Thursday, February 15, 2018

Comparison ~ 135mm lenses, Schneider, Nikon, Sony

... once more into the abyss, shall we?

Today I would like to take a look at several 135mm lenses that I happen to have on hand just now.  Two lenses are new to the Toy Box.  One arrived as part of a stack of things I purchased.  I'd inspected it in the field but failed to notice "cleaning marks" (scratches) on the front element.  The second lens arrived as part of the Super Deal that I scored off eBay point fr and it set me back all of 7 Euro.

Setup 
  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  •  Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Lenses - 
    • Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS 
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai with mint condition glass
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 non-Ai with scratched front element ("cleaning marks")
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai 4 element airspaced
    • Schneider-Kreuznach Tele-Xenar 135mm f/3.5 Exakta mount
The adapted lenses were shot using "straight through" adapters. None of them were mounted on a focal reducer. So what we will observe here is full frame lens performance on APS-C sized/cropped sensors. This means the very outer limits of the field of view will not be compared at all. If something already performs poorly at the outer edges of the APS-C frame, it will very likely be pretty horrible at the far edges of the full frame 35mm format.

Comparison

Here is the overall scene.

Scene Setup ~ 135mm lens comparison


Here are the results.

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there, look at the file at full resolution. In many cases the differences between lenses is small and likely can't be seen until you take a squint at the comparison at 100 percent.]

Schneider Nikkor Sony 135mm ~ Comparison


Comments 

Starting with the Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS, what I see is that it's sharp in the center at 135mm from wide open (which in this case is only f/5.6).  The edges of the scene are a little soft and distorted.  This may be due to field curvature, or it might be due to the inexpensive zoom design.  Photographing 2D subjects is always trying for non-flat field lenses (most optics are non-flat field).  For the price ($100 used) this is a usable lens.

Next up is the Schneider-Kreuznach Tele-Xenar 135mm f/3.5.  This is a lens I picked up for 7 Euros.  I needed to clean the front two lens groups.  One was fogged and the other looked like fungus was starting to grow around the edges.  Once cleaned up and after the Exakta adapter arrived I wanted to see how it behaved (hence this post).

In the center the Schneider is very sharp.  At the edges, it takes time for things to clean up (f/8).  Thinking back to the Sony comments, I wonder if field curvature might be coming into play.  What's surprising is how sharp it is in the center given the age of the optic (manufactured in the mid-1960's in this case).  I've always prefered Schneider to Zeiss lenses and this only confirms my already strong bias.

Another thing that I like about the Schneider 135mm is its size and weight.  This is what I like about the Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai, too.  When compared side by side the f/2.8 Nikkors feel large, bloated, and heavy.  The difference is remarkable.   The depth of field effect moving from the f/3.5 to the f/2.8 optics (it's only half a stop, mind you) is indistinguishable.

The Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai was given to me by a good friend.  The glass is in mint condition.  I thought it interesting to see how the scratched pre-Ai version I recently picked up performed by comparison.  Minimally, if scratches impact performance I would expect to see a drop in contrast and perhaps a drop in resolution as well.  Yet, what I see here is that both lenses are equally sharp and behave exactly the same way at all apertures.  Looking at the results I can not honestly tell which lens is scratched and which isn't.  Certainly the "cleaning marks" are light (they're not deep gouges), but to see absolutely no difference in performance?  This is a very interesting "learning" for me.

Lastly, I think the Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai should become my 135mm "control" lens.  It is the standard by which I could measure all other 135mm lenses.  It is brilliant from wide open straight across the field and at all apertures.  All this "goodness" in a 45 Euro optic is impressive.  There is nothing finer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Comparison ~ 50mm lens out of focus rendition

The Angry Photographer has a lot to say about out of focus rendition (aka: bokeh).  He has a bit to say about the Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar.  And he has a bit to say about the Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Domiplan.

As it turns out, I now have one each super cheap (weighing in at all of 7 Euro each) Tessar and Domiplan.  So... why not take a look at how these lenses compare against my much loved Nikon Nikkors?  Not from a resolution point of view.  I've done that already.  Rather, how about if I took my own look at out of focus rendition?

Setup
  • Shoot the same scene (through double pane glass, since it's so freak'n cold here)
  • Attempt to match the size of the out of focus rendition
  • Convert RAW to JPG using Sony's converter software
Comparison

If you click on the image below it will take you to Flickr where you can look at this in a larger size.  I included the entire scene and a section from that scene.

Out Of Focus Comparisons

Comments

What is surprising to me is how similar most of the lenses are to each other.  What differences there are tend to be rather subtle.

To begin with, I very rarely see a 35mm full frame 50mm lens with out of focus area rendition as smooth as longer focal lengths.  There seems to be a lot if "jittery-ness" or "harshness" in 50mm lenses.  Perhaps this is why some people have gone the opposite direction and are celebrating "bubble bokeh" where the out of focus areas are overcorrected.

Here is what I observe about the lenses I compared, starting from the smoothest, most "buttery" out of focus rendition to the harshest, most "bubble bokeh-y" (gawds! try saying that three times fast).
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5
  • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
  • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai and H
  • Meyer-Optic Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan
  • Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar f/2.8
The Micro-Nikkor is really smooth in it's transition from sharp to out of focus.  The out of focus disks are flat and properly corrected.  It stands pretty much in a league of it's own in this regard.  It's the only 50mm (OK, this one is really 55mm) I've ever seen that can compete with longer focal length lenses in terms of out of focus rendition.  The lens is also sharp from wide open.  A drawback is that the maximum aperture is rather small (f/3.5), which means that the current rage razor thing depth of field is difficult to achieve.

Next comes the 50mm f/1.8 Ai "pancake" Nikkor.  With this lens a photographer can create the kind of razor thing depth of field images that are currently popular.  However, I see some "harshness" starting to creep into the out of focus areas.  I can clearly see a difference between this and the Micro-Nikkor, but I feel it still stands apart from the next two Nikkors, the f/2 Ai and H lenses. 

Beginning with the Nikkor f/2 lenses I feel we've fully entered into the zone of "bubble bokeh." This will make some photographers happy and will drive others nuts.  These two lenses come rather close to matching the Domiplan for their level of harsh "bubble bokeh" rendition.  Though I must say the f/2 Nikkors are ever so slightly less "harsh" than the old German lens.

Finally, the winner in the area of "bubble bokeh" generation is indeed the Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8.  The Angry Photographer seems to have nailed the call on this one.  It gives the harshest and most "bubble-y" rendition of the small stack of lenses I considered here.  Too bad it's rather soft at the focus point.  But that's another matter for another time.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

50mm Lens Comparison ~ Sony, Nikon, Zeiss, Meyer-Optik Gorlitz

Occasionally I receive confirmation that I'm completely nuts.

Last year I decided to try and find the best lenses I could for less than 50 Euro.  I scored four or five lenses for that price or less.  Then one day things changed, again.  I won an auction for a mint Super-Takumar 200mm f/4 for 11 Euro and it felt like the bottom had fallen out of  my expectations for the old used lens market.

Confirmation of my lack of mental stability more recently arrived in the form of a box originating from Germany.  It held six lenses that I'd won in an auction off eBay point fr.  To be a bit more precise, it was a box filled with _cheap_ lenses.  The cost averaged across the entire purchase was 7 Euro per objectif.

Sorting through things I found four lenses of particular interest.  There was a Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8, a Meyer-Optik Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan, a Schneider-Kruzenach 135mm f/3.5, and a Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai. The other two lenses will be sold for cheap (the mounts are nothing I would ever use).

What encouraged me to bid on the auction were the two "bubble bokeh" lenses (not that I'm particularly "into" "bubble bokeh"), the Jena DDR Tessar and the Domiplan.  The Angry Photographer had good things to say about the lenses, so I decided to try my luck.

The Tessar lens design is well known and very well proven with well over a hundred years of implementation by a wide variety of manufacturers.  It consists of four lens elements in three groups.  The German made glass has the best reputation and prices are at times rather robust.

The Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Domiplan is a simple three element three group design.  It was made to be inexpensive and easily manufactured.  I see these at the photo swaps here in Europe.  Prices are variable and no one seems to buy them.  No one seems to like them.

Setup 
  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod
  • Lenses -
    • Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS (as the "control" lens)
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AiS
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H non-Ai
    • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai
    • Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8 (M42 mount)
    • Meyer-Optik Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan (M42 mount)
The adapted lenses were shot using "straight through" adapters.  None of them were mounted on a focal reducer.  So what we will observe here is full frame lens performance on APS-C sized/cropped sensors.  This means the very outer limits of the field of view will not be compared at all.  If something already performs poorly at the outer edges of the APS-C frame, it will very likely be pretty horrible at the far edges of the full frame 35mm format.

Here is the scene -

Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS ~ Scene Setup

Comparison Results

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there, look at the file at full resolution. In many cases the differences between lenses is small and likely can't be seen until you take a squint at the comparison at 100 percent.]

50mm lenses ~ Sony Nikkor Tessar Meyer Comparison

Observations

The Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS acted as the "control" lens.  It's performance is brilliant from wide open clear across the field.  This lens feels resolution limited by the sensor, it's that sharp.  It's light and easy to carry on Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras.  When I want AF, it's my "go to" lens in this focal length.

The Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AiS continues to impress me.  While it's a little soft wide open due to spherical aberrations, starting one stop down it matches the Sony.  The lens is small and light.  Being a pancake lens it looks like the more common E-series Nikon of this focal length and aperture.  If I could carry just one lens, this might be it (but only when coupled with a Lens Turbo II focal reducer which gives a full frame 35mm field of view on the APS-C format).

Another lens that I already owned is the Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 H non-Ai.  In the Box of Toys, however, there was a Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai.  The Angry Photographer on YouTube loves this lens.  So, I was interested to see how the two lenses of the same design but very different years of manufacturing might compare.  What I found is that the Ai version is slightly sharper (though one has to look very carefully) and the scene color matches other newer Ai and AiS Nikkors.  The old "H" version gives a warmer rendition (which is easily accounted for in processing).  For 7 Euros I think I'll be keeping the Ai (along with all the other lenses I can't seem to relieve myself of).

Next comes the Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8.  For years I've heard about how wonderful Zeiss lenses are.  I've owned a number of these Tessar 50mm lenses of various vintages and, honestly, I've been underwhelmed.  This little pancake lens is no different.  It performs identically to every single 50mm Tessar I've ever looked at.  It's strange how consistent the lenses are between manufacturing sites and vintages.  That is to say, they are all soft wide open and never seem to "clean up" (sharpen up, if you like) as the lenses are stopped down.  I would've thought that by f/5.6 that lenses would match the Sonnar or Double Gauss design lenses, but they never ever do.  I'm not sure where the "magic" is supposed to be in these because I've never been able to find it.  I think the famous photographer David Duncan Douglas had this all sorted out over sixty years ago when he was in Japan and discovered Nikkor optics.

Lastly comes the very lowly three element airspace design Meyer-Optik Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan.  The lens is very light, very simple, and feels a little feeble.  Yet there's a little surprise.  Yes, it's well know for it's out of focus rendition.  It certainly has that to recommend itself.  In terms of resolution the edges of the APS-C format frame shows an incredible drop-off.  I can't imagine what the edges of full-frame 35mm look like.  It must be pure mush  However, the center of the field is sharp.  It's as sharp as anything of the era.  There's the surprise.  In fact, it's sharper than the Zeiss Jena DDR.  Because of this I find the Domiplan an amusing little curiosity.  It's like coming across a "cheeky little 2 Euro wine" from Bordeaux.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Lens Comparison ~ Nikon Nikkor 135mm, 300mm + Komura 2X against Tamron 150-600mm f/4.5-6.3

Something that I've wondered out for many years is just how good or bad 2x teleconverters can be from back in the day.

Recently I stumbled on a Komura Telemore 2x teleconverter.  It was relatively cheap and I was interested to see how it might perform.

Comparison Setup -
  • Sony NEX-5T, 100ISO, 2 second timer, "A" aperture preferred mode
  • Nikon Nikkor
    • 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai - two passes, one with and another without Komura Telemore 2x converter
    • 135mm f/2.8 Ai + Komura Telemore 2x converter
  • Tamron 150-600mm f/4.5-6.3 version 1 on Sony AF adapter
  • Scene shot through double pane glass window (it was too damned cold to open the window for a clear shot)
Here is the scene at 300mm -

Nikkor 300mm f/4.5

Here is the scene at 600mm - 

Nikkor 300mm f8 Komura 2x

Comparison Results -

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there you and look at the file at full resolution. In many cases the differences between lenses is small and likely can't be seen until you take a squint at the image at 100 percent.]

Nikkor 300mm 135mm Doubleur Tamron "Bigron" Comparisonb


Observations -

Looking at the Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai against the Tamron 150-600mm f/4.5-6.3 at 300mm shows not much difference between the two lenses in the center of the field.  As you can see, the single coated Nikkor is slightly less contrasty than the modern Tamron.  This can be easily corrected in processing by applying a gentle increase in contrast.  The edges of the frame show something interesting.  The Nikkor remains sharp where the Tamron gets slightly softer as the edge of the field is approached.

The Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai mounted on the Komura Telemore 2x teleconverter shows that the Komura degrades performance rather rapidly.  At no aperture does the teleconverted Nikkor come close to wither the un-teleconverted 300mm Nikkor nor the Tamron.  Obvious decreases in contrast and resolution can be seen.

The same things can be said about the Nikkor 300mm, Komura Telemore combination.  Contrast is decreased and the resolution never really matches the modern Tamron "Bigron" zoom.  I can increase the contrast in processing, but there is no way to gain back resolution after the shutter has been tripped.

I was hoping to find a light(er) weight manual focus lens combination that I could use at the racetrack to photograph old cars and MotoGP motorcycles.  I won't be able to meet that goal with the Komura and Nikkor lenses.  For now I'll need to stay with the Tamron super zoom, which, it seems, performs admirably well.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Is Photography Really Dead???

PetaPixel published an article that asks if photography is really dead.

I have to admit, the author makes more than a few decent points.

"...But what died, exactly? The techie crowd had become bored with these particular machines, moving on to newer, shinier gadgets, and young people, like most young people, just wanted to hook up. Nothing wrong with either, and certainly nothing new. The dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored likewise continued in this fashion, and will keep doing so even while everyone else is using brain implants to beam live VR experiences featuring their cats..."

It's the being ignored part that can be a little difficult.  Or more properly, it's the being unknown and unfindable part that working in isolation can bring.  Dedicated artists like to share their work and in the narcissistic world of social media self promotion it's very difficult to carry on any kind of conversation about the art and craft of imaging.

Here I sit in one of the most photographed cities in the world and yet I can count on fewer than two digits the number of dedicated photographers who live here as a friend or colleague.  All of my photographer friends live either in New York or out on the west coast of the USA.  Perhaps it's telling that many among these dedicated artists continue to pursue their vision using old tools, techniques, and processes.

I miss being able to sit around a table stacked with beers and "talking shop" and sharing the results of our latest efforts.  Doing so remotely, electronically, just doesn't carry the same impact as meeting someone face to face.  I learned so much from our casual conversations.

I learned about optics and the fact that lens coatings exist that make the glass disappear.  One of the gents I talked with worked in an optical company where the process and results were demonstrated.

I learned a lot about process.  Two other gents helped me understand the proper tools and techniques of hand-coating platinum-palladium solutions for making contact prints that can last unchanged for over 500 years.

I learned a lot about how to work with models.  Several gents continue to create gorgeous images of models.  They work both in the studio and in the open air.  Dealing with people takes time, intelligence, and the ability to convey emotions in sometimes subtle ways.

While there are so many aspects to photography that I will never fully grasp, simply talking with others helped to fill in the "blank spaces".

Many are the days when I consider "pulling the plug" on social media participation.  Though I know in doing so I could completely turn out the image sharing, conversation starter, art as a movement welcoming and participation light.


Nikon Nikkor + Lens TurboII + Sony A5000

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Comparison ~ Nikon Nikkor 300mm, 135mm, 105mm + Lens Turbo II

Continuing to troll the 'net for 50Euro or less highest quality lenses yielded up a Few More Fun Things.

Last year I sold a mint 300mm Nikon Nikkor f/4.5 pre-Ai lens.  Of course I started to regret the sale.  It was a really nice, sharp optic.  So when another came available at half the cost of the first 300mm, I jumped at it.

What I now have is an excellent condition 300mm lens that dates even earlier than my first example.  The focusing collar is smooth and accurate (nearly Super-Takumar-like in this respect, which is a surprise for such an old Nikkor).  The exterior condition is excellent.  But the front element has a few cleaning marks.  They are very light, very fine marks, but, neurotic as I am about such things, I know they are there.  I may learn to live with it.

The setup -
  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Nikon Nikkor 
    • 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai (c.1971)
    • 135mm f/3.5 Ai
    • 105mm f/2.5 Ai
    • all mounted on a Lens Turbo II focal length reducer
  • One pass where 300mm f/4.5 images were processed
    • Gimp -> FX Foundry Luminosity Sharpen
    • Gimp -> Curves (subtle adjustments to tonal range)
The results -

Here is the scene setup -

Scene Setup Nikkor 300mm, 135mm, 105mm comparison


Here are the results.

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there you and look at the file at full resolution. In many cases the differences between lenses is small and likely can't be seen until you take a squint at the image at 100 percent.]

Nikon Nikkor 300mm, 135mm, 105mm Comparison


My observations -

The Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai stands up rather well against the wickedly sharp 135mm f/3.5 Ai.

Wide open the 300mm shows softness that typically comes from spherical aberrations.  You can see the effect around the large lettering.  One stop down and the 300mm seems to match the shorter focal length lenses across the field.

The 105mm f/2.5 Ai suffers at f/4 and a little at f/5.6 in the corners.  I think it is an effect of field curvature, particularly when the lens is used with the Lens Turbo II focal reducer.  I've seen similar things when making these kinds of 2D flat sheets of newsprint comparisons between various lenses.  I've specifically seen the effect with the 85mm "K" pre-Ai Nikkor, Lens Turbo II combination.

My comparisons are always made using un-altered, straight off the sensor images.  I convert AWR files using Sony's conversion software and I leave that software with it's default settings.  I never add nor subtract, for instance, "sharpness" nor contrast.

With this comparison I added a line where I took the 300mm Nikkor images and passed them through the Gimp and two functions.  Specifically, I passed the images through FX Foundry's Luminosity Sharpen and used "Curves" to try and match the tonal range of the 135mm f/3.5 images.

Luminosity Sharpen is a very subtle sharpener.  I think it's better than many "smart" sharpen algorithms in that Luminosity lightly touches the light/dark transitions and leaves the smooth areas alone.  Images don't typically look hard sharpened when I use this function.

What I find is that lightly processing the 300mm f/4.5 wide open image yields results that appear to match the wickedly sharp 135mm straight off the sensor results.  Carefully using "Curves" I was even able to reduce the effects of spherical aberration (look at the large lettering).  At f/5.6 and f/8 the 300mm lightly processed image results appear to as "sharp" as anything in this comparison.

The "sharpening" aspect of the processing is to carefully increase transitional zone contrast.  The human eye perceives this as "sharpness".   This means that just about any file made with a well designed and constructed optical system can be carefully "sharpened" to the point that the results appear sharper than the off the sensor originals.

While there is nothing new in recognizing the effects of "smart" sharpen functions, what I find interesting and promising is that in using these controls, I might be able to use this Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 pre-Ai for photographing motorsports and birds and exceed the results I used to obtain from my old Canon 7D, 100-400mm zoom kit.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Tri-X black and white film "look" in digital...

I have to admit that I'm something of a fan of Mike Johnson's The Online Photographer.  He sometimes posts things that I find rather interesting.

Take this article on the great Formula One pilote, Francois Cevert as an example.  The chain of events that led to my exploration of Tri-X, it's grain in 35mm film, and trying to digitally emulate the effect was rather long and twisted.  Here's the story.

My uncle used to pass me his Road and Track magazines after he'd read them.  I, too, would read them thoroughly.  My favorite writer at the time was Henry Manney III.  The way he wrote about racing in Europe captivated my imagination and set the basis for my desire to one day visit that far-off continent.

If memory serves, Henry Manney III nearly single handedly introduced Formula One racing to American readers and followers of motorsport.  It was an exotic pastime and there seemed to be a big story to tell.  Even from so far away I had a sense that the Formula One Circus was a close knit community of owners, mechanics, and drivers who's one great passion was racing.

Being a dangerous sport drivers from time to time would die.  I remember when Jim Clark and later Mark Donahue were killed.  And I remember when Francois Cevert crashed heavily at Watkins Glen.  Even now these memories are charged with emotion.  There were so many skilled drivers and my best friend, Nelson, and I enjoyed watching some of them race at the Long Beach Grand Prix and out in the desert at the Riverside Motor Speedway in Southern California.

After reading The Online Photographer, I followed the link to Richard Kelly's wonderful work.  Looking at his images brought back a flood of memories.  My own photographs and negatives from those days are now either recycled or in a landfill somewhere.  Ugh.  If only I'd known how I might feel someday about my early, wobbly, adolescent imaging works.

I met an LA Times photographer many years ago to talk about the trade and how best to approach photography.  He showed me some of his work and showed me 16x20inch prints that were center mounted on 20x24inch ragboard.

I remember asking him about the grain.  The overarching esthetic at the time and de rigueur in the group of photographers I used to hang out with was to make prints as grain-free as possible.  This required large format cameras and slow film.  Yet the LA Times photographer's work was grainy and had a certain "grit" (for the lack of a better word).  They were fabulous.

What helped make them fabulous, in addition to the wonderful subject matter, was that they had all been made using a 35mm camera that was loaded with Tri-X and processed in D-76.  And very importantly the grain was absolutely sharp edge to edge on the print.

Lucky for me the photographer gave me an important hint to the secret for keeping negatives flat in the negative holder in an enlarger (without having to resort to Newton Ring inducing glass negative carriers).  Working out the rest of the secret in my own darkroom is what helped me land a job printing black and white photos for well-known photographers in Hollywood.  I worked at the Crossroads of the World print shop that Samy's Camera used to own and run.

All of this happened during the 1960's, 70's and early 1980's before I returned to the University of California, Irvine to pursue computer science, engineering, and a "real" job in aerospace.

Coming to the present and recalling the beauty of grainy small negative black and white images, I set about working out yet another secret in trying to match the effect in digital.  It turns out it's all pretty simple and straightforward.  Here is the process I use.
  • Desaturate a digital image
  • Using "Curves" and "Exposure" - set the shadow and highlights to taste (remembering to keep as much information in the highlights as possible - ie: don't clip the whites)
  • Using "Curves" - grab the mid-point of the curve and raise it a bit (to achieve a rather accurate film emulation "look")
  • Add "film" grain (Gimp, Capture One, etc all seem to have film grain functions)
Looking at the results feels to me as if the images without the emulation film grain were made with a very large format film camera.  The highlights and shadows are creamy and wonderful.  This holds true even in images originally made using a Canon A640 Point and Shoot that shot jpegs only.

The images with emulation film grain, on the other hand, have that small negative enlarged print "look" about them.  The effect is really quite striking.  I can see where the effect can be useful to underscore a certain photographic aesthetic.

[Large Format Film "look" on the left.  Small Format Film "look" on the right.  You'll need to click on each image to see the effect.]

Emulating Tri-X film "look" Emulating Tri-X film "look"

Emulating Tri-X film "look" Emulating Tri-X film "look"

Emulating Tri-X film "look" Emulating Tri-X film "look"