So Happy Together
How a Digicam Helps Me Shoot More Film

$Date: 2004/01/10 07:17:45 $

Naze Desu Ka?

A digicam like the G1 can be a useful adjunct to film cameras. For years now, shooters have been using digitals as a replacement for the role once occupied by Polaroids and polaroid backs, especially in studio or other controlled situations, like wedding photography — exposures, lighting ratios, and the like can be quickly previewed before getting on with the business of creating a final "real" image.

The G1 is generally suitable for this purpose, though its flash problems can be a stumbling block — the G2 and G3, with better strobe sync and an image histogram, are much better. The little LCD screen can be misleading — either using the histogram, or even connecting the camera to en external monitor, can prove a much better way to preview exposure.

Of course, the film image and digital image are different — why else would you be shooting both? There's no replacement for real-world experience and practice, when it comes to getting a good idea of how what you see from the digicam will finally result on the film emulsion.

Another use I've found for my G1 is as a quick-and-dirty proofsheet scanner. Using the G1 to shoot proofsheets is quick, simple, doesn't require additional handling of the unprotected negatives, and (my favorite part) it's cheap.

A backlit flatbed scanner is great for proofsheets, but I don't have one. My film scanner runs six frames at a time, but can take several minutes to do that — and many minutes if I want final-quality scans. Scanning a 36-exposure roll could take a couple of hours or more — and it's more than what's needed for a simple contact-style proofsheet.

Proofs are typically 8x10" or 8.5x11" — just the size the 3MP and 4MP cameras are designed to print. So I decided to start shooting contact sheets of negative with the G1, invert them in the computer, and print them with the Epson.

I was a bit self-skeptical at first, but after a few tries have found this method to be very effective! The setup I use consists of:

The only purchase required was about $19 for the plexiglass. A smaller piece would have been a bit cheaper, but I opted to err on the side of too big, rather than too small.

The plexi is mounted vertically on the chair — horizontal mounting would bend. The strobe is placed directly behind the plexi, and the umbrella helps smooth-out the exposure over the surface of the plexi. The camera is placed on the tripod, and the ST-E2 is used to trigger the flash.

The negatives are stored in PhotoFile negative preserver pages, and are held to the plexi by the clothes pins. The plexi and the negative page are mutually attracted by static electricity, holding the page flat to the surface — no need for an additional sheet of glass.

I've tried using the f/8 trick to force the camera to f/8, avoiding any possible focus mistakes — but since the plane of the image is flat, shooting at f/2.5 also seems to work well for this purpose (remember, we're just printing a proofsheet, not replacing the final scan!). Shooting at f/8 burns through flash batteries much more quickly, and requires longer flash recycling times.

I've tried both manual flash exposure, using my trusty Sunpak 555, and E-TTL using the 550EX and the ST-E2. The auto setup is lighter and quicker — but doesn't that mean that the exposures are rather variable? Yes. Fortunately, the auto-exposure, when shooting thrrough a sheet of negatives, acts as a useful normalizing agent — thinner negatives will get less exposure, and denser ones more exposure — so the image as a proofsheet is actually more-likely to be useful using ETTL.

The setup is fast. I can burn through 50-100 sets of negative pages in an hour or less, assuming the flash batteries hold up. I've tried by "P" and "B&W" modes on the camera — "B&W" is okay for ETTL use on B&W negs. In either case, JPEG is used instead of RAW mode, for the sake of speed when we move the sheet to the computer.

Transfering the images to my Macintosh, I use both Graphic Converter and Photoshop to build the proofsheets. Most of the work is done in Graphic Converter (I could probably use Photoshop, but I still find GC's "batch" mode to be easier for most operations than Photoshops "Automate" command).

The Graphic Converter steps are applied to the entire downloaded folder, and copied into a new folder (just in case there's any error, the camera originals are preserved until all proofs are reviewed and okayed):

This typically takes 10-15 seconds per page.

Once the sheets are saved to the new directory, I do the hard work. I open the folder in GC's "Browse Folder" window, and then open each proofsheet one at a time. I write down the name of the G1 file (Canon's typical naming scheme, "153-8921_IMG.JPG" etc), and match it to the file name I used for the film rolls (I use a simple month-year-letter scheme, e.g. "Oct01S"). II then manually set the overall levels for the image, dropping the black close to the DMin of the unexposed negative base and raising the whites to give me the maximum range. Finally, only if needed, I crop the sheet a little tighter. This whole process can take less than a minute if you're being deliberate — a bit slower if you're watching TV cartoons while editing.

At this point we're done with Graphic Converter. In the Mac finder, I quickly rename all of the names of the edited proofsheet images to match the film index names (this is very quick and easy if you've kept the pages in order when shooting!).

Now it's time for Photoshop. I prefer Photoshop over GC for printing. I create a simple Photoshop Action, and use "automate" to apply it to all the proofsheet pages at once. The Action is very simple: just a handful of page-setup commands and a "print" command. The page-setup commands make sure that the image is scaled to fit the media, and then to print using just black ink and save the changed (printing attributes) file.

The closeup at right shows the level of detail that can be expected on the final proof print (this area would normally be printed smaller — about life size, or 1x1.5" (24x36mm). Be prepared with an extra black printer cartidge — these tend to be dark images, given the space between the negs. I've printed proofs on both Photo paper and plain white bond — since these aren't final images, the plain paper has proven to be a good cheap choice.

Remember, we still have the original image — so we can either reprint a proofsheet on photo paper if needed, or review the image on computer, or even print a cropped area larger on a new sheet.

After the printing is done, the proofsheet files are stashed away to the same folder hierarchy where actual hi-res scans are kept — as each roll is scanned, I drop a copy of the proofsheet into the same folder, for easy reference or re-printing at any time.

©2001 Kevin Bjorke
$Id: g1proof.html,v 1.15 2004/01/10 07:17:45 bjorke Exp bjorke $

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