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Old 02-23-2008, 11:13 PM   #1
groucho
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Default Bit depths for cameras-scanners-printers these days?

One of these days I'm going to go fully digital, and I'd like to do it with no regrets.

Right now I'm still using a Nikon Coolscan LS-2000, which has a 14-bit A/D converter in it. And there are times when it simply cannot capture the full tonal range of a slide in one scan, either I lose the shadow details or the highlights.

So, to my eye, 14-bit A/D conversion is not good enough to get critical ranges.

The question then is what cameras these days (and I'm afraid to ask at what price) have reached 16-bit A/D conversion? 35mm film scanners? And then, how can you make sure that an inkjet printer is going to also be able to reproduce such a wide tonal range?

I'm not complaining--the 14-bit does some beautiful stuff. But before I cut over, I'd like to know that those extreme shots can still be recorded and printed, and if necessary, printed from films (scanned) as well.

I'm just looking at this as a starting point to the larger issue of "Well, how far do you have to break the bank to get real film quality out of digital these days?" and I won't even mention the Kodachromes I've been tempted to print at six FEET square.<G>
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Old 02-24-2008, 10:05 AM   #2
Cristen Gillespie
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groucho: I'm just looking at this as a starting point to the larger issue of "Well, how far do you have to break the bank to get real film quality out of digital these days?" and I won't even mention the Kodachromes I've been tempted to print at six FEET square.<G>
Well, I suggest you start looking beyond Nikon and Canon, at the very least. Try Hassleblad for the camera, and I guess you can start with their scanners too. Printers for the size you're suggesting? Maybe a commercial printer that does billboards?<BG> The good news when printing that large, of course, is you need very little resolution and you pray for the lack of grain digital, at low ISOs, really can give.

Okay, I know what you're saying. It is frustrating to have the dynamic range of a scene first trashed by any camera, film or digital, then stomped on by any device next in the chain, and at consumer levels, they do all do some serious stomping. Even, as you know, your traditional darkroom couldn't capture the dynamic range of the film, let alone the scene, which is why Ansel Adams wrote so much about translating the image from what you saw before you to the final print. Not about merely snapping it and contact printing. The potential wasn't realised without jumping through a lot of hoops. Same with digital.

I have read that part of the problem with scanners is they can scan to the level of the substrate well before they can reach the dynamic range of the film -- at least in models that a consumer can buy. So worse than losing d-max is gaining grain. This is simply different from the way an enlarger works, or so I'm told.

But I suggest you read Welcome to Oz by Vincent Versace, or other fine art photographers on the subject. It's true that digital capture is still somewhat lacking in dynamic range. But it has less grain at equivalent ISOs, so it can capture more data more clearly in poorer lighting conditions than films. If you like grainless photos. And it is easier to extend dynamic range with digital than with film -- ie, take more shots of the same image and combine (HDR or manually). It is also more "controllable" to affect contrast and tone digitally than it is in the darkroom, and many pros seem to like that better than printing over and over and over just to get one good print out of the negative.

You're not always (ever?) going to get identical results to using film in a good camera with good lenses and processing it in the wet darkroom. At least not in the near future. But that's kind of like asking vinyl and an audio CD to sound the same. Some will say they can do more today than they could back then, while others say it just doesn't have the right sound. No regrets? It really, I suppose, depends upon how involved you become with post-processing and how willing you are to either spend an enormous amount of time simulating grain, papers, toners, etc., with a process so very different that it has eliminated all those risks you took in the darkroom, or accept the digital "look" and play with that to get an image you like. At least digital cameras bypass the scanner, the weakest link, imo, in the whole digital chain.

BTW, you are using a very old scanner. The Nikon 9000 is supposed to do 16 bits in the conversion, although I haven't read if that is true or interpolated, but I'll bet the effective d-max is still not as good as one of the really expensive, professional scanners. You would probably be happier with the Hassleblad. '-}

   
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Old 02-24-2008, 10:26 AM   #3
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Cristen-
"BTW, you are using a very old scanner. " Old, compared to who? Ahem. <G>

Yes, but it served a purpose when it was acquired and I haven't really wanted to rescan everything. Most of what was scanned is just fine, there are just a few slides where I know there are both rich highlights and rich shadow details (taken just before and after sunrise) where nothing from the 14-bit scanner matches the old Cibachrome prints for dynamic range, although I suppose that if I learned how to combine multple scans into one image, I could come closer.

I'm not looking to do billboards--just to find out what's available "commodity grade" now that's better than what I've seen before. All the way through the chain, including to the inkjet printer, or the photo printer at the local kiosk/store.

Haven't stumbled across any forums that really focus on this, yet. The manufacturers of course would rather we ask "What color does that come in?" and the bookstores...I don't want to start dropping $50 bills in the bookstores right now, pleasurable as that might be.

[later]
http://www.normankoren.com/digital_tonality.html
Information overload.<G> But a nice place to start, and a confirmation that 16-bit should be more than enough. Now, if I can only figure out what bit depth my TIF files (never used JPG) were built at...or which versions of TIF can accomodate what bit depths.

Last edited by groucho; 02-24-2008 at 10:57 AM.
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Old 02-24-2008, 07:51 PM   #4
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http://www.normankoren.com/digital_tonality.html
Information overload.<G> But a nice place to start, and a confirmation that 16-bit should be more than enough.
Thanks for that. I have a larg(ish) collection of bookmarks about photography (digital and otherwise) but had not come across this site. The design — if you can call it that — is awful, but content the opposite!

   
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Old 02-25-2008, 06:11 AM   #5
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Incredible how changing just one word in a Google search can turn things up, isn't it? And then as in any magic spell, get one word wrong and you'll never find it again.<G>
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Old 02-25-2008, 07:11 AM   #6
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Very interesting website by Norman Koren but some of the actual hardware information is way out of date -- like a new Canon Scanner dated 2001 so that needs to be borne in mind.

   
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Old 02-25-2008, 08:17 AM   #7
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groucho: although I suppose that if I learned how to combine multple scans into one image, I could come closer.
I don't know if I accidentally hit the wrong key, but my entire message back to you abruptly vanished before I could finish. Anyway. . .

Multiple scans of one image won't get you the depth in the shadows that the d-max of the scanner couldn't reach in the first place. You really do need to look at getting, or renting time on, the Nikon 9000, or 8000 if you know someone with that. I find that if I can get a decent flat scan, I can then process in PS for shadows, midtones and highlights, and combine those. With my (also old) flatbed scanner -- Epson 3200 -- it isn't really worth that much effort, though. I'm working with slides, negs and prints that aren't fine art quality, anyway. I'm getting less than is there on occasion, but still enough for the purpose.

It's a whole lot easier to blend multiple exposures with RAW files, though, than with slides. For slides, there just isn't a substitute for a good scanner. Or multiple slides differently exposed in the first place, of course.

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groucho: just to find out what's available "commodity grade" now that's better than what I've seen before. All the way through the chain, including to the inkjet printer, or the photo printer at the local kiosk/store.
Well, really all of it is better if you haven't looked in a few years<G> Inkjets are way better, and so are the papers. They're still not what I'd call "affordable." If you don't want to print larger than 9x13, you can get printers with excellent ink sets (for longevity) for under $1000. Terrie can certainly steer you to sites that discuss inkjet printer advances. You need to invest time and energy into locating the right papers that are worthy of fine art printing, not to mention a fair bit of time getting the files ready for the printer, and then the dollars spent on the printer and consumables. It's still not a "hobby" that's inexpensive or undemanding. It hasn't advanced that far.

I hadn't read Norman Koren's site in a couple of years. Thanks for the reminder. Some of the hardware is no longer the thing, but the subject matter is still pretty relevant. I don't know of any forum that solely talks about this sort of thing. I pick up bits and pieces in various photography forums, but nothing that concentrates on I/O. From what I have read, those kiosks are hit and miss for quality. Some good, some not so. If you've not profiled for the specific printer, you won't necessarily get results you expect.

And speaking of how old our scanners are in relation to how old we may be, how long are you willing/able to wait for technology to advance and prices to come down? It won't make much sense to die of old age waiting for technology to match the quality of your fine art slides, and do so affordably -- maybe those few go to the pro for printing direct from the slides, at a certain expense, of course, while you compromise on the rest?

I love digital because I don't have anything that would have qualified for space in MOMA. I can make it better than it was when new, and that's good enough for my purposes. If I had a fair number of images that were taken with really good equipment, good film, excellent exposure and were stunning compositions to boot, I'd still be frustrated trying to translate these affordably. But then, I couldn't afford a wet darkroom when I wanted one, so this is still better.

   
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Old 02-25-2008, 08:47 AM   #8
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"I don't know if I accidentally hit the wrong key, but my entire message back to you abruptly vanished before I could finish. Anyway. . . "
Don't you love it when that happens? I know some folks who insist long replies should be composed in notepad or something, to prevent that, but I can't force myself to work that way. Maybe FireExplorer9 will include a "revert" button that reclaims lost partial replies, too. Huh? <G>

"Multiple scans of one image won't get you the depth in the shadows that the d-max of the scanner couldn't reach in the first place." AH, but even my antique Coolscan has a gain adjustment, so I can punch it up enough to read the shadows, if I'm willing to lose highlights. Then two scans can provide two images, each limited to 14-bit but combined going higher.

And I've sadly finally learned why I should update Photoshop to something more modern...apparently the new versions have an automated "HRD" function, which will combine multiple shots and diddle the transparency, to automate that rebuilding process. OK, "neat toy" on the list.<G>

"With my (also old) flatbed scanner -- Epson 3200 -- " I confess, I haven't bothered scanning my old B&W work at all so I haven't scanned any prints. Or their original negs. But unless you've got a transparency tray on that scanner...don't tell me you're scanning films/slides through a glass platter??

" with RAW files, though, than with slides. " Sure. If I could only stick the slides back in the 35mm camera and order it "MAKE RAWS!" <VBG>

"how long are you willing/able to wait for technology to advance and prices to come down? " Dunno, how long will the original Kodak media last in the shoebox?<G>
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Old 02-25-2008, 09:35 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cristen Gillespie View Post
Multiple scans of one image won't get you the depth in the shadows that the d-max of the scanner couldn't reach in the first place. You really do need to look at getting, or renting time on, the Nikon 9000, or 8000 if you know someone with that. I find that if I can get a decent flat scan, I can then process in PS for shadows, midtones and highlights, and combine those. With my (also old) flatbed scanner -- Epson 3200 -- it isn't really worth that much effort, though. I'm working with slides, negs and prints that aren't fine art quality, anyway. I'm getting less than is there on occasion, but still enough for the purpose.

It's a whole lot easier to blend multiple exposures with RAW files, though, than with slides. For slides, there just isn't a substitute for a good scanner.
It's worth mentioning that, effectively, the Nikon scan software lets you create a "RAW" file as a scan: It's something like the raw scan data plus the scan settings separated from them so you can then open the file and change the settings without having to re-scan, and without having to process in a photo editing program. You can do that additionally, of course, but the scan settings themselves can make a lot of difference, too.
(I have an 5000, but I'm assuming the possibilities of the 8000 or 9000's software won't be less. I haven't used it enough yet to be really skilled with it.)

One possible gotcha: the file extension of these "scan-raw" files is the same as RAW files produced by Nikon cameras but the image format is actually different, which may confuse some software.

   
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Old 02-25-2008, 04:18 PM   #10
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where nothing from the 14-bit scanner matches the old Cibachrome prints for dynamic range
This confuses me a bit. I can't quote the numbers, but prints have never been able to display anything close to the dynamic range of film (slide or negative). It seems to me that if the print shows highlight and shadow detail you are not seeing in a 14-bit scan, there must have been some serious dodging and/or burning in the printing process.
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