Friday, February 3, 2012

The Analogue in the Digital


I'm finally in the state of peace and elevation after many months of pursue for the analogue in the digital imaging. Im scared to think of how many hours and late nights went into this, but today, i feel finally satisfied with my ultimate goal and the results thereof : achieving the qualities of film in the end result of digital.

I call this the de-digitalization of digital photography.

Where did it all start .. A number of things in digital have been bothering me over the years, as im sure you too. Eventually i put down a set of key objectives (following the original writeup on the subject here), which were to attempt to bring back the honesty, imperfection, and beauty of a well shot film with a good camera and lens.

So there you have i : What processing can get me closest to selected film emulsions, lens rendering or at the very minimum - derive as much analogue from the digital as possible. Any or all of these ..

Back to film

When talking cameras, i must clearly state the the beauty in the images of the old Leicas with either Leica or CZ lenses was a major inspiration and driving force here, as well as a barometer of where i was heading and how close to the target i was getting.

These above were / are mostly concerned with small chip cameras irrespective (to a large extent) of what lens is sitting in front. I could not afford then and don't want to do it now - the cost of a FF and associated glass, neither was i prepared then or am prepared now - to carry the weight of same with me for fun street or non-action (eg sports) shooting. I am absences and twilight shooter or at least i like to think i am one ..

I wanted to extend this to both color and B&W, with one color emulsion instantly a favorite and a desire - the Kodachrome 64, and with the B&W emulsions going through iterations - something like : Tri-X 400 pushed (Rodinal, D76) > Ilford XP2+ (HC110H/B) > Agfa APX25 Pushed > Rollei Retro 80s pushed 0.5 - 1 stop (Rodinal) .. Eventually i settled for the Rollei look, after many images in HP5+ which, both in the end seemed very close if processed in a particular way and pushed - some evidence can be found here - not sure which one is which really, yet this is my ultimate B&W look. These, together with the Kodachrome 64 can be seen in posts here.

Four cameras got special attention, maybe because i own 3 of them today - the g11 got legs and left me one early morning with the "new owners". I am having a near fetish obsession with each of them.. The efforts to de-digitalize them eventually resulted in :

1. Individually tuned / dedicated presets for the raw treatment in the input stage
2. A single color and a single B&W simulation - for all 3 cameras in the second, post-Aperture batch

For further details go to The Darkroom below.

These cameras are : Lumix L1 (with the 14-50 Leica and the 25mm Zuiko), Lumix LX5, Canon G11, iPhone 4. There was one more camera which provided much excitement, and which has much less of all the issues mentioned above - the machine gun D3 .. It got it's own custom treatment and a writeup - a comparison with the Leicas which can be found here.

Finally, i did a lot of research of what was available in the film simulation space, evaluated the leading tools in the field and tried all fitting presets from for example. Some were getting very close, especially in the Kodachrome 64 simulation, almost none in the B&W simulations (although SEP can achieve pretty much any look) and almost none managed to produce the K64 black and whites, nor the red-infested greens and blues - not that this is much desired .. So i decided to develop my own Kodachrome 64 and high contrast B&W and not rely on off the shelf presets - this eventually required a very radical modification of the provided / stock standard film looks in the tool used in the last stage of processing.

To further illustrate this, here is a random LX5 image taken in a overcast day - 5 stockstandard and looking very good on presets were used - those that resembled film and Kodachrome mostly. My preset is with the bottom right image - you see which one you like best

NB This is only in the first (batch) stage of processing, before the "Leica / film lift" as in Kodachrome 64 in flow below

Here is one more comparison : On the left - a final Kodachrome 64, directly in Aperture, no further processing, on the right - a version for Kodachrome 64 simulation elsewhere. In the end, i like both results, yet, the typical (as in image on left) K64 was containing all which this film "was hated for" by some - the red channel present everywhere .. So i tend to prefer the warmer, cleaner modern look which follows the workflow outlined below

The Darkroom

For one or rather reason i turned out to be someone who would refuse to develop each image separately, twist it and adjust it until it is "perfect and here to stay" - the case of PS processing i guess. I recall to be like this from day one, even if then (circa 1999), we were exploring with whatever tools were available in the early days and were having some fun and WOW with the first digitals such as the unforgettable Lumix FZ20 and Fuji 6900. Thus, i am much more in favor of the traditional processing where a film goes into a drum and all frames get processed at once - then those frames which are bad simply get discarded, and the rest get a specific treatment, some but rarely - get individual treatment, mostly for shadows lift and WB corrections.

Note the color key (legend) for batch and individual below - this is the final workflow and something which brings me the desired results, saves me one big chunk of time, which can go to shooting for example, simplifies the whole process by putting mundane tasks in the background, and gets me quickly to final result composition and presentation, eg the posts on this blog :

As you see in flow above, batch takes the large part of the workflows, and individual crop and level for example, are done at the very end, on the end result. Initial sorting and short list can take place before any processing, in camera, or at the very end - i found a very detailed  selection process to be of no specific value in the actual shoot processing and that can be applied continuously or at any point until the 100 images shoot goes down to the 10 keepers per se.

The results

Below i've provided few links to results using above flow and presets, they are by film and cover few favorite emulsions. The Kodachrome and Rollei are the 2 winners which i process everything in as of recent, but discard B&W if it does not fit a particular shoot and vise versa 

Kodachrome 64
Rollei Retro 80s

Tri-X Pushed
Ilford XP2+ and also here
Agfa APX25 Pushed


This effort would have had a different result and possibly going stale if not for the continuos encouragement, insight, and critics by Mark Schaffer & Christian Delbert, as well as the comments of other photographers on DPR's forums.

To be continued in every shoot ..

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