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Weekly Chatter:What does increased bit depth and better color actually give to the end result as printed?
Tuesday August 24, 2004

Section 1: What does increased bit depth and better color actually give to the end result as printed?






Business Issues > Burning Issues and Expert Opinions > What does increased bit depth and better color actually give to the end result as printed?


















AuthorSubject: What does increased bit depth and better color actually give to the end result as printed?  
Sean Kernan
Posted on Sun Aug 15, 2004 9:42 AM

We looked at a new digital back with 22mp and "better"color. Since our 11mp Phase One has easily handled 99% of what it has been asked to do (say, up to an 11x17 spread), and since the results as printed usually throw out a good percentage of the captured info, I wonder if the new capability is worth $30,000 (vs$16000). Mix into your thoughts the question of whether 16 bits adds to the final result. My printer and production friends say no. My sense is that it might help the result in that one has a winder range to compress and squeeze through the cmyk window. On the other hand, so many color houses have little amility to deal with what they are getting now.
Add to that the fact that production people are feeling threatened by photographers entering the production area (as visa versa) that a fairly common response is "Just give us the files like you used to geve us the film and go away like you used to."
I'd love to have the higher capacity for my own work, but it's tough to justify if it adds nothing appreciable to the end result of a commercial project. (My own work costs and costs and costs. I'd rather spend the moeny on shooting than on the exrea megapixels.)

So: $30,000 to capture information that is all going to be tossed out anyway?


Jon Roemer
Posted on Sun Aug 15, 2004 10:41 AM

Sean,

Your 11mp Phase One back is already 16-bit.

So, in going to the new back, let's say the P-25, you are not getting increased bit depth.

Bit depth also does not really increase dynamic range what it does is give you many more steps or gradations within the scale (0-255 in rgb).

So, in considering the 22mp back the issues are really more:
-Do you need the the extra pixels
-Do the electronics in the newer back allow for a better workflow (e.g. lower noise files and higher asa shooting)
-Is the newer back better for out of the studio work (e.g. untethered operation, built in screen, etc.)
-Would you benefit from shooting the newer back on a 645 camera so that it is closer to full-frame (645) and you can shoot wider
-If the new back does provide "better" color, does that make your workflow more efficient

It sounds like you only need the extra pixels 1% of the time. The rest of the questions and how they mesh with your needs will probably determine if it's a worthwhile investment for you.

Jon Roemer
www.jonroemer.com


Sean Kernan
Posted on Sun Aug 15, 2004 1:47 PM

I understand that the 16 bits has ben there for a while. I'm referring to the fact that Photoshop can deal with it better and so it will be more readily used. But the printers I know don't want 16 bit files. maybe it's because they don't want the complication if it doesn't improve their output (can't blame them).

The untethered feature is a big plus.

The phrase "better color" is a dealer's and it is too vague. I am trying to at least nail it down to see if the work as printed would be any better. I suspect that so much has to happen to an RGb file to print it in to given CMYK profile anyway that there would be little or no advantage.

I guess the question is something like "Do you buy a Stradivarius to record string overdubs for a commercial to be played over AM radio during drive time?" Obviously not. But would you buy one because it sounds uneartly fantastic when you are sitting in your living room playing for yourself? Because your laying sound better? Because there's an esthetic thrill in just experiencing the instrument?

That's compelling, and you should get one...if you have the money.


Bill Thompson
Posted on Sun Aug 15, 2004 5:55 PM

Sean,

I am doing very large prints- sometimes 72" by roughly 40" and was using the Canon 1Ds (Leicas for many years before) and was pretty happy with it. Then I tested the Leaf Valeo 22wi and the H1. There is an appreciable difference (for a perfectionist like me). It is an amazing setup. And the Hasselblad lenses are better than the Mamiya or Contex lenses. I compared them with rigorous testing. With the PDF with it you can see images 4"x 6" almost immediately too. Also I just returned from a 3 week shoot in Arizona and the outfit took a very very hard fall (albeit on dirt and not concrete) and separated into 3 pieces. I was devastated as I had just bought it but I reassembled it (with the dent in the H1 grip) and it is working fine. If you want more info I would be happy to talk to you. I would only consider the upgrade if you want to make prints say larger than 20" x 30".

Bill Thompson
New York


Howard Cubell
Posted on Sun Aug 15, 2004 9:06 PM

I recently had the opportunity to take some landscape images with a Phase One P25 digital back on a side by side basis with my Mamiya 7. I chose one image with fine detail in leaves and flowers, both near and far. I ressed up the P25 file from the native size of around 13.5"x18" at 300 ppi to 27"x36" at 300 ppi (PSCS Bicubic Smooother)and sharpened it with the default settings in Photokit Sharpener. The 6x7 chrome was scanned on an Imacon Photo at 3200 ppi, ressed up to 28"x36" at 300 ppi, and sharpened with an edge sharpening routine that I find works well for me with MF scans.
Bottom line(s):
1. The P25 file has an astonishing level of detail compared to the MF scan. Clearly superior. I am amazed at its ability to hold detail at a pretty large print size, and I don't think I have approached its print size limit.
2. The P25 file has excellent shadow detail, and virtually no noise, but it was shot at the lowest ISO(100?). The 6x7 file also has very good shadow detail. It was shot on Kodak E100GX; not Velvia. However, the lighting on the day of the shoot was somewhat overcast and diffused and did not provide the kind of contrasty light that I normally shoot in(late afternoon and early morning). That would be a more useful comparison, particularly in view of point #4.
3. The color of the P25 file was somewhat over the top in terms of color saturation to me in the greens. The chrome, to my eye, was a more accurate depiction of the actual scene. Of course, you can adjust the P25 file to your heart's content, but digital is somewhat like shooting negative film to me in that I can't seem to be sure of what I have in an image until I spend time working on it in PS or other image processing program. With a chrome, I look at it and viscerally know what I have. The film is a standard for me to meet, with minor adjustments in tone and color balance. Let me say that my experience with digital capture is limited, so perhaps I just don't have a good workflow for batch processing images that would get them quickly to the same point as transparencies.
4. The only fly in the ointment with the P25 file for me is the way it handled highlights. They were blown out. And this was a photograph taken in relatively forgiving outdoor light. The basic exposure was right on the money and the image looked great on the screen, but when you looked closely at fairly light pieces of plant material, there was no detail. These were not specular highlights, and were held perfectly in the film scan. I went back into the Phase One software to pull back the "exposure" by a half a stop, and it helped but did not eliminate the problem. I suppose I could pull the exposure back even further, but that would make the rest of the image too dark. This all makes me wonder if digital is really well suited to landscape photography in natural, contrasty light. I have had similar experiences with a Minolta A2. The real time histogram looks fine before the shot, I take the shot, pull up the actual histogram, and very often there is a little spike in the highlights that you could not see in the real time histogram. In order to get the spike to disappear, I have to reduce the exposure to the point that the shadows are being clipped.

All in all, a fascinating exercise. I want to process some of the other images I shot and do some actual large prints to see how this all plays out on paper (so to speak).


Sean Kernan
Posted on Mon Aug 16, 2004 9:56 AM

This is all good input, but it throws a few devilish questions into sharp relief.
One is, how are the chrome and the file compared? If both are digitized then only the very first stage is different. After that there are so many ways they can diverge. (How does a velvia slide compare to a print...from an interneg? A direct print? An inkjet print from a scan? Would a Kodachrome slide look different? Could they all be made to look the same, or at least close? What if you throw in a 1DS file of the same thing?)

And the ever-relevant question, is the picture good--i.e., alive--in the first place? Duane Michals once said he was after pictures so interesting that he could take the film to the drugstore for prints and it wouldn't diminish the picture a bit.

So with all the varieties of possibility, my question is focussed on whether a file from a larger "better" and certainly more expensive back gets you anything when the file is printed as an ad. My suspicion is that it does not. I saw a photographer quoted recently who said that for real quality he reverts to film. My response was that from film forward everything is digital, and that perhaps if the color people knew their stuff it would be a moot question.

In an experiment that veers slightly from the question I had a digital file output onto Tmax film by Bowhaus and it looked fantastic. It had all the information of digital and also that glorious signature glow of silver.


Scott Martin
Posted on Mon Aug 16, 2004 10:37 AM


> So with all the varieties of possibility, my question is focussed on whether a file from a larger "better" and certainly more expensive back gets you anything when the file is printed as an ad.

Well there's certainly no point in shooting a 22mp back for small newspaper ads. But, if you are shooting for double truck ads in high quality publications and want some room to crop after the shot is taken, that resolution would not go to waste and allow you to make some nice promotional afterwards.

>I saw a photographer quoted recently who said that for real quality he reverts to film.

The real quality is achieved by shooting digitally, but you have to have the cash for the equipment and expertise in using it.

> In an experiment that veers slightly from the question I had a digital file output onto Tmax film by Bowhaus and it looked fantastic. It had all the information of digital and also that glorious signature glow of silver.

I used to run the digital department at a pro lab in the 90's where I used to have these challenges with the custom color darkroom technicians. They would take a really nice film original and spend an entire day getting the best print they could make. Without seeing their prints I would take the originals, make a drum scan and then a Lightjet print and we would compare the results. I particularly remember a 6x17 chrome of the Golden State bridge and the 4+ foot prints we made from it. The digital print was sharper edge to edge, had better color fidelity and took far less time to make with no test prints. What's more is that there was absolutely no give away that it had been printed digitallly. It was an astonishing side by side we would show to anyone that doubted the digital technology. After that we all talked about how we could shut down the wet darkrooms and instead scan everything and print it on the Lightjet.

Before the Lightjet I did 4x5 film recorded negs and took that into the wet darkroom (bleech). Going straight to silver from the digital file was a huge improvement over the film recording route. There are labs that run black and white silver papers through their Lightjet and I've even seen some that do fiber base.




Jon Roemer
Posted on Mon Aug 16, 2004 9:18 PM

Other folks with more medium format digital back experience are addressing the other issues I can tackle this one.....

> I understand that the 16 bits has ben there for a while. I'm referring to the fact that Photoshop can deal with it better and so it will be more readily used. But the printers I know don't want 16 bit files. maybe it's because they don't want the complication if it doesn't improve their output (can't blame them).

Your statement is sort of missing the point or advantage of 16-bit. Its advantage is not in handing a printer a 16-bit file, it's in editing the file.

IOW, it's most useful inbetween capture and output, that's where its advantages play out. An image file that is edited in 16-bit (levels, curves, saturation, shadow/highlight, etc.) will hold up better than the same file edited in 8-bit. Will you always see a difference? No, it depends on the extent and type of edits. If the edits are aggressive in nature then the 16-bit file may look fine while the 8-bit file shows posterization or other issues.

So, it will be more readily used now that Photoshop supports it better but its use will most likely be by yourself, someone in your studio or a retoucher, all prior to printing. Then it can be downsampled to 8-bit for printing. Will its use affect the end result (cmyk or other)? Yes, it can.

> I guess the question is something like "Do you buy a Stradivarius to record string overdubs for a commercial to be played over AM radio during drive time?" Obviously not. But would you buy one because it sounds uneartly fantastic when you are sitting in your living room playing for yourself? Because your laying sound better? Because there's an esthetic thrill in just experiencing the instrument?

Yes! But I think in life we all pick our own Stradivarius'.... This past March I switched from Nikon to Canon. From about 20 years with Nikon, three years of D1x's (~5.4mp) to 1Ds' (11mp). Were my clients demanding that I do this. No! I wanted better image quality for my personal and commercial work. I surveyed the digital medium back market and for me, my ways of working and shooting, the 1Ds was the answer. Its flexibility, its quality, its price point (allowing me to get two so I had backup on commercial jobs) made it my Stradivarius.

At least for the moment..... :-)

Best of luck with your decision,

Jon Roemer
www.jonroemer.com







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