There are lots of debates on digital verse silver halid base imaging system, some people might prefer one to another. The reality is both has it’s own charactertics and can give different taste. People always wonder if digital imaging pixels gives too much artificial ingredients to nowadays photography, and whether we should preserve the grainy taste of silver halide from film and prints.
We cannot argue the silver halide images do have their own characteristic, it also require certain darkroom skills in film process control, as well as dodging and burning during prints making. However, the nowadays imaging applications can give us more control the image quality similar to the old days, and the latest technology has changed the way we capture images.
In here we are not going to discuss which imaging media is better. Instead, with nowadays advance technology, we are going to use both to get the best quality from a black and white image with these options.
As mentioned before, certain degree of contrast compensation will need to be applied in a darkroom to make the silver print look good. The diagram below illustrate the conventional flow from capture to output.
Converting a negative to a high quality image
We have a challenging blank and white negative as our imaging source. It was developed many years ago, and has its low contrast in nature. If we have had made silver print from this negative in the darkroom, we would need to use a high contrast photographic paper, or choose an appropriate filter from a popular polycontrast filter kit to go with the multigrade variable contrast photographic paper. Without applying the appropiate compensation, there is high chance to obtain a print with low contrast also (see the positive image on the left).
Analog to Digital – A Hybride Imaging System
In the past, we often use hold and burn techniques to improve the image quality on silver halide prints. These types of techniques require lots of practices and experience, we will not know how the print will look until the laten image on the print was developed. The major challenge is the skill often gives non-repeatable results. In other words, we will have slightly different looks from print to print, and they become our final products.
Since the technology keep advancing, we now have greater freedom to push the quality to the next level. In here we use a professional flatbed scanner to convert the image from analog to digital. We put the same black and white film shown on the top and do a prescan. Auto exposure will automatically applied and give us a decent look already.
Scanning with Auto Mode
In here we are scanning the film in RGB mode instead of gray scale. The advantage of RGB mode can allow us to apply color present filters more efficient by using image editing applications like Adobe Lightroom or PhotoShop.
After the prescan, the autoexposure feature of the scanning application will try to provide an optimum quality to us. The trade off to scan the black and white film in RGB mode is the scanning application need to deal with three channels, and the optimal gray balance not necessarily provide best highlight and shadow points from the scan. It is recommend to use the densitometer tool in the scanning application to set Dmin and Dmax points.
It is recommend to perform a histogram equilzation for optimized output levels like in most of the image editor. In the scanning application, we can simply move the output slider further for both ends to make it similar to histogram equilzation effect. Now we are ready to do a production scan. The original negative is the 120 format, we would like to retain all fine details and the best is able to detect the film grains from the negative. We found scanning in 4800 dpi would give us the resolving power we need to see the grains.
A final touch
Previously we mentioned about the techniques like dodging and burning while making prints in the darkroom. We also cannot avoid to dust on film, enlarger lens or even on the photo paper. We have to touch the silver print with paint brush afterwards. Now we can perform the similar tasks easily in the imaging retouching applications (although people might not like the idea of using them in as post-processing tool).
A comparison between the conventional and hybrid systems
We have briefly introduce the two different workflows. One is the conventional darkroom print making from a negative film. Another one is using nowadays technologies and devices to perform a similar task to make print. Some people might call it digital darkroom technique! It is not necessary to define which is better, the most important thing is we have these options to help you get the best out of your negative.
Below is the final product of the hybrid imaging system