b&w straight out of camera

As my last post about the ACROS film simulation for the X-PRO2 created quite some waves, I wanted to share a little bit more in detail which possibilities and options are available and how I create “ready to print” Fine Art works straight out of camera.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with professional PostProduction. In many cases there is no other way than processing the .RAF files in order to match the final look of the image. Personally, I am very happy with the .jpg files produced by the x-series cameras – giving more than satisfactory image files in most of the cases. Shooting black and white is especially exciting with Fujifilm x-series cameras – and especially the new X-Pro2 – as there are lovely film simulations producing stunning results right away.

Let’s have a closer look on all the parameters, we can control

  • filmsimulation (normal black&white or ACROS*)
  • color filters (Yellow, Red, Green)
  • ISO setting
  • Grain (off, weak, strong)*
  • “shadow” control (-2,-1,0,+1,+2,+3*,+4*)
  • “highlight” control (-2,-1,0,+1,+2,+3*,+4*)
  • Photometry (especially “spot metering” can be useful here)

Note (*): The ACROS film simulation and the option to add different amount of analog-like film grain is only available on the X-PRO2. Also shadow and highlight adjustments can be set to +3 or +4. All other means of image manipulation applies to all available x-series cameras.

Let me remind you that black and white images created directly in camera are of course .jpg files, whereas the .RAF files (in case you opted to shoot both) contain of course all color info.

In the following sections, we will go through all above mentioned ways to influence the resulting image. Be prepared to look at many images (showing the same landscape scenery) ! If you really want to see sometimes small differences in tonality, brightness and contrast you should give your monitor a few minutes to warm up in order to show a stable and “color correct” image. You should also have the room you are sitting in decently background illuminated to allow your eyes to “properly” see. All images were exposed in a way to have neither blown highlights nor cut shadows (see histogram). The camera used was the X-Pro2 with the XF35/2.0 lens. For all images the focus point was set on the tower on the other side of the lake. Here we go – The scene in color (for reference):

XPR21988_STD_100

PROVIA, ISO 100, f=4, t=1/110

1.  The FUJIFILM film simulations

Talking about black and white photography here, there are two options, the standard bw film simulation and the ACROS. Let’s compare the same scene side by side shot with these two:

In this scene, photographed on an overcast day, there are at first sight no dramatic differences visible. Looking at different parts of the image in more detail the characteristics of the ACROS film simulation becomes visible:

XPR21990_crop

detail crop: standard BW

XPR21996_crop

detail crop: ACROS

The overall contrast is visibly better in the ACROS image (Look at the branches of the trees or the roof structure of the tower. Also the highlights in the clouds are clearly pronounced.

XPR21990_crop2

detail crop: standard BW

XPR21996_crop2

detail crop: ACROS

Looking at a second part of the image the amount of shadows (check the vessels of the two boats) is slightly better preserved for the ACROS image. Interestingly the mid-grey area shows a slightly lower contrast.

2.   Color filters

Now, let’s have a look at the effects on contrast using the three different color filters:

As expected …

 

3.   ISO settings

While hi-ISO noise is generally speaking not visually appealing, the “digital grain” that appears shooting the X-Trans sensors at higher ISO settings is very well suitable to add a “film like” stronger pronounced grain-ish look. This sample image was shot at ISO 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800 and 25600

Comparing the two extremes here – ISO 800 and 25600 the image quality is simply impressive for the latter one.

XPR22005_800_crop

detail crop: ISO 800

XPR22010_25600_crop

detail crop: ISO 25600

Of course there is a clearly reduced contrast (comparing the water and the pier e.g.) but the details on the boat (including the name and the numbers) are still not far from being nicely readable.

4.   Grain settings

In order to see the quality of the new “FUJIFILM grain” – to be added in two intensities – the next sample image was shot at ISO 200 and 6400 with weak and strong grain added.

Let’s have a look at the lower right part of the image where we have the white wall of the building, the boat and pier with lots of details and structure and a little bit of grass in the foreground:

Comparing the front part of the boat, one can see that the fine details do not disappear even with strong grain applied. The “visual quality” of the grain is nicely visible on the white wall.

It’s important to stress that adding grain here has nothing to do with hi ISO noise or adding noise via Photoshop where usually simply a “layer of fine dots” is added. Quoting an interesting article on fujifilm-x.com the secret can be explained

“We developed it (the ACROS look) from the core of the image file to achieve a very complex and natural like grain expression. Optimal and different grain expressions are added to highlight and low light areas.  You would not find unnatural dotted graininess in the highlight areas just like how the monochrome film behaves.  In the low light area, you would see the graininess just like how it would appear with the monochrome film. There are undulating grain within the picture. (…) ACROS also changes the output of graininess depending on the sensitivity setting. As the sensitivity gets higher, stronger grain effect becomes visible, just like the film.”

 

5.   “Shadow” and “highlight” adjustments

Bending the curve (cmd+M / Ctrl+M in Photoshop) is a very fast and efficient way of adjusting the contrast of an image without affecting the black- and white points of the image. Depending on the wanted effect bending the full curve upwards (all tones get brighter) or downwards (all tones get darker) with the effect being most visible for the mid-range tones is one way to go. Enhancing contrast is achieved by fixing a middle point and then bending the first section downwards and the second section upwards (or vice versa). Exactly this effect can be achieved directly in camera by adjusting the “Shadows” and “Highlights”. The fastest way to access these controls is via the “Q”-menu. Possible settings are

-2 : soft
-1 : medium soft
0 : standard
+1 : medium hard
+2 : hard
+3 : only on the X-Pro2
+4 : only on the X-Pro2

The following examples show the effect on the sample image:

 

6.   Photometry

The x-series cameras offer various measuring modes for the Photometry (integral, centre-weighed, matrix (for the X-Pro2 only) and spot). Spot-metering on the darkest or brightest part of the scene with added exposure corrections in order to obtain maximum white/hi lights (“+” correction) or black/shadows (“-” correction) allows the creation of hi-contrast images straight out of camera. This can and should be combined with the shadow / highlight adjustments as described just before.

For all images the active focus field was placed on the tower on the other side of the lake. The last two images were shot using spot-metering (and adjusted “shadows” and “hi lights” (very last image. This is the shot with the maximum contrast out of all images shown here. The histogram stretches from 10/10/10 to 244/244/244 – so neither the shadows nor the highlights were cut).

7.   “in camera” versus Software filters

Users of third-party software filters are using “analog film packages” since a long time. In order to see how well those are keeping up, the sample image was also processed with Nik Silver Efex Pro 3.0 applying the ACROS 100 film type.

The input file was the PROVIA reference color image, shot at ISO 400.

The huge difference is the amount of grain added to the ISO 400 image. The software version rather matches the FUJIFILM “weak to strong grain” setting or an image taken at hi ISO values. Looking into the fine tuning options in Silver Efex, one can alter the grain (grain per pixel, softness), the sensitivity (separately in the red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and violet channel) and the tone curve. This opens a huge parameter space for adjustments. The only problem I see here is that any “trial and error” attempt moving all sliders left and right does not play justice to the original FUJIFILM Neopan ACROS and results might be quite different depending on the “source image” used. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with “tuning till I like it”. This might give a pleasing black and white version of the image. The initial idea was to compare the FUJIFILM ACROS with the Nik Silver Efex ACROS. A clear win for the “in camera” option.

8.   Summary

Knowing the single keys of our instrument, it’s now time to play the piano. Depending on the intended look of the image the art starts when it comes to adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that to the final composition.  My final thought after shooting and analysing those images was: Using a modified firmware version that would only give us black and white film simulations and the possibility to store self-made custom bw-profiles (bring back to life my beloved AGFA SCALA 200 would be my first project) would make the X-PRO2 a lovely black and white camera at a fraction of the cost of a Leica Monochrome. You agree ?

 

3 thoughts on “b&w straight out of camera

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