Negative or Positive ..which is better ? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello Everybody,

When I first started into color photography & darkroom activities (years ago)I was told by the guy at the photo store that color negatives were the way to go. My darkroom has been stored away for years and I have just recently re-gained my interest and started B&W again in 4x5 format. Over the past couple of months I have been reading this forum as well as many books and now feel ready to approach 4x5 in color. My question is...should I shoot negatives or slides ? I realize that this is probably a personal preference but would still like to hear from anybody who wishes to share their ideas. Back years ago I was told by my local photo store that color negatives were easier to develop and print. I believe that is no longer true (and may never have been true), and wonder what the feelings are today on the Cibachrome process ? Also what film would you recommend ? If it is important, my main interest so far is scenic photography, landscapes, and a small amount of candid (people) shooting. Thanks for any and all replies and for those that daily contibute to this forum from which I obtain an immense amount of enjoyment.

-- GreyWolf (, August 22, 2000


Hello Grey,

You'll be hard pressed to find a better sheet of 4x5 landscape film than Velvia. Every so often I need to remind myself of this fact by shooting other films, the results are always disappointing. In my opinion, no other film on the market pops like Velvia for landscapes. On a recent trip to Utah I ran out of Velvia while backpacking, so I used a holder that had some Provia F loaded. When I got back and had the transperancies developed, I couldn't believe how dull and colorless the Provia F looked compared to the Velvia.

My vote is for Velvia, it'hard to beat!!!!!


-- Albert Martinez (, August 22, 2000.

Albert's evaluation of Velvia as landscape film is right on. I had a similar experience as he did with Provia F. On the darkroom front things have changed a great deal. Cibachrome's existence owed much of its justification to permanency. Today, Crystal Archive paper digitally printed in the Laserjet 5000, has greater longevity and a tonal range which is far superior to Cibachrome. In the digital world it does not make much difference if you use negative or positive film, in printing, that is. However, negative film has much greater exposure range than positive film and some people prefer it for that reason. That leaves you with another problem if you were to use negative film: before printing, what does the picture look like?

-- Julio Fernandez (, August 22, 2000.

With all due respect to the previous responses I will part company with them and say the I prefer Kodak E100S or even Fuji Astia. I think it has everything to do with how we, as individuals, perceive color. I find Velvia far too artificial in its color and it has a tendency to turn things green that aren't really green. My advice to you is to not listen to our advice and try out some different films until you get the results you want to see. BTW, B&W makes a snappy landscape too.

-- David N. VanMeter (, August 23, 2000.

When you expose a transparency, that's it. You get what you exposed for and there's little lattitude for correcting mistakes. The negative film is more forgiving of exposure mistakes. In my opinion, I don't shoot color negative film since I don't have the facilities to make prints. I don't want to have someone else decide what is 'right' for the exposure, or (gasp) have a machine print a 'correct' print. Good luck!

-- Ray Dunn (, August 23, 2000.

While I agree with Albert and Julio about Velvia on the light table, there is another factor to consider in shooting color today. That "pop" on the light table comes at the expense of lost information in the highlights and shadows of the image. Many of us now use a digital process to go from transparency to print. This involves scanning then digital "darkroom" work in Photoshop (or equivalent) followed by printing. For this workflow, a lower contrast, longer curve film like ProviaF, or better yet, Astia gets more information into the digital file. The "pop" is then generated digitally without the loss of highlight or shadow information. So I am learning to live with less spectacle on the light table for more tonal values in the scan.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, August 23, 2000.

first fold : negative versus positive films : I, too, was told that negative films were better than positive ones as far as printing was concerned. I tried several (incl. Fuji Reala) in 35mm and MF but did not liked the prints I got from them. So I now use exclusively positive films. second fold : Velvia versus other slide films. For years I have been using velvia and still use it exclusively in 35mm format. Regarding 4 x 5 I started to experiment with Ektachrome 100S several months ago.The main reason was too much reds in my picture taken at the end of the day.What do I think now ? Well...nothing absolute sometimes I'm quite happy with the Ektachrome and sometimes I believe that I could have done better with velvia. What becomes evident to me is : when light is becoming nicer and nicer the difference between velvia and Ektachrome is less and less important. Still, if no direct sunshine is available, what I like for a great part of my shooting, nothing can replace Velvia.

-- Jean-Marie Solichon (, August 23, 2000.

I saw a few negative comments above on Fuji Provia 100 F, so I thought I should voice my support of the film. It has a more neutral color balance than Velvia, and thus is much more suited to product shots and portraits than Velvia. Actually, I've never used it for portraits, just product shots, but you definately don't want to use Velvia for protraits -- too much color brings out the imperfections in skin. For protraits, I usually shoot Fuji NPS 160 in 120 size with my Pentax 67. It also has a neutral color balance and does well with flesh tones. NPS is also good for architectural interiors because it is very tollerant of mixed light sources (daylight, tungsten, etc.)

-- Joel Collins (, August 23, 2000.

It's an endless debate "I tried Reala and did not like the prints I got" - then the problem is not the film, it's the printing! Reala printed by an expert on Fuji Crystal Archive paper looks fantastic! Velvia printed on Cibachrome by an expert (most likely using some sort of masking process) also looks fantastic.

The "usual" advice is to use slides for projection or magazine reproduction and negative film if you want to make prints. This may slowly be changing however with the advent of high quality digital processes. Still, $100 for a drum scan from a slide plus Fujix Laser print is more than I can afford. Thus I will continue to use negative film if my goal is exhibition quality color prints (until the economics of digital become more "reasonable").

-- Andreas Carl (, August 24, 2000.

For a different view than most of the previous responses, I suggest a negative film. Negatives will handle a larger light ratio (contrast) in the scene and give you more exposure lattitude. I think it makes sense to have a professional lab develop your film, so developing the film doesn't have much impact on your decision. If you are going to do your own traditional wet printing, printing from negatives is probably easier. For digital output, it really shouldn't matter, but the industry seems more used to transparancies.

Film: I suggest Kodak Portra 400 NC, unless you plan huge enlargements, then 160 NC, or, if you want more vivid colors, 160 VC. The 400 speed will really help for your candid people photography.

-- Michael Briggs (, August 24, 2000.

I started with transparencies, and I would have r-prints made at a lab. But, it's difficult to get the correct exposure with one shot. So, I would shoot three transparancies for each image, one based on my meter reading, one at 2/3rds above that reading, and one at 2/3rds below that reading.

This became expensive, so I started shooting Agfa Optima. (Now, Optima II.) I find that this film gives me a nice quality print, probably better than I was getting from transparencies. For one thing, I understand that Optima is balanced for daylight, versus balanced for skin tones under flash, like other 4x5 negative films. Also, developing prints from negatives is also less expensive that developing r-prints from positives. So, I've continued to use this film.

-- neil poulsen (, August 24, 2000.

Your choice of film will depend on the situation. The more you know about many films the better off you'll be when you need to choose one. I like Astia pushed 2 and my last roll was Optima 2 400 print that came out real nice with exposures in the 15 second range. Provia pushed 1 looks nice as well as Velvia at 40. I could go on and on, but untill you try different films, our opinions are just opinions. Yours will be different. BTW, labs that offered Cibachrome are dropping it in favor of going digital.

-- Wayne Crider (, August 24, 2000.

Hello Again Grey,

I see were in another-less filling-taste great debates, again! You've asked a perfectly legitimate question, and I believe everyone here, including myself, are attempting to give thier objective thoughts about something thats unfortunately, completely subjective.

My girlfriend and I enjoy spending time at Borders or Barnes and Nobles after our customary Friday night out. And as usual, she reads her girly magazines and publications while I'm pouring through anything associated with photography, something quiet common, I'm sure, with the participants of this site.

I'll cut to the chase. Practical Photography ran several articles evaluating film. And I'll give you the winners but with one caveat, you should make an attempt to get copies of these articles so YOU could be the judge of what looks best to you. I agreed with most of their decisions and found others to be a bit close to call.

In my opinion, I felt they did an outstanding job of keeping everything as fair and equal as humanily possible. The photographs, I failed to mention, were of a female model wearing some what colorful clothing. Same model,clothing,lighting,processing, yaid,yadi,yadi...

100 Speed Chrome. Astia Provia F, which would have been my choice, shows a subtle but obviuos yellowish hue on the models face, it's only visible when you compare it to the other films. Once again,in my opinion, proving the value and merit of the test.

What's really funny about this, at least to me, was that when Provia F first came out I shot a 120 roll of my girfriend at the Huntington Library. When I reviewed the transperancies I noticed the slight shift in color on my girlfriend face but without having something to compare it with it looked perfectly normal. So when the article came out and I noticed the results, I had her look over the different pictures and asked her to pick out which film she thought I used on her at the library, her comment jokingly was " I hope it's not this one, my complexion is yellow enough as it is" she's chinese!!! I couldn't stop laughing, so she looked over the choices and picked the Astia, because "she'll have a rosy look with the bad effects of the sun" and what's my comment "sure why not". It's totally subjective folks!

The winner of the 100 speed neg film was no surprise, Reala. I've had very good results when photographying woman with Reala, if I shoot it at an extra stop over, it smooths out facial imperfection quite nicely. Older woman, heck-anyone over 12 loves that look, it takes years off thier features. My mom seems to think there's something magical about my equipment, and her sons talents,let's not spoil the notion for her, so we'll keep the secret among us. I don't remember the winner of 200 speed chrome but Kodak Royal gold took the honors for neg film.

400 speed slide film was a real surprise for me, Fuji 100/1000 MS something or other. I went to Fuji's site to look for the stuff and found nothing along those lines, so I'll need to research this a bit more. I do remember they were quite impressed with the stuff, even at the slower speeds. If anyone has any knowledge, experience using or info on the stuff by all means shoot me an email. Would be kind of nice to be able to use one film at different speeds for different applications. So the moral of this very long dissertation on film is?

Let your girlfriend or boyfriend pick what they want to look like and you'll forever be rewarded with fun photographic toys from all the members of your naively content family, everyone wins.

The End. Taste Great!!!! A very tired, Albert

Excuse the type o's, you may critique my spelling and grammer only while I'm awake. Less Filling!!!

-- Albert Martinez (, August 25, 2000.

Let me start out by thanking all those who have replied to my question. I have found something of interest and use from all of the replies. Many people have suggested that I try different films and compare the results according to my tastes and technique (a very valid idea) but most of you seem to be leaning towards chromes. There were others who reminded me that B&W can be beautiful and Ive taken that to heart and will continue using my HP5 and enjoy the results.

I feel that is important that I let everyone know what I decided to do and the reasons for my decision. Hopefully this may also help others who read this thread at a later date.

Let me start by qualifying the type of photographer I am and my expectations. I am an amateur doing this strictly for the pleasure of the hobby. I also elect not to use any digital technology because I am a computer professional and wish to separate computers from photography as much as possible. Also I truly wish to explore the traditional methods and not blend this hobby with my knowledge of computers. I also enjoy all the processes from loading film into the holders till the final print is made in my darkroom. It is the journey that I seek and enjoy and the results are just an added benefit of this hobby. For these reasons I would not consider using an outside source to perform any of the steps necessary.

Now with that out of the way, here is what I decided to do. I have elected to start with Velvia for these reasons.

1.I am curious to witness for myself the pop that has been referred to 2.I have previously in 35 mm explored the C41 process and wish to try the E6 process 3.I want the film to be the indicator of my exposure control and not my development, the lack of latitude is welcome at this time 4.Saturday while in the store I was able to buy recently outdated but refrigerated Velvia

So this is where I am heading. I also hope to save some of you who will caution me that outdated film may not give the best results, that I am aware of this possibility. I will be working on temperature control and exposure initially but will buy fresh film when I feel I have good control of the basics.

Perhaps in a month or so when I manage to produce (with a bit of luck) a few good shots, I might return here and let others know what I have experienced and learned.

Thanks again for the contributions of your ideas and preferences.

-- GreyWolf (, August 28, 2000.

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