by Paul ButziI’m one of those eccentric individuals—a fundamentally mystic personality with a serious scientific/engineering disposition. It’s always frustrated me that when it comes the mechanical aspects of photography (e.g. film, developers, lenses) much of the conventional wisdom is nothing more than rank superstition repeated so many times that it takes on the patina of Divine Truth.
My favorite example of this is the effect of cyan filtration with VC papers. Several notable authorities (including one who was once an assistant to Ansel Adams, and another who is the author of one of the most famous books on darkroom formulations) have claimed that cyan filtration when printing on VC paper is the same as neutral density. Others have claimed that it adds magical midtone glow, or adds sparkle to highlights. But the fact is that adding cyan filtration subtracts red light, and VC paper is insensitive to red light, and so cyan filtration has no effect at all.
The digital world is not immune to this sort of superstition. Often there was once a reason for the myth—it was once true, back when we were working with 8-bit per channel files, or when software was more primitive. But the nature of superstition is that once it enters the conventional wisdom, it’s never tested and never questioned.
The good news is that although the barrier to testing things was high for traditional silver-based photography, it’s incredibly low in the digital world. Want to know if this method produces better results than that method? The feedback cycle for a digital workflow is so short, it’s a snap to try it both ways and compare.
This sort of simple testing has deflated more than a few digital superstitions here in my workroom—superstitions about whether it’s better to up-rez images in steps, for instance, rather than in one shot, or send 16-bit per channel files to the printer rather than 8-bit per channel, or whether it makes any difference if I send a 720 ppi file to the printer versus a 360 ppi file.
And that raises the next question—what are the new, digital superstitions? Have you tested them? What were your results?
Posted by: PAUL BUTZI