Film Emulsion Vs Digital - Noise Vs Grain

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by BobBill, Feb 13, 2011.

  1. BobBill

    BobBill Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 29, 2010
    MN USA
    Real Name:
    Bob Hively-Johnson
    The more you approach the other, the more you approach the self.

    I believe, like those who have a religious belief, meaning I have no evidence, that there are many dodgers about who find the noise of digital images (note I did not write "photographs") somewhat a detraction, compared to the grain that appears on film photographs.

    I recall the days when grain was more or less irritating, particularly when it came to darkroom printing. Today, grain seems to be seen in a new light, if you can forgive the metaphor, as digital programming attempts to imitate film grain...

    In that sense, and some others, it would be tragic if film, particularly, black and white films were to succumb completely to digital work, and disappear.

    Sure, film images are a bit more work, but they can be scanned into a digital format, retaining former qualities.

    That extra bit of work is, however, what separates the two, and makes film work an art that should never go away.

    Grain is, in many ways, the charm of photography, and, perhaps, a "soul" that digital imaging does not possess nor can.

    As marketing forces bear hard on the film formats, the "art" of that genre that developed over near 100 years or more causes pause and always will, it seems.
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  2. iliakoltsov

    iliakoltsov Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 7, 2010
    Provided that you have a good camera , good optics and a good film a relatively decent scanner you can reach the quality of a 5D or Alpha 900. the fact that you scan in 50 Megapixel ( 7200*7200) gives a lot more freedom for noise reduction once scaled down it remains sharp. In my workflow i use Tiff which is essentially raw from the scanner then I derawtize it using Rawtherapee.
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  3. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    Grain/noise is result of a process. They are not "mistakes" to be avoided. Your actions determine the degree of these qualities. Complaining an image is grainy/noisy is like complaining rain is wet.
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  4. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    And yes, it would be a pity to see the loss of film imaging. Although I think we have a long time before that will happen--there are thankfully those who still need a silver fix.
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  5. iliakoltsov

    iliakoltsov Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 7, 2010
    I am not complaining just saying that if you need a rendering that looks like digital you can easily obtain it , but as you said the point of a film camera is to render pictures differently. As i can't afford a digital Full frame for now i am more than happy with my Dynax 5 :D.
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  6. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I have generally felt that both Grain and Noise to be distracting (there are always exceptions). I feel that battling grain and noise is not complaining that rain is wet, but rather one cannot see the trees through the rain.

    I accept grain/noise as a side-effect of elevated ISOs. I also feel that the greater the grain/noise the higher the image impact one must have as a counter-balance. An Ansel Adams landscape or an Edward Weston pepper would not have had as strong an impact upon the viewer had the image been draped in ASA 1600 grain. Conversely, the Eddie Adams shot of the ARVN General shooting the suspect VC in downtown Saigon, would not have lost significant impact had the shot been grainy.

    Personally, I haven't much love for either grain or noise. While I can see a case for certain "art" or "street" images to introduce the grittiness and/or shroud of grain and noise, on a day to day basis I could live without it. But, if I had to choose between the two, I'd pick grain over noise.

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  7. John M Flores

    John M Flores Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 7, 2011
    Somerville, NJ
    Back when I shot film, grain was a necessary evil not a holy grail.
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  8. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    A whole lot easier to add grain/noise than to try and remove it.

    Nostalgia for the old days is one thing, clinging on to out of date techniques is something else. Modern day resolution is higher than film, digital has many more advantages to make up for the loss of the nostalgic effects.

    The environmental impact of develop chemicals is horrific. Proper disposal is required and expensive. Name me a roll of film with over 1000 exposures and different ISO on each one. Or ISO of 3200 ... Or higher.
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  9. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Dec 15, 2009
    Phila, Pa USA
    tc, while I fully understand where your coming from, it's really not about that.
    Noise/grain is a device employed in the process for an effect whether emotional or otherwise.
    I often apply grain in my B&W work not because I want to make the image look like film but because it's an available effect I like.
    It add a certain amount of grit. I really don't like sterile clean images. I often shoot at 800+ even in very bright light because it records the way I want.
  10. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    Actually, photo chemistry is not that toxic, even compared to some household chemistry that can be poured down the drain. And you are just shifting the toxic problem. Semiconductors are not made from sugar and spice. And technology in use is not outdated.

    The film/digital debate is basically one of a straw man argument, regardless of which side you make it from. It is unnecessary to attack fellow photographers who make different subjective choices.
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  11. Wasabi Bob

    Wasabi Bob Mu-43 Top Veteran

    View from a senior photographer

    Film and film cameras are almost history, so I think many "senior photographers" embrace "grain" as a way to hold on to a time when they got their start. I am one of those "senior photographers" who chose developers like HC-110, MIcrodol or some more "fine grain" flavors offered at the time by Ilford to minimize grain, even while shooting Panatomic-X. Now in my 50's, I got started when I was just 6 years old. The 4x5 Speed Graphic I learned on was too large and too heavy to hold!

    Today the developers, chemical temperature and film choices have all been replaced by Photoshop plug-ins. If for nothing else, these allows us more consistency. In the end it's still the same thing - something that we can "measure", something to debate, and something to complain about which work flow is better.

    I've always believed that a good photo captures the mood of the moment. Once you achieve that, noise sharpness and color are a distant 2nd place. I think there is more to be gained by focusing on content.
  12. G1 User

    G1 User Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 20, 2010
    That is like disliking a painter because he uses water color and not oils to paint with.
    Film is a different medium to record with, it has it's own look and personality.

    Digital is quite different from film in many ways. It does strip away an element of grain (Even Delta Pan 50 has grain) at low ISO's that film images can provide a bit of character. Digital does resolve more finer detail. but Film can with a sharp lens, and extra fine grain film like Delta Pan F 50, can also resolve finer detail quite well.

    Personally, I prefer film for most people photography over digital. I prefer digital for color and landscape (in most cases), Macros and cityscape photographs. But, I have some great BW Film photo's of landscapes that rock :biggrin:

    It is about final effect/look you want.
    IF, I say IF, your photography has an element of "Art" in it. THEN, the choice of film or digital is just a part of the process to get to the result you deem necessary for the final erect/look you are after.
  13. BobBill

    BobBill Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 29, 2010
    MN USA
    Real Name:
    Bob Hively-Johnson
    Grain Vs Noise

    Not to hijack the thread topic: The chemical application has always bothered me and I have tried to mitigate it as much as possible, even letting it evaporate...good point. The manufacturing process of digital equipment raises concerns.

    The idea of "grain" I was referring too was not the idea of too grainy a pic, but the general grain that came with all film, particularly BW. It is not a nostalgia whim, nor a hard to change mind-set that prompted the post. G1 user caught some of the drift, so did to P-Shop, it only comes to bear to remove old emulsion, scratch and dust problems or to size a digital version for printing, occasional gross experiment. The shot, for me at least, generally stands on its merits, good or bad. Like painting and intelligent discourse and writing, prep is the key.
  14. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    When I shot film (most intensively in the late '70s and early '80s) grain was a necessary evil that became a holy grail, because if you can't do away with it, you may as well try to use it to best effect. Having come up during the times when it was an unavoidable part of the B&W art, I came to love it and I still do today. More than suits some people's taste, but I'm only shooting for my taste, so that's ok. Some shots look best to me with lots of grain, some with less, a few with none. But I love the ability to control it with something like Silver Efex rather than just seeing how much turned up in the developing tray after doing our best estimate of how much to push the film and how to develop it to get it right. But you never knew until the prints started coming up. Now I turn it up and turn it down until it feels right... Life is good. No desire to go back to film. Although I see some of my old stuff and like it and recognize the difference film made, I don't have any desire to work with it again...

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  15. Rick Waldroup

    Rick Waldroup Mu-43 Veteran

    May 28, 2009
    Does anyone remember the old Scotch ASA 1000 slide film? The colors were a bit strange and it was extemely grainy. A friend of mine shot it for a year or so and got amazing reuslts because she used the film's defects to her advantage. I can still recall looking at some of her street work though a loupe on her light table and I was really captivated by the charm of this film. She picked her subjects carefully and many times pushed the film to extreme limits to enhance the look she was looking for. Unfortunately, I lost touch with her several years ago. But I still remember those images.
  16. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 2, 2010
    I'm with John on this. I never thought grain was either a virtue or had any aesthetic value, and still don't. For the most part I shot on film that kept it to a minimum. Its the image thats the important thing, and before digital came along, none of us had any choice. Now because of the need to digitise images for my work, I do a fair amount of scanning and while I'm able to get a reasonable image from the medium format transparencies I have, 35mm is still quite difficult, in getting a decent size. Just scanning at a higher resolution doesn't work, as it just enlarges the problems.

    I still cling to the naive notion of taking pictures to record what I see as accurately in two dimensions as possible. Anything that gets in the way I regard as a nuisance. Neither digital noise or film grain have anything going for them as far as I'm concerned. If its only possible to get the image with one or the other added then so be it, but my intention is always to take pictures that are as "clean" as possible.
  17. DHart

    DHart Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 7, 2010
    Scottsdale, Arizona
    Real Name:
    I'm interested in a different approach than John and soundimageplus. While I very much like and employ "clean" images for particular applications, for other subjects, moods, or desired "atmospheres" I like to employ film or digital techniques which are anything but clean, grainless renditions. I liked high grain back in the 60's and 70's from pushed high speed films for a certain look and to a degree a similar look can be achieved with noise and digital grain.

    I did some portraits today of my family members. I wanted to achieve a soft, artistic atmosphere, so I chose tools which would achieve that. But for client product images and some other portrait work, etc. I may well work for very clean, grain/noise-free images.

    Here are the portraits from today:

    THis first image was GH2 14-140 lens, hand held, 1/15th sec., at 140mm (280 equiv. - yes the IS in this lens is THAT good!) ISO 2500. No noise reduction was employed during processing from RAW. Personally, I like the noise.


    The following images were shot with the camera in the iPhone4.




    I like to strive to be able to achieve clean, crisp, uber sharp images and at the same time enjoy creating images which are not that at all... personally, I think "it's all good".

    I prefer this uber sharp crisp look for the crayons... again with the camera in the iPhone4:

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  18. silverbullet

    silverbullet Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 10, 2010
    The other day I visited an exhibition about impressionists (painters) and parallel photographs from the construction of the Louvre and the Metro as other buildings in Paris around 1890 - 1920.

    A parallel exhibiton displayed photographs from Edward Steichen.

    Beside the terrific paintings the glassplate photographs made as contact prints from the huge cams had it's 'special feeling' when viewed.
    No grain no people in it due to the long exposure time but fascinating.

    The most boring (for me) pics were the Steichen portraits and artifical scenes shot in studios. No grain at all but the look of a heavily photoshopped model like Naomi Campbell. I guess made with 4x5 or larger formats and well prepared to avoid any grain.....but plastic in my eyes.....

    So for me b&w work what I do with people and street should show grain, it's like the timbre of a singer.
    Voices for jazz or blues should have a different sound as for film in b&w compare to transparencies....
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  19. BrianK

    BrianK Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 20, 2011
    Lansing MI
    LOL a non related aside, I am an awful painter, but it is my other hobby, I recently switched to water based oils for my own ease of use. Another painter I told what I had done acted like I was no longer a REAL painter because I did not use real oils. He is still a good friend but now I have more fun busting his chops.

  20. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Dec 15, 2009
    Phila, Pa USA
    Very sweet post and right to the point.