Film versus DSLR dynamic range

Started Jul 24, 2007 | Discussions
Alfredo Li Pira Junior Member • Posts: 36
Film versus DSLR dynamic range

A number of posts in recent threads state that film has more dynamic range than DSLR sensors. Actually, these measurements ( http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/film.vs.digital.summary1.html ) clearly show the contrary, with slide film having about 5 stops dynamic range, print film about 7 and a DSLR getting to 10 stops. I would be interested in understanding on what are the statements about the low dynamic range of DSLRs based?

Thanks,

ALP

Antony Blake Regular Member • Posts: 374
Re: Film versus DSLR dynamic range

You can make stats look just like you want them to, governments do it all the time.

So why not film and digital. In my experience having worked with BW/slide/Colour/35mm/120/220 film and now on digital for 8 years film still has it because of the processing you can do.

Also medium format backs like PhaseOne show a difference in range from Canon 1D ranges so I cannot see how this data can be stood behind.

The only way i think ditigal wins in most situations is when a photag uses HDR. Then no question Digital is better for High Dynamic range.

My opinion and a huge Sensor development industry says it probably is still the case, including Fuji and Kodak still deeveloping film.

2 cents and you might not agree but at least it's an answer

randyYork Regular Member • Posts: 179
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong....

I tell you what, I'll shoot my NPH at +3 Stops and you can shoot your digital camera at +3 then we will Print a 8X10.

I'll have an Image your have a White BLOB!

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Randy York
D200, 17-55

JohnSavage Regular Member • Posts: 297
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.... confusing latitude with DR (nt)

no text

randyYork Regular Member • Posts: 179
Re: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.... confusing latitude with DR (nt)

They are basically the same thing, it all boils down to Information at exposure other than the correct exposure.

Setting your camera to +3 ev is a way to push the boundaries of the DR capabilities.

But if you want, we could just take a back light portrait, properly expose the portrait, and see who can retrieve the most detail in the back light area of the scene.

I'll choose NPH for such a test over my D200.

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Randy York
D200, 17-55

JohnSavage Regular Member • Posts: 297
'ish...

...You don't usually see DSLR DR tests done with burning and dodging.

Lictor Regular Member • Posts: 346
Re: Film versus DSLR dynamic range

Alfredo Li Pira wrote:

A number of posts in recent threads state that film has more dynamic
range than DSLR sensors.

DR is not a problem with digital. Anyway, you don't want to use a media with huge DR, because you will get a very flat image as a result with no contrast whatsoever.

The advantage film still has over digital is elsewhere. Linear range is similar, but film wins outside of that range. It's due to the way digital and analogic react to saturation.

When you saturate a digital device, it clips. In 8 bits, anything above 255 is 255. That's the dreaded white hole in your blown highlights. Worse, not all channels clip at the same time - causing color shift when the highest channel clips while the other keep responding.

Another problem with digital is that CCD/CMOS are absolutely linear : twice the amount of light will cause the output of the sensor to double. Which means that shadows will get a very limited range of values to express the different shades, leading to posterization in the shadows. On the other hand, the human eye does not have a linear response.

Clipping is a problem much broader than imaging. You can actually hear that with low quality digital amplification, where the sound becomes awful when it's too loud.

On the other hand, analog does not clip, it compresses. This means that outside of the linear response zone, analog still responds, only with diminishing returns. If you double the light, you don't make the response twice as bright, but only a fraction of that. This means your blown highlights will fade to white, while your shades will fade to black.

Likewise, film response is not linear but logarithmic IIRC - much like the human eye. The available shades are split equally on the white-black spectrum.

Compression is what all radio station use : quiet sounds are made louder and loud sounds are made less loud. Compression is also what happens when you saturate an old tube amp : rather than ugly clipping, you get distorted sound with lots of harmonics. It's no more realistic than clipping, but it sure sounds better.

That was used a lot in B&W film photography. Rather than use bokeh to fade an ugly background, you could also flood it with flight while keeping the foreground in the shade and exposing for it. This worked very well for portrait. This does not work so well with digital...

That's why to be effective, digital needs a more DR than film. Because you will have to sacrifice some of that DR (the part that has a linear response) to simulate the non-linear portion of film (the shoulder you had for highlights) and get a smoother transition from highlights to pure white. Likewise in the shadows with the foot of the film response.

randyYork Regular Member • Posts: 179
Re: Film versus DSLR dynamic range

very well put.
--
Randy York
D200, 17-55

Antony Blake Regular Member • Posts: 374
Re: Film versus DSLR dynamic range

Dude you are a genius, I think i understood every third word you used but the explanation is brilliant, elequant and very technical compared to most people.

You obviously work in the industry but I am going to capture the gist of this and use it as an response when ever i get asked.
obvisouly i will change 30% to ensure i do not breach you copyright.

Brilliant and actually interesting to read.

Truman Prevatt
Truman Prevatt Veteran Member • Posts: 9,167
Re: Film versus DSLR dynamic range

DR can be a touchy thing to define. Technically it is the range of values min to max that give the sensor response other than noise floor or saturation. That is it is the min value where the sensor will give a response above the noise floor (fog level in flim) to the value where it will not saturate the sensor.

As someone pointed out film - especially B&W film has the latitude to map the increased exposure levels in a non linear fashion on a long toe and shoulder. A digital sensor is linear. Some one else did a good job on this description so I will not repeat it.

In digital is very difficult to get detail in shadows at 3 stops below the middle gray metered value. The S5 has quite a bit more DR, however. It is also very difficult to to get details in more than 3 stops above middle gray. So detail to detail shadow to highlight is about 6 stops. You are stuck - there is nothing you can do - except get a S5.

With B&W film I can capture from deep shadow to highlights with details at both ends with the correct film, developer, development method in B&W for up to 14 stops.

As far as the image values compressed a little - that's not a big deal you can expand and add contrast (if you shoot raw and use 16 bit processing) to spread the values. Once a highlight is gone - it is gone.

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miancu Senior Member • Posts: 1,530
How wonderful...

Lictor wrote:

The advantage film still has over digital is elsewhere. Linear range
is similar, but film wins outside of that range. It's due to the
way digital and analogic react to saturation...

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Kaj E Veteran Member • Posts: 9,440
Re: Film versus DSLR dynamic range

I agree with most of what you wrote.

The sensor output is linear, but not the tones in the JPEG file from the camera. The 8-bit range poses some real challenges to to the image. You want to have enough contrast to avoid a flat image, but you want to apply a shoulder in the curve for the highlights. Because of digital clipping of highlights and varying contrast in real scenes it is quite hard to make in camera JPEG curves to suite most shooting circumstances with only 8-bits available.

To take full advantage of the dynamic range of a DSLR you need to shoot RAW to recover the dynamic range "hidden" from the JPEG file and utilize the higher bits of the RAW image. With 16-bit post-processing you can take full advantage of the dynamic range of your camera and apply the curves that suite each individual image while retaining smooth transitions. Postprocessing is an integral part of digital photography.

In my opinion you can with DSLRs and proper PP achieve everything you did with a film SLR and more. At least it is clearly the case for me, who did mostly shoot 35mm slides in my film days.
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Slough Senior Member • Posts: 1,809
Re: Film versus DSLR dynamic range

Alfredo Li Pira wrote:

A number of posts in recent threads state that film has more dynamic
range than DSLR sensors. Actually, these measurements

( http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/film.vs.digital.summary1.html ) clearly show the contrary, with slide film having about 5 stops dynamic range, print film about 7 and a DSLR getting to 10 stops. I would be interested in understanding on what are the statements about the low dynamic range of DSLRs based?

The estimates I have seen give are as follows:

Slide film ~ 5 stops.
DSLR ~ 8 stops (Fuji S5 ~ 10 stops)
Print film ~ 11 stops.

I can see that from my own experience that my D200 has much greater DR than Fuji Provia 100F and KR64. Assuming I shoot RAW of course.

Jay Turberville Forum Pro • Posts: 12,917
Re: Film versus DSLR dynamic range

A number of posts in recent threads state that film has more dynamic
range than DSLR sensors. Actually, these measurements

( http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/film.vs.digital.summary1.html ) clearly show the contrary, with slide film having about 5 stops dynamic range, print film about 7 and a DSLR getting to 10 stops. I would be interested in understanding on what are the statements about the low dynamic range of DSLRs based?

Roger Clark's 10 stops of DR is pretty unrealistic. He's right that you can measure DR that great, but the real question is whether or not you get usable detail over that entire range. You might with some sensors like the Fujifilm sensors or with some of the 35mm sized Canon Sensors with very large pixel pitches and larger well capacities. But for the vast majority of cameras, you get a solid 8 stop of really usable DR at the camera's "native" ISO and you can squeez maybe an extra stop out of the shadows before noise starts to be a real problem. If you also use highlight recovery, you might get an extra 2/3 stop of DR - but at the expense of some color issues there. Getting 10 stops of usable DR out of an APS-C or smaller sensor is perhaps technically possible, but as a practical matter, you get a stop or two less - depending on how picky you are about noise.

Oh and you typically lose DR with ever extra stop of ISO increase. What's interesting is that a LOT of images are shot at ISO 200 and 400 with quite satisfactory results. If you combine that with what we know about slide film DR and how often it was used professionally, it becomes clear that even a measly 5-6 stops of DR is often all that is needed. So while having the option of recording 11+ stops of DR is good, depending on what you shoot, it may not be that much of a benefit.

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PIXSurgeon Veteran Member • Posts: 4,009
Roger's results are *correct* and, on top of that...

Alfredo Li Pira wrote:

( http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/film.vs.digital.summary1.html ) clearly show the contrary, with slide film having about 5 stops dynamic range, print film about 7 and a DSLR getting to 10 stops.

...they are CONSERVATIVE, and manageable.

The tonal range where Digital destroys films is in the shadows, especially in today's best-in-class sensors with fairly high signal-to-noise ratios and basically photon-noise limited, without mentioning how beautifully aligned and uniform are digital's density-response curves when you dive in the shadows, as opposed to the mess provided by Film, especially at anything above ISO100.

You can pull out about 11.0-11.3 from an 12-bit A/D loaded on a EOS 1D-class cam or 5D, for instance, and keep up a good chunk of that DR even on high-ISO.

Anything else you read on this subject is pretty much non-sense, or simply put, incompetence with digital pipelining/workflowing.

Enjoy!

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Leonard Shepherd
Leonard Shepherd Forum Pro • Posts: 17,472
Re:Ah but

Print film can take 3 stops over exposure OK, can cope with 5 stops over exposure and produce a just about get you by result, plus 1 stop under exposure is fine.
1 stop over exposure with digital leaves you in the mire.
--
Leonard Shepherd

Whilst the camera and lens can be important the photographers skill and imagination are much more important in achieving good pictures.

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williams-pics Contributing Member • Posts: 874
Re:Ah but

Leonard Shepherd wrote:

Print film can take 3 stops over exposure OK, can cope with 5 stops
over exposure and produce a just about get you by result, plus 1 stop
under exposure is fine.

Ideal for amatuers and careless pro's.

1 stop over exposure with digital leaves you in the mire.
--

Anyone acustomed to shooting transparencies is unlikely to let that happen !!

Leonard Shepherd
Whilst the camera and lens can be important the photographers skill
and imagination are much more important in achieving good pictures.

Not if you don't get the exposure right.
Regards,
Bruce.

The Davinator
The Davinator Forum Pro • Posts: 22,401
Correct

Jay, you're completely correct.

First off, with a 12 bit sensor, you cannot physically discern more than 11 stops.....it's impossible.....period.....end of story. With a 12 bit system, the 11th stop has only 2 tonal values....on and off. That is hardly of any use. In fact, even the 8th stop only has 16 tonal values assigned, thus, of little, limited value.

Compared to slide film, DSLRs have decent dynamic range. I have little problem getting 10 to 11 stops from color neg film and a 16 bit 16X multi scan from Fuji ProS 160 or the old NPS 160. I really wish people would stop quoting that laughable film test of Clarkes where he used Kodak 200 consumer grade garbage....known for poor color rendition and dynamic range.

With B&W it's a different story altogether. I have routinely obtained 14 stops with Tri-X using dilute developer solutions and stand development.

The problem with digital capture in this respect is its linearity. Films have a more gentle rolloff of highlights and shadows due to their response curves at the toe and shoulder. It would require some nasty overexposure to blow out Tri-X or FP4 compared to a DSLR.

The only people who think DSLRs exceed film in dynamic range are those who hang out in a lab using Imatest. In the real world, their tests fall flat. I can blather on about lab results for Tri-X that prove 22 stops of dynamic range....in the real world, it's nowhere near that.....much in the same way that in the real world, 12bit DSLRs are nowhere near 11 to 12 stops.

The wedding photographers I know all realise this through experience.....not hiding in a lab behind Imatest results.

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PIXSurgeon Veteran Member • Posts: 4,009
Here you go (time FOR FACTS & SAMPLES and less words)...

Dave Luttmann wrote:

Compared to slide film, DSLRs have decent dynamic range. I have
little problem getting 10 to 11 stops from color neg film and a 16
bit 16X multi scan from Fuji ProS 160 or the old NPS 160.

...You are welcome any time to show us these results, and, ABOVE ALL, density curves on the deep shadows (as well as resulting color balance and signal-to-noise/grain when pushing shadows after scanning).

The problem with digital capture in this respect is its linearity.

...That's its beauty, in fact (for those that are TRULY skilled with dealing with Digital-to-Digital workflows)

Films have a more gentle rolloff of highlights and shadows due to
their response curves at the toe and shoulder. It would require some
nasty overexposure to blow out Tri-X or FP4 compared to a DSLR.

Here you go, NASTY (really, really NASTY) on dSLR:

http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/50090435/original
http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/50090436/original
http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/67647231/original

The only people who think DSLRs exceed film in dynamic range are
those who hang out in a lab using Imatest.

...I believe that you are pretty much out of tune with today's world. May be you got stuck somewhere... Here is a 12 - 13 f/stops at ISO100-400 (!) from a dSLR, NO tripod, no support, no filters, etc., just cam+lens (let's see if you are capable of posing the RIGHT questions, here):

http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/74657486/original (this is test of FIRE, where reproduction of flame's combustion colors as well as background is key for detecting actual DR. Just go ahead, try at home with ANY ISO400 COLOR FILM you may think of, handheld, and come back here with your results... :-)))

http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/60205339/original
http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/61209434/original

.....much in the same way that in the real world, 12bit
DSLRs are nowhere near 11 to 12 stops.
In the real world, their
tests fall flat.

You have NO CLUE with what the connection with the REAL world is and what TESTS allow you to prepare for. Here we have around 11.0 stops of DR, approximate, in motion:

http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/41090951/original
http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/41090981/original
http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/41090948/original

Here we go, around 10 f/stops on ISO800, shadows pushed to where they could not get any longer (my eyes COULD NOT SEE A THING, it was PITCH-black at takeoff, lens at 200mm, and a meager 220EX, which basically did NOTHING):

http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/70093597/original

I want to see an equivalent ISO800 capture of ANY FILM, ANY EMULSION, ANY MANUFACTURER, ANY INVENTION IN THE HISTORY OF 35mm ANALOG PHOTOGRAPHY, next to this one... 8-)))

NOW: your time to either PUT UP and show the evidence, or I would simple deem your post as medieval poetry.

Your call!

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The Davinator
The Davinator Forum Pro • Posts: 22,401
No facts....just flawed Imatest readings again.....

Let me show you something Pix. You do understand how a 12 bit system works....but I'll show you.

1 stop 2048 tonal values
2nd 1024
3rd 512
4th 256
5th 128
6th 64
7th 32
8th 16
9th 8
10th 4
11th 2 tonal values.

A 12 bit system CANNOT discern more than 11 stops in a single capture. Impossible.....end of story.

And what exactly is in that 11th stop with regards to data.....well, just on and off. Thus, for any real DR figure, you cannot really use more than 10 stops...and that's for just 4 tonal values.

Sorry Pix, but you can't cheat physics on this one. A 12 bit system is not capable of discerning that DR no matter how much you kick and scream.

As to having a clue....please get one. Photographers have been getting more than 12-14 stops from Tri-X for decades. I suggest you check out Bruce Barnbaums photos in antelope canyon back from 1980. The DR he achieved exceeds ANY digital capture available today.....27 years later.

Do your homework instead of playing around with Imatest.

You have NO CLUE with what the connection with the REAL world is and
what TESTS allow you to prepare for. Here we have around 11.0 stops
of DR, approximate, in motion:

http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/41090951/original
http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/41090981/original
http://www.pbase.com/feharmat/image/41090948/original

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