Velvia and Digital 35mm compared


Messing around in Photoshop today, I thought I’d do a comparison test on a couple of shots of the same subject taken on Velvia (Canon A-1 with 35-70FD) and on digital (Nikon D800E with 85PC-E).


The two images were shot just seconds apart, in the same light, and the original digital shot was edited according to my usual procedures (with a little work in contrast and colour balance and saturation before sharpening).


I wanted to see how much work would be required to approximate the look and feel of the Velvia 50 shot, and to see if this was even possible from the starting point of a Nikon D800E digital sensor.


Original Film Version, pretty much as scanned I think – yes, it’s a bit dark in places, so I could have exposed a little longer perhaps; a drum-scanner would of course pull out more from the shadows:



Original Digital Version:



Modified Digital Version:



The original digital file was modified in the following way:


Hue: Greens +57

Curves: Reds decreased, 119/97

Master Saturation +5, Hue Yellows -2

Lightening and contrast curve, 74/69//178/191 and pull top end of histogram to just clipping


I could probably also darken and desaturate the darker tones to come a bit closer to the lower dynamic range of the film version:



Here’s that attempt, which has lost some of the saturation of the first modified version. Here, I made a luminosity mask for the darkest 25% of the values, applied a darkening curve to it by pulling in the black point to 29, and with another point at 105/101, and then decreased the saturation by 34; I then added a global darkening curve.



In some ways, these results aren’t as bad as I had imagined: I certainly managed to re-enhance the greens, though the amount of hue shift required was pretty substantial, as was the amount of red saturation I effectively pulled out by lowering the Reds curve.


The Reds curve change had the biggest effect, but the big difficulty is in the digital colour response – it’s really not at all easy to replicate the range of hues in the film version across the whole dynamic range of the digital version.


If colour slide film goes out of production in the next few years, the rise, and hopefully lower cost, of medium format digital may provide one solution (cf. Hasselblad X1D) – what I’m interested with there is 16-bit colour, rather than dynamic range or extra resolution (though that would be good if I have to move away from 5×4).

But even then, there will be no immediate solution for those who enjoy the original visceral appeal of slide film… but imagine what the results would have been like in this test if I had been using 5×4 film at the time in addition to 35mm: the colour range might have been even more enhanced, with resolution to leapfrog the Nikon.


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