Sunday, December 13, 2015

Converting to B&W With the Fuji X-Pro1

I shoot in both black and white and colour.  But essentially I see in b&w and feel most satisfied with it.  With the acquisition of the digital(!) Fuji X-Pro1 I have been learning not only the controls and (too many) options, but how to take the RAW files and convert to black and white that looks like film.

Yes, the Fuji X cameras can produce really nice b&w jpeg files in camera, but the b&w settings are, by necessity, somewhat limited and generic.  To a significant degree b&w films are defined by their spectral sensitivity - that is, how the level to which they respond to red, green, blue, UV and IR content of the original scene.  Digital sensors don't work that way.  A built-in computer takes the information from the sensor and saves it in a "RAW" file which essentially contains all the data that is translated from the light hitting the sensor cells.  (It's more complicated than that, but that's essentially it.)

All digital cameras have modes which can manipulate that information into a modified type of image, normally stored in a JPG file, which represents a combination of settings which are simply manipulations of the data to produce a specific look.

Throughout the absolutely glorious history of black and white film emulsions there have been hundreds of formulations, each with unique renderings.  And as b&w is an abstraction of how most people see a colourful world, none of them is "right".  Some are classics, such as Kodak Tri-X, Fuji Acros,  Iflord HP4, dozens of others, and my favourite, Agfa APX100.

So how the hell do I get a particular look of a specific b&w film from an original RAW file?  It turns out there are two essentials:

  1. Using the appropriate controls in image editing software such as Photoshop, GIMP, Lightroom, etc., which basically involves changing the amount of primary colours (Red, Green and Blue) content and 
  2. Knowing (or discovering) what the levels of each colour should be for a particular b&w film type
From those changes, you tell the image editing software to convert to monochrome.  You can then add brightness and contrast changes as desired, and even add grain effects to complete the conversion.  I haven't mastered this -- I've just discovered these steps, and haven't even played with applying grain.  

So, I'm a beginner in the "digital darkroom" - which has always seemed so foreign to me, a somewhat accomplished traditional darkroom worker.  But I've been helped immensely by my friend Gene Wilburn, whose series on b&w digital workflow starting here pointed me in the right direction.  And, quite by chance, I stumbled across an incomplete but highly helpful list of levels for several b&w emulsions about half-way down the page here.

So with a little work tonight, using GIMP for Mac, here are some samples.  I used the Fuji 18-55 zoom set at 18mm (approximately equivalent 28mm field of view in 35mm film terms) on the Fuji X-Pro1.

The first picture shows the original colour image.  The day was mostly cloudy with low contrast light, so I bumped up the contrast, then sharpened a little bit and resized.  After applying the appropriate levels for the colour channels in the GIMP channel mixer, I then used the exact same brightness, contrast and sharpness settings for the b&w conversions.  Naturally I don't have shots made with the actual corresponding films (and I haven't tried all the settings listed on the linked site,) but the results are very interesting.

Edited colour image:

Agfapan 25

Agfa APX 100

Agfa APX 400

Ilford PanF

Kodak Tmax 400-2

As I work through other settings, I will add to this post.  Some day I may even learn how to save the settings in GIMP so as to automate the conversion process.  And if anyone can figure out the settings for Adox films, that would be super!

Of course, I could just keep shooting film.  Which I will do.

1 comment:

Linda said...