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Thoughts on wide-field film astrophotography

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#1 Nightfly

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 08:37 PM

At the risk of getting into the now typical "film vs. digital" argument (hey this is a film forum, right?) I would like to ask the question: For WIDE-FIELD astrophotography, does film still do a better job than DSLR's? I've searched the web and I see lots of interesting photos taken with DSLR's and I see one obvious advantage: You can frame a Milky Way shot with a landscape scene and expose for less than a minute and capture an amazing image, but.........

I look at those same images and stars look like *BLEEP* and are full of artifacts. The image can barely be blown up to full screen without seeing more problems in the image. I admit I am comparing these images to my own work with medium format cameras and film and others that use this format that do allot better than I.

I see a loss in quality that I do not hear people talking about. For narrow field work, I see DSLR's producing very good work, I dare say better than film, but for wide field work I do not see this.

This question does not apply to wide field lenses tied to large expensive cooled CCD's. They have my respect for doing an awesome job, a better job than film. I'm strickly talking about film, namely E200 vs. DSLR's

I will confess I am partial to film for other reasons, one is that I have used film for astrophotography for almost 25 years. If I saw a major improvement in DSLR's I would make the switch, but for now I will part ways with those who have said film is dead.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Regards,

Jim

#2 TxStars

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 08:57 PM

After doing many film tests over the years my friends and I have had some 16"x24" and 36"x42" prints made from 50 to 200 ASA slide and print film.
These shots were done with lenses that range from 16mm up to
1000mm and I have yet to see a single digital shot with the same detail.
Some have come close using multiple exposures and many filters, but only close and after spending tens of thousands of dollars on equipment and four times the total exposure length.
This is just my opinion but many of my friends share it.

#3 calder

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 10:20 PM

I believe that film still has the advantage, especially for wide field images and enlargements but the gap is narrowing. I think the key here is the resolution and sizes of the chips in DSLRs. Until a digital camera's chip can match a 35mm negative in size and can match the resolution of ASA/ISO 50 film in resolution, film will hold the edge. I recently read on the DSLR forum about how someone said that 35mm film has more noise than a DSLR. I was shocked by that. Film does not have noise it has grain. Generally the slower the ISO a film has, the finer and tighter the grain structure is. In a DSLR you reduce noise by dropping to a lower ISO. The difference between the two is that with film, the photons are still being recorded in the granularity where as in a DSLR noise represents lost information. Other advantages of film cameras when compared with DSLRs are film has no dead or bad pixels. Most film cameras do not need batteries to operate. Film cameras are more durable. Film cameras do not have all the unnecessary unwanted and unneeded menus and options DSLRs have (keep it simple stupid let us be creative on our own). DSLRs are still evolving and I personally don't want to get on the same merry-go-round path of having to buy a new camera every three to five years because of improvements that make the old DSLR obsolete. Perhaps the DSLR manufacturers will get wise and design a camera with replaceable upgradeable chips rather than having to buy a new camera every time there is an improvement. I doubt it because there is less money to be made making cameras with upgradeable chips.

Just my 3 cents...now I'd better duck and cover!

Bob

#4 Suk Lee

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Posted 29 June 2008 - 07:26 AM

I still think film rules for wide-field. Digital senors cannot compete with medium format film. And sensor size aside, with widefield digital, as has been pointed out, stars look nasty due to extreme undersampling of the stars (pixel to lens resolution mis-match).

If you go with medium, or even large format, you can get some incredible widefield vistas with beautiful pinprick stars, as has been recently demonstrated on this forum.

On the other hand, I took some h-alpha widefield shots that you could only do on digital and they were unbelievable...

My turn to duck...

Cheers,
Suk

#5 jrw11

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Posted 29 June 2008 - 12:05 PM

I fel that some people think that for wide field shots that digital is better, because they feel that being digital, it has to be.Whether it is or isn't.

#6 Nightfly

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Posted 30 June 2008 - 08:29 PM

Thanks for the replies, I guess I am preaching to the choir. I intend to use film as long as possible. This means as long as E200 is available. I like the look film portrays the Milky Way vs. Digital's shrill looking images. What I like the most is having a camera under the stars that has no battery, no LCD screen to blind my night vision, and no noise. Just a quiet photon sponge.

Thanks again for the constructive responses.

Jim

#7 jrw11

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Posted 30 June 2008 - 09:19 PM

Jim, I agree with you 100%! You'll notice that my (signiture?)mentions having over 50 film cameras and not one digital. I wish I could get my astro shots to be a third as good as yours! I do hope to go to Maine someday.
Jack

#8 ClownFish

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Posted 01 July 2008 - 03:20 AM

Just a quiet photon sponge.


What a great description. That's one of my biggest enjoyments of film AP - sitting out in the dark with no computer. Just me and my guidescope's red light. Peaceful low-tech enjoyment. Like sitting around a campfire.

CF

#9 Suk Lee

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Posted 01 July 2008 - 07:11 PM

That's a great point. CCD astrophotography is frenetic. Computer, guider, darks, flats, cables everywhere. Even if using an autoguider, film is peaceful. Just sit under the sky with a pair of binocs...

Suk

#10 LT_Ng

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 10:58 PM

Jim,

I am still at the film's side because I like the colour presented by films, especially for E200, though film images have less resolution than DSLR's.

Unless all the films suitable for AP become inavailable again or the situation does not allow me to bring those heavy P67 system with my trip, I will go with films for wide field AP as my first priority.

I find it is more pleasing and enjoyable to look at the slide rather than computer screen, and I think it must be very stunned to look at a 4"x5" or even a 8"x10" slide. That is one of my dream to shoot the milkyway with so large format emulsions.

My 2 cents,

LT

#11 Nightfly

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 05:48 AM

LT,

Thanks for your thoughts. That was kind of what I was after. For wide field astrophotography medium format film blows away digital for color representation and resolution. Perhaps DSLR's have great resolution for other forms of photography, including prime focus astrophotography, but my main focus was on wide-field astro work. I can't find photos on the net taken with DSLR's that surpass what I and others have done with p67 (or other MF equipment) and wide angle to short telephoto lenses, ie 55mm, 75mm, 90mm, 105mm, 165mm, 200mm......

That is why I have gone down the medium format film path. The work of Thomas "Wade" Earle, Dave Kodama, and others have convinced me of films prowess. They have built a path for others to follow and I like where it goes!

I to like the looks of a transparency, but a "properly" exposed image will look a little washed out if your exposing and processing for best performance on the scanner. I expose 40 minutes at f/4 or longer and then push 2 stops. This method pulls all the detail I can out of film. Such transparencies are not very good to look at by eye however.

Thanks again.

Jim

#12 Nebhunter

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 12:32 PM

Hi Jim. I think that we film types are all on this path and share a common bond. We are a different breed. As CF stated, it's like sitting around a simple campfire. There are those who enjoy this intimacy. Others like to bring radio's, TV's, DVD players, motor homes and generators. I'm willing to bet that most film types prefer the simple camping route.

Film provides us with a means to this intimacy with the night sky. We capture the essence of the light. The photons which strike the film, and cause the reaction to record it's journey through time. We record what is given to us freely - the light. These are not pixels or images to be interpolated, integrated, or conjugated.

These are photographs. The essence of photography - the recording of light and shadow. We are the scribes of the light.

#13 Nightfly

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Posted 14 July 2008 - 08:57 PM

There is a nostalgia element to all this. I remember taking my first astrophoto as a teen and anticipating the results. It was a piggybacked mounted Pentax Spotmatic II with a 50mm lens (yes I still use it). The film was Ektachrome 100, a prefered film at the time. I captured the North America Nebula and I was hooked! I'm very happy to continue in that tradition. There is a continuity for me in persisting with film. The fact that it captures the cosmos the way I like is icing on the cake.

Jim

#14 TxStars

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Posted 16 July 2008 - 08:40 AM

Yea nostalgia in 1981 I bought some E-100 at Walgreens of all places because I only had one roll of Fuji left.
That film gave great results and I could get it anywhere.
Now I have to hunt for it.. But I still have some E-100
and it still works great.

#15 Nightfly

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Posted 19 July 2008 - 07:48 PM

I was in a gift shop in Bar Harbor, Maine today and there were several framed photographs on a wall for sale. At first glance they were wonderful. Upon closer inspection I saw the terrible truth, JPEG artifacts! Not a big deal until you saw the price of these framed 20x30 prints, $475.00! Sure enough the photographer used a DSLR.

I wondered if scanned film would show those same defects or if it would have been formed at the time of exposure on the DSLR chip. I was impressed by the fact that a tiny APS sized chip produced the image. Puts allot of emphasis on the optic used as well.

#16 Suk Lee

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Posted 19 July 2008 - 08:19 PM

JPEG artifacts are independent of whether the image was scanned from film or originally captured on a DSLR. I'm pretty sure all DSLRs have the capability of capturing RAW, which has no compression (but even in RAW has some in-camera processing). If you saw JPEG artifacts it may have been captured in-camera (very likely) or the photographer may have just been sloppy in his post-processing flow. A 20-30 in print is a pretty large print even for a 10Meg DSLR, so there's a lot of variables here.

Similarly, in the initial scan of a film shot, scan to JPEG can create image artifacts at the beginning of the processing flow.

Bottom line, for best images, skip JPEG entirely and use a RAW or TIFF based workflow.

Cheers,
Suk

#17 Nightfly

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 06:23 AM

Suk,
Thanks. That was what I had in mind. I had talked to a photofinisher at a local lab. I asked about this and he mentioned to do all processing in TIFF, but it was o.k to bring in the "final product" as JPEG.

I have some images that I want to make enlargements from and I will go down the TIFF road with. For small photos or interned posting, JPEG has served me fine.

Clear Skies
Jim

#18 Suk Lee

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 07:02 AM

By the way, congrats on your photo for this month's competition - it was terrific. I bet if people could have seen it in its full resolution glory the outcome would have been different!

Suk

#19 Samir Kharusi

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Posted 27 July 2008 - 03:53 PM

I am somewhat bemused with this thread, the unconverted preaching to the unconverted :bow: Unfortunately a number of observations are being made that, shall we say, stretch the truth quite a bit. Film has no noise? Hmnnn. I did dabble in film astrophotography before purchasing my first DSLR some years back. The biggest handicap with film is the absolute need for a very dark sky. Problem is that the nonlinear curve in response makes stacking inordinately problematic. The other, when it comes to prints, is film grain. A properly exposed/processed DSLR image(or stack of images) has neither problem. What I found is that, with sufficiently good lenses, a 35mm format DSLR compares well, and often surpasses, a Medium Format film camera. And a MF digital sensor can compete with a 4x5 film camera. It realy is no problem to produce huge, grain-free, ultrawide Milky Way vistas with a DSLR. Here is my own example of one that produced a grain-free 6ftx4ft print:
Posted Image
Data, and larger version available here. The Canon 1Ds used, now positively ancient, has already been superceded at least by two newer generations, hence lower noise, higher pixel density, etc. Unfortunately, currently most widefield DSLR astroimages are more compromised by lens quality (applies to film too!), rather than sensor quality. Actually, film is much more tolerant of poor lenses than DSLRs. The tails coming out of bright stars from astigmatism and coma show up much less on film, because of the nonlinear sensitivity, than in DSLRs. I agree that there is a lot to be said for large format film widefields, subtle tonality and gradation, etc. But getting large prints from 35mm format film ain't one of them, IMHO of course. There is also a lot to be said of the simplicity at the taking stage, no PC or huge batteries, etc. For this very reason I have now simplified my portable astroimaging enormously, comparable to taking film widefields, but I can shoot both widefields and at a long enough focal length to frame M31 nicely with a DSLR, and be able to deliver decent A3 sized prints quite routinely. Yes, all I need is a tiny, unguided mount, a DSLR and a camera lens, togther with a timer/programmer cable release. Here's how I do it. So, film guys, you CAN have the simplicity of film and use a DSLR. Are the results superior? Of course it's in the eye of the operator. It is technically far easier with DSLRs, enabling larger prints, from less than ideal sites. But film does look different and if that particular look appeals strongly enough to outweigh the DSLR advantages, then one should stick to film :) The LOOK of the final product in the taste of the beholder should be the determinant. It's akin to choice in painting using water colors or acrylics. The fact that any DSLR becomes positively ancient within 3 years is of course a major annoyance, at least psychologically, even though the newer versions do not invalidate the competence of the 3-year old model. One may still deprived in not using the newest and best. But, hey, that should not apply to film guys, should it?

#20 Nightfly

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Posted 27 July 2008 - 08:58 PM

I was wondering how long it would take before I got a bite!

As far as the "unconverted preaching to the unconverted", this is not strange at all. My point was to validate what film is doing these days since it seems "everyone" has made the switch to digital. Furthermore it seems that all we here is the sung praises of DSLR's.

You are completely correct that film requires dark skies. It is unfortunate that most astrophotographers don't have easy access to pristine skies. I do. So I am outside the norm on that point.

Your photo is impressive. Your DSLR capability to shoot that large segment of the Milky Way is wonderful. Looking at the image with the provided link leaves me scratching my head however. The contrast is way too high (at least on my monitor). Others viewing this post, please correct me if you see otherwise.

Can your DSLR do this? This is at 165mm focal length. About a fourth of the resolution of the original 1200 DPI scan. Pentax 67 E200 pushed +2 stops.

http://tinyurl.com/6fxea7

Keep in mind this is low on my southern horizon, but it was a good night.

My original complaint still stands. The star images in your shots look like tiny popcorn, not spilled salt on black velvet.

Jim

#21 ZachK

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Posted 28 July 2008 - 03:43 AM

The other problem with a DSLR is that they are expensive! A good one will run several thousand dollars, which I at least don't have. I got a Pentax K-1000 for free from a neighbor. I will be the first to admit that I am trying to do quite a lot on a minimal budget, because I *HAVE* a minimal budget.

Thankfully I have some really dark skies 3 hours away. The only problem is trying to find time to get there.

#22 aquadan005

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Posted 28 July 2008 - 06:00 PM

Even though this post is a month old now I'm reading through it for the first time now and I'm *BLEEP* glad I did. I've been on the fence about making a serious investment in some new camera equip and I was looking down the DSLR path. I have a K1000 bought it new all those years ago, and I love it! I also have a point and shoot nikon cool pic digital. I want to get in to some serious picture taking and I'll be heading to the Black Forest Star party in Sept. I was concerned about making the wrong choice with a DSLR. Now after reading this thread I think I might be spending my money on film and a lens or two for the trusty ole 1000.
Oh, and BTW I do like sitting round the campfire just the fire, some cold beverages and maybe a transistor radio, no Ipods please.

#23 hiro

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 08:57 AM

Nightfly,

I noticed this nice post today. I'd like to reply you now, not a bite, though.

I like both film and DSLR, though I have experienced astrophotography with DSLR for mere two years, less than a tenth of you. Many pictures with film by Wei-Hao Wang are my favorite in this field. I respect them.

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Both advantage and disadvantage of film are based on color photo film itself. Many emulsion layers are on cellulose triacetate film base. Manufacturing of color photo film is difficult, and there have been only five companies, those succeeded at least once, Agfa, Kodak, Konica, Polaroid, and Fuji. There are only two companies now, and they are making financial loss in production of photo film recently.

Color photo film has more than ten layers including emulsion, separator, and surfactant. Each emulsion contains many grades of crystal size of silver nitrate, specific coupler, and pigment. Quality of production differs lot by lot as you know. Small difference may be recovered by processing, mainly with developing time, but there obviously exists residual unevenness in lots, some are very nice and others not.

Silver nitrate photo system has a fatal disadvantage in astrophotography, reciprocity law failure.

Results of film vs DSLR are dependent on format and lens. Precise lens and bigger format are favorable. Shape of stars is mainly dependent on lens, and many lenses are not so precise as you know.

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I present here some results of my struggle with DSLR and other equipment. Please watch them in full size. Thank you.


Posted Image

full size here (8.7MB):
http://farm4.static....c8b620a2e_o.jpg

northern Cygnus widefield with EOS 5D-AP by IDAS and Leica APO elmarit R 180mmF2.8 at full open aperture.
Exposure: 20 times 8 minutes, 4 times 2 minutes, 4 times 1 minute, and a 9 seconds at ISO 800.


Posted Image

full size here (6.8MB):
http://farm4.static....3e71fc920_o.jpg

Sagittarius star cloud with EOS 5D-AP by IDAS and EF85mmF1.2 at F2.8, 2 times 4 minutes exposure at ISO 1600.

---

I'm sorry, if annotation annoyed you. Some parts are saturated due to over exposure.

#24 Nightfly

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 12:08 PM

Hiro,

Simply wonderful work! I must say this is not what I am used to seeing from DSLR's. The 5D is indeed a fine camera. Your skills are top notch as well. I would love to continue seeing your images in the future. Again Great work.

I am well aware of films limitations and all the pitfalls that go with it. My main critic is the unatural looking stars DSLR's produce when examined closely. Your images have a lesser degree of this problem. Your images do not appear to be typical of DSLR's, they surpass the usual images I have seen on the web.

Bottom line, keep up the great work and one day when I can afford a 5D I may be trying to duplicate your work.

Regards,

Jim

#25 Samir Kharusi

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 06:16 PM

I always feel that to compare astrophotography equipment is excessively prone to unintended influences. Commenting that my image is over-contrasty is an example. The images start off at very low contrast, and if the final image is too high in contrast by your tastes, then that is simply a reflection that my post-processing abilities fall short of yours and your taste, not the DSLR that has ample dynamic range. I do not mean this in a rude fashion, but simply that, to compare equipment dispassionately one should use the same operator throughout the acquisition and post processing, at the same site on the same night. Only then can we come to a conclusive conclusion. I have done this when I prodded another high-controversy topic; how well do camera lenses compare to premium APOs,links on my website below if anyone is interested... On my camera side I have concluded that a DSLR enables me to produce more satisfying results, with much less effort, than with film. I have concluded the same even with wedding (bridal) portraits. A full 35mm format DSLR simply provided me better portraits, more dependably, than a Hasselblad with film.

My avatar is actually a small version of a poster-sized print used in an exhibition:
Posted Image
A larger version of the Sag Milky Way may be found here. I was testing the suitability of my 100mm macro lens for astro :roflmao: Interesting that we are so used to see the Lagoon red in film images, that I did not realise that, for human vision, it should be blue! unless we deliberately boost sensitivity to H-alpha way beyond human vision. Just peruse this gallery, which was taken with a non-modified DSLR from the early days.


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