"New" to film... moving to medium format from long time DSLR RAW shooter. Nervous.

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by chris_maupin, May 21, 2016.

  1. Hi all,
    I started out with a full manual 35 mm minolta SLR as a kid/teenager, and learned the fundamentals of shooting at a very young age. What I did not learn about film is anything practical about processing/developing and printing, especially on a large scale.
    I moved on to DSLR, and continue to shoot only in full manual since it is my comfort zone and gives me the most control. I've been shooting using this platform for a decade now, and one of the things that has become my true love/crutch is the ability to process RAW-format images in excruciating detail to my taste before producing a print.
    Now, I love medium and large format prints. They are transcendental for me. Seeing a large print of a medium format image is a visceral experience, and getting nose-close to 6 foot long print before noticing artifacts just gets to me at very animalistic "holy crap" level.
    So I want to try medium format.
    But, there is nothing about a digital back on a medium format that is in my budget. What is in my budget, is a used Mamiya 645 super in excellent condition (as graded by the shop) at a local high end shop. Once the image is exposed on the film, I know nothing about the process from there. How to I get the image to have the all the nuances I want (contrast, dynamic range, lightening of dark areas, etc. etc.) that are easily obtainable in Lightroom with DSLR, using film?
    Is there a particular way the film needs to be developed to achieve one certain result versus another?
    Will a high resolution 16 bit TIFF file of a scanned slide or film give me similar flexibility in Lightroom as a true RAW file?
    In summary, I want to shoot medium format film, but I am chicken when it comes to how flexible my processing options will be vs. true RAW file from a DSLR sensor.
  2. I would start with an ISO 400 black & white film such as Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5+. Rate at box speed and specify normal development. Kodak's D76 or Ilford's ID 11 film developers combined with either of these films is an almost bulletproof combination. You really have to mess up big time to not get a printable (or easy to scan) image. With color the Kodak Portra films offer fine grain and accurate color. With color I'd recommend scanning the negatives and use your computer to fine tune the color.
    I don't know if this what you're looking for but it's a start.
  3. SCL


    Yes, but. Processing and printing are two distinct arts, not just science. In the past I'd have normal (color) processing done by a lab which I trusted, and have them do a set of proofs for me, which I'd inspect and mark up with the final product in mind. I did my own B&W developing and printing up to 8x10 inches....the larger mural sized stuff again went to a professional lab. Master printers are like master carpenters...they know the tricks and routinely produce stuff which I can only dream of. Having recently examined some of Vivian Maier's negatives, small drugstore type prints from them, and then massive master museum prints...I came away with renewed awe for the craft. Not trying to discourage you, but if WOW prints are your thing, be prepared to put some money into it and have them done right. If you're viewing everything on a PC, forget most of what I said, and work with the tools you have and know.
  4. Thanks Mike and Stephen, this is definitely the type of info I'm looking for. I've read Adam's "The Print" out of sheer curiosity, and as far as real printing goes (not from a digital printer), I have a huge respect for the folks who have mastered it. They are true artists in themselves.
    I think my takeaway here, if it clarifies things, is how much editing will I be able to do with scanned color film, and should I worry about it being limited relative to 35 mm DSLR RAW files I'm used to "developing" in Lightroom prior to them being printed using a digital print process.
  5. Well you can have all the control you want over the final results it just takes work to learn how to do it.
    I guess you want to work digital post processing so you need decent scans that either means paying for the scans or buying a decent film scanner for medium format film and making decent scans yourself.
    You can work decent 16bit film scans in lightroom the same as you do RAW files. If the scan captures all the shadow and highlight details from the film then it will be rather like a RAW file that you can push and pull around in lightroom. The better quality the scan the better the results will be.
    Remember 645 isn't that big, 6x7 or 6x9 would be better for really large prints if you want more details or just go large format instead.
    With poor quality scans you could easily end up with soft mushy/grainy results that could be worse than you get now from your DSLR.
    Film is something I shoot for fun, it's different from digital, has a different look and sometimes I enjoy darkroom printing.
    I don't print big and all my film gear is 35mm now. Even when I did shoot medium format I never produce large prints for myself.
    For me I enjoyed the small jewel like prints I could make from medium format negs. A 7X7 inch darkroom print from a 6x6cm negative has a beautiful rich tonality thats hard to beat.
  6. As above, starting with Tri-X is a good choice, especially if you want to do it yourself.
    (C41 isn't all that hard, but you have to get the time and temperature right, which takes some practice. If you are used to doing black and white, it will be easier.) But there are plenty of good C41 labs around, and for reasonable prices, so you might just as well let them do it.
    C41 films have a gamma (contrast) about half the usual for black and white, which makes it much easier for the scanner. (That is, the difference between light and dark isn't as big in the negative as you expect.)
    So, yes, scanning medium format negatives should be a good way to go.
    Portra 160NC should be a good choice for C41.
    Unlike some color films, they don't give unnaturally bright colors.
    (Though after you scan, you can do lots of editing to the scanned image, including changing the color saturation and tint.)
    There are enough places making good quality large prints from JPEG files, for reasonable prices.
    Shutterfly sends me an offer for a free 16x20 every few months (just pay shipping).
    Some say that the usual printers do 300dpi, so 4800x6000 for a 16x20, or about 29 megapixels.
    Scanners that can scan at that resolution aren't so hard to find. There is some question about the accuracy of the consumer priced scanners. (That is, they might get the right number of pixels, but the position of the pixels on the negative could be a little off. You might or might not notice.)
    Portra 160 has an MTF up to about 80 cycles/mm, or 160 dots/mm in digital terms.
    That gets you about 9600 pixels across for 120, so should be good enough for above.
    I haven't looked at the pixel count for medium format digital, but I can't afford it, either.
  7. One area where consumer level scanners can be weak is in the software.
    Both VuScan and SilverFast are extremely effective scanning softwares, the latter is sometimes supplied in a cut down form with a scanner. If not either will transform your scans (I prefer VuScan but have used both)
  8. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    Can't see anything in the OP's posts to give the impression that he's particularly interested in black & white.
    What I can see is that he's interested in making big, detailed prints. Not prints from a 29MP file- he may well be already getting close to that from a DSLR. However as he's already beginning to suspect, getting the camera is just the beginning, money-wise, and it is the case that setting a budget does not mean that you can achieve what you want from that budget.
    If Mr Maupin wants to make big, high quality prints then after his film is processed - probably to neg. of one sort or another I'd guess, then he has to learn to assess a negative to determine what he thinks is worth spending quite a bit of time/money on to get a large print. Some people get contact prints or proof sized prints to do that but sooner or later he's going to need to learn what it is about a neg that makes , or doesn't make a great print. I don't think it matters terribly much whether films are processed by the photographer or a lab, assuming that the lab is competent and the photographer hasn't got a very specific or unusual treatment in mind.
    So after processing and having selected a neg or two for printing he'll need to do at least one one of these 4 things.
    1. Buy a scanner. If he really does want big prints then he will IMO need a film scanner. Something like a Nikon Coolscan 9000 or if you're particularly technically minded an Imacon of even a drum scanner. There aren't too many of these still being made so its likely to be a used one. They can be rather expensive and there is a learning curve attached to using them. There might be complications about running them with todays operating systems. Once you've got a scanner, set it up, and learned to use it you're at the point similar to starting with a raw image so you'll know how to process and print from there.
    2. Use someone else's scanner. For a lot of people, the cost and setting up of a film or drum scanner isn't justifiable in the context of the no. of prints they want to make. So they can get a lab or even another photographer who will scan for you, to make your scans. So swapping a capital outlay for a cost per scan. Not as easy to find as it once was, but still not too difficult. Be sure you're buying scans big enough to support the size of prints you want.
    3. Learn to make analog (traditional ) prints yourself in your own darkroom , which you'll need to need to configure, buy, set up, and learn to use yourself. You'll need to experiment with the papers and chemistry available. If you don't fancy that then---
    4. Send out your negs for printing. Its not easy but not impossible to find a lab to make traditional (enlarger) prints from your negs. It is unlikely to be cheap especially if you want very large prints. Again you're avoiding capital outlay vs option 3, at the expense of a higher variable cost per print.
    A few more quick comments. First the sort of "process & scan" package you can get from labs is unlikely to be even close to good enough to support a large print. Second using a consumer grade scanner is what most people do. It saves a heap of money but will impose a size limit on your prints. For me (and I have an Epson V700 and decent film folders) any time I want to make a print larger than say 12" sq I send out for a better scan on a film scanner or better. But the consumer grade scanner is the place to go if you realise that actually you might be able to afford a MF camera, but making big prints from MF originals is neither a cheap not easy hobby. Third if you choose to use transparency (slide) film it can look very nice but it cuts down your options and practically speaking you'll need to follow a scanning route. Getting the scan just right isn't easy though . For my sins I have many thousands of MF slides. If I'm running into real problems editing an image - preparing it for printing or website or whatever- I can almost guarantee that its a scan from a slide and not a native digital file .
    And one very last comment. When you're thinking about which of options 1-4 above you're going to follow , and remembering that you're still buying film and processing as well, you might find yourself thinking whether a digital back would really have been much more expensive in the long run. Just because the cost comes in one hit doesn't make it more expensive overall. I shot MF for ten years and loved it. But I'd estimate that in that decade I spent at least £50 000 on film, processing, scanners, external scanning. That's before printing costs.
  9. A couple comments....
    1) Shoot film because you want to shoot film. The process, the aesthetic look, because it's retro, whatever. I like film too.
    2) Don't shoot film just because you want a super detailed print. If you want that, just stitch two (or more) DSLR frames together.
    3) If you're going to get a medium format camera, skip the 645 format and go to 6x6 or 6x7 at least. 645 is still small, and is not going to really be any more detailed than a good DSLR. Plus, larger formats have their own aesthetic to them, independent of film vs digital.
  10. You do have a few out of sync ideas about film and what it can do, once you scan film it is no better than digital for most uses, fact is once you scan film it becomes a digital image.
    The entire film shooting and printing process can be seen as editing, the choice of film, the choice of developer, the choice of paper you print on is all a part of the editing stage. this is the biggest difference between film and digital.
    To make large prints from film you have to look at the entire analogue process and you will only get that film quality and look if you print in a darkroom, this does take a lot of work and it is a steep learning curve and it will be expensive to set up.
    Getting prints done at a pro lab is fine if you can find one that prints optically, if you find one I would hate to think of what it would cost per print and it is far from ideal.
    There is a lot more to it than that, print making has so many variables and there is so much you can do for tone and contrast so unless you print it your self you are not going to get the print that YOU want, only you can do that. You have to think of printmaking as the final editing stage of film photography and just taking in negatives to a pro lab to print is like taking unedited RAW files to a printer, I doubt you would ever do that.
    B&W film also really has to be processed by the photographer, only you know how you shot the film and once again there are many processing variables that all have an affect on the final image. C-41 colour film is a more fixed process so does not really matter where you get that done but it is just as easy to process as most B&W films anyway. Slide film is a bit more tricky. I do all my own films my self.
    I still shoot film and always will, I do not think film is better than digital or digital is better than film, they both have there strengths and weaknesses.
    I shoot with 6x9 MF and 4x5 LF , my medium format cameras are Fuji rangefinders that have incredibly sharp lenses, likewise for large format my lens of choice is a Fuji SWD 90mm and it is incredibly sharp, sure I could get better but I do not have $3000 for a lens, I get scans that are on par with with a 60MP MF digital, prints from my dark room leave them is the dust even at 50x60cm, I physically do not have the room to make a print large enough to degrade film quality.
    35mm is rather limited and good for up to 8x10 in a dark room, I do not use 35mm any more, it is just to small now to compete with high end DSLRs IMO.
    I do not print colour anymore so I have no choice but to scan and pro lab print, the quality is around the same as a high end MF digital, depending on the film though it can be better or worse, there are many things that can effect the final quality.
    I only have a flatbed scanner for scanning, a drum scan of a 4x5 neg cost me $75 per scan so I am not going to go that rout, my Epson V700 does just fine for me and I can scan up to 8x10 film as well. I have had print done at 1000mm x whatever and they look just as good as any from a digital, not better but just as good.
    Film can make much larger prints than digital but final quality depends on many things such as film format, the film used, how it was processed, how it is printed, the quality of the camera lens used to shoot it.
    As some one above said only shoot film if you want to, shooting film just to make large prints is asking for trouble and it is going to cost.
  11. Shutterfly charges $18 for a 16x20 inch, and $23 for 20x30 inch, plus shipping.
    A few times a year, they offer me a free 16x20, only pay shipping, so I have some of those.
    I have not tried the 20x30.
    Prints up to 11x14 say "Crystal Archive" on the back, but the 16x20 doesn't.
    One could use a home scanner, like the V700 or V800, until one knows that a negative is ready for a higher quality, and more expensive, scan.
    Also, practice with more affordable print options, until you are ready for the better, and more expensive, ones.
    The higher full (35mm) frame DSLRs should be able to do a pretty good quality 16x20 or larger print. They are approaching the diffraction limit of the lenses, and so not including the low-pass spatial filter that older DSLRs have.
    But MF film, and a quality scan and print, should give nice results.
  12. Another "skip 645" suggestion: since you're looking for the big-format experience, why not get an inexpensive 4x5 view camera? Film cost is similar, and in BW you can play with the full Zone-System per-shot exposure and development process.

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