Black and White or desaturated color for scans? : LUSENET : Advanced Photography : One Thread

I've been doing some B&W work for a few web sites, scanning B&W film like Tri-X, Tmax100 etc., but I'm wondering if I wouldn't be just as well of using color negative film, scanning as usual and converting into B&W. That way I would have the color images on file if I needed them later, plus I can "simulate" color filters (e.g. simulate a #25 by picking the red channel of an RGB image) after the fact.

Would I miss out on anything by shooting color negative for this application? I can see how I might not want to do this if fine-art B&W prints were my ultimate goal. The few tests I've done so far don't seem to show I'm gaining much by shooting B&W film, but maybe there's something I'm missing.

-- David Jansen (, August 06, 1999


For B&W web use with "normal" (ISO 100-800) film speeds I'm not sure you gain much from B&W negs over color, except you have more control over the tonal range of the original negative. Whether you can match that via image processing software and B&W conversions of color negs I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if you could do so well enough for web images. I've turned a few scaned color negatives and slides into B&W images and the results were quite good, but then I didn't have identical B&W negs to compare the results of the two processes.

Where B&W film might be better is at the high speed end. TMZ 3200 and Delta 3200 are probably better high speed films than anything you can get in color negative form. At the slow end, Tech Pan is better than any color negative film you can get, though the improvement in resolution and lack of grain won't be noticable on the web.

-- Bob Atkins (, August 06, 1999.

I agree with Bob on this one. I'm currently experimenting with shooting slide film and converting to B&W for fine printing. I understand the limitations (as it seems you do), but given the limitation of digital manipulation I don't think they are severa even for fine prints (I'm talking digital output here, not traditional processes). For web work where the fine tonal controls are not as essential as they are in darkroom work I see not reason to shoot black and white film if you think you'd like color later on.

The photos you'll lose on are those with a tonal range exceeding slide film's latitude. You aren't going to contract an eight-stop scene into the five-stop range of slide film. If the lighting lends itself to slide film then scanning color and converting to black-and-white works quite well for me so far.

-- Darron Spohn (, August 09, 1999.

You get a little different look from desaturated color film than you do from true black & white. Most color films, when desaturated, are lower contrast than you would expect. Colors with similar reflectance but different hue register in your brain as having contrast in color but of course when desaturated look nearly identical.

I shot this picture on Fuji Reala. Some of the background clutter was bright red or other bright primary colors (children's toys typically are) which was very distracting in the original picture. Desaturating the shot effectively minimizes the distractions in the background and allows you to connect with the subject's eyes more readily. Plus, Reala's reduced contrast compared to most other films becomes apparent when you desaturate it. Good in some situations, bad in others.

As the others have mentioned above, there are certain advantages to the straight black & white films. You basically have to weigh the pros & cons and decide for yourself. I shoot color negatives for snapshots, color slides for scenics, and medium format when I'm serious. The picture I linked above was a snapshot that happened to work better desaturated. YMMV.

-- Russ Arcuri (, August 09, 1999.

My experience is you have to consider the effects of grain when scanning B&W film. The scanning process seems to exaggerate the silver grains in B&W film (Grain Aliasing?), whereas color film has a dye structure and in (my experience) does not exhibit the grainyness of a B&W scan. I wonder if anyone has shot the same subject under the same lighting conditions in both B&W and Color Neg film (indentical ISO ratings), scanned the images, converted the color scan to greyscale and compared the two? The above comments are related to high dpi output prints, not internet quality, of course.

-- Ed Bridant (, August 09, 2002.

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