing deficiencies. Silver halide crystals are naturally sensitive to ultraviolet and shorter wavelengths. Outdoor scenes often had very blue shadows in part because the film recorded all that UV energy as if it were blue light. Nearly all modern color film has a UV filter to trim this sensitivity (and to reduce the sensitivity to static discharge). On the other end of the spectrum, the peak red sensitivity of the eye is about 590 nm while classic films had a peak red sensitivity around 650 nm. This "long red" sensitivity was done intentionally to reduce the overlap between the red and green sensitivities. It made most red brighter, but it recorded too much red in some long red reflectors (heavenly blue morning glories and azo green fabric dyes). Many professional products like Portra moved to short red sensitivity to fix this. These films needed a boost in the red-on-green and green-on-red interlayer interimage effects (more DIR couplers). While films like Portra have significantly more accurate colors, amateur astronomers were upset by the loss of long red sensitivity to record all of the nebulosity around the Orion constellation. (FWIW, Portra 800 has long red sensitivity.)
    Digital has a different set of problems. It is easy to get red and green sensitivity in a digital sensor and harder to extend the sensitivity into the blue region. There is a wide variety of sensitivity patterns among digital sensors. I have yet to see one that looks like film sensitivity. Most film vs. digital differences come down to a matter of preference.
    Here's that exception I mentioned. A very thick coating of a Lippmann emulsion (very slow, very fine grain
    B&W emulsion) coated on a glass plate would produce interference patterns in the emulsion. Once the plate was developed, if one viewed the plate directly on the axis where the lens had been, these interference patterns reproduced the original colors. There used to be an example on display at the Geoge Eastman House. When viewed off axis, a B&W negative image was visible.
  18. You know this reminds me of a question I asked years ago on why there is IR film but not UV film.... It was a question my daughter asked me....
  19. @Doug The excessive red in Fuji CN film can be cranked back digitally but the regular prints from drug store processing almost always pop the red.
    Larry, most glass transmission cuts of sharply at the uv portion of the spectrum.
  20. I know this... I am just remembering that and how many times we have spoke of same details....
  21. Doug,
    In your example of what the flower should look like, you posted a picture from a digital camera.
    • Image details: [​IMG]
    • Type: JPG
      Date: Aug 13, 2006
      Camera: Panasonic DMC-FZ20
  22. No sir. I haven't tried raw. You see, I grew up shoot'in film - slides for that matter: I compose, get my exposure, and shoot. And what I get is what I get.
    The only slide film I used that was remotely close to being accurate was Astia (now gone), and again only under the correct color temperature light.
    And when shoot shoot digital, it's mostly JPG - sometimes RAW when I want to be a goof'n.
    Shoot a film you think is accurate side by side with digital, identical lighting and subject. Try a few different lighting / subject combos. Try AWB on the digital as well as custom WB. 9/10 AWB will be more accurate, and 10/10 for custom.
    Film had some things going for it, but perfect color accuracy under a wide range of lighting conditions was not one of them.
  23. In your example of what the flower should look like, you posted a picture from a digital camera.
    LOL! Always check the evidence :)
  24. it has a better color accuracy than digital - at this time in Nov 2011.​
    Have you found any actual testing results that support this conclusion? The problem you are seeing with your flower picture is a limited color gamut. Different films and different digital cameras have different responses to color both in accuracy and in the ability to reproduce certain colors.
    Some digital cameras such as the Leica M9 have extremely wide color gamuts. Certain film also have the ability to see a wider range of colors.
    That is why we use to take several several different films out to test. It gives you an idea of the film's capabilities.
  25. but with the history of film, it has a better color accuracy than digital - at this time in Nov 2011.​
    No. It has better accuracy with one "outlier" color, blue morning glories. When you run a few thousand colors from the botanical spectral database, digital exceeded the color accuracy of film by about a factor of three, way way back in 2003.
    Stop and think logically for a moment. Do you really believe that color filters designed to be made so cheaply that you could use them once and throw away thousands of square feet of them a year were of higher accuracy than filters delivered in 0.5-2 square inches per camera?
  26. Here's a photo shot on color slide film (either Astia or E100). To the eye, the bike is metallic purple. In the photograph, notice that "metallic purple" doesn't look much different than the light blue used in the BMW emblem. And this was shot with a film that has "natural" color.
  27. When you run a few thousand colors from the botanical spectral database, digital exceeded the color accuracy of film by about a factor of three, way way back in 2003.​
    Joseph, Could you supply a reference for this claim? I'm interested to learn how the study was run. BTW, I know some of the people who made the sensitizing dyes, couplers, and color developing agents (the things that control film color reproduction) for color film. I'm familiar with their specifications, I really do believe that are made with purity and consistency at least as high as the bayer filters in a digital camera.
  28. Bahhhh, here we go again...
    1. What's the big deal? Make the necessary changes in Post-Processing and be done with it.
    With that being said...
    2. What's your final output medium? Web or Print. If you are still not getting the right color, hue, saturation, ad nauseam... If it's web, then perhaps your monitor is not calibrated. If it's print, then your monitor and printer (whether you're printing at home or otherwise) need to be in sync. Are they? If not, then they need to be, don't they?
    What exactly are you fighting? You against a process to get correct color or others that say the color is off, or something else?
    I saw this in another posting the other day: Can't remember the fellow who posted it, so I can't give credit to the individual, but I think it applies... "The internet is a mother-lode of anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive, over-complicating perfectionism - and this is especially so in the field of photography...".
    Do you even enjoy the art of photography?
  29. I am a professional who specializes in reproducing original works of art. Needless to say, color accuracy needs to be spot on in this endeavor. I used to shoot 8x10 film and I had my own custom lab and drum scanning equipment. My lab was also a pioneer in color management, so the accuracy of our work was second to none. As good as we were, however, once I converted to using a Betterlight scan back I never looked back. The same story has been told by everyone else in my field as well. The direct scans are more accurate with less post processing and just as sharp if not sharper than anything I could do with film. Of course, this scanning back is the accepted gold standard in this kind of work, but it's safe to say that digital capture can be more accurate than film, if it's done right.
  30. Well I never take offense..​
    I've never taken offence but I have put up a few fences.
  31. Since just about all films are scanned, and are subject to interpretation by the scanner and software, I'm not sure how anyone can really judge the film itself. Vuescan, for example, tends to blow out reds on most films I've scanned. So, while we look at Mike's slide (above), we're really unable to look at Mike's slide on a light table (each of which may have its own color temperature bias). We're just seeing Mike's scan of a slide.
    Having said this, to my eyes well-scanned images from Portra or equivalent Fuji films look more natural than most of the digital images I've seen. I'm not saying pleasing, though--quite often digital does produce more pleasing colors in mid-day light.
  32. LOL, too funy. Film never had good color fedility. All film had to have color adjustments when printed or scanned. I shot
    positive film because of this, but still I used films that exaggerated colors. Now with digital, things are so much easier
    and better.
  33. Gentlepersons:
    Back when Kodak was a real company didn’t it have a film especially for azo dyes? I thought I remember it being used in photography for clothing ads and catalogs. Wasn’t it 64 speed and formulated for 3200 or 3400 degrees? I used EPN back when they made it (with 5600 degree light) but this particular specialty film, although hard to get off the shelf, was supposed to be better.
    A. T. Burke
  34. I've never used film for it's accuracy.....only because of the look I achieve with it.
  35. "So, while we look at Mike's slide (above), we're really unable to look at Mike's slide on a light table (each of which may have its own color temperature bias). We're just seeing Mike's scan of a slide."

    On the actual slide, the bike also looked much closer to blue than to its real color.
  36. Yes, who said film was supposed to be color accurate in the first place? Film is chosen for it's unique and beautiful way of interpreting reality and we often do all kinds of things to exaggerate those qualities. If you want clinical accuracy, then shoot digital in a totally color managed work flow, but that's not why we use film in the first place. Many cinematographers prefer the look of film simply because it shows a view that's NOT real. They're telling a story on film and they want it to look more dreamlike than television.
  37. What John just wrote. If the mirrorless digicam fad of mounting old film lenses, as well as the fad of "film modes", continues, the only digital-looking images left will be reference photos shot with Velvia, Portra, or Ektar on this forum.
  38. In my limited photographic experience, generally speaking film is no more or less color realistic than digital. Take a shot of the same scene with Astia, Velvia, and a DSLR and all three will render the colors a little differently. I loved Astia as it was a wonderful color faithful slide film and a dream to scan. Velvia, while still lovely and great in its own right is not like Astia at all. Crazy color saturation and tricky to scan. I love how my D200 handles color accuracy. However, purples are always the hardest to replicate and require more work in post processing to get them where I want them. As a landscape photographer, I don't photograph purples all that often.
  39. david_henderson


    Its not really an important question. Its far easier to correct any colour inaccuracy in a digital image ( or an image that has become digital) than it is on film. In some cases it is far easier to identify a colour inaccuracy on a digital image than it is for example with a negative.
    That said I have examples of colour inaccuracy in both slide film and digital photographs. But for sheer magnitude with no way out except digitising, the excesses of Velvia's variants at the ends of the day take some beating. That horrid blue/magenta cast in some mornings. The gross exaggeration of warmer colours at sunset. And it wan't even predictable- sometimes you'd get a great picture and sometimes unusable. I do miss certain aspects of film. Colour accuracy is not one of them.
  40. I would agree that film has better colour accuracy than digital. Nothing beats highlight rendition like Fuji Superia Reala or 200. I recently shot a wedding with Kodak Portra NC and a D3. For the outdoor portrait shots, the colour looked best on the film. There's a technical reason, too - the lag-log curve of the film characteristic means that highlights change hue smoothly to white on film. On digital the hue shifts are stepped as the channels max out.
    On the other hand, digital beats colour negative in the shadows...
  41. What is true color? Our eyes fool us all the time with shadows because we have a brain that changes things in motion. Sit and look at the shadows some time and you will see they are not all black... A captured moment is just that... this could be why it took so many years for color film to catch on and for it to be "Improved." :) When they created digital it is new.. not yet improved... software will take care of that.. just like film we have to correct as we don't want exact we want moment we saw thought and captured....
  42. Software cannot correct all color reproduction errors. If the sensor (film or digital) doesn't "see" color the same way the human eye does, the reproduction can never be completely faithful to reality.
  43. And Ron that is why I shoot B&W.

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