Positive or Negative

Building on so many things I’ve learned here, I have a question. For working with digital, I got my display calibrated, and have been learning many things about how to create impressive images from my digital photos, mostly to be posted on my photo gallery m.smugmug.com - and also for email, and occasional printing. This led to my returning interest in shooting film again, first with my 1950’s Leica cameras, and then my 1980’s Nikon F4. This has all been done with B&W negatives, now scanned on my new Plustek scanner.

For reasons we’ve already discussed here, I started thinking about shooting color film, and was going to ask for suggestions as to what a good all-around film choice might be. From doing a lot of reading, I found the following from Ken Rockwell:

For color, most pros shoot positive film (slides). This is because you can see the photo on slide film simply by looking at it: it’s a positive image that doesn’t need to be printed or scanned to be seen. Unlike with negatives, positive film gives us an absolute reference of our picture: just look at it.

What you see is what you’ve got, and color consistency is critical in pro photography.

Slide film gives us the same colors every time. Slide film leaves nothing to interpretation when printed, projected or scanned, which is why pros who shoot color shoot slides. We get the color we want on-film, and every other stage in the production process will preserve and reproduce these colors.

Wedding and news photographers were the only pros who usually shot color negative film, and a lot of that was so they could have the freedom to botch a shot and have the lab correct it later. Careful pros in advertising and magazines always shoot slide film precisely because the colors they imagine while shooting can be reproduced exactly from the slides.

So, my question - my goal when I shoot color will be the same as what I already wrote, mostly for my Smugmug gallery and email. Everything else being even, should I start using positive or negative color film?. …and regardless of the choice, my plan is to use PL4 to process and adjust the scanned images.

(Also, any advice as to which film might be a better choice, and why?)

I take most of Ken Rockwell’s comments on any subject with a hefty pinch of salt. While there is truth in him saying, “Slide film gives us the same colors every time.”, that’s not even close to the whole story. Different films will give you different colours. Fujichrome Velvia is a positive film that’s famous for its saturation, which both helps and hinders skin tones. Fujichrome Provia is another positive film from the same manufacturer that’s acclaimed for landscapes. In other words, your choice of film will depend on what you want to shoot. You must know all this though, from your own days of shooting film.

Meanwhile simple searches finds all sorts of stuff. This link compares two positive films with a negative one:

As for my own experience. I shot colour positive films from 1971 to 2011, predominantly on Agfachrome and then Fujichrome when Agfa film was no longer available. If I were to return to film, I’d be trying Fujichrome Provia first. Why? because I mostly shoot landscapes.

When I digitise my slides (using a Nikon Coolscan V ED) I do not process the .tif files in PL. PL is primarily a RAW convertor and scans are not RAW files. Pixel editors, like Photoshop or Affinity Photo, with their layer capabilities offer far more editing possibilities than PL ever can.


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Back then, for me, for B&W it was Panatomix-X, Plus-X, or Tri-X depending on the lighting. Pan-X was preferable because of low grain, but 95% of the time I shot Plus-X.

Back then, for me, for color, it was Kodachrome, Ektachrome, or Kodak color print film. The question was the lighting, and whether I wanted prints or slides. Kodachrome I thought was too slow for general use for me.

For B&W now, I have Ilford 100 and 400, and Tri-X. My favorite so far (in good lighting) is Ilford 100.

I have no desire to have a big collection of film sitting around - I want to pick ONE color film, and use it exclusively as I do my editing.

All my film will be scanned with my new Plustek scanner, and all of it will be edited in PL4. (I know Adobe stuff offers layers, and I have it if I need layers, but I can’t remember the last time I used it to edit an image.)

Having read the full article, and watched the video, my choice will be Portra 160. It will certainly not be the other two choices, but I wonder how Portra compares to other color negative film. Thank you for the link, this is a good start.

About Ken Rockwell - most of the time I agree with him. I rarely buy anything without also checking for his review. Nobody is perfect all the time, but Ken comes close enough for me.

About the article you linked to, I have a much more simplistic question - how would the properly exposed images look, comparing positive to negative color film? If I take several images of the same thing, I can instantly see the difference in positive film, but I’ll need to either scan the negative images or reverse the colors in my iPhone or some other device to see which I prefer. I did look all over for articles, and none of them answered my question as well as Ken - although as you point out, there’s a lot more to the story.

I haven’t bought any color film yet. First I want to (re)learn how to shoot regular B&W film in my old cameras. I want the images to be the best I can create for scanning, and I want the scans as good as possible to edit in PL4.

(I have enough trouble trying to fully understand just one editor - add in Photoshop, Lightroom, Affinity, Photomatix, Luminar, DarkTable and others that I’ve got installed on my Mac, and my head ends up struggling to know how to get the effects I want. No matter how much I improve, there is always more I could have done… Unless there is a very good reason to do otherwise, I will be using PhotoLab.)


while I already had ‘given up’ on you, some clear words from @Joanna
Can I apply PL4 lens corrections when I use a "known" lens on a film camera - #14 by Joanna

For NEW pics,

  • why not take your Digital,
  • set it on daylight,
  • ISO corresponding to the film you like
  • choose your motif as carefully as you can
  • and apply the film’s Color Rendering in PhotoLab, using it anyway.

Instead of reading, writing, head spinning you still can decide for another film, for B&W etc.

The big problem a lot of people have when comparing digital to film is that they often make use of the “automatic” features, like auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-white balance and don’t treat it like they would a film camera.

I love your idea for setting a digital camera up. I would just add: set it to manual exposure mode and, if you haven’t got a separate light meter, use the built-in spot meter to find the right exposure.

OK Mike. The challenge for the week is to take your digital camera and make some images, using everything in manual mode, including @Wolfgang’s suggestions. Then you can choose what film you want in PL :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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The same applies today.

In which case it probably doesn’t matter what film you choose. I certainly wouldn’t be making a decision based on one article that someone you don’t know stumbled across after a simple Internet search.


Actually, after dinner, I can either turn on the tv, or do the “reading, writing, head spinning”. I enjoy it now, and I’ve enjoyed it all my life, but it’s easier to get good information nowadays. This has been true for motorcycles, radio control race cars, photography, product selection - forever. I read a lot, then make my choice. Or, try it on my own and then decide.

With my Df, I originally set it on Daylight, then on a Kelvin temperature, and it’s easy enough to just use daylight. I set the ISO depending what I’m shooting, and when. I’ve never used “Color Rendering” in PL4. When I think I like an image, it doesn’t have to match any particular film rendering, and since I’m not shooting film, why would I bother trying to make a digital image look like film? I figure if I want it to look like film, I’ll use film (which I haven’t decided on yet).

The reason I asked about using DxO lens correction is the new Zoom lens I bought recently has “barrel distortion”. If I use it on my digital, DxO will correct it. I thought maybe I could use that same correction tool on images taken with that lens on my F4.

Enough here - I’m off to read Joanna’s post.

True, but I’ve read more articles and reviews than I can count, and I’ll pick something that seems to be liked by a lot of people - which is better than randomly picking the third one from a list. At the rate I’m going, it takes a week or two to finish one roll of film. When I get the results back, I can like, or not. I like Ilford 100 ASA, and I’m also trying Ilford 400 for when there’s not much light. Color - I haven’t bought anything yet.

I had very few color films way back when, and I know what my first roll of color negative film will be, unless I change my mind… :slight_smile:

After all this discussion, and reading far too many articles, and watching too many videos, I’ve decided that if I start using color film, it will be negative, not positive, because of the wide attitude if for no other reason.

So many people have had good things to say about Kodak Portra film, that’s where I’ll start, most likely with this:

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Don’t ignore the fact that you’re going to have to work at it even more than a digital image to extract the full dynamic range and get the colour balance right.

What would your choice be?

As Cunard said, “Getting there is half the fun!”

You and Wolfgang seem to be suggesting that for color, digital would be better for me. How will I ever know this for myself, if I don’t try it?

What is “NC” ? Wolfgang, are you suggesting this is a better choice than the 400? If so, I’ll start with your choice.

(For now, I’m sticking with B&W.)

If I read this correctly:

Kodak replaced the NC and VC flavours of Porta with a single type and did so way back in 2010/2011. In which case it follows that these FilmPack presets do not (cannot) mimic the look of Portra film currently available at retail.


Ouch! Well, you’ve explained a LOT more that I knew nothing about any of this.

In the early 2000’s, (2003?) I got my first digital Nikon “pro” camera, and I forgot all about film. For reasons I can’t put into words, I’d like to capture the enjoyment that I had shooting film, and I started with B&W. I figured I would go buy a roll of 24 exposure Kodacolor, and have been learning about this whole new world that has opened up with film.

If I understand what you wrote properly, the PhotoLab presets are for films no longer available, and if I buy the new film available at resale, the PL4 presets won’t be the appropriate settings. Knowing all this, if I buy the Portra 400 I linked to from B&H, are you suggesting this is not a good choice if I am going to edit the images in PL4?

(If I buy a single roll of film to test, which film might be appropriate - it would be used mostly for “outdoor scenery type photos”, not portraits.)

Film emulations can be applied to digital images (e.g. from your D750) to mimic the look of the respective film. No need to apply a film preset to a shot of a film negative - unless you want to exaggerate an effect.

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For NEW pics,

  • why not take your Digital,

and then scroll down in Color Rendering for the available “filmtypes”, including 3 different Kodak Portra simulations.

Don’t remember to have used any Kodak Portra Film, but tried those simulations. – Like with the others, you can easily see (and apply) the different renderings and then judge yourself, if they suit your needs, instead of only reading about them.

otherwise for the work you are going to introduce … → Negative Conversion

As Platypus has already said, FilmPack presets are designed to give images from a digital camera the look and feel of an image taken on film. Assuming the scanner is a good one, then a scan of a film image will already incorporate the look and feel of the film, so there’s no point applying a FilmPack preset on top of that scan.

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I guess I was confused (again). Since I an thinking of shooting film, I don’t need to deal with FilmPack.

I have ordered some color negative film. In a week or so, I should be scanning some images, assuming I figure out the proper scan settings.

I’m not really interested in trying film simulations - I would rather buy a roll of film, get it developed, scan it, and see what kind of results it will give me. I have no interest in making my digital images “look like” film - anything I do to process any digital image does this by removing information, not adding new information. If I want to get a photo that looks like it was from film, I will shoot the photo on film.

I had an interesting discussion with a support technician at B&H yesterday.

First, he told me that 25 years ago, when I last used film, I was most likely shooting Kodak “Gold”.

Second, he told me that Kodak’s “Portra” film was created for portraits, and it deliberately is less “sharp” in that it makes skin appear more pleasing, minimizing blemishes - making it ideal for portraits, thus the name “Portra”.

Third, he told me that since I’m mostly interested in “landscape” type photos, I should try “Kodak Professional Ektar”. He says the film was designed to look sharper, with more vivid colors and more contrast.

I now have some on order.

You do as You like – period.