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Black and White - Is digital up to it?

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  • Black and White - Is digital up to it?

    For me the beauty of black and white is the 'luscious' blacks and gleaming whites (but not blown out) and the tones inbetween, but I'm not sure digital and colour to monochrome conversion is up to it. If you look at the work of Elliot Erwitt, for example, a lot of his iconic B&W photographs were taken using film (film was the medium in those days) and the only digital camera that comes close in terms of quality, from what I've seen, is the Leica 246 when used correctly with filters at the time of capture.

    Any thoughts on how to achieve excellent B&W photos (content aside) other than lashing out on a 246 (I have no plans to do that) or to shoot using film?
    Steve

    on flickr

  • #2
    Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

    I can see from your Flickr that you have some great B&W shots already.
    At the risk of suggesting something way below your experience...
    I assume you've already tried setting your Olympus to JPG+RAW and selecting the various Art Filter modes for B&W/Grainy film?
    There are settings in there to simulate colour filters etc.
    That will give you a live view of a potential B&W output (and a JPG) but captures the RAW in full so you can then play with it more in Olympus Viewer/Lightroom etc.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/amcuk/

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    • #3
      Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I've been photographing for about 3 years now but when I started I was mainly taking JPEGS being the simpler option for preparing images for display. I later learnt the benefits of post processing and switched to RAW only. But as you say, capturing both and seeing what the art filters produce might provide inspiration.

      I'm curriios to know from anyone who uses both digital and film whether they consider film produces better black and white, apart from the added benefit that film is a very forgiving medium meaning if you expose for the shadows, the highlights are generally recorded too unlike digital where highlights have to protected at all costs.
      Steve

      on flickr

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      • #4
        Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

        Originally posted by Ricoh View Post
        I've been photographing for about 3 years now but when I started I was mainly taking JPEGS being the simpler option for preparing images for display. I later learnt the benefits of post processing and switched to RAW only. But as you say, capturing both and seeing what the art filters produce might provide inspiration.
        I learnt this by accident . I set up a Holga plastic lens on my E-PL5 and set it to 1:1, smaller and lower quality than normal JPEG - as it's a plastic lens why bother with 16MP. I was a bit surprised when OlyViewer showed me full 4:3 RAW files too , then I thought about it for a bit....

        I haven't shot film for years and B&W film in decades. I used to use Ilford 200 B&W on my GCSE and you do get a lot of flexibility in printing for exposure - I guess that could be replicated by scanning and manipulating negatives too. I don't think I could go back to the 36 exp hit and miss of film but I'm sure someone will be along who still uses it.
        https://www.flickr.com/photos/amcuk/

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        • #5
          Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

          Ricoh - It's a bit hard to know what to suggest when it's also hard to understand the problem.

          What are you using to create your B&W files from digital originals? I suspect that except at the extreme ends (see below), the digital processing will have more effect on the resulting image than whether you shot it on film or silicon. Silver Efex Pro (which I think is now free) has a lot of manipulations that can more or less mimic classic B&W films so if you haven't tried it already it might be worth a play. I think there are plenty of people here with experience of it - apologies if you are one already and I'm teaching granny to suck eggs!

          You already use a Leica M body, don't you? The new Mono body is hugely expensive, but have you thought about trying a "classic" Monochrom? There seem to be plenty about at the moment, they are still very expensive but not nearly as ruinously so as the second generation M246, and they deliver superb results. You may be able to hire one.

          I think the fundamental difference between film and digital comes at the extreme ends of the tone curve. This is sort-of related to dynamic rage but it's not quite as simple as that. Digital seems to have a pretty linear response between empty and full. Film rolls off more gradually at the ends so in principle it will record a higher dynamic range. However, the tones become increasingly compressed at the ends and correspondingly harder to dig out in subsequent processing - hence the vast range of darkroom skills in getting the best out of film. I'm not so sure that digital tools are geared up in the same way.

          If you try a compromise approach and shoot B&W film and scan it, you could end up with negatives that have got detail in extreme shadows and highlights but you can't dig them out without a really top-end scanner (which equals really REALLY expensive). I think most scan software allows reasonable manipulation of the tone curves but I'm not so sure whether it gives the extra control at the extremes. And if the scanner is simply not sensitive enough to see the fine gradations in the film, whatever happens afterwards is irrelevant.

          Of course, you might just like the idea of shooting film. Plenty of people do and get very good results and there is a certain joy in it. Then you could take it one step further and get into darkroom printing - it is wonderfully creative and satisfying but a huge consumer of resources, specially time, patience and space. I certainly find it easier to shoot photos that work in B&W with a camera that only shoots B&W, whether that be film or mono digital.

          If it is worrying you, I suggest you look at some specific characteristic that you are missing, and work on trying to reproduce it with the kit you already have. You might find that you can find a workflow that does what you want. As a second step, try a mono digital body. The captured data will be more "pure" because it hasn't been filtered and de-mosaicked (is that a word?) so you might find you can do more with it.

          Or just go with film because you fancy it - it is a different experience and can be very rewarding! You've got the lens(es) so you're halfway there already.

          Hope this helps clarify the thoughts ... John

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          • #6
            Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

            Most of the "wow" of B&W comes from the printing.

            Wet prints from film provided a lot of techniques that are difficult to reproduce with digital processes. No 1 requirement is a dedicated B&W printer. A colour printer simply hasn't got the same quality of grey tones.

            With any form of "displayed" image you are reliant on the range from Black to White that the display device can provide.

            We seem to have forgot just how variable our viewing of slide film was, and how much the quality of the illumination affects the viewing of prints.

            Often there is a lot of personal taste in B&W prints, as there always has been, with the choice of gloss vs matte, etc.. Some say that you don't get a pure black, unless it's printed on gloss paper, while others argue that only a matte black, reflecting minimal light, is really black.

            As for White, there is little worse than seeing a print that has areas of the base paper, that has a different reflectivity to the ink and therefore looks "patchy".

            Once you have your image in an editor, check to see if you actually have areas of 0,0,0 and 255,255,255 At least then you have the limits of the data as a start point in assessing the quality of the final product.

            Graham

            We often repeat the mistakes we most enjoy...

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            • #7
              Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

              Thanks for the replies.

              John and Graham - I'm going to digest fully what you have both said. Very helpful stuff indeed.
              Graham, indeed it's that 'wow' factor that I'm after, and I think you're right in saying it's the printed output that provides it. When I get the chance to visit photographic exhibitions it is of course the printed output that's presented and the eye popping effect it provides - assuming content and form are appealing. You seem to be well up on this, what would be a reasonable choice of printer for home processing, or would it be more sensible to farm the B&W printing to a lab, and if so any suggestions on who to choose.
              Steve

              on flickr

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

                I know nothing about printing but I assume specialist B&W printers exist and sell in small quantities which'll make them expensive.
                Wander the streets looking for good prints and enquire who printed them ...

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

                  That's an interesting question Steve and my instinct is to say "absolutely". I'm pretty sure that any modern system camera with in excess of 10Mp will beat 35mm film.

                  I know that there are some who think that digital has poorer DR, but that's just not true. A good DSLR or MILC will deliver 10 stops or more of DR. Slide film manages about 5 stops and print film about 7 stops.

                  I went searching for some info on the web and found this interesting article by Roger Clark. He tries to determine "apparent image quality" of film versus a number of digital cameras by taking into account resolution, S/N and other factors. Film compares pretty badly compared to most decent digital cameras.

                  http://www.clarkvision.com/articles/...summary1.html/

                  This diagram from his article is interesting:



                  So - my conclusion, and his, is that digital is far superior to film from an apparent image quality perspective. But in the same way that many prefer the original Jag E-type to the latest F-Type, even though it's demonstrably worse in almost every way, I suspect that there's some quality about images from film that defy logic. I can understand that - but for me the hours spent toiling over the developer tank just don't appeal.
                  Paul
                  E-M1ii, Pen-F and too many lenses
                  flickr
                  Portfolio Site
                  Instagram

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                  • #10
                    Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

                    I liken the difference between silver and inkjet monochrome prints as similar to that between oil and watercolour painting. As the illumination level is increased, the darkest tones in an oil painting and a sliver print remain dark while the light tones get brighter, resulting in an increase of apparent contrast and "punch", whereas with inkjet and watercolour prints all the tones get lighter.

                    Using a printer designed for black and white (such as the Epson K3 inksets) and a "baryta" paper gives a pretty good approximation to silver, but in my view a fine silver print still has the edge and probably always will.
                    Regards
                    Richard

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                    • #11
                      Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

                      I agree with Otto. I produced prints using such that were in my successful LRPS panel. Silver Fx is worth getting it makes manipulation of tones easier. Also there is chart at the bottom that allows you to look at the zones as per the zone system.
                      Jim
                      www.jim-mccabe.co.uk
                      http://www.jimmccabephotography.blogspot.com
                      (My Travels in Aus & NZ)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

                        Originally posted by Otto View Post
                        I liken the difference between silver and inkjet monochrome prints as similar to that between oil and watercolour painting. As the illumination level is increased, the darkest tones in an oil painting and a sliver print remain dark while the light tones get brighter, resulting in an increase of apparent contrast and "punch", whereas with inkjet and watercolour prints all the tones get lighter.

                        Using a printer designed for black and white (such as the Epson K3 inksets) and a "baryta" paper gives a pretty good approximation to silver, but in my view a fine silver print still has the edge and probably always will.
                        Of course, you could still do a silver print from a digital camera if you wanted.
                        Paul
                        E-M1ii, Pen-F and too many lenses
                        flickr
                        Portfolio Site
                        Instagram

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

                          Originally posted by maccabeej View Post
                          I agree with Otto. I produced prints using such that were in my successful LRPS panel. Silver Fx is worth getting it makes manipulation of tones easier. Also there is chart at the bottom that allows you to look at the zones as per the zone system.
                          I use SEP2 - I was one of the unfortunate people who purchased before it became a freebie. I agree with you, it's a good processing tool and yes I use the zone system, eg getting skin tones correct.
                          Steve

                          on flickr

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

                            Originally posted by pdk42 View Post
                            Of course, you could still do a silver print from a digital camera if you wanted.
                            Paul,
                            Reading what Otto had to say, it does sound plausible. So what's the process digital to silver and do you know of any processing labs who offer this?
                            Steve

                            on flickr

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Black and White - Is digital up to it?

                              Originally posted by Ricoh View Post
                              Paul,
                              Reading what Otto had to say, it does sound plausible. So what's the process digital to silver and do you know of any processing labs who offer this?
                              Ilford do it:

                              https://www.ilfordlab.com/

                              At ILFORD Lab Direct our aim is to enable everyone to enjoy the finest quality black and white prints on true silver halide black and white photographic paper.

                              We believe there is a real difference between printing on genuine ILFORD black and white paper and prints made by other methods, yet in most cases customers are never told how their black and white images are printed.

                              We are able to print from all types of Black and White film or from Digital files, so however you prefer to shoot your black and white we can still provide true black and white prints with a consistent and neutral image tone that will last a lifetime. We can also process and scan your colour films if required.
                              Paul
                              E-M1ii, Pen-F and too many lenses
                              flickr
                              Portfolio Site
                              Instagram

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