Category Archives: colour

First experiments with scanning medium format film

Yesterday my Epson V700 arrived – purchased specifically so that I could scan my images from the Mamiya and Rolleiflex.  I plan on this being by day-to-day scanner, with really special images being sent to Tim Parkin.

First impressions are very good.  The scanner is really solid (and pretty big), though as many others have said, the plastic film holders seem to be very flimsy  – a strange contrast to the heavy scanner.  Even just from one day’s careful use, I’m wondering how long these will last (it feels like a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ question).  Replacements are, apparently, available.  I find it slightly irritating that although a FireWire 400 connection is available, there is no Firewire cable in the box, meaning I need to make do with a USB connection for now (I expect the FW connection to be faster).  Photoshop really struggled with saving these large files (several minutes the first time), but I did have a number of applications open and I don’t have much memory for this kind of thing on my Mac.

Regarding the scans: I have done the typical male thing (according to my wife) and just plunged straight in, scanning some colour transparencies and monochrome negatives.  I had used the monochrome film (Ilford FP4 Plus) before in 35mm form so had some idea of what to expect, though I didn’t know exactly how the Rollei would impact on it, and my use of my lightmeter obviously needed to be up to scratch.  The colour transparency film was completely new to me: Fuji Provia 100F, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect; this was shot using the Mamiya and mostly using the camera’s meter, rather than relying on my lightmeter.

So, with auto sharpening, broadly similar settings (though I am intrigued that the Silverfast software has a specific setting for the Ilford film, which I used) and general playfulness, I think I can say with some certainty that buying the Epson was a good choice.  Here are two images that I have scanned yesterday at 6400dpi, along with 100% sections – this is not necessarily the best dpi to choose, but the files were already coming in at around 500mb with this size, and for playing I didn’t want even bigger files as they just slow everything down.  I don’t want to make excuses but these are the first (monochrome/Rollei) and second (colour/Mamiya) rolls I have shot on these new (to me) cameras.  I can see from other scans that I need to work on greater stability for the Mamiya when I’m not using a tripod – it’s heavier than I think, and perhaps my recently injured arm means it’s harder to hold still at slower shutter speeds.  Neither of these images have had any post-processing.

With this first image of my friend Toni (taken on the spur of the moment in a pub garden, and yes, that is a fresh pint in front of her!), if you can ignore the fact I didn’t have e.g. a yellow filter with me, there is clearly a richness in the tones that does just what I would expect the Ilford to do – and the Epson scanner captures the depth of these tones rather well, I think.

Ilford FP4 Plus/Rollleiflex

Ilford FP4 Plus/Rollleiflex

And here we have a 100% detail of the edge of Toni’s glasses.  It’s hard to know if I had focussed entirely accurately (almost certainly not, and depth of field was very shallow; I think I was resting the camera on the garden table as I had no tripod with me), but even so, I find the definition reasonably ok (bear in mind that at 100% and the more usual 300dpi, these images would be enormous!).

Ilford FP4 Plus/Rolleiflex

Ilford FP4 Plus/Rolleiflex

Here is the Provia, first the image as a whole (which, if I use it, I will ultimately crop, rather than leave at this size/aspect ratio):

Fuji Provia 100F/Mamiya

Fuji Provia 100F/Mamiya

And here is an excerpt at 100%, which again shows considerable definition (and the tif file shows good shadow detail – some of which seems to have got lost in the conversion to the jpg file):

Fuji Provia 100F/Mamiya

Fuji Provia 100F/Mamiya

I’m not sure I like the Provia 100F that much, but perhaps that is because the colours didn’t quite come out the way I thought they would; everything seems to have a slightly purple tinge, even when there is no obvious purple in the scene as there is here; I think that is very unlikely to be the scanner.  In any case, I look forward to using the Velvia I recently bought – I already ‘know’ the Velvia from 35mm photography (the Provia was given to me by the same person who is passing on the Mamiya – he had it in the fridge but never really got around to using it, so it is quite old and maybe not at its best).

My preliminary conclusions: getting consistently decent scans will require some effort, as well as consultation with the manuals (don’t tell my wife!).  But early results are certainly promising, and working with something like the Epson V700 will be enjoyable, I think; the time needed to learn how to do scans properly is perfectly normal (I expect to learn how to use a new camera, so why not a scanner?). There are some early niggles: for example, I would like to use a different colour space/ICC profile: I’m using the recommended proPhoto RGB in Lightroom as Adobe itself says this is better than Adobe RGB, and yet the scanner defaults to this older setting (somewhere in the manual there must be something on this…!).  Above all, using something as good as this Epson scanner will require me to produce much better images in camera to get the best out of the scanner – and creating better images is, after all, what this is all meant to be about!

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‘Imperfect Mirrors’ book available

‘Imperfect Mirrors’ by Kevin Scully is soon to be released (2. July) and is now available for ordering, e.g. from Amazon.  This is the book with my photograph on the cover (clicking the image takes you to the Amazon page):

Kevin Scully: Imperfect Mirrors

Kevin Scully: Imperfect Mirrors

I sent the designer/publisher three versions of the image, one in colour and two monochrome conversions – and they have chosen my favourite of the two monochrome versions.  I’m delighted to see this now available, as is my wonderful model, Fran Whitton.

The end of an era

My last Fuji Sensia films arrived in the post today – these are the last in that Fuji is stopping the manufacture of Sensia, and these films were being returned to me from their Leeds processing laboratory. It’s taken me a long time to get through these three rolls because of my arm injury.

This is terribly sad for me: before I discovered Velvia for myself (a long time after everyone else, it seems!), I used endless rolls of Sensia (see also my Equipment page). Indeed, our spare room has more indexed boxes of Sensia slides than I would care to count, documenting many years of my life and my family’s life in many different places. Sensia accompanied me through many different contexts, and was my natural choice of colour film for almost every occasion. I loved the tones, especially for skin, the almost complete absence of grain (even in the 400 version), and the almost tangible three-dimensionality of the image, especially for wide landscapes and long exposures. But all that has now ended under the digital juggernaut.

Along with my processed and mounted film, Fuji enclosed an order form with a note about Sensia:

Fuji leaflet

Fuji leaflet (click to enlarge)

I’ve marked a key section here. I know it is meant to be reassuring, but as an academic who spends a lot of time crafting language to try and make it say exactly what I want it to say, I am not wholly convinced by this. ‘As long as film is being produced…’ is the bit that causes me concern – I assume this means as long as Fuji continues to make film, since I can’t imagine they’ll take responsibility for other manufacturers that decide to continue making film (such as Ilford, for example). And they’ll only continue making film as long as they continue making it…

What concerns me here is that one day we might end up with Fuji deciding that they are going to further restrict the countries in which they sell and process film, even if it is not completely stopped. There are, of course, already many countries where it is hard to buy Fuji film: even when I first went to Egypt in 1997 it was hard to find, and I understand it is now almost impossible to do so. Am I being unduly concerned to worry that one day we might end up with just a few locations worldwide that can properly deal with good quality film like this – perhaps one place in each continental area – with the corresponding increase in cost to the user?

Thinking about colour and monochrome images

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There are some images that I just know need to be monochrome, even before I squeeze the shutter – I think that is perhaps the case for many photographers.  And if I have my film camera with me and it has black and white film in it, then I try to compose and visualise accordingly.  But sometimes I create a colour image and then come to the editing stage and find I have an image which could be either, and it’s not clear to me which one is ‘better’.  This is especially the case when I have a series of images, and I wonder if a monochrome development of one or two individual images might be good.

For example, this image of Ngoni is a case in point.  I have a number of these images of her on the bridge in the snow (in her bikini, in a dress, and in a coat), and this one seemed quite strong when converted to monochrome, emphasising her dark naked skin against the white snow and white bikini, with the bridge playing a less significant role than it appears to in the colour version (of course, that’s also an editing question).  I did eventually put the monochrome image on RedBubble for sale – and you can see a larger version of the image there – but I’m not wholly convinced this is the right one to have used.  The tones (values) of light and darkness are what make or break a monochrome image… and I find I’m not completely sure if this is quite right when examined under these criteria (and you may think this is because it’s not a particularly strong image, despite what I think!).  Of course, in the ‘old days’ a camera would have had either colour or black and white film in it, and composition and visualisation would have been guided accordingly, but in these digital days (even with scans of colour images from film), conversion to monochrome is always an easy possibility – and perhaps this makes life a little bit harder.  Thoughts on all this in the comments section below are most welcome!

And, of course, these questions apply not only to portraits… they also arise when thinking about landscapes.

I’ve struggled with this before…!