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Old 01-14-2019, 10:27 PM   #1
singhcr singhcr is offline
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Default How much grain is there on a camera negative? Let's find out!

As a lover of movies and film in general, one thing that has always bothered me is the usage of DNR to reduce a film to a waxy, smeary mess. It is obvious when the grain is totally blasted away or looks strange in motion that DNR has been applied, but when we see what appears to be a natural looking grain field, has it still been reduced? What would the image look like if no noise reduction was applied at all?

When we see movies on Blu-ray and especially UHD that were originally shot on film, there are so many factors at play. Is this a scan of the camera negative, or an IP? Was it 16mm, 4/35, 8/35, 5/65, or 15/70? Was it shot with spherical lenses and cropped to 1.85:1, or was it 4-perf anamorphic 2.40:1? Or did they shoot with the Super35 process using spherical lenses and get our 2.40:1 frame by cropping it? What speed film was used? Was it black and white, classic three strip Technicolor, pre-1990s Eastmancolor stock, or the newer T-grain EXR or Vision stock? Was it pushed or pulled at all? Did the scene involve the use of any optical effects? How recent is the scan and at what resolution and color space? What scanner was used? Was the scan timed to an answer print?

All of these factors play into how much visible grain is apparent, and that’s not even counting our choice of TV technology and whether our display is calibrated or not!

Since we do not have access to an original scan of the negative before any DNR is applied, we are at best making an educated guess at whether the amount of grain we see in a film to video transfer is unadulterated or not. I have always been curious to see how much grain is on a negative if it was left alone, but as I do not have access to studio film archives it was always a dream.

Until today.

Kodak’s Double-X black and white film stock has remained relatively unchanged over the years unlike their color stocks. I discovered recently that companies sell this film in 135 format cartridges for use in still cameras. I am going to shoot 5222, which was used in Raging Bull, Schindler's List and the opening sequence of Casino Royale for example. So now I have a way to get very close to using the same emulsions used for my favorite movies and see how much grain there would be on the camera negative from a raw scan. (FYI- they also sell color stocks with the remjet backing removed so one can develop with standard C-41 chemicals. I may have to try this out soon too!)

I will be developing this film myself, and as there is no remjet backing to deal with that you find on color negative motion picture film, the development steps will be the same as I normally do for black and white film: developer, stop bath, fixer, rinse/hypo, wetting agent, and drying. I just need to look up the preferred settings for 5222. This film will be shot at its box speed of 250 EI.

Some caveats:

1. A 35mm still camera exposes 8-perf frames horizontally (8/35), whereas the vast majority of movies were shot 4/35 vertically. I am essentially shooting VistaVision. A larger negative means finer grain.

2. The choice of developer influences sharpness, tonality, and most importantly for the purposes of this experiment, visible grain. I use Kodak XTOL as it gives high sharpness and medium grain and is more environmentally friendly over classic developers like D-76. I do not know how XTOL compares to traditional black and white motion picture developers like D-96. I would venture D-96 wouldn’t give as fine grain as XTOL as advances in emulsions and developers have moved towards greater sharpness and less visible film grain, not the other way around.

3. The lenses, coatings, filters, etc used will affect how sharp and fine the grain appears. Thankfully all of the three movies I mentioned above used spherical lenses, as will I for this experiment. I can’t use the exact same lenses as the aforementioned films, but at least they are all spherical.

4. The subject photographed as well as the lighting and exposure conditions affects the film density and therefore the visible grain pattern. A well exposed image will receive more light and grain will be finer as a result. The grain will vary with the image density. A white cloud will look more grainy than a dark wood chair in the same shot, for example. As a still photographer I have the ability to use extremely short and slow shutter speeds that a cinematographer cannot. I am not limited by the fact that on a motion picture camera, images are exposed at 24 frames per second. This places limits on the shutter speeds. I suspect this is primarily an issue for my experiment when it comes to low light photography. For a still photograph at night, for example, I could take a ten second exposure if I wished. If I were shooting a movie, I’d almost always be aiming for exposure times of 1/48th of a second to keep a 180 degree shutter angle. So if I was shooting a dark scene where I didn’t have any artificial light available, I’d have to either push the film a stop or two or just shoot underexposed at box speed, both options increasing visible film grain. I will try long exposure times and intentionally shooting with shutter speeds that are appropriate for motion picture photography even if my light meter indicates the shutter speed is not slow enough for a properly exposed image. I will also try photographing subjects that are similar to screenshots available for the aforementioned movies to get a more even basis for comparison.

5. The choice of scanner, exposure settings (i.e. timing lights), and color space influences the image as well. The scanners movie studios use are leagues beyond what I have at home. I’ve found out that my Epson V600’s film holders are such where they aren’t even within the focal plane of the scanner’s fixed focus optics, and even if they were, the film holders don’t do a good job keeping the film flat. It’s an unfortunately common occurrence with consumer scanning devices and I have been very frustrated trying to find something that is up to task. As the image will not be in sharp focus, grain will be less apparent and finely resolved over a professional scanner used for movies or still images. It is also limited to SDR. Unfortunately for the foreseeable future I’m stuck with the scanner I have. I’m just going to have to use what I have available.

I got the film a few days ago and will be running around town taking photos. I’ll post them once I finish off the roll and get time to develop and scan them.

Last edited by singhcr; 01-14-2019 at 10:43 PM.
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Old 01-24-2019, 04:09 AM   #2
singhcr singhcr is offline
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I finished off the roll and developed the negatives just a few minutes ago. The film is drying as I type this.
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Old 01-24-2019, 04:26 AM   #3
singhcr singhcr is offline
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I have developed, stopped, and fixed the film. Now I am monitoring the water temperature for the rinse cycle to flush the film of the fixer. One interesting thing to note is that this film fixes very quickly compared to Tri-X, yet development times are comparable.





All right! We have something on the negatives. The density looks good too. I already coated it in Kodak Photoflo to allow it to dry without water spots, but I like to give it a little extra while it's hanging on the weighted clips to dry.





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Old 01-24-2019, 12:13 PM   #4
CV19 CV19 is offline
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In this digital age, it's always nice to come across someone who still develops their own films. Although I don't do as much these days as I used to, I do still enjoy the process and nothing beats removing the film from the spiral and seeing a perfectly developed negative before your eyes. I wish you well in your work.
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Old 01-24-2019, 01:50 PM   #5
singhcr singhcr is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CV19 View Post
In this digital age, it's always nice to come across someone who still develops their own films. Although I don't do as much these days as I used to, I do still enjoy the process and nothing beats removing the film from the spiral and seeing a perfectly developed negative before your eyes. I wish you well in your work.
Thank you very much, my friend. I started developing my own black and white film a year or so ago. It is a slow process I admit, but it's really rewarding and frankly magical to see something that was just a brown piece of film turn into real images and knowing that the fundamental chemistry hasn't changed since the late 1800s. It encouraged me to learn what the developer, fixer, etc baths do and how color film is an extension of black and white technology.
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Old 01-24-2019, 04:15 PM   #6
CV19 CV19 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by singhcr View Post
Thank you very much, my friend. I started developing my own black and white film a year or so ago. It is a slow process I admit, but it's really rewarding and frankly magical to see something that was just a brown piece of film turn into real images and knowing that the fundamental chemistry hasn't changed since the late 1800s. It encouraged me to learn what the developer, fixer, etc baths do and how color film is an extension of black and white technology.
I am glad you're enjoying it. No matter how many years you've been developing and printing, the satisfaction is always there. I only work with black & white film and I learnt to process it back in the late 1980's when I was in photographic retailing.

I have used Kodak films very early on, but I mostly use Ilford - which still has a manufacturing plant in Mobberley, UK - so at least this shows there are still photographers who work with traditional methods of photography.
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Old 01-26-2019, 05:19 AM   #7
singhcr singhcr is offline
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Well, I started scanning my film today and I can safely conclude that consumer flatbed scanners have horrible film holders. They do nothing to flatten the film and are at the wrong focal height. My medium format film doesn't curl as much and grain is much sharper as a result, although that could be improved as well with a proper holder.

Here is a sample image. The tonality isn't as good as modern 400TX (Kodak's new Tri-X) at box speed, but it's still pleasing. I'd say the XTOL developer worked just fine. It's just not sharp because it's not in focus. If I hadn't scanned this myself, I'd say it was DNR'd. I'm personally surprised how sharp it is considering the poor conditions the scanning setup has.

So unfortunately, my friends, I cannot currently make a decent comparison with the equipment that I have. My apologies. I will have to buy a different scanner or perhaps find a third party film holder that does a better job, because this isn't cutting it.


Last edited by singhcr; 01-26-2019 at 06:55 AM.
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Old 07-03-2019, 12:37 PM   #8
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After several years out of the game I recently got back into film photography/self dev. Always loved it but it just got harder and harder to do as the chemicals I was used to working with expired faster than I could manage use them. Became very wasteful and expensive. Now Iím shooting more and more film just for the fun of it, trying new things... and yes, I did recently try my first roll of 5222! It was interesting and exciting trying an emulsion that Iíve seen used in countless movies.

Unfortunately it was one of 2 films I managed to botch when I accidentally opened the wrong lid to pour in the chemicals... so, pro-tip: donít develop your film at 3 AM when you get back home from a long trip and youíre sleep deprived. Even if you reaalllllly realllly wanna see those photos ASAP... there wonít be any photos left if you screw up.


I struggle with the flatbed filmholders as well. HATE them. Getting decent-at-best scans is such a chore. I think there are some DIY solutions out there for people who are more invested in the hobby than I am, using glass plates and backlights, etc. some people also like to use a DSLR and a copy stand (not my preference)


But if you have a single roll youíd like to get better scans of, it canít hurt to send the negs off to somewhere with a Noritsu. Or maybe even a drum scanning service for a few select frames, if you can pony up the cost.


I think the most accurate way to do this test would be to somehow have the film scanned on a rank-cintel or something like that, but Iím not sure how willing the telecine houses may be to do this for a short strip of film (equivalent in length to 1 second of a movie) rather than an actual long reel of film like theyíre accustomed to scanning. Maybe you can rent a motion picture camera and take the opportunity to shoot some footage/play Hollywood cinematographer for a day.

Good luck on your experiment!
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Old 07-07-2019, 02:08 AM   #9
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I only have two film strips. One is a piece of 70mm IMAX that came with my Blu-ray of Interstellar. The other is a piece of 35mm that came in my Blu-ray of The Lion King that we got for my niece. I don't know if these are OCNs but there is a HUGE amount of detail in both.
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Old 07-22-2019, 06:31 PM   #10
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I still develop my own B&W film and scan it (I have purchased an enlarger but haven't had the time to set up a darkroom yet.

I own an Epson V600 and have purchased a third part film holder from betterscanning.com which allows adjusting the height and holding the film flatter. I now primarily use a dedicated film scanner. None of my scanners have the resolution to accurately resolve the true grain pattern of the film, although the images do have a "grainy" appearance. What really complicates the assessment of grain patterns however is that scanning creates digital artifacts and errors which must be adjusted to provide an accurate image. Some of these adjustments are made by the scanner or scanner software automatically.
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Old 10-18-2019, 02:39 PM   #11
singhcr singhcr is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrRom92 View Post
After several years out of the game I recently got back into film photography/self dev. Always loved it but it just got harder and harder to do as the chemicals I was used to working with expired faster than I could manage use them. Became very wasteful and expensive. Now Iím shooting more and more film just for the fun of it, trying new things... and yes, I did recently try my first roll of 5222! It was interesting and exciting trying an emulsion that Iíve seen used in countless movies.

Unfortunately it was one of 2 films I managed to botch when I accidentally opened the wrong lid to pour in the chemicals... so, pro-tip: donít develop your film at 3 AM when you get back home from a long trip and youíre sleep deprived. Even if you reaalllllly realllly wanna see those photos ASAP... there wonít be any photos left if you screw up.


I struggle with the flatbed filmholders as well. HATE them. Getting decent-at-best scans is such a chore. I think there are some DIY solutions out there for people who are more invested in the hobby than I am, using glass plates and backlights, etc. some people also like to use a DSLR and a copy stand (not my preference)


But if you have a single roll youíd like to get better scans of, it canít hurt to send the negs off to somewhere with a Noritsu. Or maybe even a drum scanning service for a few select frames, if you can pony up the cost.


I think the most accurate way to do this test would be to somehow have the film scanned on a rank-cintel or something like that, but Iím not sure how willing the telecine houses may be to do this for a short strip of film (equivalent in length to 1 second of a movie) rather than an actual long reel of film like theyíre accustomed to scanning. Maybe you can rent a motion picture camera and take the opportunity to shoot some footage/play Hollywood cinematographer for a day.

Good luck on your experiment!

Sorry for the long delay in answering you.

I am sorry to hear that your roll got ruined!

I too hate the flatbed scanners, I think it would be a good idea to try and find even an older Imacon to use as I am tired of not getting good results from my scans. It has limited how much I shoot film because I don't get good outputs and have to pay the extra costs of film, processing, and the time it takes me to scan the film and clean it up.

I think it would be a good idea to try my hand at 16mm motion picture photography as I've always wanted to do that.

Whenever I get a better scanner or find a decent service, I will update everyone here.
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Old 10-18-2019, 02:41 PM   #12
singhcr singhcr is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wallendo View Post
I still develop my own B&W film and scan it (I have purchased an enlarger but haven't had the time to set up a darkroom yet.

I own an Epson V600 and have purchased a third part film holder from betterscanning.com which allows adjusting the height and holding the film flatter. I now primarily use a dedicated film scanner. None of my scanners have the resolution to accurately resolve the true grain pattern of the film, although the images do have a "grainy" appearance. What really complicates the assessment of grain patterns however is that scanning creates digital artifacts and errors which must be adjusted to provide an accurate image. Some of these adjustments are made by the scanner or scanner software automatically.
Have you tried medium format film holders from that company? Does the 35mm holder and/or anti-newton glass make a notable difference in scanning quality? If you could point to what you've purchased it would be very appreciated as I am considering this route for my V600 as well.
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