View Full Version : which is finer grained: the best B&W film, or the best transparency film?

chris jordan
23-Oct-2003, 11:59
Hey guys, another LF film question. Please keep responses right on topic! (i.e., I don't need any advice except on the exact question I am raising...).

I have a project where I need to shoot an 8x10 image that resolves the finest possible details, so what I need is the finest-grained, sharpest film available for 8x10. My ONLY criteria here is to get the finest-grained possible image on film, and NOTHING else matters (i.e., it doesn't matter if it is color versus B&W, or low-versus-high contrast, or positive versus negative, etc.). So should I shoot the finest-grained B&W film (and what is that by the way??) or a transparency film like Provia 100F or Velvia?


David A. Goldfarb
23-Oct-2003, 12:18
It would be tough to beat Tech Pan, and it's available in 8x10".


Christopher Condit
23-Oct-2003, 12:19
What David said.

Mark Sampson
23-Oct-2003, 12:21
Kodak Technical Pan. No contest. Some care will be needed in processing to to get the contrast you want but it's easily do-able. 8x10/50 sheets, Cat No 852 1817.

Eric Rose
23-Oct-2003, 12:24
J and C have a product called Gigabit Film that claims to have a 700LPM resolving ability. The URL is http://jandcphotography.com/Page4x5.htm

The only thing is it's 4x5. Check it out.

John Cook
23-Oct-2003, 12:45
All of the above are quite correct.

But be very careful with the term “fine grain” when you mean sharpness. It will bite you in the butt when it comes time to select a developer for this project.

Fine grain is a euphemism for the results from a developer with silver solvents which disguise the grain structure by softening it. The theory seems to be that if you can’t see the grain it will appear small or fine. Problem is, softened mushy grain tends to degrade the sharpness you desire.

To be absolutely technically correct, “sharpness”, like “clarity” isn’t a proper photographic term. The films and developers you need will have labels like “resolution” and “accutance”.

Color film and chromogenic film are much finer grain than B&W, but not nearly so sharp. Quite mushy by comparison.

So when you select your sharp B&W film with maximum resolution, look for a high-accutance developer to complete the job. A fine grain developer like Microdol will undo your fine work.

chris jordan
23-Oct-2003, 12:46
Thanks for your responses. Are you guys certain that Tech Pan is finer-grained than any of the transparency films such as Profia 100F? Or are you only certain that Tech Pan is the finest-grained B&W film?

Gary Meader
23-Oct-2003, 12:51
Chris- Tech Pan is more than just a fine grained B&W film. It's the only film that, as the image is enlarged, more information, that on other films would begin to break down, comes out of hiding. Up to a point, there's more real info in a larger print than in a smaller one. Details emerge as opposed to fall to pieces. I know of no transparency film that does anything like that.

David L.
23-Oct-2003, 13:04
Two words; Tech Pan

John Cook
23-Oct-2003, 13:12
ALL black and white films are "sharper" than ALL color films. If you are going for sharpness at all cost, to the exclusion of everything else, Kodalith developed in lith developer is it. Technical Pan is a comprimise between lith film and pictorial film. If you are careful and use special developers you can control the contrast. Ilford Ortho film compares favorably with Technical Pan but has an entirely different spectral sensitivity. Technical Pan lightens red and Ortho darkens it.

chris jordan
23-Oct-2003, 13:21
John, I'm interested in trying Kodalith film-- that's what I used to use years ago to make contrast masks for Ciba printing. Do you know if it is available in 8x10, and how I might get it processed? I don't have a B&W darkroom anymore...


Neal Shields
23-Oct-2003, 13:30
Buy this book. "Image Clarity" It has a chapter which answers your question and it takes a full chapter to do it.

There are films out there that will resolve 5000 lp/mm but they have no tonal range at all and asa is measured in two decimal points.

Short answer if you don't want to buy the book, is Gigabit,Tech pan, Tmax in order of how much greef you want.


Beyond Tmax at 8x10 I suspect your lens is going to be your weak link, not your film.

John Cook
23-Oct-2003, 13:36
Sadly, all the lithographers who kept those products flowing have switched to digital.

I did find it in 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 at B&H:


They also carry Kodak's lith developer, but not the old "Fineline" stuff we used to use for still development.

Years ago, Kodak split these products off from pictorial products and gave them to dealerships which serviced printers. If you are in a large city, look in the yellow pages under Printers' or Lithographers' Supplies. Here in Springfield, MA, those guys have all gone out of business. BTW, Fuji also used to make a full line of stuff. Silk screeners must still use lith film.

Not sure to what to say about processing. Don't think labs would bother with this stuff. There must be an old "hole in the wall" lithographer in your area who still has a darkroom. Do you know a nurse with a key to the xray department?

I suspect that three trays, a ruby bulb and a closet may be the best solution. Damn, I used to soup tons of this stuff as well!

23-Oct-2003, 13:42
Freestyle has a bunch of different lith films. Including some in the right size for film holders.

QT Luong
23-Oct-2003, 13:45
The high contrast films used for library archival would probably be the sharpest of all. I have the 250 pages of my PhD thesis reproduced on a transparency of about 4x5, and with the proper magnifier, any of the pictures or graphs is perfectly legible. I suppose this would be some kind of lith film (it's white on dark blue) but I am not sure. What I am sure is that if you investigate some non-photographic films, you could achieve sharpness that is unheard of in the photographic world.

Bruce Watson
23-Oct-2003, 13:53
I feel silly offering advice to Chris Jordan, but you asked...

...an 8x10 image that resolves the finest possible details...

Resolution is a product of the whole system. That is, the film, the developer, the lens, and the skill of the photographer to focus exactly. As far as I know, there aren't any lenses commercially available that can out resolve even 100Tmax in 8x10. Tech Pan will certainly out resolve any lens you can come up with for 8x10.

What I'm saying is, because you are "lens limited" you have options. For example, if your secondary consideration after resolving detail is tonality, you can move from Tech Pan to 100Tmax. If your secondary consideration is color, you can move to color negative film like Fuji NPS/NPL. I would make a small wager that any of these films will resolve exactly the same amount -- all being lens limited.

My advice is to shoot the scene with several films and compare the results. Please, post your results -- tell us what you find out. It may help others who are looking for the same thing you are.

Per Volquartz
23-Oct-2003, 15:41
The film with the highest resolution (not counting lith film) is Gigabit film, a super fine grain / high accutance film made by Gigabitfilm Gmbh in Germany. The resolving power far exceeds Tech Pan. However, it requires the absolute best lenses, absolute flat film plane, and a serious camera mount to get max resolution out of this film. AND you need to use Gigabitfilm Developer, which is a one-shot developer also manufactured by Gigabitfilm GMBH, Germany. The film is available through J&C in the USA.

I have tried it using a 35mm Leica rangefinder (M6), but not in sheet film size. If you want to use sheet film 4X5 f. inst. you need a film cassette with a vaccuum plate or a special Sinar flat film holder...Otherwise nothing is gained!

Henry Ambrose
23-Oct-2003, 17:08
In 35mm I've shot TechPan and compared it to Provia using the same top quality lens and subject. TechPan resolved finer detail and is less grainy. I would assume that would carry over to 8X10. TechPan is kind of a pain to get great consistent results in my experience. When you hit it right it is amazing. I think you can get TP processed commercially which may be important to you.

Do keep in mind what Hogarth wrote about the system limits and John Cooks comments about sharpness. I found that 35mm TMax gave better looking prints than TechPan. Less sharp can look more sharp because of micro contrast differences in the films. I think that by the time you get the document films like TP to give overall pictorial contrast the resolution advantage is lessened. (This last you asked to be spared from but you got it anyway) ; >)

David A. Goldfarb
23-Oct-2003, 17:41
My impression is that Gigabit film is repackaged Agfa Copex, a high contrast film used for microfilm/microfiche, and the developer is an extreme compensating formula like POTA which makes it usable for pictorial use. This was the same principle behind the old H-W Control film.

Per Volquartz
23-Oct-2003, 18:15
David might be correct! I do remember the old H&W Control film which was the craze in the mid 1970's. It was quite amazing but very difficult to control. Maybe thats how it got its name = H&W Control Film / Hard & Wicked Control film?

Wonder if it is possible to process Gigabitfilm in Pyro? Pyro Rollo works fantastic with J&C ASA 25 film (The old Adox KB14) - it looks etched! Actually that might be your ticket: J&C ASA 25 film (but only if you have a low contrast scene...) - I believe it is available in 4X5 and 8X10?

Peter C. McDonough
23-Oct-2003, 18:49
I used to shoot a Kodak Spectroscopic film that was based on glass plates. It had an iso of .ooo2. Nothing on a film base even came close. Check with Kodak Professional to see what they offer on glass plates. The last I saw, they had tmax on glass plate. The stability of the glass accounts for a good part of the sharpness. Peter

Bruce Watson
23-Oct-2003, 21:38
Peter raises an excellent point. To max out sharpness, you need to max out your system's stiffness. Rigidity is paramount -- time to dig out that old 35 pound wood tripod. If you can move whatever it is to an area way away from traffic, especially trucks, do that too because you also need to keep the subject isolated and vibration free.

If you really want max resolution, everything, subject and camera system, has to be absolutely still, down the the wave lengths of light level. Dead quiet still, no radio on, no florescent light hum, no fan noise, etc. , and completely isolated from you and your movements.

Glass plates will certainly beat out film for rigidity. And that's *not* lens limited, so you will see better sharpness out of glass plates, all other things being equal.

Joakim Ahnfelt
24-Oct-2003, 03:33
Why is a glass plate not lens limited?

Arne Croell
24-Oct-2003, 05:17
With respect to the "lens limititation", just a remark that, as mentioned several times above, the whole system counts. This can be evaluated by calculating the Modulation Transfer Function (MTF) of the system, which is done by multiplying the MTF's of the components. If one looks just at the lens and film combination, this means that even if the MTF of a given film goes to much higher frequencies (better resolution) than the lens used, the film MTF at lower frequencies still influences the overall performance.

Mark Sampson
24-Oct-2003, 08:17
Kodak discontinued glass plate manufacture at the end of 2002. They had offered TMax 100 in plates, at 10X the cost of film. ...You're going to have to make some big prints if you want to exploit the capabilities of an 8x10 Tech Pan negative, and the enlarging technique will need to be perfect too. Or use the world's best scanner...

Todd West
24-Oct-2003, 10:52
Are you guys certain that Tech Pan is finer-grained than any of the transparency films such as Profia [sic] 100F?

You mean Astia 100F, not Provia 100F. Right? Shrug. I've never shot Tech Pan, but Astia 100F beats the Tmax I've processed by miles.

Personally, I'd focus on reducing vibration (the above remarks about rigidity are sort of in the right direction, but usually the more rigid a system is the higher it's resonance frequency and the lower the damping, so you get lots of really fast small vibration instead of larger, slower vibrations) and composing as to minimize the depth of field and amount of stopping down you need. The best way I've found of testing this is to set up a 1:1 or higher magnification macro shot and watch how much the camera moves around when you trip the shutter.

Christian Olivet
24-Oct-2003, 20:57
Nobody has mentioned EFKE 25. I really don't know how it comapares with Tech Pan. It is the slowest B&W film you can find for an 8x10 camera. I have been using it and have to say that it is extremely easy to use. If you get the exposure close enough you'll get a great negative. I have scanned the Efke 25 and after zooming in several times I find the image gets softer before you can tell there is any grain. Af course, I believe that combining the slow film with a superfine grain developer will be the best result. Another option is to use pyro developers. Pyrocat HD and PMK are both very good at filling in with stain in between the grains. So there you go! In my opinion Efke 25 in Pyrocat or PMK is the surest way to go.

Anyway, What is in your mind this time? Maybe if you share your super-secret we can help better!