Film sharpness: is slower film sharper?

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by khiem_le|1, May 21, 2015.

  1. Hi all,

    I recently migrated to film from digital (had a great time in that domain) and have been enjoying film very much. however, there is one thing I am still quite not sure about: I have the feeling the my shots done on film are not quite as sharp as if it was done on my digital body. this must be a very common question for newcomers who recently migrate from digital.

    To be more specific, shots that make me wonder about sharpness are landscape shots, where things are at infinity and where there are a lot of small details further away (leaves, tree branches, etc.). With digital, it can be quite easily to get a reasonable definition/sharpness for details that are that far. With the shots done on film, I have to crank up the "sharpener" in pp a bit. A friend told me that because the lab didn't want to do any sharpening at all at their end, they want to leave the shots as 'original' as possible, whereas in digital, the camera itself does a bit of sharpening every time the shot is made. That sort of makes sense, but is it true?

    This is a shot that was done on a F100 body, with Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens and Fuji Pro 400H film: https://www.flickr.com/photos/khiemnikon/17924341995/ - I had to crank up sharpening quite a bit to achieve the definition that we can see from the photo. I mean it doesn't really bother me, but I jsut would like to know if there is anything that I did wrong or it is what it is.

    Another reason that I could think of is because I've been shooting with ASA/ISO 400 film. Is slower film supposed to be sharper, capture more details? from what I've read, 400 is not meant to be for landscape anyway. Is that true?
    From what I observed sharpness is totally fine with object that is closer to the camera, for example: close-up, portraits, etc, but not so much with objects that are further. Would slower film solve this?
    Thanks in advance for your inputs.
    cheers
     
  2. Generally speaking the slower the film speed the sharper the film. But most 400 speed film is extremely sharp.

    You cannot judge film sharpness by a scan. There are high resolution scans and low resolution scans. If you have a scan and the image isn't sharp (assuming the image was in focus, no motion blur etc) then the problem is with the scan, not the film.

    400 is perfectly fine for landscapes, but everything is relative. Lower speed films are even sharper and will resolve more fine details, particularly in small objects at a distance. If you are shooting across a valley and want to see individual leaves on trees on the other side, you need not only slow film but large format as well.
     
  3. You will lose something in the scan - I always do from my Epson 4990 - not a lot - but some. An optical print from the negative will most likely look different.
    A slower film, say an ISO 100, will "generally" have finer grain and a bit higher resolution. F100's are great cameras. When shooting 35mm, I will carry two bodies, one loaded with ISO100 and one with ISO400. At the "give away" prices of F100's, you may want to pick up another - that will give you lots of leeway in choosing apertures/shutter speeds to fit your subject.
     
  4. It isn't so much the body as the glass. Good glass helps you get a good image on film or sensor from the beginning and I've always thought it's better to get the very best image you can from the start and not rely so much on post processing or printing. You can pick up some wonderful Nikon manual focus glass nowadays for great prices. As to your original question though while 400 speed film is very good, 100 or 50 will be better. Proper exposure and focus will bring that out. Good glass makes it even better and poor glass just makes it frustrating. The same is true with scans or printing, good equipment and technique are critical and junk just gives you junk.
    Rick H.
     
  5. SCL

    SCL

    There are other factors as well...the grain shape, size and definition of each film (B&W), as well as the nature of the develper as it dissolves the edges of the grain, or in the case of color, how the dye layers dissolve. If you aren't controlling the processing you are foregoing the ability to control all of these factors. In the case of digital, you usually make choices in how the jpegs are processed, or at least maintain the ability to manipulate the raw files in software - with film, unless you can control the process yourself, you've just turned it over to somebody who has no idea of your intent.
     
  6. The Can of Worms Question. Negative Film was meant to be enlarged with an enlarger onto paper. Digital was designed to be like Positive Film and to be directly seen as it was from processing. Apples and Oranges. as most people these days that still shoot film use a scanner of some type be it a flatbed or a drum scanner or even what the folks that process your film use.
    If we are talking Color all the processing is about the same. Now with B&W film it can depend on the developer and film used. I have seen some MF shots done on a fast film in Rodinal that you would never try with 35mm other than to try it at a huge enlargement ....
    A scanner and software is also another point. I think that it is still apples and oranges and when I get my own Drum scanner I will know for sure.
     
  7. It isn't so much the body as the glass. Good glass helps you get a good image on film or sensor from the beginning and I've always thought it's better to get the very best image you can from the start and not rely so much on post processing or printing​
    That's exactly right and I do think so too. However, the Sigma 35mm lens produces amazing results on my digital body, both at close and far distance. Therefore I was a bit surprised it did not make as sharp images with the 400H fuji film that I used for those shots the other day. It is still sharp, but definition is definitely no where close to it would have been on the digital body.
    You will lose something in the scan - I always do from my Epson 4990 - not a lot - but some. An optical print from the negative will most likely look different.​
    I asked the lady to do a high res scan for me, she did a pretty good job, the images are about 25mp and, to my eyes, the colours are very good too. You reckon we still lose a bit of sharpness even through higher resolution scan?
     
  8. I agree with what others have posted.
    You said something that is interesting: "From what I observed sharpness is totally fine with object that is closer to the camera, for example: close-up, portraits, etc, but not so much with objects that are further. Would slower film solve this?". The inherent sharpness of film won't depend on how close the subject is to the camera, so if you are happy with the sharpness in your close-up shots, then something other than film sharpness is making you unhappy with the way distant objects look. Some things to consider: landscape shots like your example may have allowed you to shoot at f/11 or f/16, which offers a lot of depth of field but may not be the sharpest aperture - you might try opening up a couple stops to see if it makes a difference. Second, things in the far distance will be sharpest if you focus at or very close to infinity. If you set the focus at the hyperfocal distance, you'll get a lot of depth of field, but not maximum sharpness in objects at infinity. Third, if distant tree branches are against a bright sky, like in your example, some of the finer details could be lost in glare, or for really distant objects there may be atmospheric haze that obscures detail. Changing film won't correct any of these things.
     
  9. "Negative Film was meant to be enlarged with an enlarger onto paper."​
    Yup, and the paper had a big influence on the finished look. Prints from the same negative could range from saturated, contrasty and punchy to subtle and softer depending on the paper.

    During the peak of the minilab era, just before digital - around the mid-1990s-early 2000s - the most common minilab output in my area was on Fuji Crystal Archive, usually glossy, sometimes pearl. Both had punchy colors and contrast, with the slightly textured paper reducing apparent sharpness just a bit as fine details such as facial wrinkles and pores tended to be obscured very slightly. That, plus the resistance to fingerprints, made pearl finish papers popular with minilabs.

    But I usually found the saturation and contrast from Crystal Archive too punchy for photos of people. It tended to exaggerate greens, and wasn't particularly forgiving of flushed faces in the heat or toward the end of a party when makeup was wearing off. Crystal Archive was better suited to landscapes and punchy looking tourist snapshots.

    Getting the softer, lower contrast/saturation look of the 1960s-'80s consumer grade prints took a little extra effort. We used to have a couple of pro labs in Fort Worth and you could ask for custom printing options to get the desired look. But those shops closed years ago.

    Go easy on sharpening with film scans. Besides looking unnatural it can exaggerate grain. In Lightroom and comparable editors with similar sharpening tools, the default setting tends to suit fine details but can exaggerate aliasing with film. I usually increase the radius and masking, and decrease fine detail, to increase contrast without going overboard into halos or jaggies.

    And with my film scans I'll sometimes use grain reduction during scanning (doesn't work well with some b&w films - the results can be clumpy), or luminance noise reduction later to minimize unnatural looking grain aliasing.

    Grain from film scans shouldn't be visible in shadows and very dark regions. It's never apparent in optical enlargements from film. That's an artifact from grain aliasing due to scanning and oversharpening. This can defy easy results with global sharpening that affects the entire image. Sometimes it helps to go back over the darker zones with a brush tool to gently soften the grain so the edges aren't readily apparent. There are other techniques available in Photoshop and other pixel level editors.

    Finally, keep in mind that a scanned and edited film photo that appears a bit oversharpened onscreen may print just fine on inkjet paper. Depends on the paper and printer. My low end inkjet photo printers have just enough diffusion of ink with the standard papers to avoid looking oversharpened in print. The diffusion and paper texture also makes grain and/or luminance noise less apparent. When I first began serious digital editing over 10 years ago I tended to get carried away with worrying about digital noise and tended to use too much luminance noise reduction. It resulted in prints that were too soft and plasticky looking. I'm slowly going back over some of those photos and re-editing them.
     
  10. Thanks Mark, this is exactly what I'm looking for.
    Some things to consider: landscape shots like your example may have allowed you to shoot at f/11 or f/16, which offers a lot of depth of field but may not be the sharpest aperture - you might try opening up a couple stops to see if it makes a difference.​
    I didn't use f/11 or f/16 as I was worried about diffraction. Therefore I didn't' go north of f/6 or f/8. But do you think I should? I read the MTF chart from one of the many review sites, and they all show that sharpness decreases after f/6.
    Second, things in the far distance will be sharpest if you focus at or very close to infinity. If you set the focus at the hyperfocal distance, you'll get a lot of depth of field, but not maximum sharpness in objects at infinity​
    This is exactly what I'm looking for. However, I'm quite lost at what you said, would u please explain again, esp the "hyperfocal distance" focusing. I'm not quite familiar with the term.
    What I did was to use auto focus and focused at the furthest tree. Now doing that made the focus ring on the lens turn to the "infinity" symbol in the little window, so I think I focused at infinity for the shot. I could still actually turn it up a bit more than infinity (i can see there is a marking of "16" pointing toward that position of the focusing that is beyond infinity), but that would make furthest objects out-of-focus. Why is it there, in what situation should I use that 'beyond infinity' focus?
     
  11. I can make a Huge MP scan of a crappy negative and it is still a crappy negative. MP has no meaning. and If it was 25MP that scan took a long time.
     
  12. Assuming you use the same lens on digital on the same format: all considerations about hyperfocal, diffraction and optimal apertures would be identical (or make up for very minimal differences). Since the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is known to be a very good lens, I think it is kind of safe to assume the problem is not the lens.
    Making the same move from digital to film (well, part time), using a fairly normal film scanner with decent resolution: yes, there is a difference in sharpness, and looked up close the difference between pixel-peeping and grain-peeping become obvious. With the films I've used so far, at high magnifications (100% view on screen of the scanned file or digital raw files), grain looks "fuzzier" and larger. And yet, at normal magnifications and normal print sizes, the film scans just look nicer, gentler. The sharpness isn't as hard-defined as it is with digital, but to me looks more elegant and natural (of course, this is heavily subject to taste). The recording medium simply is and behaves differently.
    Now, it is true one can make digital look like film with postprocessing, but point is that film doesn't behave similar to digital "on a pixel level" level and doesn't quite look the same as a result. Pixelpeeping never made much sense to me, and with film scans, I find it even less useful. But looking at the prints I make, I much like what I get from film - and in the end, I care about these end results.
    As for scans, and faster films: in general: slower film = smaller grain = higher resolution, until the scanner runs out of resolution, at which point the scanner becomes the bottle neck. Also, I had scans from the lab that had more pixels than what my own scanner can do (equivalent of 28 megapixels thereabouts), but they looked terrible with low dynamic range and poor contrast. Redoing them on my own scanner (which records about 14 megapixels) was easily worth it.
     
  13. "I didn't use f/11 or f/16 as I was worried about diffraction. Therefore I didn't' go north of f/6 or f/8. But do you think I should?"

    People obsess too much over difraction. If you're not getting enough depth of field to get everything in focus that you want, then it doesn't matter whether there is diffraction or not. I've always stopped down as much as I need to and never worried about diffraction.
     
  14. Khiem, from your description, it sounds like your equipment and shooting technique should give good sharpness on the film. The other guys who have posted here about scanning will be of more help to you, I think.
     
  15. Yes: 35mm film sharpness is a bit limiting. A lot of landscape film photography was (is ?) done using larger formats of film: medium, panoramic, 4x5 and bigger. If your current lab can handle medium format film - give it a try.
     
  16. If you can find it, I suggest reading Ansel Adams' book "The Negative."
     
  17. Thanks everyone for your inputs.
    Khiem, from your description, it sounds like your equipment and shooting technique should give good sharpness on the film. The other guys who have posted here about scanning will be of more help to you, I think.​
    Mark: I thought so too. But after reading the comments and researching a bit more, I think film is not meant to behave like digital, pixel wise. The sharpness of film is probably defined a bit differently. So, it all comes down to the last variable, the scanning process. I got my films scanned at a supermarket lab before and the results were not even worth looking at. There were colour cast every where in the photos, all the colours are incorrectly presented, and sharpness was not even worth mentioning about. After that I changed to a different lab, a more customer-focused one and the colours were improved dramatically. So after that I understand how important the scanning process is. It can make a huge different.
    If you can find it, I suggest reading Ansel Adams' book "The Negative."​
    Yep, ordered the book and still waiting for it to arrive ;-)
     
  18. ted_marcus|1

    ted_marcus|1 Ted R. Marcus

    Another factor is whether you use a tripod or hand-hold the camera. A hand-held shot may be sharper on ISO 400 film than on slower film because you used a faster shutter speed and avoided motion blur. Before I switched to digital (and I'm not going back-- scanning film is a pain in the bum) I used ISO 400 negative film exclusively. It provided the best balance of convenient speed and fine grain when printed as slides (a technology that no longer exists).
     
  19. I agree with Craig. Regarding diffraction and DOF, I always put DOF first. First I calculate the f/stop I need for the DOF I want to get. Then I stop down one more stop for good measure.
     
  20. Back in the day when I did this commercially and it was all film, I thought rather than "sharper" film had a different feel. It wasn't just grain size and sharpness, it was tonality and rendering. I used Plus-X on products because it was punchier. I used Tri-X almost exclusively for people and Pan-X for landscapes. D-76 was my developer of choice. I shot 35, 2 1/4 and 4 x 5, but the film choices stayed the same depending on the subject. Though I liked working with 35, very few of my customers would accept 35, except for color shot with Kodachrome (National Geographic insisted on it) -- mostly photojournalistic shots.
     
  21. Ansel Adams The Negative. I bought the book back in 1984 but I am surprised to find it here
    https://esquerdadireitaesquerda.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/the-negative.pdf
     
  22. Khiem, just for comparison, this is a scan that I got from a normal commercial lab; the film is Kodak BW400CN (C41 B&W film), the scan is ~6300*4200 pixels (About 26MP), resized here to fit.
    00dJ01-556884684.jpg
     
  23. And this is the same negative, scanned on my Reflecta ProScan 7200, which gives approx. 5000*3400 pixels and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. I think even resampled to the small dimension that we need to use here on p.net, the difference is quite evident. While certainly not a top-notch scanner, and my scanning abilities sure have their limits, I think that if you want to make serious use on your PC of your negatives, looking at scanning yourself is worth the effort. The Reflecta (Pacific Images in the US) and Plustek scanners are affordable, and deliver decent quality.
    00dJ03-556884784.jpg
     
  24. Kodak Panatomic-X comes to mind. There was another Kodak film, even finer, needed special developer? Anyway, a link on Pan-X:
    http://www.photo.net/film-and-processing-forum/00CzLv
    I'm pretty sure this was Pan-X I shot, likely dilution B HC110 developed. Nice film:
    00dJ0x-556886084.jpg
     
  25. In general if you have enough light to use low ISO film then it's better and cheaper than high ISO film. Most of my film are ISO 100 to 160.
     
  26. Reading the tech charts for Velvia 50, it is noted that the resolving power of Velvia 50 is the highest that I know of resolving 160-80 lines, with a granularity of 9. So while negative films are finer grained, the resolution of Velvia 50 is highest, and for landscapes this is why I shoot Velvia 50. The contrast of Velvia 50 is hard to overcome with average scanners. Drum scanners have the ability to dig deep into the shadows of Velvia, and when this is done, and printed from a continuous tone lightjet printer, nothing beats it. Large prints from this formula are mesmerizing, the resolution, tonal gradation working together with the punch of transparency film...Oh Yeah!
     
  27. My experience is the same as Wouters images above. Scans I got from a from a pro lab are not nearly as good as the ones I do myself on my Coolscan 5000. Mine are sharper, have more shadow detail and more highlight detail.
    Also just a tiny bit of missed focus on the scanner will produce a soft scan.
    Another variable to think about is that it's a lot easier to verify a focusing problem on digital. You might have a focusing problem on the F100.
    A related issue was when I've used lenses with hard infinity stops where one lens would look great on one camera body and not at all great on another identical body. This is cause by small variances in the register distance between the bodies. The lens mount to sensor distance was ever so slightly different. Enough to cause a visible difference in sharpness. It was hard to conclude this on digital and it would have been even harder on film.
    Lenses that don't have hard infinity stops simply don't have to have correct register distance, only that the autofocus is calibrated to the register distance. So they are easier to make. It's also possible for the autofocus to overshoot and go beyond infinity and then go back slightly. With a hard infinity stop there would be a mechanical barrier. So most modern AF lenses goes beyond infinity. On longer lenses, even manual focus ones, the focusing ring went beyond infinity to account for temperature differences. I have a manual focus Nikon 180mm f2.8 ED that is like that.
     
  28. Thank you everyone with your detail comments and constructive advice. I haven't been able to log on the forum for the last few days so couldn't answer straight away.
    I went back to the same place, this time I used a (4 months expired) roll of Ektar 100 with my FE2 and the results are stunning. The weather was much better than the other day (when I shot and the results did not look sharp at all). Therefore, I can safely conclude the level of light also contributes greatly to details in distance. With more light, it resolves details better and hence give a better definition.
    This is a shot that was done earlier today at the same location. Bright sun-light, unlike the other day when it was wet and overcast:
    Same setting, F100, 24mm f/1.4 G, Fuji Pro 400H, shot at f/7.1
    [​IMG]
    I also tried shooting with a roll of Ektar 100 and the results are stunning. This will be the only film I'll ever use for landscape. There is literally no grain. Colours are rendered beautifully, and the sharpness is, of course, top notch.
    This is a few shots done with FE2, Ektar 100 and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AI-S lens:
    [​IMG]
    Lenses that don't have hard infinity stops simply don't have to have correct register distance, only that the autofocus is calibrated to the register distance. So they are easier to make. It's also possible for the autofocus to overshoot and go beyond infinity and then go back slightly. With a hard infinity stop there would be a mechanical barrier. So most modern AF lenses goes beyond infinity. On longer lenses, even manual focus ones, the focusing ring went beyond infinity to account for temperature differences. I have a manual focus Nikon 180mm f2.8 ED that is like that.​
    Very informative thank you!
    For more photos of today's shoot-out: https://www.flickr.com/photos/khiemnikon/
     
  29. With 35mm, has anyone checked the difference in sharpness between film scanned mounted on slide mounts vs. 35mm strips?
     
  30. Subjective impression of "sharpness" depends also on the film's grain structure: finer grain like in Kodak Ektar produce more impression of smoothness than "sharpness"; and on the contrary more pronounced grain structure like in Fuji Pro colour negative films contribute to details looking more acutely defined (in B&W Fuji Acros looks smoother thanks to the finer grain compared to many of the Ilford films which have coarser grain and look "sharper").
    The above is observable only if one has a competently made scan, preferably from a dedicated film scanner, as Wouter Willemse pointed out and illustrated above.
     
  31. Yup I still shoot film but I reserve film for bright light when I can use ISO 100 film. For low light I use digital as film can't do low light handheld as well as digital. For time exposure then sometimes film is better.
     

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