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Filmlike look prints with DSLRs possible



I have seen 2 effects very often in prints from DSLRs:

1. In some digital images when printed, people look like cardboard cut-outs stuck on to the picture

2. Especially faces look "creamy-plastic". Actually it is the whole image, but you see most obviously in the skin of people

If I scan a Fuji Velvia & Provia and print it out on the same printer and the same paper and ink, the prints get excellent and it looks very good. Nothing artificial at all.

Strangely this effect seems not to be so visible or not visible at all on screen. Only in prints. No matter which brand: Nikon, Canon, Minolta etc.. Only Olympus I did not see a print yet, so I can not judge about Olympus prints.

Maybe I am stupid, but I looked in every PS book I could find, nowhere is this problem mentioned. What can be the reason for this and how can I fix it in Photoshop CS2?

Thanks in advance


Well-Known Member
I have found two processes can make prints look "digitised" and false very quickly if applied too strongly.

1. Over sharpening (especially USM) can give the cardboard cut-out look because it increases edge contrast. You will probably get this effect more with in-camera processing, ie .jpgs.

2. Noise reduction can rapidly give fairly uniform areas of colour, particularly skin, the plastic look as it smooths the fine detail out. I now only apply it to higher ISO shots, always sparingly, and then often just to the background using a mask. I'm sure some cameras, as well as raw processors, apply noise reduction as standard to .jpgs. If you can switch it off then it may be worth trying.

I believe the extra resolution of films like velvia and provia in the 60-90 lp/mm range (and probably the grain of film) does provide more visual depth to a photograph. It may not be immmediately apparent on smaller prints, but once you start enlarging much I think a lack of very fine detail can flatten an image.

I'm sure there are many here who know vastly more about post processing than me, but I hope this helps to some degree.



Well-Known Member
I have noticed this cardboard cut out effect too from some shots in magazines. I had put it down to the picture being digitally manipulated and a person being inserted into it. Your explanation thanks Matt, would definitely seem to me to explain why it happens and I have probably misjudged the pictures where I noticed the effect.

Maybe this is another reason not to give up film completely yet.

It occurred to me that if one was to buy a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II at around £4,500 plus various lenses one would soon be up to around £10,000. Medium format digital backs cost even more, especially when the cameras and lenses are added. I think there is no doubt that these options give superb results.

The Hasselblad Flextight 949 scanner costs around £12,000 plus VAT and according to the advert will scan 50 35mm slides in an hour.

Assuming one already has an excellent 35mm system, if one could afford this sort of money, which I most certainly cannot, it might be better value to buy a 949 and stay with film which also gives excellent results. One would probably never need to upgrade again or buy any more equipment again.

Maybe I am being a bit of a devil's advocate here but the thought occurred.

Best wishes,



I think Matt kind of summed it up. It's very easy to over-process digital images. I remember when PS's Shadow/Highlight tool first came out I went bonkers with it. In fact many of my Java, Indonesia 2003 shots in my website are way overprocessed with this tool. So much I even state so on the site :).

But treated with due respect they can look smooth and natural, even when printed and enlarged.



Well-Known Member
I shoot both. If you shoot film and have worked in a darkroom, then you better know what it is supposed to look like.

BTW, you can over-process film shots that have been scanned as well.

Here's one ... film or digital?



Well-Known Member
Marc, I think I know what it is, but won't tell anyone

Dirk, I would partially disagree. Even Contax N Digital, which was my first DSLR, did not have that, and for prints up to 11x17 did not show any signs of whatever you described, provided pictures were shot in RAW. Canon 10D was kinda shitty, but with L lenses and 1.4/50 it performed well enough for photos to look decent on a magazine spread. With consumer lenses, though, 10D behaved just as you described. In my opinion, the reason for that is that lenses with low resolving power get in some sort of misunderstanding with a regular structure of a sensor, which shows up as your "creamy effect". I personally call it "Barbie skin".


Well-Known Member
Come on all you chickens, which is it ... film or digital ?

Irakly, you can't play, you know too much about me : -)

Hey wait a minute, where are you?. I thought you were in NYC shooting the unveiling of art being dedicated to 911?

Or are you just stuck in a hotel room bored to tears ;-)

Come on, if you used your Contax for the shoot post an image for all to see ... pretty please.

Back on subject ...

DSLRs with CCD sensors and decent optics seem to suffer less from the skin by Du Pont syndrome when shot at ISO 200 or 400 (depending on the camera). Looks and acts more like film. The Contax ND does well @ ISO 200; the 6 meg Epson R-1 did pretty good @ 400 when using Leica M lenses; and my Leica DMR/9 looks very much like film @ ISO 400/800.

Hint: none of those cameras mentioned above were used for the Rooster challenge above.

Here's one from the Leica DMR/9 ...



Well-Known Member
OK Marc, not easy to tell on a 790 pixel on-line jpg which even if film, has been scanned and digitised :), but I'm going for film as to me the blown highlights look to have a very gradual transition to burn-out.
Also, apart from the patch at 2 o'clock above the roosters bum, the black feathers seem to have a great deal of shadow detail.
(You're going to tell me now it's a new Leica M8).

Irakly, your theory about the resolving power is interesting. Do you really think that Canon's (and others') consumer lenses resolve lower than 60 lp/mm?
I only use the 70-200mm, 300mm and 600mm IS teles from Canon, along with Contax lenses, and they seem pretty good.

John, There are many reasons to stay with film, I also still use both.
Though I hadn't used a film camera for a couple of months, looking through some of my velvia/provia scans recently re-confirmed my belief in the aesthetic qualities of transparancies.
I now intend to use film for most of my landscapes as they just have more depth and character - "soul" if you like.
If you need a cheaper scanner then I recommend the Minolta Dimage (£500 new), I'm sure you can get them used on ebay for a good price.

So is the prize for guessing the chicken competition a brand new M8 from Marc then?


Well-Known Member
What blown highlights? Someone needs a monitor calibration : -) There is tone in all areas of the Chicken shot.

Scanning film is NOT an easy thing to master. Film is super great when making silver prints because a diffusion enlarger is very forgiving of grain. Scanners are not. They multiply the issue because of converting the random tonal gradautions of grain into a relentlessly uniform pixel strucure. Even using a Imacon 848, it is difficult to scan and get results like a conventional print produces from film.

Cocka-Doodle-Do !!! YES, the winner gets any M8 I have in my possession at this time.




normally I would guess it is film, since it has not this digital appearance to me. BUT... seems that the DOF is somehow wrong. The stones in front of the chicken are sharper then the chicken itself and the environment around the chicken. I know that Marc is an excellent photographer, so there must be a reason for this.

So either it is a crop, or a focus problem from a AF camera. Many Canon DSLR owners complained about AF incorrectness of the 20D, so this could be a reason...

or did you manipulate the image to confuse us?

Regarding the B&W photo. As always, I like it. BUT look at the chin of the kid. Would the border of the chin be as "sharp" in a film-scanner result?

It is really not as strong as I see it often in other DSLRs, but it is still there...

Teeth and eyes are extremely sharp. I have to see this on a print to make my mind. The upload limits do not justice for this image.

I like the noise by the way. I guess a high ISO shot. It give more "structure" to the image.

I like this kind of "game". It focusses us on images

Please more of this!


addendum: Maybe I am paranoya, but the border of the chest/stomach of the chicken looks also "cutted & pasted"...

I think I have to go to a doctor...


Well-Known Member
The DOF is a result of 1) shooting down on the Chicken and 2) perspective control applied in PS to square the keystone effect from shooting down.

I made a 11X14 of this for my wife who collects Chicken stuff for her kitchen (which I still don't fully understand and chalk it up to a woman's prerogative)

The effects of the chicken chest and the kids chin is a result of sharpening a little j-peg for web upload. They would look the same if shot on film and scanned, or shot digital since digital sharpening is achieved through edge contrast, not micro contrast like Leica and Zeiss lenses provide.


Well-Known Member
Partly because the chest and head and round to the tail has some of that pasted on effect. It stands out from the background although there is detail in the background so the depth of field is not very shallow. This indicates digital too because I believe that digital gives greater dof than film even wide open - with smaller sensors anyway.
Also, maybe the picture lacks a little of the richness and detail that you seem to tend to get with film - difficult to describe that but film always seems to have as Matt says, more soul.


Well-Known Member
Thanks Matt,

I have the Minolta Dimage scanner (the first version)and love it although what a slow business scanning is especially with digital ICE. I am always looking for ways to speed it up. I am interested in the new Epson V750 Pro just tested in AP and well received, because I want to scan my medium format and panoramic pictures.


Well-Known Member
Mind you having said that, the tail feathers do have that richness. It's a difficult one. I would still have said digital!


Well-Known Member
On my screen the Rooster colors look fine. The background blown out ... but "hey, what can you do?". The background is simply almost gray/white and accenutates the colors in the Rooster.

However; the Rooster on my screen looks "out of focus" or very soft due to the movement of the Rooster. Especially when compared to the great shot of the kid w/ the bow tie.



Well-Known Member
"What blown highlights? Someone needs a monitor calibration"

OOPS! Took the contrast down 4 clicks and suddenly the highlight detail appeared. I wondered why my retinas had a burning sensation looking at the monitor ;-)