New to film photography : Pentax 645n and Nikon F100

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by tim_tim|3, Apr 20, 2017.

  1. Hello,

    I am very new to film photography, but already earning a living of digital photography.
    I recently bought two cameras and shot some test rolls
    - A fuji 400h Roll (rated at ISO 200) on the Pentax 645n
    - A Portra 400 Roll (rated at ISO 200) on the Nikon F100

    Then I took the rolls to a local lab (in Paris France, nothing very fancy just a normal lab...the files are very very small...). As I have no experience at all about it, I would love to have you opinion on the results. On the attached image you can see two pictures.

    Capture d’écran 2017-04-20 à 18.05.57.png

    - The one on the left was taken with the Pentax 645n rated ISO 200, 1/180s F/2.8
    - The one on the right was taken with the Nikon F100 rated ISO 200, 1/500 F/1.4
    These two pictures were taken at the same moment, same light conditions. And the shutter speed + aperture settings should give an identical results when it comes to exposure.

    Here are my questions :
    1 - As the Fuji 400 and Portra 400 films were rated at ISO 200, I expected the picture to be a bit overexposed. Nevertheless as you can see on the attached images, the Pentax result is very very dark and the Nikon result seems to be normally exposed. Is there something I am missing?
    2 - Do you think the result is normal or maybe I did something wrong?
    3 - I know that the lab is very important in the process. I used a local lab as I just wanted to make sure the cameras were fully working. Do you think the result would have been completely different with a pro lab such as TheFindLab or RichardPhotoLab?

    Thank you very much for your help and opinions on this :).

    Have a great day!

  2. The camera settings you give are not equal exposures. The exposure for the Pentax is around two thirds of a stop lower than that for the Nikon. But the difference between the scans looks like more than this. But there are a lot of variables in processing and scanning. It's probably better to compare the negatives themselves before getting too concerned about the accuracy of the cameras.
  3. The scan is very poor, the best idea is scanning yourself. Or brightening up poor scans...
  4. If you speak French, ask the lab for an explanation.
    Open questions:
    • Were both films "retail" or one an outdated badly stored heavily abused ebay purchase?
    • Why do you overexpose film for a hybrid workflow? - If there is one thing somewhat affordable scanners are lacking, it is the ability to cope with extreme densities.
    I don't know your lab what they have / what they goofed up or what they could achieve on a good day.
    Assuming they used different rigs for different formats it might be more helpful to glue your negs on a window in front of the sky and shoot a digital frame of both of them.
    Labs: I never did color myself and have no clue about mass production units like Fuji Frontier and similar. I sent my color film to a huge picture factory and got acceptable results.
    To test cameras shoot slides. Labs always did a lot of "magic" to smoothen things out on negatives.
  5. @igord nailed it while I was typing.
  6. @John Seaman : Thank you very much, indeed I made a mistake, the exposure is different indeed (I would have said less than half a stop difference). But you are right the Pentax image looks way darker than this (and I have some other images that are even worst than this one).

    @igord : Thank you for taking the time to work on the image. I agree with you the scan seems really poor (even though I never worked with a high-end lab so I cannot compare). The files weights 891 Kbytes and its dimensions are 994 x 1416 pixels....I expected something bigger...what's the point of shooting medium format to get such tiny files. I had also worked on the file to adjust a lot of things. But of course the result is very messy due to the quality of the file and I expected something way cleaner than this. I mean I shoot a lot of digital content and have a very precise workflow in place to achieve something close to the film look. I expected (maybe I am naive) to get that film look directly from the film without spending time post-processing the scan.

    @jochen : thank you very much for your analysis.
    - I do speak french...I asked the guy from the Lab why the files are so dark and if they were doing something during the process. He told me no, they didn't do any pull or push as I didn't ask for it. The Nikon and the Pentax rolls were both developed and scanned by the same Lab. Nevertheless, I think he told me they send the medium format ones somewhere else.
    - About overexposing, I have to say that I read that online. Everybody says that it's better to overexpose (at least the Fuji 400h) and that it's way better than to get to much darkness in the result which would be difficult to recover. The goal is to achieve very light and soft portraits, like the ones some wedding photographers get using a Contax 645.
    - I will try to take pictures of the negatives, thank you for the tip!
  7. Tim, the lab scan is made in auto mode, in your 645 shot you have more of overexposed sky area, so the scanner program was trying to compensate it by underexposing the rest of the image (face).
    I think good used flatbed epson would be better option for you... or shooting slide and using external lightmeter... then if you use scanning service they have a reference for scanning...
  8. "The goal is to achieve very light and soft portraits, like the ones some wedding photographers get using a Contax 645." You might want to skip the digitization of the print film images and just give your customers the physical print made from the negative. But do find a better lab.
  9. @igord : okay, thank you for your explanations about the auto mode they might be using. I also tried to take pictures of the negatives and to quickly process them in Photoshop (the quality is very bad but it's just for test purposes). In Photoshop I used an Invert adjustment layer and a Level adjustment layer. Everything is attached to this message (left is PENTAX, right is NIKON)

    @steve_rasmussen : thank you for this point. I do agree that it would be great to give clients the physical print. Nevertheless:
    - in order to create an online portfolio (and I can't afford to not be present on the Internet), I have to get the file digitalized
    - people almost always ask for digital files...

    Negatives TEST.png

    Negatives Proc TEST.png
  10. Tim, your negative looks fine.

    In my opinion, if you really want to shoot film, forget about cheap scanning in amateur labs.
    You can get better results shooting digital and PS process it for the film look.

    Instead get a proper scanner like used epson v700/800 with good software and scan yourself.
    Test report flatbed-film-scanner Epson Perfection V800 Photo with transparency unit: experiences, image quality, scanning

    Or shoot negative, let the good printer print it for you (but this is so expensive in Paris!) and scan/copy-with-your-DSLR the print...
    That is what I always dreamt of but the 30/40 print costs around 100 euro...
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
  11. Well you can evaluate the negatives yourself to determine if exposure and focus accuracy are optimum. Lab scans are a hit and miss affair in my experience. In my area they have all closed anyway. Currently I scan 35mm with a Plustek scaner and just purchased a 645 myself and am shopping for an Epson V600. My experience with cheap labs is dirty and scratched processed film and well processed film from places in the US such as Dwayne's. However I bought the stuff and develop myself. Basically you just need to find your own way to high quality processing and scanning. I guess if it was me I would concentrate on one of the cameras for the learning purposes. I shoot 35mm and a 645 both in b/w and develop at home and scan at home. It's a great hobby but time consuming. The 645 gives me 15 shots for 5 dollars plus about a dollar or two for b/w chemicals. Have fun with it.
  12. The very reason I switched to digital from film for colour work was the variability of lab development and printing. I only used the lab prints as proofs and wet printed the final images myself.

    After a transition stage of scanning, I went fully digital when DSLRs got affordable and gave decent results. I haven't looked back.

    I neither miss nor care about the demise of film, and certainly can't understand the way some people place it on a pedestal. As if it was something noble and to be admired. It's not. It's an outmoded, unreliable, inferior and ecologically unsound method of producing photographic images. If digital cameras had been invented before film, nobody would see it as anything but a ridiculously convoluted and wasteful way to capture an image.

    My advice: Go back to digital and forget film. If you want dodgy colour and grain you can apply that with any decent image editor.

    " - people almost always ask for digital files.." - Then shoot digital files! Non?

    BTW, the Pentax negative is slightly underexposed (see the lack of detail in the hair shadows) and has some veiling lens flare. Maybe the Pentax lens is smudged or has some coating damage? Or a filter was fitted?
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2017
  13. I admit that I've only been back posting on this site after a long hiatus, but it seems to me like you never miss a chance to crap on it as a medium when given the chance.

    Back when I was a moderator, we frowned on this and that was when film-v-digital wars were in full swing. Some of us just enjoy the process of shooting film, and I don't see any reason to get on a pedestal and tell us we're wasting our time every chance given.
  14. The only scanner at present worthy of medium format (and smaller) film is the Hasselblad Flextite. These scanners cost between US$12K and US$20K. For a fraction of that sum you could purchase a focusing rail and film holder (e.g., Novoflex CASTEL-Q + Slide Copying Attachment). This device will handle film up to 6x7 and macro (1:1) lenses up to 120 mm. For 35 mm slides and negatives, I use a much simpler arrangement, with a 55/2.8 Micro-Nikkor and ES-1 Slide Holder. The "scanner" is a digital camera. You would need something on the order of 50 MP to equal the resolution of a Nikon LS-8000/9000 MF scanner, but even that's overkill for film. With cleaning and loading the film/slide, the process is 5-10x as fast as using a scanner of any sort. I'm going through my slide collection at about 5 rolls per hour.

    Slides (reversal film) require little post-processing, once you have a way to present it to the camera. Negative film is more involved. Basically, you use the Photoshop Levels tool to maximize each color channel, then invert (ctl-I or cmd-I) from negative to positive and touch up the results. Levels removes the orange mask prior to inversion.
  15. "Some of us just enjoy the process of shooting film, "
    - That's fine. I have no issue with that, but the OP is considering using film to shoot weddings professionally, where you only get one chance at it being right. With the current dearth of decent processors, I'm not sure that's a good idea. It takes a good turnover to make keeping a C-41/E6 line in proper order and economical.

    It doesn't sound as if the OP has any need or intention of wet printing the negatives either. Shooting film to simply scan it and end up with a digital file is quite perverse. High-quality scanning is either expensive or time consuming. If you do it yourself it gets old very quickly, and cuts deep into your profit margin as a professional.

    As for shooting film in order to dupe it on a DSLR.....
  16. I guess I figure that a wedding photographer that can bring a variety of skills to the table sets themselves above the photographer that offers the standard 1500 on board flash snapshots. I shoot 35mm and medium format film and process the film and scan here at the house but I cannot imagine producing 1500 film based photos in a wedding album or on a drive of some sort. . There are no labs around so that is not an option. When we did have labs around they deserved to go out of business as they provided poor quality for an unfair price.

    At any rate I think the OP should go for the film photography and decide for himself if it is something he could offer professionally or if it would just be for personal artistic enjoyment. It takes time to develop the skills with film to offer a client anyway so the OP has time to think about it.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2017
  17. What people do for fun is unbounded by practicality. I recall the high school humor, "standing up, in a hammock". Since high quality scanners are hard to find, especially at an affordable price, using a digital camera to "scan" film is a practical necessity.

    That said, the lines between small format digital and medium format film are blurred. I've scanned a lot of medium format film (6x6) at 4000 dpi in a Nikon scanner, and the results are comparable to 24 MP or less at the pixel level. My use of MF only continued when I scraped up the cash to buy a digital back in 2007. Only 16 MP, the results were sharper than film, without the expense - $20/roll with processing), fiddly color and way too much time in post. In fairness, it's nearly impossible to duplicate the color and character of film. That doesn't mean film rendition is better or worse, just different.
  18. "In fairness, it's nearly impossible to duplicate the color and character of film. That doesn't mean film rendition is better or worse, just different."

    You said everything indeed. My preferences are definitely for the look of film and this is why I am trying to learn about it.
    About the business part of the topic :
    - I actually have lost a few clients because they were looking for a film photographer (it didn't happen a lot I agree, but it happened a few times)
    - There are actually photographers shooting engagement / couple sessions and even weddings with film cameras...some of them are actually in the most famous of the wedding photography industry. I do agree that the cost is higher of course, but the price of these photographers' services is also way higher.

    PS : sorry for my late answer, I stopped getting notifications I don't know why
  19. While is is difficult or impossible to mimic the color of film with digital capture of a subject, a digital camera makes a faithful copy of slides. With slides, you can compare the results with the original. Negative film, not so much. Too many variables, regardless of the process.
  20. If he is serious about it, he will do like any true pro and find solutions, not excuses. For example, many of the wedding shooters I know who offer film as part of their product and service line use a good pro lab like Praus or Blue Moon Camera and Machine, the latter does beautiful optical prints from C41 negs. In the grand scheme of things on a high end wedding, film cost is truly miniscule.

    Could it be you probably had a rough time at using it so you bash it at any chance you get?

    I shoot both, just invested some $150,000 into a darkroom so I can continue to watch my income rise because of my expert use of it and mentoring young and talented photographers who love it as much as I do through workshops and artist in residencies. So at some point, you might want to calm and cleanse that inner voice by letting it go and accept that it is still a brilliant medium that will likely outlive all on this thread.

    Last May I did a magazine article on a famous marble quarry all on 120 and 4x5 B&W film, not one frame of digital. After film and expenses I made about $500 on the article. I did this because I saw the bigger picture in terms of unique access and fine art centric outcomes. Sure enough, some 10 months later I snagged a nice 5 digit sale for 8 murals from those images that are now in a lobby in a major metro area...


    Live and let live is better that way.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2017

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