Big Ben's Panorama Tutorials

Digital or Film

Once again this is an area where there is a lot of hype. As far as web-based panoramas go many digital cameras do have sufficient resolution for creating very good quality panoramas. Digital also has the advantage of producing very smooth tones as there is no film grain and they usually have a relatively high "film speed" equivalent.


Spherical panoramas provide a subject with the greatest possible dynamic range and when it comes to dynamic range digital is still a long way off. Even with film it is challenging enough and there are several techniques I use to further extend the dynamic range of film.  There are techniques for extending the dynamic range of digital images and most claim to produce a greater range than is possible with film... however in many cases the same techniques can be used with film

The examples below illustrate both the tonal range possible with a colour negative film and a reasonable quality lens. I have yet to see a digital camera capable of reproducing these results with a single exposure.

Film dynamic range example
Highlight detail

< Fine highlight detail extends right to the sun

Shadow detail deep in the canyon >


Shadow detail

Combine the wide dynamic range of a colour negative film which can typically allow over or under exposure of 2 stops without any (great) ill effect with a good quality scanner using 14 bits per channel and an extra wide colour gamut and you have the technical means of obtaining "a bloody lot of tonal detail" (the examples on this page were scanned at 8 bits per channel with a normal colour gamut so an even greater tonal range is possible!)

The typical implications of a reduced tonal range for interiors include:

  • Blown out detail in windows (not overly important)
  • Dark corners of rooms
  • Bright flare around lights
  • An increased requirement for additional lighting
Film dynamic range example
Highlight detail

< Some detail maintained in lights

Shadow detail in unlit area (and almost no flare from reflection on rail) >


Shadow detail

To take another landscape example, lets look at a rainforest scene. This type of scene is typically a source of the greatest range of lighting conditions anywhere and maintaining detail in lighter areas usually creates large areas of dark shadow. Note that this panorama, shot below a dense cover of tree fens, appears light and open because the contrast has been balanced for the shaded area while still retaining highlight detail in the open areas next the bridge.

Film dynamic range example
Highlight detail

< This area is lit from an opening in the forest canopy

Deep in the shadows next to the tree fern on the right >


Shadow detail
For the purposes of comparison. Here is an earlier panorama that I photographed in the same rainforest on slide film.
Slide film dynamic range sample
And then reshot later on negative film. Notice how the extra shadow detail makes the whole scene much lighter and much more even, and completely changes the feel of the image.
Negative film dynamic range sample

In the end it all comes down to what your subject matter is and what you are going to be doing with your panoramas. Digital may be quick and immediate but I'd like to see some examples to match this before I change over.


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This page, its contents and style, are the responsibility of the author and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of The University of Melbourne. All photographs Ben Kreunen 2000

Ben Kreunen <>
Department of Pathology
Last modified: February 24, 2003