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Let's assume that I have an exposed frame with the contrast range not fully covered (and let's assume that I just want the scan). I have two options:

  1. develop it normally, scan and then work on this freely on computer,
  2. adjust developement to N+1 or N+2 and then scan.

How different will be the outcomes of these operations? Especially, which option gives lower noise ratio? My thinking is as follows: I suppose that both options will magnify negative's grain. But does film developement just magnify transparency of the particular crystal or there is some more subtle reaction that maybe somehow "smooth" the noise? And maybe the development process works on some intermediate level of the transparency, which scan cannot resolve?

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    There are general statements that can be made but do you want to presume any particular film (you've already stipulated negatives but what about speed? T-grain? graphics arts films?) Also, when you say that the contrast range is not fully covered, are you assuming a nominally exposed negative with latitude unused above and below content on the tone curve or is your information at the bottom of the curve (AAIK zone practitioners expose for shadow in Z1 or Z2) – PhotoScientist Jun 11 '18 at 14:45
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The answer to your question greatly depends on the film format you are using. The zone system was / is mostly a domain of large format guys.

They are in a position to give each exposed sheet a special treatement, and grain is not a major constraint for them (4×5" film is not enlarged that much - and if big enlargements are expected there is always option of 8×10" film, which is a solid piece of real estate).

Users of medium format would be likely better of with software adjustment, as they are likely to have a wider range of exposure situations on a single roll. On the other hand I have known MF guys who use cameras with interchangeable magazines and keep special magazines for N, N+1 and N-1 development of a whole roll.

Zone system is not typically used by 35mm film shooters; it is a format more suited to fast action than contemplation of dynamic range.

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