Film & Digital B&W “Hybrid”; How To Get The Best Of Both Worlds Page 2

Scanning 35mm B&W Film
Because the Plustek OpticFilm 7200i 35mm scanner inspired this black and white project, and I'd returned the one I tested, I had to get in touch with Plustek to borrow another. And, since LaserSoft released the full version of SilverFast Ai 6.5, including the Studio level option with all of the newest features like fully Auto Profiling and Multi-Exposure scanning, I also downloaded a copy of it to drive the scanner. For all this latest version of SilverFast offers I suggest a visit to

A chromogenic black and white C-41 negative involves an image formed by dye clouds rather than metallic silver grains. This provides a density range similar to a color negative, but in monochrome. The dye has the advantage that no matter how exposed, some light will pass through the image, unlike heavily exposed silver-based negatives that can block light from very dense highlights. And contrary to silver-based black and white negatives, the C-41 chromogenic dye image appears less grainy in the denser portions of the image. In addition, C-41 processed negatives, color or black and white, have about half or less the density range of slide films. This means that scanners like the Plustek 7200i, which offers a modest dynamic range of just over 3.0, is ideally suited to fit the scanned densities well within the scanner's gamut. This relies less on software to make an ideal output which, if too steep, can result in distinct density cutoffs that look like posterization.

The Plustek OpticFilm 7200i provides exceptional scan image quality from C-41 process black and white films. It will also scan and convert color negatives to black and white easily and effectively with SilverFast's iSRD infrared sensor dirt and scratch removal. Just set the output to gray scale. In addition, by clicking on the Selective Color Adjustment icon you get the ability to adjust the relative lightness or darkness to one or more of six color channels.

The color negative original of this New Mexico scene was a confusing array of bright blue sky, pale gray clouds, fall tree leaves turning color, reddish adobe walls, and deep brown weathered wood. But converted to black and white with minor adjustments of the Selective Color channels, attention focuses on the shape, detail and texture, light and shadows that define the main subject and lend it character.

Because C-41 process films are compatible with infrared sensor dirt and scratch cleaning, like SilverFast's iSRD with the Plustek or Digital ICE with other scanners, the images scanned were spotlessly clean. And, as I had commented on the Plustek 7200i in my report, the grain was finely and accurately reproduced, and not exaggerated by any pattern interference that is too often the case with very much lower resolution scanners. But what surprised me most positively, considering my previous experience printing black and white chromogenic film negatives in an analog wet darkroom with an enlarger, was the acuteness of detail and good preservation of subtle tonal differences in some of that detail. In other words, there is an obvious and inexplicable advantage in image definition. It's as if the C-41 black and white chromogenic films were made for scanning all along, and doing so yields over levels of definition and quality not experienced in the old days of wet darkrooms.

This surprisingly exceptional performance brought up the question of whether this was due to recent improvements in the film currently available over what was sold a few years ago, or was untapped potential all along. So, rather than limit my testing to scanning new images and burning up a lot of expensive California gasoline in the process, I dug into my film files for shots of different kinds of subjects made with black and white C-41 process chromogenic films from the past.

Originally shot with Agfa 1000 speed color negative film, this rare late night snowfall on Seattle's fishing wharf did not really capture the experience of the scene due to the distractingly strange color of several different kinds of light sources in the picture. Converted to gray scale it made for a black and white print that captured the look and mood of the subject more truly. And, I was quite surprised to find even this very fast film's grain was reproduced rather finely and the details of the subject rendered very sharply thanks to the high resolution of the Plustek OpticFilm 7200i.

The ghost town of Bodie, California, had a lasting attraction for me ever since the first year it was deeded to the state and open to the public. I made many pilgrimages and photographed bits of the town in about every way possible with cameras from 35mm to 8x10, loaded with a variety of color films and often black and white. Just about the only images I return to now are from the few rolls of black and white 35mm I took, which seemed to capture more of what intrigued me to return so often. This shot was on a very fine-grained film that I processed in Rodinal. It turned out very difficult to print with silver paper in a wet darkroom. But scanning the negative provided the ability to adjust the curves and place the areas of local contrast precisely. This resulted in a file that reproduced all of the detail across the range of highlights and shadows to reveal this richly textured, long lifeless town to my satisfaction.

I came across one set of studio portraits shot with Ilford XP film that had always frustrated me in the darkroom. In it my subject was wearing a fur jacket, which, now, when scanned, revealed previously irreproducible detail in the fur and an overall image that was quite satisfying.

When the black and white chromogenic C-41 process films were first introduced one of the positive selling features was that photographers could use the film with a range of film speeds and obtain printable negatives. This leveraged the exposure latitude of C-41 color negative films (dye clouds); however, despite their latitude, color negative films that were "abused" in exposure often failed to produce good color prints, due to the nature of color printing paper. This became the subject of another test--scanning high-contrast black and white chromogenic film. After scanning a few I found the digital image files produced did in fact yield good detail in both highlights and shadows of extreme contrast subjects, and once digitized could be manipulated with Photoshop's Highlight/Shadow adjustment tool to provide even better results.