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35mm film vs 5DII - Low light performance


mauro_franic
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<p>Here are the results of low light shooting.</p>

<p>All film shots are straight from the scan without any processing. The only exception is the EI3200 Tmax that has a the curves pinched up in photoshop.<br>

The 5DII file was converted with DPP with sharpness set to 4 and all the other setting to neutral.<br>

Focus was on the front cheek so the eye is a little out of focus.</p>

<p>Observations:<br>

General: All film and digital shots are excellent in all areas.<br>

Detail: B&W film has the best detail, followed by color negative. The 5DII comes last.<br>

Dynamic range: Color film was the best. The 5DII and B&W pushed film probably tied in second place.<br>

Grain (film only): B&W film was slightly more attractive and smoother than color negative. Both very nice.<br>

Noise (5DII only): Minimal for the speed.<br>

Contrast: B&W film has the highest (for good or bad), followed by color negative. The 5DII comes last.</p>

<p>Enjoy. Technical questions welcomed.<br>

Here is the link to see the crops at 100%.<br>

http://shutterclick.smugmug.com/Photography/Portra-400-and-TMAX-400-G/15789423_WvenE#1188038015_zxSvM-O-LB</p>

<p> </p><div>00YDpr-332589584.jpg.17117fbd183de9881d61a6ebd357a86a.jpg</div>

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<p>Interesting! However, there's a problem. With the film shots it looks like they were shot using flash while the digital shot looks like it was natural lighting. From experience, flash shots look sharper than non-flash, because it stops all motion while the shutter speeds with natural light are usually slower and get more blur from a moving subject.</p>

<p>Personally I like the grain from the T-Max 400 more than the others. However, you just can't beat the smooth colors and grain/noise on the section of the guitar at 25% with the 5Dll.<br>

One thing to remember that I found out not too long ago, just because digital has a neutral setting doesn't mean that's what should be used to get the most natural looking shot. Remember film, if you wanted high contrast and high saturation you should choose velvia. If you want more dynamic range, try sensia or something similar. The same with the digital camera, neutral doesn't mean normal...by no means. In a situation like this with low light, I would turn down the contrast quite a bit but keep the sharpness high and the saturation medium-low.</p>

<p>I remember a while back I was shooting Fujichrome Velvia 100F and needed some high iso's for animals in the early morning. I cranked the iso dial up to 1600 and shot a whole roll in the early morning just when the sun was coming up. When I got it processed, the contrast was higher, grain was higher and the saturation was <em> way </em>higher! However, the sharpness kind of smoothed off and wasn't as sharp as normal Velvia.</p>

<p><br /> Great comparison and interesting to finally see film compared with digital under low light.<br>

-Jon</p>

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<p>Thank you Jon.</p>

<p>There aren't any good low light comparisons at EI 1600/3200 of live events.<br /> My preference is TMAX as well. The detail and clarity is stunning compared to the 5DII. Portra is great too - though TMAX really hits the note.</p>

<p>To your note on the colors and flash; the angle of the shots was different and the 5DII benefited from an overhead strobe (which created a bit of a highlight problem on the temple) where as the film cameras had a diffuse bounced flash on the side. This gives the 5DII nicer stage colors and a tad lower contrast.</p>

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<p>Karim, the 5DII is an excellent camera and can be recommended confidently. Your current evaluation is relative because you have film next to it but in absolute terms it is fantastic camera. I will try to post the 5DII with NR off tonight for you. Also remember that most digital shooters don't use film and digital in low light alongside of each other so the relative POV almost doesn't exist.</p>

<p> </p>

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<p>I guess the most accurate comparison would be images shot of still-life low-light subjects with the lighting the same for each, and I would shoot the digital shots in RAW.</p>

<p>Before acquiring a digital camera, I shot film for years and loved it. When the digital came along the colors weren't as smooth or something, it just didn't look right. After upgrading to a Fx from Nikon, the colors fixed themselves and all of a sudden the pictures looked normal again. I guess what I'm saying is I just don't see a huge difference from film to digital if the comparison is both in the same format (24x36 digital, 24x36 film). I do miss the grain of film sometimes, but for sharpness, contrast and color, those elements are all adjustable.(I use Adobe Camera Raw to process the .Nef files(which I convert to .dng) and I remove the default settings and turn down the contrast to where it looks almost terrible. Then in photoshop, I apply a setting that increases the contrast while retaining the dynamic range and sharpens the picture enough for printing and then depending on the shot, turns the saturation up or down.)</p>

<p>Believe it or not, I still keep a manual film body in my bag for backup with a roll of T-Max 400 and a roll of Fujichrome Velvia 100F! For some reason I have to keep buying film to replace my backup rolls!</p>

<p>Jon</p>

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<p>I'm pretty sure Mauro's post is not a controlled scientific test judging from his comment mentioning comparison's of low light capability of live events, I am a professional photographer for a national music magazine and there is no way you can match a scene with identical lighting and subject. This is a great post for me and from the results Mauro got I will for sure be loading up my Black Rapid straps with my Nikon F100 and a Canon 7NE with some TMAX 400 and possibly the portra film as well to accompany my 5DMII. This will save me a lot of money not having to buy another 5DMII for my wide angle shots! Thank you Mauro for the comparison</p>
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<blockquote>

<p>Testing needs to be controlled and scientific, with identical lighting and subject. Otherwise, the test results are meaningless.</p>

</blockquote>

<p>Not true, even in science. Of course the goal is to refine experiments and results, but Pareto's law works quite nicely.<br>

EDIT: Mauro, thanks for your response.</p>

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<p>While I think we can all agree that it was great that Mauro did this test and it's a good jumping off point, I have to agree with Jeff - it is not an apples-to-apples comparison, and as such it's not overly useful. The response that 'real life isn't scientific' is moot, since the intention was to produce objective, repeatable results. Unless you test objectively (which Mauro did not) then the test did not accomplish the objective. Here's why:</p>

<p>Most of us know that film retains detail and tonal value better in highlights than digital does, but worse in the shadows. Since Mauro used flash on the film shots only, any hot spots caused by the flash are more likely to retain detail rather than wash out. Similarly using a faster shutter speed with the flash means that the background areas, which would normally be underexposed on film, are instead black, so we can't see the lower tonal range. In a way, using flash on the film shots only enhances film's benefits, while minimzing its disadvantages.</p>

<p>Were we to see flash on the digital image only, we might conclude that the 5DII overexposes in low light, and we wouldn't see its truest low-light advantage, which is capturing shadow detail. Furthermore, the use of certain developers for black and white film will make low-light images develop better or worse. Using a 'correct' high-speed developer would yield slightly better results than this, and using something like Perceptol, which is made for low-speed films, would make the results much, much worse.</p>

<p>So no, this is not an objective, scientific, or even fair test. But I'm glad you did it Mauro, and I've very glad to see that there are people that are actively testing both mediums in order to treat them as tools for certain jobs, rather than blindly claiming one to be better than the other, which is what 99.9% of photographers do.</p>

<p>Even though I disagree with your findings, I still give you huge props.</p>

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<p>Awesome one Mauro. I've been looking forward to another film vs. digital thread from you for some time!</p>

<p>I'm a little confused -- did you set the camera to an ISO of 1600 for the Portra 400 film? Did you do any push processing of the film? </p>

<p>I would also love to see a shot with NR set to 0. I take it you shot RAW, yes? The amount of information you can recover from a RAW file is phenomenal, and I would personally use Lightroom 3 to do the conversion as it's got some pretty advanced demosaicing algorithms. I can take a whack at the RAW conversion if you send me the RAW file. I'm fairly certain the 5DII can do better than what you've initially posted...</p>

<p>That being said -- great work as always. I'm back to shooting Velvia these days after my 5D shorted due to dismal weather sealing as I was shooting waterfalls in Oregon this past fall... Gotta say, I love Velvia. Just hate the scanning process & I can't afford a Flextight X5 :(</p>

<p>Cheers,<br>

Rishi</p>

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<p>"Testing needs to be controlled and scientific, with identical lighting and subject. Otherwise, the test results are meaningless"</p>

<p>Jeff, this are real life results from live shooting. When controlled testing is posted, the answer is that they are not real life, and viceversa. You could extract value from analyzing each shot in isolation without worrying about the one next to it for comparison.</p>

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<p>"I guess the most accurate comparison would be images shot of still-life low-light subjects with the lighting the same for each, and I would shoot the digital shots in RAW".</p>

<p>Thanks for the thanks Jon. Low light still-life would give film too much of an edge because it doesn't accumulate noise on longer exposures. Still an interesting test I may run.</p>

<p>The 5DII was shot in RAW.</p>

 

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<p>"Similarly using a faster shutter speed with the flash means that the background areas, which would normally be underexposed on film, are instead black, so we can't see the lower tonal range."</p>

<p>Zack, flash shots had a slower shutter speed (limited by the synch speed). You may clearly see the tones of the brick wall in the back on the Portra shots. they are just out of focus bcs of the large aperture.</p>

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<p>"..plus you need to factor in how many images would have been lost every time you need to change a 36 or 37 exposure roll of film. With a digital camera, and a fairly large memory card -- you would just keep on shooting."<br>

Jerry, I shot one roll of Portra and two rolls of TMAX and didn't finish the second roll.<br>

I did not miss any shots I wanted. It is a camera not a machine gun meant to be used with the eyes closed.</p>

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