Raw images are supposed to be detailed output from the camera sensor(s), with more details that what can actually be printed or displayed on a screen.

Effects like exposure compensation or white balance could be achievable with on-camera settings, or filters, or lights, or during developing. On the other hand I doubt (answers prove me wrong) that advanced functions like noise reduction, local contrast or edges could be obtained through traditional film photography.

Which tools (and/or ranges) of raw editing software have (or do not have) an equivalent in film photography/developing?

NB : I feel this information is of little pertinence here, but FWIW I'm using rawtherapee.

  • \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate of Image processing & editing: what is an "unmanipulated" image? \$\endgroup\$
    – Hugo
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hugo : thanks, didn't notice this one. Not a duplicate though, as I'm really interested in similarities/divergences between film and digital workflows from a technical point of vue. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SkippyleGrandGourou Then I think you should work on your title, as it doesn't mention film vs digital, and "border between raw and manipulation" implies a different question than you are asking, which is simply which digital post-processing tools/techniques have a film counterpart. Just say that. \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 19:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MikeW He did so, but his edit is still waiting for enough approvals from those with enough rep to do so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Working at a computer with an inkjet printer and working in a darkroom and printing optically (particularly with B+W) are very different ways of crafting an image. To just list off a series of things you can do to the image that are similar (enhance edge contrast, change local contrast, reduce grain, etc) doesn't really due the difference justice. \$\endgroup\$
    – moorej
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 5:41

3 Answers 3


Actually local contrast / edge enhancement can and was done with film.


Other processes that could be done with film include: cropping, contrast enhancement, rotation, colour manipulation, selective brightening/darkening, gradient filters, image compositing, dust/spec removal / airbrushing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Even noise/grain reduction at the (much greater, compared to digital) expense of resolution/detail. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Increasing "edge effect" can also be done during film development. A common way to do this with B+W film is to increase developer dilution and development time and decrease agitation. \$\endgroup\$
    – moorej
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 5:26

One big one you can do digitally that was very hard to do with film is color correction at more than one place along the dark/light range. Unless you were doing very complicated, time consuming, and difficult masking, you could only color correct a photographically processed (as apposed to digitally processed) image at one color point.

Color enlargers had filter dials that would change the color mix, but these adjustments applied to the whole image. Getting the color balance right was laborious due to the turnaround time between trying a set of exposures and seeing the results. At best you could get the color right in one place of the color space, and the rest came out as it came out.

A common example was sunlight-balanced film used to take pictures under incandescent lighting. Corrected for sunlight, the whole image would look orange. You could pick a mid-gray spot somewhere and make it look gray, but then dark areas would have a bluish tinge.

Digital sensors are usually linear, so one correction for the lighting color actually works, and it's easy and normal to map the output image from the darkest to lightest area of the raw image.


On the other hand I doubt advanced functions like noise reduction, local contrast or edges could be obtained through traditional film photography — and it seems quite easy to fell on the "too much" side of photo editing.

There is no doubt that digital files allow much more processing flexibility than traditional silver halide film. But in this particular case, grain reduction, local contrast and edges could be controlled (up to a point) during development. These techniques are available only in B&W photography, though.


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