Thursday, December 30, 2010

Film, Digital and Crappy Office LCDs

A couple of the blogs I follow noted that by the end of 2010, Kodachrome film will no longer be developed.  I'm one of those new photographers who never learned film photography and started with digital.  So I didn't fully appreciate the significance of the extinction of Kodachrome.  But through serendipitous convergence of events, I'm slowly getting an idea of what I'm missing.
 
....
 
Recently, Rachel Devine posted on her blog about old film scans that she had found ( http://www.racheldevine.com/blog/2010/12/28/old-film-scans/ ).  The photos had beautiful colors and tonality.  But what was REALLY interesting to me is that I was looking at them on my crappy office LCD monitor (I'm on break :) ), and the photos still looked great.  By contrast, on this same monitor, most images (including mine) look like crap -- over-saturated, way too contrasty, harshly clipped highlights and blocked shadows, virtually zero shadow detail, no subtlety whatsoever.  And no amount of tweaking of settings could remedy the terrible image quality.  (BTW, those photos look fine on my laptop at home or my Blackberry.)
 
I said "most" images.  Because sometime ago, I noticed that a few photos looked perfectly fine on our crappy office monitor, such as those of Matthew Priestley ( http://www.flickr.com/people/junglebuttons/ ).  The fact that Matt's photos looked great on our office monitor was very puzzling to me, but I eventually ignored it as a fluke.
 
Now that I've seen Rachel Devine's slide photos, I'm beginning to think that there's something for me to learn here about tonality.  Of course I don't care about how images look on our P.O.S. office monitor, but the photos that do look great on our office monitor are, probably not so coincidentally, photos with tonality that I liked.  So, in a funny way, perhaps I have to learn to see images the way our office monitors do.
 
What does this have to do with film?  You may know that I recently started using Lightroom, and in the process I learned about raw files, linearity, and gamma correction.  I'm still trying to figure it all out but in the course of my research, I read that human eyes are nonlinear (logarithmic?) while digital is linear, and what I didn't know was that film is also nonlinear, just like our eyes http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/pdfs/linear_gamma.pdf .
 
I'm hypothesizing (perhaps naively) that if I shoot film under the right conditions, I will get the kind of tonality I like, without having to mess with arcane postprocessing, and I'm predicting it will look ok on our office monitor.  My second and ultimate objective is to learn to reproduce that tonality on digital.
 
So, in the next month, I plan to do some experiments with film photography (perhaps by renting a Nikon F6 and comparing its results with my D300).  I'm also curious about scanning film -- perhaps I may be able to integrate film into my tools.  Meanwhile, I've already found a resource for the second part of my quest: Michael Gray's site http://www.lifeindigitalfilm.com/ .