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Thread: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

  1. #1

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    scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    I have a question I hope isn't too obvious or ridiculous.

    Given today's emulsions, what are the general characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of using transparency film verses color neg film when they are put through the scanning process? I'm looking at end uses for both online viewing and for printing. I'm currently using 120 film.

    My understanding (based on experience that is out-of-date) is that color neg offers a wider tonal range, while transparency film can offer more color saturation. I remember that years ago art directors at magazines were always getting transparencies, both because they were easier to look at and (I had always presumed) because transparency film made better scans then color neg film. But that might be old school thinking… ?

    I do mostly available light portraits. Most of my scanning will be on a desk top scanner, not sent to a lab for pro scanning. I'm going to be doing some testing of various other films. But I thought I'd ask for some general advice. I've been mostly using 120 Kodak Portra 400NC, but I'm thinking a slower speed emulsion might be better.

    For color neg films I'm thinking of looking into the coming new Portra 400 emulsion, Portra 160NC, and Fujicolor 160S. For transparency films, Astia 100F and Ektachrome E100G.

    For reference to the look and feel I'm after, here's a link to a British photographer who's images are shot on film. Especially his portraits of restaurant people and food shots. He's a photographer I've only just learned about. Hope it's OK to post a link:

    http://www.tobyglanville.com/

    Thanks!
    Last edited by Arne Norris; 13-Oct-2010 at 17:51. Reason: added text

  2. #2
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    The main reason for slide film being used in commercial shoots was the ease of evaluating the slides on a light box. That doesn't work well with color negatives.

    With color negatives there's more work involved initially in getting the color that you want. For example, profiling a negative doesn't work the same way as the standard icc/it8 target route that works with slides. In addition, how you convert the image to a positive will have a big impact on your results. Once you have a good conversion dialed in, though, the process should be equally easy.

    As in all of these cases, the best thing to do is to test yourself and compare the results.
    "Why can't we all just get along?" President Dale, Mars Attacks

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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    One traditional reason to prefer slide over negative is the higher sharpness and lower grain of slide materials. However, with the introduction of Ektar 100, I believe the playing field has been leveled. Also, certain scanners (such as the Epsons) don't resolve grain well enough for there to be a practical difference in granularity or sharpness.

    The biggest advantage to scanning slides today is that they're easier to color balance during the scan. But once you get the hang of color negative, it's not such a big deal.

    The biggest advantage to neg is the gigantic latitude for overexposure. There's just more information there. Once you're in Photoshop, you can make a well-exposed negative look as punchy and saturated as Velvia if you want, but the reverse is not true.

    I love seeing exposing a 4x5 or 8x10 slide just for the joy of seeing it on the light table, but the only person I'm impressing is myself. As soon as I start scanning, I wish it was a negative.

  4. #4

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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    Another enormous advantage of negative emulsions is that the dynamic range of the processed film itself is much smaller than for transparency (much less dense overall and especially in the shadows), so that cheap CCD scans look better, are really a breeze once a good profile is dialed in. (Provided you have a 16-bit hardware scan, that is! Large tonality adjustments can really picket-fence the file and introduce banding and posterization otherwise).

    Extreme sharpness really hasn't been a problem with the best print films for a long time; it's been grain-aliasing when scanned (and which lead to capture-sharpening artifacts) that's been a limiting bugaboo for smaller formats scanned on CCDs which have fixed-pitch dpi sensor arrays. The advent of ultra low grain C41 films like Ektar 100 and Fujicolor Pro 160S helps tremendously in scanning these formats (35mm, 120, and to a lesser degree, 4x5). These latest-gen films don't suffer grain aliasing (as early versions of Portra are wont to do at ~2800-4000 dpi, for instance).

  5. #5

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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    Another thing that comes to mind is that most of the newer C41 emulsions handle mixed lighting sources a lot better than transparency due to the "4th layer" type masks incorporated in the film itself that help balance the color temperature.

    The old-old reason for transparency and why it became the defacto standard was that color balance was done optically in the days of mechanical color separations. (Early hybrid film-digital --late 70's and early 80's-- adopted the gold-standard of the day. But remember, this drum-scanning regime was all originally intended for print and pre-press, not fine art).

  6. #6
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    Scanning transparencies is easier for the user; color corrections are going to be pretty straightforward most of the time. Scanning negatives is easier for the machine; the d-max on a negative is much lower. It takes a pretty high end scanner to see all the way into the shadows of a dense tranny.

    Most of the generalizations about superior sharpness and grain in slide film are outdated. The generalization about superior exposure range for neg films remains true.

    The biggest drawback with neg films, in my experience, is the learning curve for scanning them well.

  7. #7

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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    Quote Originally Posted by paulr View Post
    The biggest drawback with neg films, in my experience, is the learning curve for scanning them well.
    I should get over my laziness and start using my neg films. Color correction when scanning has been my biggest barrier to switching to negative film. I'll save a lot of money switching to negative film, that's for sure.

  8. #8

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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    I tried the new Ektar film and I agree with what everyone else has offered.

    I went back to slide film.

    I just lay out transparencies on a light table and can choose what shots I want to take to the next level. Bang zoom off to the scanner, leaving most shots behind, they just don't make the cut.

    I can not do that with color neg film.

    So, I reserve neg film for solving contrast issues, that filters won't solve.

    Bob

  9. #9
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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg_Thomas View Post
    I should get over my laziness and start using my neg films. Color correction when scanning has been my biggest barrier to switching to negative film. I'll save a lot of money switching to negative film, that's for sure.
    I don't know if it's laziness. There's a lot of learning (after scanning a whole project worth of negs I wouldn't call myself a pro) and then there's the added work you have to do for every scan. This isn't a big deal for me, because my volume is low. But if you scanned piles of negs every week, you'd either need a smarter workflow than mine, or a lot more patience. Or an assistant ...

  10. #10

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    Re: scanning: transparency vs color neg?

    I do very rough low-contrast scan of every negative I shoot, just to have a sense of what's in there. I just slap the sheet, in its plastic sleeve, onto the flatbed and scan at 600 DPI. That's enough to tell me which negs I need to go back and spend time with.

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