Black and White film has “juice” — a look and feel that’s missing from color conversions. Sometimes you can come close and I’ve been experimenting, but there’s something special about B&W film that is difficult if not impossible to match with a conversion.
I grabbed this high contrast shot of my niece and one of our twin grandbabies in my daughter’s kitchen on Halloween. OK so I cheated and used a fantastic old Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens. The film was Tri-X rated at 1600. No flash, just the harsh kitchen lighting. Most of the shadows and highlights have some visible texture and the mid-tones, especially the skin tones, are smooth. Grain? Sure is, but the grain doesn’t hurt at all. Maybe that’s part of the “juice.”
I cropped the center out of a 35mm negative to get rid of the distractions and create a much stronger composition.
I can’t squeeze this kind of “juice” out of my wife’s little Canon Power Shot SD1100 IS. This was another grab shot of my wife and our granddaughter Emily. They were inside, standing by the patio door in strong sunlight when this image came together. I fired on full auto and this is what came out. Well almost. I cropped it from 4:3 to 5:4 because I like the proportions better and it tightened the shot.
The color is OK, but I’ve been thinking about different cameras and decided to experiment a bit. I used a yellow filter in PWP for the monochrome conversion. Then I tweaked the curve just a bit to add a little contrast. I lightened Em’s face a bit because the shadow was too harsh. I discovered a good way to dodge and burn in PWP, I’ve been playing and I’m at the very beginning of that learning curve.
When I was satisfied with the lighter shadows, I added some noise to simulate film then did a sepia tint. Then I sharpened this image twice. I used unsharp mask at 80%, radius = 1 and threshold = 6.
The sepia isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have the “juice.” It’s not entirely fair to compare an image from a $150 pocket digicam with an image from 35mm film taken with a top quality lens — and the lighting in the shot of my wife and Em would tax any photographic medium.
The highlights in Em’s blouse and parts of my wife’s sweater are totally blown. Digital, especially cameras with small sensors can’t match the tonal range of a good B&W film.
I’ll keep experimenting with the little Canon. If I hadn’t had that camera in my pocket there wouldn’t be any image at all. Then again, my Bessaflex with the 50mm Tak is small enough not to weigh me down and it has a sensor the same size as Nikon’s pro level dSLRs.
I’ll leave you with this thought. When technology creates new and better sensors for my film cameras with new technology films, all I need to do is buy a few rolls of the new stuff. When technology leaves my digital camera behind, I must buy a new (and expensive camera). I have one of those in my drawer. It cost me almost $500 for the camera, memory cards, case and AC adapter. Now it’s a useless paper weight because I can’t get the memory cards any more. They quit making them a few years ago.
I read an interesting story on PCWorld’s website today: “Camera Trends Come Into Focus for 2010.” Take a good look at the last section, the one about memory cards. I’ll have more to say in the next installment of my continuing film saga.