View Full Version : Two reasons to use reversal film

17-Aug-2005, 12:57
Recently, I had to make a choice between negative and reversal colour film for a project where the final output is digital. I read several threads about the pros and cons. I've been using both types of film, but am starting to show a decided preference for reversal for two very practical reaons that got little or no attention in the threads. I don't know if this is unique to New York, but I quickly discovered two things:

first, my lab will give me transparencies in two to three hours whereas negatives take 24 hours;

secondly, my lab charges three times as much for negatives and a contact sheet as they do for transparencies.

Given the nature of my project, it is very helpful to see the results of a shoot in a couple of hours rather than the next day. Also, I'm finding that the additional cost of doing a bit more bracketing with reversal film is minimal. When I use both types of film for a shoot, I've finding that my reversal costs are a lot less than my negative costs. I also like the fact that the transparencies are giving me a clear reference point from which to judge scans.

Dave Moeller
17-Aug-2005, 14:40
The time factor's obviously enough on it's own to make transparencies the right choice for you, but I wonder what the cost difference would be if you were to skip the proof sheets. For that matter, would the turn-around time be more even if you didn't need the prints? It might be the prints that are slowing down the lab, not the C-41 process itself.

Not that I think transparencies are a bad decision...I just wonder if things would be closer between the two types of films if you skipped the printing stage. Personally I shoot mostly B&W, but when I shoot color I shoot only transparencies. But my needs aren't your needs, and I've read some opinions that scanning color negatives isn't a bad thing...and that the additional lattitude is a plus.

17-Aug-2005, 15:19
It sounds like the added time and price are for the contact sheet. I get my c-41 done process only, and proof it myself digitally (which is a bit of a pain, but right now i have more time than money). I pay $4 a roll and it takes 3 hours, same as e6. But they'd want $15 each for contacts

Bruce Watson
17-Aug-2005, 15:55
My lab also does C-41 in two hours, same time and same cost as E-6. I never thought a contact sheet was necessary for my work, so I've never had one made. I've therefore got no idea how much that would cost, or how long it would take them to do it.

Because you said that you like trannies for the "clear reference point from which to judge scans" I feel the need to point out that it's likely that your "clear reference point" is itself wrong. Unless you shot in the studio and matched the lighting to the tranny film's requirements, the tranny in general needs some color correction just like negatives do. This is well illustrated and discussed in Charles Cramer's article on this very topic in the latest View Camera magazine. IOW, it's not just me - it's real.

All that said, you've should use the materials with which you are the most comfortable. If that's trannies, so be it. Good luck and good light.

17-Aug-2005, 15:55

I posted this partly in jest. I just think it's amusing that I was trying to absorb all this high-level debate about transparencies vs. negatives and what's selling me on transparencies are a couple of really simple things that nobody mentioned. At least in New York, it appears that turnaround time for transparencies is much faster. I don't know the reason. Even if I could get negatives as fast if I didn't need the proof sheets, negatives are useless to me without contacts. If I decide to go for a cheap Frontier scan, it's 24 hourse regardless of whether I use reversal or negative film. What I'm finding is that no matter how you cut it, transparencies are much, much faster.

Some people have mentioned the additional cost of transparencies due to additional bracketing, but my experience to date is that this is way overstated. At least for me, the additional cost is nowhere close to the cost of negatives + contacts. I don't have a 4x5 bill handy. However, on the 6x7 material that I picked up today, a roll of transparencies and negatives both cost US$4.60 to process. The difference is that the proofs for the negatives were an additional $9.20. That adds up fast.

At this point, I've had both transparencies and negatives scanned. The labs here seem to do fine with either. I've come to the conclusion that other considerations are mostly, if not entirely, subjective. I've discovered that I like the latitude and gradation of reversal film. Also, I'm not having latitude problems with it. The reason, apparently, is that I prefer to shoot within a latitude that the film will support. That's actually a discovery for me, something that I haven't noticed before. Because my eventual output is digital, the look of transparencies on a light table is irrelevant, but that doesn't change the fact that I sure like to look at them. When a transparency is on, it's really on.

I'm in New York temporarily, and I can't end this post without saying something about the amazing photographic resources in this town. The photo shops are amazing. Having been to a lot of them at this point, I'm particularly impressed with Fotocare. It isn't the cheapest in town, but the people who work there know what they are talking about. Yeah, I paid Fotocare quite a bit more for a copy of Nikon Capture than B&H charges, but the guy who sold it to me gave me a bit of advice that has saved me a thousand dollars. As for the lab I'm using (Coloredge), they're open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. and they deliver what they promise. I can't get over the fact that their official turnaround time for reversal film is three hours, but the reality is that it is invariably ready in two. Today, I discovered that there are two places (Beth Schiffer and Print Space) where you can do your own digital darkroom work (scans, printing, etc) at very reasonable prices, something that I'm going to check out tomorrow. Maybe the most interesting store here is the Filter Gallery, which sells nothing but filters, which I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.


17-Aug-2005, 16:14

Yes, I know that reversal film doesn't accurately represent colour. When I started this project, I was using a grey scale or Gretag Macbeth chart in the shots. I've decided that I don't actually want true colour, so I've stoped doing that. Having made that decision, the real issue for me is how much saturation I want. I'm going back and forth between Kodak and Fuji, depending on subject. I do like the fact that when I look at a transparency, I know what I've got. I can look at a series and decide fairly quickly which one I like and what I want to change (if anything). And I know what the shot should look like at the end of the day. It just makes for faster decisions and less playing around, which I consider a good thing.

Ted Harris
17-Aug-2005, 20:08
My guess is that the turn around time for E6 is faster than that for C41 at most labs because they process so much more E that they constantlyhave an E6 line running, maybe more than one, but run C41 much less frequently.

Frank Petronio
17-Aug-2005, 21:38
This seems related to the thread about "how many sheets of the same scene do you shoot" and all the hobby shooters were saying "one". Every commercial shooter who's done the bulk of their jobs on E6 knows that you shoot - a lot - more than "one".

You can get acceptable images over a couple of stop range on E6 if the contrast and lighting is favorable, but really you're never going to know the range of possibilities you can get from a chrome unless you do a full bracket with 1/3 stop intervals. Whether you're doing clip tests or just going with your gut, until you spread a range of six chromes out on the table, shot over a two stop range, then you really don't know what the film is capable of holding in the shadows and highlights.

Most outdoor work is much less fussy than studio, but if you think you can hit it everytime - the optimal chrome - with one shot, then your name is "G-O-D" and you ain't human. Worse, if you're happy with that one shot, you'll never know what "a little bit more" or "a little bit less" really looks like, and you might as well shoot neg film. It's cheaper than a bracket of E6.

Scott Fleming
17-Aug-2005, 21:58
Frank I like the way you put things. Makes me feel all warm inside.

17-Aug-2005, 22:03

Well actually, I am indeed doing 1/3 increments, and I'm finding that it doesn't take anywhere close to a two stop range. It's turning out to be more like one stop (maybe because I'm using Polaroids for 4x5 work, and very occasionally a Nikon D70 to test 6x7 work, although I'm finding that for the latter, the Mamiya 7 meter works just fine), which gives me one or two extra exposures over what I do with negative film. And what I'm finding is that one of those reversal exposures is dead on, which saves me a lot of time in post (if I can borrow a motion picture term that is overdue for application to how still photography is currently being done these days :)). What this means is that I'm getting the shot in the camera instead of getting it in Photoshop (also a big issue for people who make motion pictures, although they use slightly different programmes than Photoshop), and given that spending my life in front of a computer monitor is not one of my ambitions, this is a good thing.

Look, I'm just giving the experience of one person who is currently working with both kinds of film every day. On the practical level, leaving aside aesthetics, I'm finding that reversal has some advantages for my particular situation, both in terms of turnaround and cost, that have been largely ignored on this forum. I just wanted to mention these considerations, in part because my reasons are based on mundane considerations, which I find kind of funny compared to the intellectual level of most of the discussion of this subject. After all, most of the threads on this subject have been about much weightier considerations. As for the aesthetics, the truth is that I kind of like what I'm getting from reversal film.

17-Aug-2005, 22:39
Actually, let me correct something. What I'm finding with 1/3 stop increments with reversal film is that one of them is indeed sometimes "dead on", but that often the choice between them is one of taste. And I'm starting to get to the point where I'm not always using 1/3 increments, because I'm getting to the point (which is in fact not taking that much time) where I'm not bad a predicting the results and becoming not a bad judge of just how much I need to play it safe. If anything, playing around with reversal film is helping me be a bit more precise/focused with how I expose negative film.

Dave Moeller
18-Aug-2005, 05:28

I seriously had no intention of arguing the decision you made to shoot reversal film...I was just wondering aloud if shooting C-41 without proofs would match E6 in turn-around time and costs. But it sounds like the aesthetic considerations have a lot to do with why you've chosen transparencies...which is pretty much why I shoot them when I shoot color.

I find that shooting one stop either way in 1/3rd stop increments gets me what I want, and it's a lot cheaper than missing a shot because I tried to be save a few bucks on film. I used to shoot 2 stops out in 1/2 stop increments, but I found the spread between shots to be too great, and I also found that I was never choosing a frame from outside the 1 stop range...so I tightened up the bracketing in order to give myself the choices that work for me. My needs aren't anyone elses needs, but 1/3rd stop increments out to 1 stop both ways works very well for me. I have no expectation that my methods will fit anyone elses needs.

Having said this, I will add that I shoot a lot less when I'm shooting B&W due to the lattitude of the film. Two sheets are generally all that I shoot, and oftentimes I only develop one of them to get the print that I want. If I get a first negative that will give me the print I envisioned, the other negative really isn't of much use to me, and I won't bother developing it until I have some "down time" to develop a bunch of negatives that will only serve as backups. But then, I really am just a hobbiest so my needs aren't nearly as critical as the needs of those who make a living doing this.

By the way Jeff...I'm a little jealous of your access to the NYC stores. Although I live in the northeast, I've never made it to NYC and have no idea if or when I ever will. I can't imagine how wonderful the "kid in a candy store" feeling must be when you walk into one of the big photo stores in NYC.

Be well.

Frank Petronio
18-Aug-2005, 08:44
Just for the future historian's sake we should put this in modern terms and say that shooting chromes is like shooting JPGs with your DSLR, wheras shooting neg is like shooting RAWs ;-)

Ben Diss
18-Aug-2005, 11:15
It's funny. I work in NYC at Macy's. That's two blocks from B&H and about 10 minutes on the subway from Adorama. Filter Gallery is three short blocks from me and until I read this thread I had no idea that store even existed. Guess where I'm headed now?

Thanks Jeff!


18-Aug-2005, 23:54

As you know, it's across from Madison Square Garden. Very curious what you think of it. Stan Wallace, who owns the store, is a pleasure to talk with. I think that most of his clients are cinematographers, which is how I found out about it (I'm involved in a 16mm project), but there are probably still photographers who go there too. It really is a special shop. At least I think so. I'm curious to know what you think of it.

19-Aug-2005, 00:07
Actually, not across from MSG, but rather just down the street from the Garden parkade and across from the Post Office. Anyway, very curious about Ben's impressions. I thought that is was a very neat store.

19-Aug-2005, 00:32
I tried Googling for the Filter Gallery but have come up with nothing.
Do they have a website?

19-Aug-2005, 08:47
No website, but there's a discussion about the store, with contact info, at: http://www.cinematography.com/forum2004/index.php?showtopic=7855&st=0&p=60148&#entry60148