NLP changed my taste in contrast in positive slides

Color slide film dominates my film archive, digitized first with a flatbed scanner and more recently with a camera. I was pleasantly surprised when my first NLP scans of the remaining color-negative films looked great and were sharp with good color and great dynamic range.

Going back to my earlier digitized color transparencies (many shot with Kodachrome 25) I now found them too contrasty for my taste, I had gotten used to the look of NLP conversions, which have less contrast. This is not really surprising given the properties of positive and negative color films.

I’m now going back to my color transparencies in Lightroom, especially Kodachromes, and pulling the contrast back to zero or near zero, then separately pulling the blacks down with the LR slider and sometimes taking the highlights back to white, by slider. I am finding I prefer this look, at least for now. I seem to recover both shadow and highlight detail.

Has anyone else noticed this, and if so how do you accommodate your new taste in editing old color transparencies?

My own journey started with negative materials, but then I moved to using mostly slides, as a multi-image AV producer in the early 1980s.

So I made Cibachrome and EktaFlex prints from slides decades ago, for projects related to my slide shows, but they never looked realistic to me. Cibachrome always had burned-out highlights and plugged-up shadows, while EktaFlex looked artificially flat. Even the Kodak Vericolor Internegative Film we used to make classroom composites in our school picture lab was incapable of making perfectly natural prints from slides.

Slide film, especially Kodachrome, has a very wide dynamic range. It far exceeds the abilities of most photo papers to reproduce it. So digital imaging is a godsend to those wishing to print from slides. It allows us to compress the tonal range by using the sorts of tools we have in Lightroom Classic, which are similar to the tools in Kodak DP2 lab software and similar commercial systems.

When digital scanners and software became available, I revisited making prints from slides. I was spoiled… My first effort was with a Kodak Bremson HR-500 Plus commercial scanner, a $50,000+ machine, one of nine in the digital scan lab I managed in that high volume portrait lab. THAT, and Kodak DP-2 lab software, showed me what you could pull out of the highlights and shadows of a slide!

Now retired, 20 years later, I’m using a digital camera, raw capture, and Lightroom Classic to get similar (in some cases better!) results from old slides. Yes, you do have to avail yourself of the sliders in LrC to get the most from the slide, but that’s only a matter of patience.

Many years of commercial lab experience taught me to strive first for results that are true to the original scene (in the case of slides, it’s the slide itself). From there, I will tweak for effect.

Slightly underexposed slides are easiest to work with, as there is a LOT of information lurking in the shadows. I sometimes auto-bracket my exposures of marginal slides or high contrast scenes, so I can pick one that gives me the best initial conversion. Occasionally, I’ve used HDR to pull an exceedingly broad tonal range back to something that will fit in a JPEG or on paper. HOW MUCH to bracket varies with film type, subject matter, and original film exposure accuracy.

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