Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chocolate Ice Re-Visited

Pentax Zoom-90, Kodak Ultramax-400

FED-5, Industar-61, Kodak Ultramax-400

EOS 600D, EF40mm f2.8, RAW Photivo Enhanced

I had mentioned previously that I had shot the "Chocolate Ice Study" with the FED-5 camera, as well as the 600D (Rebel T3i). By the force of Providence (or perhaps from living in a small town with limited subject matter) I also have a recent picture of the same stuff taken with my Pentax Zoom-90 albeit from another time and place. Still, we can observe the vastly different photo quality provided by the same subject matter, between these three cameras. Although it would have been nice to have exactly the same view in the three shots at exactly the same place / same time, I don't feel that to be necessary  as the differences are far from subtle.

So then, is there a "best -worst" thing to discuss here, or perhaps yet another "analogue versus digital" shoot-out? Yes- I think it's pretty obvious. Technically speaking the "worst" of the lot by far is the FED-5. There's lots to pick on here - the greenish colour caste, the lens distortion seen on the horizon, and the fuzzy focus in spite of using a f-11 aperture are the main problems. Because the camera works perfectly, and the exposure appears to be well calculated (I had used the values provided by the digital camera at the time as a guide), I would have to say the problem is my particular Industar-61 lens. This is a bad, bad... bad lens. Bad lens! It was really being pushed here by the glare from the low sun which was setting just above the picture, (and picked up in the digital sample). Yes, it is the worst, but hey - the camera with lens was only $10, and even though it is the worst shot here in this context, I love what this lens does in some other settings. I should add, there are some good Industar-61's and some bad ones - typical of Russian quality control, which makes these optics (and cameras) a "Lomographer's delight". Lomography loves the unexpected and the unpredictable. I do too, sometimes.

Now then, it becomes a contest between the Pentax Zoom-90 and the Canon Rebel T3i, and so between analogue and digital. From what can be seen on a computer screen, I would say that both are superb results. With the Pentax, I simply scanned the negative, with no further enhancements; with the Canon digital, I did a lot with the RAW file to get this result. This in itself shouldn't enter into a judgment of image quality - in both cases, the picture is "processed" - it's simply done in vastly different ways, and actually, the scanning of film takes a lot more of my time than working up a RAW file does. I know that in the past, I've used the "straight from film" comparison to make it sound like film is so much better because it takes less work - what I meant was, it takes a lot less digital manipulation to get an acceptable result, but, as most would agree who have done it, scanning film negatives is very time consuming, and labour intensive, to get the negatives put into the scanning frames correctly, and to get rid of as much dust as possible, and as you can see, dust still remains a big problem.

So what are we comparing here? Apples and Oranges of course. In both cases, although the Pentax film camera appears to have added a bluish caste, this was not the case - the colours are accurate, as I remember them - it was at sunrise, and the blue of the sky was reflected in the ice. In the case of the Canon digital, the colours are also accurate - it was late afternoon, and the brownishness of the "chocolate ice" prevailed, due to the slight overcast in the sky - there was no blue.

What it comes down to is - I favour the Pentax-90 film capture to be the best. I just get a sense , as I've said before, that film simply captures the light that goes through the lens and registers it direct to the medium - the camera itself is not involved. With digital on the other hand, it doesn't stop with the capture. In fact, the word "capture" should not be used in digital photography, (as in when someone says "nice capture"). Once the light registers on the sensor, the camera's internal computer springs into action and does with the "capture" what it deems best, and the result is, as that computer tries to build a perfect image from the bits and bytes that come from the sensor, it's as if everything gets somehow "squished" into an output that's less than optimal. When two results are compared side by side, I can see this, and that's the way my mind puts it into words. If we were comparing Nikon to Canon here, instead of film to digital, we would see subtle differences in the way in which the two brands have chosen to program their camera's internal computers, and the way the two actually "squish - scrunch" their data.

Okay, so you might agree that film "captures" things and digital "squishes" things, or you may not agree. But, wouldn't the same thing be observed using two brands of film? Of course! That is so well known that DxO Labs, with their "FilmPack" software have created digital modelling of dozens of film types. Not only that, but simply look at the above pictures to see the huge quality difference between two different camera-lens combos using the same film! The lens in the Pentax Zoom-90 is absolutely wonderful, whereas the Industar-61 Russian lens is "delightfully crap", judging from these results.

And one could also ask - what about when I'm scanning film with my Epson v500 scanner - it's converting analogue to digital, so is it not also "squishing" like a digital camera? My answer is, yes it's squishing, but not like a digital camera.  Using a film scanner is painfully slow - that's why I made the comment above that scanning is more time consuming than working up a RAW file. A camera is built for speed, so it uses a 14-bit computer and operating system with a file output of 72 dpi (that's Canon, I think Nikon is different, but I'm not sure). A scanner on the other hand, uses a 64 bit computer and OS, and gives the ability to use insanely high resolutions - as high as 6400 dpi. Personally I use 300 dpi, as I believe higher than this gives diminishing returns - specifically, more wasted time and huge, unusable file sizes. In short - a decent film scanner provides way more than enough resolution to be absolutely faithful to the film negative; another way to say it is that a scanner doesn't "squish" data near as much as a camera. If your camera worked like a scanner, you'd have to wait 10 minutes between shots!

So, for me, film wins again. And so does the Pentax Zoom-90.. a truly remarkable camera that somebody literally threw away to a goodwill store, and I recovered for $6.99.

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