How to get the right colors from negative films

Kodak Ektar 100 colors, Hasselblad 500c/m and Distagon 50mm f/4

Scanning color negatives is the Holy Grail of the film lover.

The scanning part, per se, is no different that the one you have to carry with any other film, color or black and white. The tricky part comes when you try to obtain natural, or at the very least, pleasant colors from that piece of films covered in a bright orange mask.

A bit of help may come from some new kind of negative film, like the Rollei Digibase, that does not make use of such orange mask; but you will still have an hard time sorting out how to get an usable picture if you don’t know a few tricks.

I will assume here that you have had your negatives processed by a lab, or that you followed my previous posts on how to develop & scan them at home – that you can find here:

 

Best film scanner: Canon 5D Mark II vs Drum scanner vs Epson v700

How to scan films using a digital camera

How to develop color negatives in C-41, the easy way

 

Now you have your film neatly cut in strips and scanned. It’s time for a trip into Photoshop!

Open your freshly scanned image and invert it: CTRL + I on Windows, CMD + I on Mac. It will look something like this:

before image

Don’t panic. Now it is time to use one of the most powerful tools of Photoshop: the curves. They look scary, but are not that difficult to understand, really. Basically at the bottom you have a couple of arrows: these set black and white point. And then you can manipulate the curve, pulling and dragging around, to your heart’s content until the image looks good.

Here is like I do it: first choose one of the colors from the drop down menu on the top part of the curve panel. We well start with red. Drag the left bottom arrow keeping pressed the ALT (Windows) / OPT (Mac) button. You will notice that the image goes away, replaced by a monochromatic version, but that at some point details starts to appear. Those details are actually areas of blocked out shadows or burnt highlights, so we will stop just a fraction before something starts to show up.

Repeat the process, always keeping ALT / OPT pressed, for the right arrow and then for the green and the blue colors.

At this point the image starts to look pretty good, but a fair bet is that the colors are still quite a bit off, with some heavy color cast.

Photoshop CS6 curves

To remove it just switch to the opposite color in the drop down menu (if the color cast is red go for blue and vice-versa) and manipulate the actual curve keeping an eye on the image. Try to not overcomplicate things. Often one control point, like you can see in the blue curve, is enough.

I find that rarely, if ever, I have to recur to more than two points. The second one is mostly just for the sake of cleaning a bit the shadows, that often tend to have some kind of blue cast for “environmental reasons”, because of the light that bathed the scene, or a green cast when you shoot under a tree in spring or summer.

Something like the image at the beginning of this post is what you will get. Quite a difference from the blue mess we started with!

P.s.: you will notice that the leaves in this image tends to go from green-ish to yellow-ish tonalities more or less from the bottom to the top part. This has nothing to do with processing: it matches the scene, or in other words it is exactly like this particular tree was.

The importance of choosing the right raw converter

Forest of the Tasso

A while ago I tested pretty much all the raw converters available at the time with a Canon 5D Mark II: http://www.addicted2light.com/2012/05/28/review-raw-converters-mega-test-part-i/

But I advised in the review that the results were camera-dependant, meaning that each software gives the best possible results with a specific sensor / camera combination.

This does not mean that the results with other cameras are unusable, by any means; they will be simply average.

To “visually” understand what I’m saying just take a look at the following pictures.

 

Photoshop CS6RawPhotoProcessor

It’s exactly the same file, with zero post-processing other than the a straight raw conversion, without any optimization or aesthetics considerations to have the output look pretty much the same between the two softwares –  meaning that it sucks big time. 🙂 It has been shot with a Sony Nex 7, then developed once with Photoshop CS6 and the last iteration of its Camera Raw and once with RawPhotoProcessor (RPP for its friends and family!).

Obviously in both cases the sharpening has been set to zero, even if this is hard to accept given the vast difference visible – and yes I double checked!

Photoshop CS6RawPhotoProcessor

RPP “corrected” also the magenta shift you can see in the borders of the image and the chromatic aberration present in high contrast transitions.

 

Photoshop CS6RawPhotoProcessor

I’ve wrote “corrected” in quotes because there is no specific command in RPP for doing so, it’s a matter of demosaicing algorithm used. Especially the CA can actually be often a product of the algorithm used and not of the lens.

Keep in mind that I’m showing here one result only, but I tried different files, shot ad different ISO values, and different raw converters. And the ones that worked best with the Canon 5D Mark II files performed rather poorly with the Sony Nex 7 ones.

So it definitely pays testing your own equipment. It takes a few hours, but then you will be sure to extract each ounce of quality from your gear.

Happy Holidays!

Review: Core Image Fun House raw converter

Core Image Fun House Depth of Field effect

Today we’ll talk about an Apple Aperture little brother: Core Image Fun House. A little brother that is also free!

In a previous post, the Raw Converters Mega Test, I wrote about a Photoshop sharpening technique called 4 rounds sharpening. It consists in the application of 4 different rounds (as the name suggests) of smart sharpening and unsharp mask, each with different values, to be able to sharpen both the micro and the macro contrast. It works like a charm, but requires Photoshop and it is a bit time consuming. Even if you make an action of it, still takes a few seconds for each image even on a fast computer, not to mention on a slow one.

But here came the good news for Mac users. There is this little program that comes with Xcode 4.2.1 (not with the last version, but you can install both at the same time without problems): Core Image Fun House. You have to do a free registration as developers with Apple, and then you can download the program here (use the search box to find the 4.2.1 version):

https://developer.apple.com/downloads/

The installer put it in the “/Developer/Applications/Graphics Tools” folder of your hard disk. But if you are not interested in compiling software you may also delete all the Xcode bunch and keep only this software (and maybe some of the others not graphic-related but still useful apps, like AULab, FileMerge, IconComposer or Repeat After Me), moving it in the Applications folder.

It can be used as a full featured raw converter. Think of it as the little brother of Apple Aperture: like this one it works through stacks, and each stack can be used more than once.

Core Image Fun House stacks

 

It’s obviously a lot less refined in respect to Aperture but, hey, it’s free! To see how it works as a raw converter please check the crops in the Raw Converters Mega Test here. It is every bit as good as the comparison winners, given that they are in fact based on the same Core Image technology: Preview / Aperture and Rawker. The only difference is that the sharpening settings are more extended with this one compared to Apple Preview, so if you want you may jump a passage and do everything in one software.

Aside from some nice graphic effects, like the CMYK halftone filter, the best I found till now, or the possibility to add text to an image, things that may came in handy doing posters, brochure, covers and so on, it has two kind of sharpening: a normal unsharp masks and a “sharpen luminance”. This one will do the trick. The bad news: Core Image Fun House doesn’t provide a zoom, so you cannot check what you’re doing with the sharpening. The good news: use it at the maximum value (2.0) and you’re set. At this value it sharpens the images with the same accuracy of the 4 routes sharpening routine discussed above, but: it doesn’t require Photoshop and it is nearly instantaneous.

To save the sharpened files you don’t have to use “Save” or “Save as…” but “Export”, otherwise you will save the photo in a file format specific for the program, that include the original raw file and the settings used for the image. Handy, but I strongly suggest to use a more universal format, at least concurrently. Last quirk: the program does not have a way to set the preferences for an output format, instead it defaults every time to jpg. So you will have to remember to switch to tiff each and every time. Luckily the tiffs are at 16bit. There are also a few interesting filters that the program provides, beside the cited halftone.

Core Image Fun House

 

You may want to take a look, especially if you don’t have Photoshop or Lightroom, at the following:

– Geometry Adjustment (Crop, Perspective Transform, Straighten)

– Blur (Noise reduction: better than Photoshop, but worst than Lightroom; Zoom blur: nice for special effects)

– Color Adjustment (Color Controls, Exposure, Gamma, Hue, Temperature, Tone, Vibrance, White Point)

– Stylize (Depth of field: you may see an example on the first photo of the post; Highlights and Shadows)

The only downside that I can think of is the fact that the program does not support batch processing, but it is a minor one from my point of view.

Rating: ★★★★½

Review: Raw Converters Mega Test part V

Oriolo Calabro, castle and town

If you haven’t read the first four parts please take a look at them, because there you may see the images unsharpened and sharpened with various tools, and you’ll learn about the specifics of this comparison.

Raw Converters Mega Test part I

Raw Converters Mega Test part II

Raw Converters Mega Test part III

Raw Converters Mega Test part IV

 

Now that we have seen, in the previous parts, who the winners are it’s time to draw some conclusions.

 

– Adobe Photoshop CS5 / Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3

Pretty good raw conversion quality with industry leading performance for all the other aspects. Both programs are easily usable in a workflow that includes other softwares as raw converters when it’s mandatory to obtain the maximum quality.

Rating: ★★★★★

www.adobe.com 

 

– Apple Preview

It’s a Mac software, so what can you aspect? It’s easy to use and does the job, and an excellent one. A bit limited for “creative” interpretation of the pictures, but really great as a plain raw converter.

Rating: ★★★★★

www.apple.com 

 

– CaptureOne Pro 6.3.5

Many professionals used to use this program. I, quite frankly, nowadays I don’t see the need. The results are pretty good, but not better than Lightroom, and it costs a lot more doing a lot less. More, the interface is confusing, and it litters the file system with useless proprietary configuration files for each and every image. Too little for too much.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

www.phaseone.com

 

– Corel AfterShot Pro 1.0.1

The interface is well studied, but it’s not the 2003 anymore. There are better softwares out there, also free.

Rating: ★★★★☆

www.corel.com

 

Digital Photo Professional 3.11.4

One may think that Canon should know a trick or two about its own cameras, but if so it is not shown in this software. Good results, but nothing to write home about, and limited conversion options. It may came in handy if you save a dust removal image on the camera, to apply it to the raw files (that you can save again as raw and than open with a better app). At least it’s free.

Rating: ★★★½☆

 

– DXO Optics Pro 7

If your camera / lens combination is supported maybe it’s worth a shot. But try it first because, for example, with the (supported) Fuji X100 both Rawker and Preview do a better job…

Rating: ★★★½☆

www.dxo.com 

 

– Gimp / Ufraw 2.6.12

If you are on Linux go for it, but the 8bit limit it is not a good thing. When it will sports a full 16bit support the rating will become a full 4.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

www.gimp.org

 

–  perfectRaw 0.6

Forget about it; it was a noble attempt, but the years do not pass in vain.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

www.ojodigital.com

 

–  RawDeveloper 1.9.4

Pretty good results, but it lacks an histogram and it costs too much for what it has to offer.

Rating: ★★★★☆

www.iridientdigital.com

 

– Rawker 2.3.4

The interface could use a radical redesign, but quality wise it’s one of the winners, and it’s fast and it’s free!

Rating: ★★★★½

raifra.fh-friedberg.de

 

– RawTherapee 4.0.8

Another one of the winners, in various categories, and overall one of the best. Probably the one with the best interface, with the exclusion of Lightroom.

Rating: ★★★★★

rawtherapee.com

 

– RawPhotoProcessor 4.5 64bit

Great results, but Rawker and Apple Preview do almost always better quality wise and RawTherapee beats it in the usability department. Overall still a good choice for low Iso images.

Rating: ★★★★☆

www.raw-photo-processor.com

Review: Raw Converters Mega Test part IV

Oriolo Calabro, castle and town

If you haven’t read the first two parts please take a look at them, because there you may see the images unsharpened and sharpened with the native tools of each raw converter, and you’ll learn about the specifics of this comparison.

Raw Converters Mega Test part I

Raw Converters Mega Test part II

Raw Converters Mega Test part III

Here I used the images from the second part, the ones sharpened with the tools of each raw converter, and I furtherly sharpened them to taste in Photoshop CS5.

Please keep in mind that some of the images may look a bit oversharpened here at 100% on screen, but than they will look good once printed.

To my eyes: it’s a tie, the crown goes both to RawTherepee and Apple Preview / Rawker. 

RawTherapee “paints” the scene with a fine spaced, natural looking brush that looks pretty good at 100%, but once printed it looks less sharp that Apple Preview. More, to obtain this result in RawTherapee, like I wrote in part II, takes a lot of processing time, almost 1 full minute per picture, while Apple Preview takes only a couple of seconds for the conversion. Rawker, if set at -2 points of sharpening from the maximum value (not shown here), it’s every bit as good as Apple Preview (not a suprise, given that they share the same raw conversion engine).

On the plus side RawTherapee has excellent tools to correct chromatic aberration that Apple Preview (and almost all the others, at least good like this) lacks.

Once again a good performance from Corel AfterShot Pro, but once again penalized by the insurgence of non-existent chromatic aberration.

If you want to evaluate for yourself the images you may click below to download one of the PSDs. You have to open them in Photoshop or in Gimp, in this last case using the option File -> “Open as layers”.

The “landscape” PSD contains all the crops of the four parts of the review stacked as layers.

The “portrait” PSD contains instead crops from the three best converters (RawTherapee, Apple Preview and Rawker) when used with, guess what, a portrait image.

Landscape PSD 21.4Mb (right click and “Save as…” to download)

Portrait PSD 3.4Mb (right click and “Save as…” to download)

 

100% crops, sharpening for the best result 

CaptureOne Pro
CaptureOne Pro
Corel AfterShot Pro
Corel AfterShot Pro
Digital Photo Professional
Digital Photo Professional
DxO Optics Pro
DxO Optics Pro
Gimp
Gimp
Adobe Lightroom 3
Adobe Lightroom 3
PhotoShop CS5
PhotoShop CS5
Apple Preview
Apple Preview
RawDeveloper
RawDeveloper
Rawker
Rawker
Raw Photo Processor
Raw Photo Processor
RawTherapee
RawTherapee