Zero Sharpening

In my continuing effort to simplify my photo materials I took a roll of test pictures with HP5 Plus and developed it with Rodinal (1+50). I already use Rodinal with FP4 Plus and it would be nice to have just one developer on the shelf.

I digitized the negatives as RAW files as I usually do with a Fuji X-T20 camera. My standard app for developing the Fuji X RAW files is Iridient X Transformer. Because this was an experiment, I ran the files through Iridient twice, once with the default settings I have always used and once with all of the sharpening and other data manipulation turned off.

My standard app for processing my negative scans is Affinity Photo. When I opened the files with Affinity and zoomed in on the sky to compare the representation of the film grain I was pleasantly surprised to see that the grain looked a lot better in the unsharpened version.

I have previously found that if my film, developer and process produce a good representation of the film grain in a continuous tone light part of the image the apparent sharpness and resolution of the more detailed parts of the image will take care of themselves, given a print of reasonable size.

I made an 8″ by 12″ inkjet print of one of the unsharpened scans. The grain is clearly visible on close examination of the mid tone parts of the print, which is no surprise with the Rodinal. What did surprise me was the apparent sharpness of the print. It is noticeably better than anything I ever achieved with HP5 Plus using Ilfotec DD-X and software sharpening. My working hypothesis is that turning off the software sharpening lets the film and developer do their stuff, and the high acutance combination of HP5 Plus and Rodinal took it from there.

10 thoughts on “Zero Sharpening”

  1. I’m confused as to why you would want to digitally sharpen a film image? Isn’t part of the charm of film seeing the image exactly as it was rendered by a vintage lens and film combination? Anyway, sounds like you won’t be doing it anymore anyway. 🙂


    1. Indeed I won’t.

      I didn’t start out intending to sharpen my negative scans. I was using Lightroom when I started this hybrid workflow business, blindly using the default settings for just about everything. So, in hindsight, it wasn’t surprising that I wasn’t terribly happy with the RAW conversions, given that they were intended for a 100% digital workflow.

      My response was to redo some of the same RAW conversions using Apple Photos, Affinity Photo and Iridient X-Transformer, using default settings for all of them. Iridient and Affinity were the clear winners but I settled on Iridient since it also let me batch rename the files.

      That’s how I got to where I was until last week when I noticed that Iridient would let me turn off all sharpening and other image manipulation.

      That the film, the developer and the post processing are inextricably intertwined with a hybrid workflow should have been obvious to me. It wasn’t. But better late than never, I guess.


      1. For someone with the rich history of shooting film like you, the challenge must be to find ways to process them digitally in as neutral a way as possible so as much of the original look is preserved.

        I confess one reason I think I drifted away from film because I didn’t see that much point using vintage equipment then having the final images as digital scans. I might as well use a digital camera in the first place, as long as I enjoy it. Which is the route I’ve gone.


      2. For me, the final image is a physical print I can display on the wall, mail to family or friends, or put in an archival cardboard box for future generations. Back in the day, I loved working with what were even then old film cameras. I did not particularly like darkroom work, especially the seemingly endless cleaning up and spotting the prints. Now with my hybrid workflow I can have my cake and eat it too, so to speak.


      3. I see, so your hybrid workflow starts and ends with the physical – the film and the print – with a little help from digital and pixels in getting from one to the other.


  2. HP5 and Rodinal are my standard fare too. Rodinal is supposed to enhance grain of the film but I just like it!

    Nothing beats Rodinal…. unless Rodinal and stand development!


    1. One day I will have to give stand development a try. I haven’t found any information about how sensitive it is to temperature? All of my developing is done at ambient room temperature, whatever that happens to be. I mix my one-shot chemistry and wash the film with bottled distilled water. No tap water, and no temperature control. It works well over quite a temperature range with traditional films like FP4 and HP5 in either Rodinal or Ilfotec DD-X, not so predictably at higher temperatures with the Delta films.


      1. I’m very approximative in my developing. Temperature is about right by feel, I’m not counting down seconds, 10 more or less of them makes no difference… sloppy job!

        And when I feel particularly lazy I just stand develop. Temperature has no influence (but don’t use boiling water…🤪) and it uses hardly any Rodinal.

        What I like is that it gives very nice results even when I change ISO in mid roll. Magic! And there’s nice edge sharpening and contrast. I like that

        I just do the final thorough rinse in distilled water with a drop of Photo Flo. For the rest I use tap water…


  3. 1+100 for an hour with one gentle inversion at 30 minutes is one formula I’ve seen. I’ve also read that a 36-exposure roll needs at least 5ml of Rodinal but I shoot short rolls so I should still be able to use my 250ml tank. I wash my film with three changes of water per the Ilford method. Since I started doing this with just the distilled water I find I don’t need a wetting agent and my negatives have never been so clean.


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