Pentax ME Super camera. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm film. Developed in ID11.
Sony DSLR A200. Sony 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. Open source pp: UFRaw b/w conversion in channels, fine pp in Gimp 2.8.
Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. S-18 extension tube. Ilford HP5 Plus 120 film. Home developed in ID11.
Sony DSLR A200. Sony 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens. Open source pp: UFRaw b/w conversion in channels. Fine pp in Gimp 2.8.
I’m comparing the results of my black & white / monochrome photography, captured initially on; a) true b/w negative film, and b) an APS-C digital sensor. In either case, the final images are actually digital representations of captured light. The film exposures have been chemically processed (home developing) but then digitally scanned to produce the above images.
Both have had some post process adjustments in software, with final editing conducted in the open source Gimp program. Therefore this is NOT a film V digital discussion. I’m weighing the merits between digital b/w images caught on b/w film, and b/w images caught on a digital sensor. I want to judge for myself according to results, not by technology. Although I enjoy the workflow of film hybrid technology, I want to know if it has any advantages. I’ve selected the above images from my Darker Shades of Grey album on Flickr – a collection of my own favourite monochrome images, taken by digital and film, over the past few years.
As I look at the above images, I feel as though I’ve answered the question before even starting a discussion. The film images have a clear advantage in the range of tones. They handle under exposure better – with more detail in shadows, while at the same time, they handle over exposure better without blown out highlights. In other words, b/w film appears to have a superior dynamic range. It forgives poor exposure rather well compared with digital. It explains to me, how I get away with relatively simple light metering – or no metering, and manual exposure.
The disadvantage of b/w film is cost (including process chemicals), although this is probably offset by the much lower cost of equipment. Another disadvantage is dust. I dry developed films in my bathroom. Although I do try to minimise dust – in a small busy house, it’s impossible. To an extent, hybrid film images can be cleaned post digital process using software clone and heal tools. However, it can be tedious and imperfect. I also carefully puffer blow films clean before scanning.
Of course, do I always need to remove dust? There is presently a school in film photography of embracing dust, hair, and even scratches, for ascetic reasons – a stamp of authenticity, and a nostalgia for pre-digital perfection. Post process software, used on digital images usually includes filters to add simulated dust, and scratches to images, even those that started out life on a clean digital sensor! Therefore, I have the option on some images of purposely leaving dust and hair, for ascetic purposes. It is an option.
In conclusion, I don’t feel that I need to worry yet about abandoning my film-hybrid technologies. I can produce final images that are perhaps richer in tones , and have something else – a different exposure value, to that of entry level DSLRs. They look different. It is still worthwhile in 2014, to pursue this technology.