Text and images by Christoph Hammann for Japan Exposures
If youâ€˜re using color negative film in a hybrid workflow, does it matter what film you use? Or is it true that you can do everything in post-processing? Essentially, in the digital age, what exactly does your choice of film itself bring to the table?
I had occasion to ponder these questions while testing the new Kodak Ektar 100 against DNP’s Centuria 100 film. While the former is lauded far and wide for itâ€˜s fine grain and color reproduction, the latter is said to be a no-frills, mass-market oriented version of Konicaâ€˜s color negative film with high color saturation.
For the purpose of this comparison, I took photos of a field of crocuses in DÃ¼sseldorfâ€˜s Nordpark at the beginning of February. In most shots, I used a Micro-Nikkor 105 VR and a R1C1 macro flash kit with colored gels.
I also used these two films in a studio lighting workshop held by Jens BrÃ¼ggemann. This proved to be an excellent learning experience! The shot above shows a mixed light situation (daylight from above and the flashes modeling light out of a huge umbrella from front left) rendered by the Dai Nippon Printing film.
The lead image on top shows Kodak Ektar coping with light from two strip softboxes aimed at the model from 90 degrees left and right.
Apart from these single images, how did the test go?
Methodology first: I took care to develop the films the same way, putting one of each in a Jobo 1520 tank and developing them with the Naniwa Color Kit N.
The negatives were scanned with a Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400, using no anti-grain dithering and the same light grain reduction in both films.
Grain did indeed turn out to be a major difference between the two films. The 100% crops in the picture above had their levels adjusted, but were not sharpened or reduced in grain. Kodakâ€˜s claims of extremely fine grain for the Ektar are fully justified.
Color balance was markedly different, too. The prohibition sign in the picture above was photographed with the macro flash (without gel filter, of course!) and white-balanced with a levels layer on the white circle denoting the bikeâ€˜s crankset. The signâ€˜s colors werenâ€˜t nearly as garish as the DNP film makes them look, more faded and muted as in the Ektar version. So, a high saturation color negative film the DNP Centuria 100 surely is!
When I tried cheating and to adapt the color correction of DNP Centuria to match the one of Kodak Ektar with layers in Photoshop, the green parts of the sign quickly fell apart along the film grain. I could neither get the same yellow nor do much about the saturation. They donâ€˜t call it a color balance for nothing!
Skin tones suffer under the DNP filmâ€˜s color rendering, while I find Ektarâ€˜s skin tones to be quite natural. Granted, these are two different models with different casts to their skin, but the left one wasnâ€˜t that orange-y. And to be fair, the all-rounder DNP 100 has never claimed to be a portrait film.
If all that sounds like Iâ€˜m slamming the DNP Centuria 100 film, making an easy target out of it, Iâ€˜m not. In the crocus shots, I actually prefered itâ€˜s saturation and color rendition. I also see a role for it photographing urban environments in their multicolored facets and a kind of grainy hastiness. Kodakâ€˜s new Ektar is more true to life, though — mind you, itâ€˜s colors are saturated enough. It has stunningly small and unobtrusive grain. If you are attracted by peculiar color and light combinations and want to capture them just the way you saw them, this is the film for you.
You have the choice, and thatâ€˜s the beauty of using film for color photography. Your results donâ€˜t have to be predetermined by the sensor in your digital camera. Film matters, so take your pick and have fun.
Christoph Hammann is a fine art photographer from Waltershausen, Germany. He works with traditional film and silver halide papers as well as digital post-processing and alternative printing techniques. His website is “Mostly Black & White”.