New Ektachrome Digitized on the FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro
I have been in a rut for quite some time. For the most part, I don’t want to travel too far a field from my comfort zone. But that has just made the photos on each successive blog entry look staled - which to me is becoming unacceptable. So for this week’s post, I’ve decided to visit a district of Hong Kong that has strangely become a mecca for Instagrammers. Specifically, I’m referring to Montane Mansion, a local residential estate which the comedian Richard Aoyade might describe as too local (being the source of its charm).
Admittedly, I am not a well traveled individual in my hometown of Hong Kong - having only lived here for the last ten years. And if it weren’t for this blog, I would be even less well traveled. My life here is a solitary one, to say the least. Day to day, I wake up, go to my gym, then to work, and back home after a day at the office. And if time permits, I sometimes squeeze in a photowalk in the afternoon. On the weekends, I work on the blog from the solitude of home. Not exactly the exciting life you’d imagine from such an offbeat blogger.
It’s not that I’m antisocial. However, the creative process is largely introspective. I need time to myself to see my harebrained propositions in photographic discourse through. And most recently, it has been the question of how to digitize film for optimal screen viewing. As I’ve said on an earlier blog entry, I’ve become obsessed with color reversal film ever since my first attempts to digitize the current version Ektachrome E100 came out noticeably flatter than what I had hoped or had seen pressed against a window.
However, I had a breakthrough a couple of weeks ago when curiosity pushed me to digitize color reversal film with the Nikon Z6 - not that I did anything new. But, oh how sweet it was. The results were far better than what I ever experienced on the Pakon F135. With that being said, it still wasn’t perfect. I found the digitized images too contrasty and too saturated. Even so, it’s far easier to dial down contrast and saturation than to add it. Still, imperfection is imperfection. I thought there had to be a better solution than the Nikon Z6.
Then a thought occurred to me. The Nikon ES-2 film digitizing adapter wasn’t made for the Nikon Z6. In fact, it was released by Nikon as an accessory in conjunction with the release of the Nikon D850. Since I wasn’t using the Nikon ES-2 film digitizing attachment with its intended digital imaging device, it meant I had no reason to limit myself to the Nikon Z6 or the Nikon D850, its intended mate. I mean, as long as I attach the Nikon ES-2 on the Nikon Micro AF-S 60mm f/2.8G to any F mount camera or adapter, I can digitize film.
This was a very exciting development. Naturally, I wanted to test it on another Nikon DSLR. Unfortunately, I no longer had any. The only F-mount DSLR I have is a FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro - which by the way has a legendary 12 megapixel CCD sensor. That said, it is an APS-C camera. That means there’ll be some cropping. But since a large portion of what’s normally captured is the film holder around the film frame, the actual cropping on the FujiFilm S5 is minimal. Essentially, it crops out the film holder bit and an additional 5% of the film - give or take.
To my surprise, the rendering of the film digitization was almost perfect. In my opinion, it was the closest to a spot-on match I’ve ever seen with the actual film rendering, as viewed under a loupe on a light table. For me, it was such an exciting discovery. I haven’t been this excited about photography in a very long time. For once, I saw the new Ektachrome 100 on screen similar to the way it should be seen in its intended format. It’s rich in colors, and is nothing like the muted images digitized from dedicated negative scanning devices.
As perfect as I felt the FujiFilm S5 was in digitizing Ektachrome 100 (and FujiFilm Velvia and Provia), it’s still not technically perfect in the strictest sense. Because the FujiFilm S5 is still a digital sensor intended for capturing different light conditions in normal photographic use, variance in white balance and exposure is more of an issue than on dedicated film scanning devices. That being said, I did find any variance to be relatively easy to manage, assuming the original film capture was properly taken.
What needs to be understood about film digitization for screen use is how inexact a process it is. In practice, it is like shoving a circle into a square. It can be done, but it won’t be perfect. Fact is, film was never intended for screen use. Negatives were made specifically for prints, while positives were made specifically for projection, although favored by professionals for ease of inspection on light boxes. Hence, any expectations of an exact process to digitize film for screen use is overreaching, if not unreasonable.
But given how close to perfection the FujiFilm S5 digitizes color reversal film for screen use, perhaps it could be argued that color reversal film is better suited for screen use than color film. As a solution to digitize film for screen use, the FujiFilm S5 appears to be a far more accessible solution than the Pakon F135, the Noritsu, or even the Nikon Coolscan for digitizing color negatives. And forget about the Hasselblad/Imacon Flextight scanners. They’re much too prohibitively out of reach for mainstream recreational use.
In addition to the FujiFilm S5, there are other F-mount options. Conceivably, older Nikon DSLRs like the Nikon D80 (also APS-C and 10 megapixels), the Nikon D200 (which is also APS-C and 10 megapixels), or the Nikon D3000 (which is also APS-C and 10 megapixels) could all potentially be promising CCD sensor candidates for digitizing color reversal film. Moreover, why stop at Nikon CCD or CMOS sensors. The Nikon ES-2 with the Nikon AF-S 60mm f/2.8G could even be adapted to other mirrorless systems like the Leica SL or the Sony A7.
Clearly, the options for digitizing color reversal film is much more abundant than digitizing color film. With that in mind, the prospect of shooting color reversal film for screen use suddenly seems more appealing. And with Ektachrome 100 (being the only mainstream option available to most) digitizing favorably on the FujiFilm S5, I could not be any more ecstatic. I just cannot believe how close the FujiFilm S5 renders Ektachrome 100 to the way it’s suppose to be seen in its intended format - which really is the only material standard that matters.
For more disclosure, I didn’t digitize these images conscientiously. I didn’t shoot the positives against a light box. In fact, I shot it on a tripod with natural light on a cloudy day at shutter speeds between 2s to 1/15s. I even shot some of these images underexposed by a stop, given the lack of light. Yet despite my casual and rather careless approach to digitizing my images, the amount of editing I needed to do in post was minimal. One can only wonder what the results would’ve been like if I took the task more methodically.
In truth, if I tweaked the white balance in camera, I would have probably fixed the magenta cast of the sensor. But that would have required more effort than resolving it in Lightroom. Other than that, the only other issues I needed to address were inaccuracies in metering of the original film capture. For the most part, I was able to fix that in-camera in the FujiFilm S5, by over or under exposing up to a stop. In addition to that, the autofocus of the FujiFilm S5 did have trouble locking on at times. I mean, it does use technology from the last decade.
After this post, I’ve decided to make Ektachrome 100 my default color emulsion for this blog. For screen use, I prefer the new Ektachrome more than Velvia 100 (which I also digitized with the FujiFilm S5 on the last post). In my opinion, Ektachrome appears ideally suited for screen use, despite depending on older technology. Ironic isn’t it. With the world moving full speed towards full frame mirrorless cameras, the camera that has stolen my heart is this forgotten cropped sensor camera from twelve years ago.
Bottom line - digitized images from color reversal film are not suppose to be flat. Color reversal film had to be more vivid to project the image across a distance without loss of saturation. So whenever you see an image originating from color reversal film that looks flat on the screen, you know it wasn’t digitized correctly. Last, it’s also worth noting that digitizing color reversal film with the FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro yields one more advantage. It seems to retain the micro contrasts of the original image capture better than other film digitizing processes.
Some images have been tweaked in Adobe Lightroom. Images that had more extensive work in post has been disclosed under the image caption. Images with NO EDITS or only one minor tweak also disclosed under the image caption. All images digitized on the FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro. All images have been cropped by the APS-C sensor.
Strangely, the only image set that required work were the ones I shot at Moltane Mansion. But that was unavoidable, or rather would’ve been avoidable if I only used the flash inside my bag. So regretful. That said, the Fuji image files did have enough dynamic range for me to recover details in the shadows.